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Learning from Long Shadows

In Language Magazine's August 2021 issue, Ivannia Soto shares the lessons she’s learned after a decade of shadowing multilingual learners

My decade-long involvement in shadowing projects across the country has taught me that the average percentage of time that multilingual learners (MLLs) are speaking is often 5–10%. This is in contrast to what researchers like Pauline Gibbons (2015) tell us—that MLLs should be spending at least 30% of their school day in academic talk. This deafening silence has also affected virtual classrooms, where our MLLs are typically invisible and all students may have few speaking opportunities. Additionally, five major lessons learned after ten years of shadowing include the following:

• Shadowing is not a panacea—there must be a plan to disrupt silence and engage MLLs after shadowing.

• Each educator must experience shadowing themselves—although it might be “faster” to have a smaller group of educators shadow and share their results, the power of shadowing is really in each educator experiencing a day in the life of an MLL for themselves. This may take more time, but it is well worth it.

• Systemic change means an ongoing focus on MLLs—since shadowing is not a panacea, there must be a sustained professional learning focus on meeting the needs of MLLs. In this way, it is often not enough to conduct one year of shadowing, but instead shadowing must be carried out for different purposes.

• Shadowing can be used with a variety of student groups—although this particular process was initially created to be used with MLLs, other student groups can also be shadowed. For example, in Rialto Unified School District, standard English learners as well as students dually identified as MLL and SPED were also shadowed. Data can then be compared across student groups to determine next steps with each group.

• Shadowing can also be used for progress monitoring—shadowing can continue to be used often after the first baseline shadowing project is conducted. After professional development is provided, participants can go back in to shadow and see if the professional development has taken effect in the classroom.

This article will further unpack some of the major lessons learned, as well as guide the reader through the power and steps of the shadowing process. Additionally, major changes to shadowing in a virtual setting will be described.

Focus of Shadowing
During shadowing, we focus on the speaking and listening experiences of MLLs, as these are often the two most underdeveloped domains of language taught in classrooms. This is in contrast to the fact that speaking is the foundation of literacy for MLLs. Similarly, James Britton (1983) suggests that “Reading and writing float on a sea of talk.” Additionally, and strategically, speaking is a scaffold for writing and listening is a scaffold for reading. For these reasons alone, we should intentionally embed talk and active listening in our classrooms. After all, the person doing the most talking is doing the most learning. There are many benefits to classroom talk for MLLs, and some of them include:

• They hear more language—from a variety of sources and not just the teacher when MLLs are placed in pairs and groups to practice classroom discourse.

• They speak more language—a small group or pair represents a safer community where language risks can happen.

• They understand more language—MLLs benefit from being paired with a linguistic model who can explain things more effectively.

• They ask more questions—MLLs are more likely to ask for clarification, especially when in small groups or pairs.

• They are more comfortable about speaking—small and well-structured groups can represent a safe community and are sometimes similar culturally to an MLL’s home, which might be more collective than individualistic.

Shadowing in a Virtual Setting
Shadowing can assist systems in refocusing their attention onto MLLs, as well as disrupting silence, whether that be in a virtual or on-the-ground setting. Over the past year, I have pivoted shadowing projects in virtual settings with several options that can continue to assist educators with monitoring their MLLs’ progress in academic speaking and listening. Some of these options include:

• Record your own lesson in Zoom or your LMS, select one of your own MLL students, and complete the shadowing protocol at every five-minute interval.

• Shadow one of your own MLL students during a breakout or group session.

• Obtain a substitute teacher and shadow virtually in someone else’s classroom. This is what typically happens with onthe-ground shadowing as well.

• Shadow using the Jeff Zwiers videos (use all nine videos and take down activity at the beginning and end of each). Please note that these are exemplar videos, so you will have a slightly skewed shadowing experience with them.

Debriefing the Shadowing Experience
Ideally, a group of teachers engages in the shadowing experience and then shares a debrief in which they analyze the results and determine next steps from the data. The quantitative data that is collected during shadowing is coded in a manner that informs the group of who is doing the most talking and listening. The comments section (or qualitative data) can be analyzed to find themes and patterns from the observations. Such data analysis discussions can assist school systems with setting incremental goals around student talk in the classroom setting. For example, after a shadowing training at the Orange County Office of Education in Southern California, Anaheim Union High School District decided to set a districtwide goal of 30% student talk across all schools. After setting such goals, educators can then use shadowing for progress monitoring at least once a year, to continue to see if the goal that has been set is being met following ongoing professional development.

Educator Reflections after Shadowing
After shadowing multilingual learners, educators often use words like frustrating, insightful, cold, and enlightening to describe the experience. Such reflections often become the catalyst for change and a way to disrupt silence on behalf of MLLs. I like to describe the entire shadowing process as a “day in the life of a multilingual learner,” in which educators can experience both the assets and needs of this group of students. Through the shadowing experience, educators monitor the academic speaking and listening experiences of multilingual learners and often come to the realization that they themselves do far more of the talking than their students.

Figure 1: Shadowing Reflection Wordle

Creating a Plan after Shadowing
After the data collection portion of the shadowing experience, it is essential that school systems have a plan for disrupting silence systemically with their MLLs. My Shadowing Multilingual Learners book outlines three research-based strategies that teachers can begin to use to create more student talk in their classrooms. These strategies are think–pair–share 2.0, the Frayer model, and reciprocal teaching. As part of the professional development provided and outlined in the book, shown in Figure 2, teachers incrementally begin to try out each of the strategies with their MLLs, so that both they and their MLLs become comfortable with classroom talk. Each strategy is taught one at a time across the three-day series, with sessions one month apart, so that teachers can practice and become comfortable using each of the strategies. Teachers also bring student work samples from each of the strategies to days two and three of the training series, in order to analyze and reflect upon how each strategy was implemented and received by students. Next steps for refinement with each strategy are then shared before additional strategies are introduced.

Figure 2: Three-Day Shadowing Series

As we begin to reopen schools, I encourage systems to use the shadowing process and series to understand the specific assets and needs that MLLs may have after their schooling has been interrupted by the traumatic experiences of the pandemic. Through careful observation and data collection, our MLLs will show us where gaps in opportunity may have occurred. By analyzing data, educators and school systems can devise explicit next steps to quickly meet the specific needs of their MLLs. For more information on how to shadow, please see Shadowing Multilingual Learners (Corwin, 2021).

Gibbons, P. (2015). Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Soto, I. (2021). Shadowing Multilingual Learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Dr. Ivannia Soto is professor of education and director of graduate programs at Whittier College, where she specializes in language acquisition, systemic reform for English language learners (ELLs), and urban education. She began her career in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), where she taught English and English language development to a population of 99.9% Latinos who either were or had been multilingual learners. Before becoming a professor, Dr. Soto also served LAUSD as a literacy coach and as district office and county office administrator.

She has presented on literacy and language topics at various conferences, including the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE), the California Association for Bilingual Association (CABE), the American Educational Research Association (AERA), and the National Urban Education Conference. As a consultant, Soto has worked with Stanford University’s School Redesign Network (SRN), WestEd, and CABE, as well as a variety of districts and county offices in California, providing technical assistance for systemic reform for ELLs and Title III. Recently, Soto also directed a CABE bilingual teacher and administrator program across California.

Dr. Soto has authored and co-authored twelve books, including The Literacy Gaps: Building Bridges for ELLs and SELs; ELL Shadowing as a Catalyst for Change, which was recognized by Education Trust-West as a promising practice for ELLs in 2018; From Spoken to Written Language with ELLs; the Academic English Mastery four-book series; the Common Core Companion Book Series for English Language Development four-book series; Breaking Down the Wall: Essential Shifts for English Learners’ Success; and Supporting Cultural and Linguistic Diversity: A Framework for Responsive Schooling. Together, the books tell a story of how to equitably engage and include ELLs by ensuring that they gain voice and an academic identity in the classroom setting. Soto is executive director of the Institute for Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching (ICLRT) at Whittier College, whose mission is to promote relevant research and develop academic resources for ELLs and standard English learners (SELs) via linguistically and culturally responsive teaching practices.

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