Yesterday I attended the first module of a professional development course called “Teaching ESL Students in Mainstream Classes.’ Click here for a more in depth explanation of the course’s aims and rationale.
The first module considered the social, emotional, economic, cultural and linguistic factors influencing student identities, particularly of those students who come to our classrooms from a language background other than English. Discussion was interesting and varied as all participants in the course come from a diverse range of schools. As a follow up to the session, we were asked to investigate the ‘funds of knowledge’ – or skills, knowledge and experiences – that an ESL student brings to one of our mainstream classrooms. Below is my reflection on how I went about the investigation and how it helped to enrich my own understanding of the class, as well as the students’ understanding of themselves and the content we are currently exploring.
I performed this activity with my Year 11 Italian class. This class consists of five students, two of whom come from homes where a language other than English is spoken. Only one of these students was present on the day of the lesson.
This task fit in very well with our new topic – Gli italiani ed il tempo libero (Italians and their free time) – which has a particular focus on youth and what shapes their identities in Australia and in Italy. We began by discussing what identity is and brainstorming factors that shape our identity. The students came up with a list including:
– Culture and traditions
I then modelled a diagram of factors that I believe shape my personal identity, before inviting students to privately create their own version. The three students present on the day were generous in their permission to use their data for the purpose of this course.
It was interesting to compare the three students’ diagrams. All of them identified as Australian English-speakers. The two girls perceived themselves as Italian ‘learners’ whilst the boy, whose relatives speak Italian at home, identified himself as an Italian ‘speaker’. Whilst he did not write it on his diagram, in conversation he speaks about himself as ‘Italian’. Upon reflection I wonder if what he means is ‘Italian-Australian’ but perhaps he uses the ‘Italian’ to distinguish himself from others. I also found it interesting that this boy goes by the Anglo-Saxon form of his name, yet on his identity diagram wrote his full Italian name. Perhaps this may subtly bring into question his perception of the acceptance of his peers and the broader community of linguistic and cultural differences?
All three students wrote about themselves as Gen Z and 00’s kids. They all alluded to their family and friendship groups and two of them pointed out their social media use (such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr) as forming a part of their identities.
Only one student spoke about religion as part of her identity.
This activity gave me great insight into the backgrounds and experiences all three of these students bring to our small, close-knit class and allowed us to start to make connections with how the identities of Italian youth may be shaped in similar or different ways. As a follow up activity, the class then worked together to create a short online survey to be completed by contacts in Italy. Overall, the activity was very useful, both for me in terms of finding out what each student brings to the classroom, and for the students as they make global connections and meaning through multiple languages.