The first thing our group did, was to develop and administer
a survey to elicit information about the makeup of our diverse
student population, the children's reading experiences and habits,
their sources of children's literature, their willingness to
share their cultural experiences and multilingual expertise,
and their access to a cassette player. The responses were
encouraging. Parents expressed an interest in a program
that would support their children's acquisition of the English
language and also support their desire to have their children
maintain their first language and culture.
Our next challenge was to locate suppliers of dual language
books. A few Toronto bookstores had a limited selection of the
kinds of books we needed. We ordered our books from "The Multi-Cultural
Books and Videos" store located in Tecumseh, Ontario.
Many factors went into the selection of our dual language
books. Although we could not assess the quality of translation
before purchasing the books, we did take into consideration
the cultural sensitivity of various subject matters (e.g., Charlotte's
Web, where the central character is a pig, slated to be slaughtered,
would not be a good choice for our school because of our Muslim
In addition, some popular children's books (e.g., Dr. Seuss'
), are written in a particular style, where we feared something
would be lost in the translation.
On the other hand, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and
It's Mine were chosen, because of the repetitive nature
of the book. Viv Edwards, in her book, The Power of Babel,
noted that repetition, rhythm and rhyme will help children to
internalize the vocabulary and structures of English, as well
as to predict what comes next. The imbedded mathematical and
scientific concepts made them perfect choices.
We sought books with a high level of visual support. We
also selected material more suitable for the junior level readers...books
with more sophisticated themes, styles of illustration, and
We felt that it was important to provide our students with
positive role models from a variety of cultures. Babu's Day
is about the life of a Tamil boy in Bombay. A Baby Just Like
Me features its main character, a young girl of African
descent, who is coming to terms with the addition of a new baby
into her family. This book is especially worthwhile because
it deals with an issue that is potentially relevant to many
students. Anna Goes to School, a story about a young
girl who feels intimidated and reluctant to attend school on
her very first day, could prove useful in helping a child adjust
to a new school environment.
Difficulties with the acquisition of the dual language books
necessitated an adjustment in our plans. Fortunately, my students
were up to the challenge! During the first term, I usually take
a low-key approach to promoting linguistic diversity (e.g.,
saying "hello" or "good morning" in other languages when taking
attendance, singing songs in French, and asking students to
share their bilingual skills when counting). Books such as This
is the Way We Go to School and Babu's Day are particular
good for initiating discussions about life in other countries.
During the second term, we usually celebrate Diwali, Chinese
New Year, and Black History Month. Included in my Chinese New
Year activities, is an addition activity sheet requiring students
to do simple computation using Chinese numerals.
One year, my students started creating arithmetic sheets
using numerals written in Urdu, Arabic, Tamil , and Gurjarati.
They enjoyed challenging each other.
In response to their interest in other languages, I went
to the Mississauga Central Library to borrow dual language books
for my class. My students were fascinated with them!
Delays in the delivery of the dual language books precipitated
the creation of original, English/first language stories, written
by my grade one students and translated by their parents or
older, ESL students in the school. By creating these books,
with the help of teachers, friends, and family, the students
had the opportunity to explore their languages, and English,
in a developmentally appropriate way. I enjoyed the enthusiastic
support of my students' parents.
One parent, Mrs. Ismail, acted as the Arabic word processor
expert for some of the students in the class. She also created
wonderful props to assist in the telling of a story in Arabic
for our "Dual Language Storytelling Day", organized by our ESL
team at Thornwood. Others solicited extended family members
to translate, handwrite the words, or audio-record the story.
It was truly, a collaborative effort...a pooling of expertise!
Care was taken to ensure that the layout of the books allowed
both languages to enjoy equal prominence. On each double page
spread, the illustration is set above two columns of text -
the English on the left, and the other language on the right.
Duplicates were made so that the children could have a keepsake,
and the school could keep a copy for its book bag collection.
To celebrate their accomplishments, all books, dual language
and English-only books published by my class during the month
of May, were displayed in the school's showcase outside the
office. They served as visible evidence of the value our school
places on the diversity of our student population and may have
been a welcoming sight for new registrants to the school during
June and September.
Another exciting development took place in June. A newly
immigrated Korean student joined our class. Chang Woo was sociable
and well liked. Day after day, he'd listen politely during story
time and worked independently on work supplied by his ESL teacher,
Brenda Wong, and the kits developed by Lynda Sliz and her team.
After a week, it occurred to me that he might enjoy listening
to a story in Korean. A colleague of mine, Zube Patel, who taught
grade five, had encouraged a Korean student to do some creative
writing in his native language. A fellow Korean student with
a developing repetoire of the English vocabulary, acted as his
translator. (From this experience, both gained status among
their peers, and self-esteem in the process).
In preparing my class, I highlighted how attentive Chang
Woo had been on the carpet. Now, it was their turn to experience
listening to a story in a language that they may not understand,
but I encouraged them to do their best and to observe Chang
Woo's reaction to our surprise. On cue, the boys came in and
the author started to read. It took a few seconds for Chang
Woo to register that he was hearing a story in his own native
language and the smile that crept across his face thrilled his
classmates. Then the translator read the story in English. Out
of curiosity, I asked Chang Woo if he could read the Korean
story. He took it, and to our amazement, began to read confidently
and fluently. His classmates gasped in admiration. (Unfortunately,
limited proficiency in English is often, unconsciously, equated
with general limited proficiency.) Later, he readily wrote a
story in Korean, which we had translated into English by another
Korean ESL student in grade five.
We learned that he was highly literate in his own language.
His story structure was good. His spelling was accurate and
he had good penmanship.
We believe that teachers' attitudes and expectations of
students greatly affect the students' educational performance
and expectations. Therefore, it is very important for teachers
to learn as much as possible about their students' previous
literacy experiences. This is made possible when ESL students
are given opportunities to express themselves more fully, using
their first languages. Teachers are then more able to take into
account their previous knowledge and interests when selecting
the material and teaching strategies most suited to the individual.
Three other initiatives proved helpful in working with ESL
students. A student from China joined our class in May. She
loved to sing! Having found that songs helped me in the acquisition
of French vocabulary and grammar, I regularly include songs
to develop reading skills as well as to reinforce other skills
and concepts. I made her a book of songs and the children made
an audio cassette to go with the book. What a delight for the
children to hear her sing along to her heart's content, oblivious
to how loudly she was singing at the listening center, because
she had earphones on! Creating a caring community of learners
where each child is not only a learner, but also a teacher and
a leader, has untold benefits.
"Show and Tell" or "Share and Read" is a popular activity
with my students. During "Meet the Teachers'" night, I learned
that my quiet Korean student could read in her native language
so I suggested to her dad that she might like to read a Korean
book on her assigned day. She amazed her classmates, most of
whom were just learning to read in English. Although her oral
language development did not allow her to retell the Korean
folktale in English, her receptive language helped her to turn
the pages of the book as a junior Korean student retold the
story. She became more confident, speaking more loudly, participating
more vocally, and interacting with her classmates more actively.
She is making remarkable progress in reading and writing because
she is able to use what she knows about reading and writing
in her first language, to facilitate the acquisition of literacy
The commercially produced dual language books did finally
arrive. Working with the parents in our community has been exciting.
A Mandarin-speaking parent, Mrs. Ding, played a recording of
Moonlight Sonata in the background to set the mood for her reading
of Peace at Last.
How wonderfully creative!
Nicole Baron and other colleagues in the school, often access
the dual language books for their new ESL students during their
first few weeks of school. The positive responses of both students
and their parents have made the investment in dual language
In an effort to ensure that ESL students feel a greater
sense of belonging, feel more supported emotionally, and have
higher self-esteem, our group is continuing to focus on providing
native language support. The project is only in its infancy