January 8, 2020 | #EarlyLang

Having Courageous Conversations that Address Current Issues
from January 8, 2020

On December 11, language teachers from grades K-8, and beyond, met for the biweekly EarlyLang chat. The topic is particularly timely, given the rather contentious political environment that currently exists.  Participants discussed what issues they address in class, how to address these issues when they arise spontaneously, and how to balance these conversations with proficiency levels of the students. They also offered suggestions for dealing with pushback from administration or parents.

Q1: What kinds of critical issues do you include for courageous conversations in your #earlylang classes?

     Often, issues arise as a natural part of the class. A discussion of the origin of students names can lead to talk of colonization because many have European-based names; when looking at language structure in language that identify masculine and feminine, issues of gender stereotypes become part of the conversation.  Some conversation results from the perception that English is “better” and can lead to talk of the value of diversity and other cultures. One topic that is very much on students’ minds is that of the border and immigration.This topic is so much in the news that students need some guidance in thinking and discussing it.

Q2: How do you handle difficult conversations that arise naturally in the moment?

     A lot of adults, including teachers, avoid these kinds of conversations. It is essential to prepare oneself and be willing to take the risk and be brave.  Think about what conversations might arise and prep the students with language structures and encouragement so they can have the conversation.  If something critical comes up, be willing to discuss it in L1 to ensure student comprehension and participation. Other suggestions were to remain calm and ask clarifying questions; have students share their thoughts with a partner can provide the security they need to share opinions before having a whole class discussion.

Q3: What strategies maximize target language as we try to balance courageous conversations with #earlylang learners’ linguistic ability?

@doriecp, “I’ve actually had a lot of success using some of Kagan’s cooperative learning strategies. When the format of the activity is predictable, and it requires little linguistic output to convey complex meaning, Ss can really express themselves in creative ways.

@MundodePepita, “Strategies we use to talk about other themes are just as useful in these conversations.”

@AnnaDalman, “Lots of prep, visuals, scaffolding and careful planning. In my upper levels I use a lot of @karajacobs and authentic resources. Life is courageous….so using real life materials leads to those conversations.”

@ProfeRoche, “Visuals that “show” the more complicated dynamic (ex. A blended family), carefully chosen words/Lang frames supporting input/output, frequent comprehension checks, group venn diagrams.”

@SECottrell, “As soon as we tell real stories about real BRAVE people, the conversations get COURAGEOUS.”

@SpanishTesorito, “No better way than to learn as much as you can when presenting difficult topics.

@TWSteacher, “scaffolding galore, visual aids. This year my classes on colonization were very intentional so I ended up making presentations for each grade level & providing vocab walls for their written responses. To prep my class about Navidad en Guatemala, we did a timeline.”

Q4: How do you prepare for potential pressure or pushback from administration, parents, or stakeholders?

When possible, let parents know what you’re discussing and when. That way, when students go home and tell their parents, it lessens the chance of a misunderstanding or an angry phone call. It may encourage the conversation to continue at home, opening up more lines of communication for the student.  It is also important to keep administration in the loop, so they are aware and can provide backup if needed. Most importantly, don’t be afraid of pushback if the conversation is really critical.  Most participants have not had any problems result from addressing difficult issues in the classroom.


Q5: What resources or tips do you have for those just beginning to have courageous conversations with their #earlylang students?

It is important to learn from the experts and prepare yourself as much as possible.  Some communities on Twitter, such as #ClearTheAir, #DisruptTexts, and  #DiversityJedi, are good places to start. To prepare ourselves, we must be willing to look at our own biases and unpack our privilege. For Spanish classes, discuss race, African roots and Native American history.

Reflaction (Reflection + action) How will courageous conversations will be a part of your #earlylang class after this evening’s chat?

One participant advised that this is simply the beginning of a journey.  Equity, social justice, and identity, etc, are not topics that we are ever really finished with.  Knowing this and knowing that it is often uncomfortable can help us to persevere through the discomfort.  Another participant mentioned that Teaching Tolerance has podcasts that could be a resource for these conversations.

I don’t often add my own perspective.  However, over the past few years, I have gained so many ideas and nodded my head in agreement more than once.  One thing that will stick with me is this quote, posted by @doriecp, ““When are you going to decide that someone’s life matters enough to move with a sense of urgency?” @ericabrivera Thank you for highlighting this important question @NJB4Change. #leadingequitysummit.” For me, this is a definite call to action, one that I can’t ignore.  It is time for me to do more to support my marginalized students and all who feel left on the sidelines.

Thank you to all who participated in this #EarlyLang chat! Thank you to our lead moderator, Mundo de Pepita (@MundodePepita), and our co-moderator, Dorie (@doriecp), for helping to guide the conversation.

Want to vote for our upcoming #Earlylang topics? https://t.co/l1VbHqzLU1

This week’s chat is

sponsored by:

EMC School

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