Dr. Chris Leider and Dr. Amy Lieberman join team of researchers offering professional development for educators working with bilingual & multilingual students

The education of multilingual students has become increasingly important and relevant given the changing demographics of American schools. So how do classroom teachers ensure that they are adequately prepared for these multilingual learners? Clinical Assistant Professor Christine Leider and Assistant Professor Amy Lieberman have teamed up with over 20 researchers on a project titled the International Consortium for Multilingual Excellence in Education (ICMEE) on a five-year, $2.7 million grant, that seeks to do just that.

Dr. Amy Lieberman & Dr. Christine Leider
Dr. Amy Lieberman & Dr. Christine Leider

 

“The goal of the project is to meet the professional development needs of K-12 teachers of bilingual and multilingual leaners through a series of eWorkshops,” Dr. Lieberman said, noting that the workshops range in focus from Second Language Acquisition, to Race and Education, to Home Languages in the Classroom. Up until this point, and through previous grant work titled “e-Learning Communities for Academic Language Learning in Mathematics and Science” (eCALLMS), the workshops developed have primarily been tailored to content teachers in math and science.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of English Language Acquisition’s National Professional Development Award Program and led by Principal Investigator Kara Mitchell Viesca from the University of Nebraska Lincoln, researchers from 11 states, as well as from Germany, will work to further develop, implement, and evaluate the eWorkshops for use in more educational settings.

“The current grant expands on the eCALLMS project in a number of ways,” Dr. Lieberman said, “in that the work we’re doing now involves expanding existing workshops as well as developing new workshops to reach a wider range of educators such as special education teachers, elementary school teachers, school administrators, and teachers of deaf and hard of hearing children.”

In addition to the development new workshops, a major focus of the grant work will be to conduct research on and evaluate the success and impact of all of the eWorkshops.

“One of the things we’re looking at is how these workshops might influence teachers’ understanding of how to support multilingual students pedagogically, but also perceptions such as linguistic and cultural sensitivity,” Dr. Leider said. She’ll serve as the Lead Evaluator for the grant.

“One of the goals will be to validate a new measure that is specifically for assessing teachers’ cultural and linguistic competencies,” she added.

Dr. Leider said that all of the eWorkshops utilize an asset-based approach to working with multilingual students in a way that recognizes that the diversity of language and cultural experiences that students bring to the classroom is enriching for everyone.

“The workshops provide training on scaffolding, tiered language support, and an understanding of a more asset-based approach which is threaded into the workshops,” she said. “They’re also offered in modules that follow the same sequence, the last of which is ‘make it work’. This gives teachers the chance to take what they learn, try it in the classroom, and then share with their learning community online.”

That community component is central to the ICMEE approach, which allows for groups of educators to complete the workshops together and choose which workshops are most relevant to their needs.

“One of the theories of change in the overall project relates to that choice,” Dr. Leider said. “The theory is that if teachers get to choose what they want to focus on and they can do it in a cohort, the engagement and learning will be deeper.”

Dr. Leider will also work to evaluate the impact of the workshops on teachers’ beliefs and practices for working with multilingual students.

All districts are encountering an increase in the number of multilingual students, and the research and evidence that we have for how to effectively engage those learners has really expanded. These will be critical partnerships to help us understand from teachers exactly what multilingual students are bringing to the classroom and for us to understand as researchers how best to engage these learners. -Dr. Christine Leider

For Dr. Lieberman, the opportunity to create workshops specifically tailored to teachers of Deaf students is an exciting one. Her research focuses on the language acquisition of deaf children, who are increasingly being approached as bilingual language learners.

“For many deaf children, American Sign Language is their first accessible language or L1, and they learn English—in written and/or spoken form—as a second language or L2,” Dr. Lieberman explained. “When I met and learned about Dr. Viesca’s work on multilingual learners, we saw a natural extension to the types of issues that are faced by teachers of deaf and hard of hearing students.”

She added, though, that there are some real differences.

“Many deaf children do not have a solid foundation in their first language, so the bilingual perspective is both a very useful framework but it also presents unique challenges.”

Dr. Lieberman’s role in the ICMEE project will be to develop three new workshops that will be designed specifically for teachers and other professionals working with deaf and hard of hearing students from a bilingual or dual language perspective.

“One example of how these workshops might be used could be in the School of Education’s partnership with the Horace Mann School for the Deaf, which is working toward becoming a dual language ASL/English school,” Dr. Lieberman explained. “A community of teachers at the Horace Mann School could engage in these workshops as they are embracing what it means to be a dual language school for deaf children.  At the same time, the teachers and staff at Horace Mann have so much rich experience working with their diverse students, and thus their voices will be critical as we think about how to develop meaningful content.”

The goal, then, will be to deliver this content to a wider audience and to allow as many teachers as possible to engage as professional learning communities.

“Ultimately we hope that by being able to put this out to a wider community, including teachers who are already in a classroom, or at schools where deaf programs are beginning to transition to a more bilingual approach … that it would be a way to package some of what we think are the core competencies when thinking about multilingual education, and deaf education from this bilingual approach,” Dr. Lieberman said.

She emphasized that the project will also enable the research team to engage directly with the communities of educators to learn more about what teachers in the field are experiencing, and what challenges they’re facing when working with bilingual and multilingual students. Dr. Lieberman and Dr. Leider are hoping to engage educators across Massachusetts, in particular, in the ICMEE eWorkshops.

“We’re really hoping and looking forward to working with districts in the greater Boston area, and all across Massachusetts really, to partner as we develop, test, and implement this new round of workshops with cohorts of educators,” Dr. Leider said. “All districts are encountering an increase in the number of multilingual students, and the research and evidence that we have for how to effectively engage those learners has really expanded. These will be critical partnerships to help us understand from teachers exactly what multilingual students are bringing to the classroom and for us to understand as researchers how best to engage these learners. Creating these professional learning communities is a really great way to do that.”

To learn more about the project or to explore how your school district can partner with ICMEE, visit http://cehs.unl.edu/icmee/ and email Dr. Chris Leider at montecil@bu.edu or Dr. Amy Lieberman at alieber@bu.edu.

-Lisa Randall