The Plan

Future Projects

Valuing Multilingualism and Multiculturalism:

Frameworks for Learning 

Thornwood Public School is an elementary school located in the heart of Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto, Ontario. The student body consists of many families who have recently emigrated from Europe, Asia, Africa, South and North America. Over forty languages and cultural groups with diverse beliefs, values, customs, food, clothing, etc., are represented. Outside of the home, the students' most significant community is often the school.

For these cultural differences to enrich our lives, we must learn to respect, appreciate, celebrate and develop each other's unique character and strengths.
To this end, an Action Research Group was formed.

Six primary grade and ESL teachers (Nicole Baron, Patricia Chow, Valerie Dale, Anita Kelly, Brenda Solomon, and Brenda Wong), working in partnership with York University (Sandra Schecter) and OISE at the University of Toronto (Jim Cummins), focussed on issues dealing with the literacy learning of ESL students at our school.                                                                                                         


The group is committed to forging a stronger home-school connection. We believe that reading in any language, develops reading ability. We want to engage parents in reading with their children at home and to encourage discussion and the sharing of their experiences and realities. As a result, the group decided to create dual-language book bags, comprising of dual language books and multilingual audio tapes, for use at school and at home. Non-English speaking parents could enjoy reading the stories to their children in their own language and elaborating on the ideas, values, skills, and concepts introduced in this "expanded" home literacy program. Student/parent/community volunteers would record the multilingual stories on audio cassettes.

Through the use of audio cassettes, ESL students and parents would be exposed to basic English vocabulary, grammatical structures, and conventions of texts.

Promoting literacy development in the ESL student's first language will facilitate the acquisition of literacy in English. Accessing prior knowledge through the use of their first language provides the framework for new learning.            

Additional Benefits
  • Fostering active collaboration between caregivers and teachers would create an inviting atmosphere in the school (e.g., parents can read aloud or tell stories to groups of children in their native language or in English, share information about their countries of origin and their cultures, or translate newsletters, etc.)
  • Freeing students to express themselves more fully through the use of their first language in oral and written communication, alleviates the initial feelings of confusion and frustration, and the sense of alienation
  • Inspiring parents to embrace their roles, and their opportunities and responsibilities with regard to their children's intellectual, social, and emotional development
  • Supporting parents in their efforts to develop their children's communicative skills in their first language maintains the lines of communication between generations
  • Enhancing the status of multilingual children and giving them ample opportunities to demonstrate their skills (e.g., as authors and interpreters) and to share their cultures, countries of origin and personal experiences as newcomers to Canada and Thornwood Public School.
    (This has been a particular focus of our ESL teacher, Brenda Solomon, who has collated a book of reflections written by her junior ESL students, about their experiences and feelings as new arrivals to the country and to Thornwood.)
  • Broadening children's horizons by increasing their awareness and appreciation of other languages, cultures, and each other
  • Providing opportunities for ESL parents to develop their own literacy skills in the English language through listening to dual-language audio cassettes, translating books, helping out in the school, etc.
  • Developing computer literacy skills in the use of multilingual word processors.

The Plan:    

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 population).

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 format.

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 in English.

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 books worthwhile.

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 stage.

Future Projects to Explore:
  • Creating illustrated bilingual phrase books (with transliteration)
  • Developing displays to reflect our diverse population in the visual environment of the school
  • Posting multilingual signs (e.g., office, bathroom) around the school
  • Augmenting our supply of multilingual books, both commercial and original student publications
  • Encouraging parents to relate "folk tales" or cultural narratives, written down and audio recorded, to add to the school's literature collection
  • Teaching multicultural games and promoting its use in the classroom and during indoor lunch recesses
  • Initiating the use of bilingual students/parents to relay important school announcements over the intercom
  • Investing in multilingual word-processing software and training parent volunteers to use them
  • Enhancing communication through the translation of important notices
  • Continuing with our multicultural and multilingual storytelling initiative
  • Developing a symbiotic relationship with adult ESL students in English acquisition programs, such as LINC, or with high school/university language students to contribute to the school curriculum... and through their meaningful use and practice of oral and written communication, enhance their own literacy skill
  • Maintaining a website enabling fellow teachers to access or download dual language stories to teach or inspire their ESL students (children helping children) or to showcase student-made multilingual stories.


We believe that all of our students will benefit from our efforts to build an inclusive school climate and curriculum. Learning about, accepting, and respecting cultural differences, in an atmosphere of mutual respect, benefits our students, personally, and society in general.             



A Thornwood Public School (Peel District School Board), York University, and OISE/University of Toronto Project