Multilingualism in Classrooms and Communities

In U.S. public schools, the number of students that speak languages other than English at home and who are developing proficiency in English at school is rapidly increasing. Since the mid 90s, Pennsylvania schools have seen more than a 115 percent increase in English learners and the numbers are much higher in other regions of the country. A series of events at Penn State University Park, organized by the Diversity and Climate Enhancement Committee (DCEC) in the College of Education, will focus on “Multilingualism in our Classrooms and Communities” to offer some insights and learning opportunities for educators working with multilingual and multicultural students.

The program, open to the public, includes:

• Feb. 13, 5 p.m., Memorial Lounge, Pasquerilla Spiritual Center
“Life with Two Languages: at home and school and in communities,” a panel presentation by Penn State students that will offer perspectives on life as a multilingual person, share life experiences and reflect on how multiple languages have influenced their lives as students. A discussion will follow to explore the students’ stories of growing up with more than one language in their schools and communities, and attitudes and perceptions of multilingualism in our world today. The panel will be recorded for classroom use.

• Feb. 21, 7 p.m., Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library
“Preparing All Teachers to Educate English Language Learners (ELLs)/Bilingual Learners,” by Dr. Rebecca Freeman Field, a sociolinguist and language educator dedicated to the professional development of teachers that work with language learners. Field will consider equity and achievement for all students, particularly English language/bilingual learners. Drawing upon her work with rural and urban school districts across the country, she will discuss the challenges that educators face as they strive to address the needs of an increasingly linguistically and culturally diverse student population. She will examine the foundational knowledge (research, theory, policy, practice) and instructional skills (e.g., sheltering and differentiating instruction and assessment; developing academic English; special education considerations; promoting bi/multilingualism and biliteracy) that 21st century educators develop to address these challenges.

• March 19-20, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., HUB-Robeson Center, main floor
The “American Sign Language (ASL)/Visual Languages Multimedia Display” will highlight the diversity of visual languages with a person signing common phrases in different languages–American Sign Language, Japanese Sign Language, Finnish Sign Language, and French Sign Language. Students from the ASL student organization and the deafness and hearing studies minor will provide an explanation of the program, hand out additional resources and answer questions.

• April 3, 5 p.m., Memorial Lounge, Pasquerilla Spiritual Center
“Creating Safe Spaces for Linguistically Diverse Students in U.S. Schools,” a workshop for the university and community to help future and current teachers explore ways to create a positive and inclusive climate for linguistically diverse students. Participants will consider how multilingual students are impacted by an “English-only” school or political climate and will construct responses to scenarios that arise around these issues.

Sponsored by the College of Education’s Diversity and Community Enhancement Committee, the Office of Multicultural Programs, the departments of Curriculum and Instruction and Education Policy Studies, and the Education and Behavioral Sciences Library, other events on this theme will continue in this spring and fall 2013.