Judith Howard

Where we’ve been in the year so far – and a quick visit with Tibetan students

Follow the link for this fascinating post: Innovating English language curriculum through translanguaging in Tibet: fostering plurilingual identity for minority students

It’s been a busy 2023 here at AARE – we publish twice a week on a wide array of educational topics, from early childhood to higher education, from researchers at Australian universities. Today, we are reminding you of the fascinating posts we’ve published so far in 2023 with a bonus post about teaching English to Tibetan students.

Our most read post this year – by far – was a heartbreaking post by Robyn Brandenburg, Ellen Larsen, Richard Sallis and Alyson Simpson on their research. It explains why teacher retention is such a challenge. Please read Teachers now: Why I left and where I’ve gone if you missed it the first time around. It brings new insights into what is happening to the most important profession in our country.

“I was just so anxious, unwell, and unhappy. Every day I felt sick on my way to work. I could never get through my mountain of work, I could never get on top of classroom behaviour, and I could never get to a place where I was able to deal with the unreasonable demands of the school.”

Next up, Trauma in all our classrooms. Judith Howard explains how to respond to the children and young people who have been victims to complex trauma sitting in most school classrooms and early learning settings across our country. 

These young victims can struggle with feeling safe, with attaching and relating effectively to other people and with regulating their emotions.” 

Two pieces sparked a lively conversation and had a number of comments. The first was by Pasi Sahlberg and Sharon Goldfeld: If not now, then when is the right time to re-envisage what schools could be? and in a response by Nathaniel Swain, Pamela Snow, Tanya Serry, Tessa Weadman and Eamon Charles: What we want to say right now to Sahlberg and Goldfeld

Sahlberg and Goldfeld write: “In our Discussion Paper titled “Reinventing Australian schools for the better wellbeing, health, and learning of every child” (Sahlberg et al., 2023) we outline a new vision for uplifting student learning, wellbeing, and health in our schools. We argue that the core purpose of schooling needs to shift from primarily focusing on narrow academic intelligence to equal value learning, wellbeing and health outcomes for balanced whole-child development and growth.”

The reply, from Swain et al, says: “Importantly, [Sahlberg and Goldfeld] note that these [declining] trends, seen across literacy, numeracy, and science, have stubbornly persisted in the face of increased per capita education spending. What is surprising to us though, is that Professors Sahlberg and Goldfeld seek solutions to academic struggles not in improved classroom instruction, but in extra funding and focus on wellbeing, without considering the contribution to wellbeing made via academic success.” 

We have had many other fantastic contributions this year and you can read our entire back catalogue here.

And please read this fascinating post from Xingxing Yu, Nashid Nigar and Qi Qian on:

Innovating English language curriculum through translanguaging in Tibet: fostering plurilingual identity for minority students

Discriminatory education policies for Indigenous communities across the world is still a human rights issue despite the rights of Indigenous peoples (370 million) to education which is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples. The article 14 of the second Declaration proclaims,

Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.

Yet, the policies of education across the world (70 countries) are orchestrated on dominant language/s and minority language divide. When dominant languages are privileged over those of minorities, it triggers a flurry of disadvantages and segregation for the minorities, benefiting the privileged at the expense of subjugated. According to United Nations,

Barriers to education for Indigenous students include stigmatization of Indigenous identity and low self-esteem of Indigenous learners; discriminatory and racist attitudes in the school environment, including in textbooks and materials and among non-Indigenous students and teachers; language barriers between Indigenous learners and teachers; inadequate resources and low prioritization of education for Indigenous peoples, reflected in poorly trained teachers as well as lack of textbooks and resources.

To address the barrier, “inadequate resources and low prioritization of education for Indigenous peoples” , we, three non-Indigenous educators collaborated internationally and took initiative to experiment and propose some innovative ideas to include Tibetan language and culture in the English language curriculum for Tibetan students. This is relevant for any dominant language focused curriculum that does not include and/or ignore indigenous languages, cultures, and knowledge systems in the curriculum: textbooks, materials and pedagogy. 

In the summer of 2021, Qian, a master’s student at the University of Melbourne, decided to teach English in Ganzi county in the Sichuan Province for one month. Although not located in Tibet, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Region has a greater than 80% Tibetan population, according to The People’s Government of Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, 2021. At the school where Qian worked, Tibetan students comprised the entire student body. This one-month course provides a clearer picture than the dispersed data in peer-reviewed articles.

Trilingual education

Qian: If the language of instruction is Tibetan, students seem more engaged in the classroom activity. Maybe, they can comprehend the teachers better through their native language.

Commonly, the term trilingual education is used to describe the learning of three languages by Tibetan students. First, minority students must learn their mother tongue as well as Mandarin Chinese as soon as they enter school; second, English as a compulsory subject must be learned as early as secondary school. Tibetan students, in this context, must learn two additional languages beside their native tongue, Tibetan.

Current research has uncovered two major negative effects of trilingual education on Tibetan students. First, Tibetan students are more likely to be labeled as “deficit” language learners owing to the paucity of educational resources (teachers, for example) in Tibetan areas, as well as their extra language learning responsibilities in comparison to their Han peers. Second, the Han-dominant ideology, embodied in both Mandarin-instructed English classrooms and English textbooks where Han-culture prevails, devalues Tibetan culture and language, as well as the ethnic identity of students.

In lieu of imaging a larger picture that is more idealistic and human rights oriented in terms of policy change, which appears impractical in China, we propose devising a more pragmatic approach. that, on the one hand, is permissible within the realm of current educational policy. It is, on the other hand, able to contribute to multilingual identity and an easier way for Tibetan students to learn English. It also paves the way how teachers’ agency can be applied in terms of teaching English from a multilingual perspective. 

A new approach to curriculum

As master’s students taught by Nashid Nigar at the University of Melbourne, Qian, and I (Xingxing) discussed how to implement translangaugeing theory into the English language (EL) curriculum for Qian’s Tibetan students. We believe this practice demonstrates that translangaugeing could be viewed as a pragmatic solution for minority language users.

What is translangauging?

Translanguaging is a term originally attributed to the Welsh educator Cen Williams.  The extended version of translanguaging, nevertheless, is aligned with the critical perspective of the named language. It is, according to O. Garcia and W. Li, socially constructed and represents a distinct concept of language itself. They assert that the transformative potential of translanguaging practices is derived from their capacity to transcend the socially constructed boundaries of named languages, notably the creative and critical feature. The worldview of Translanguaging involves the acknowledgement and development of their plurilingual identity through the uses of their full linguistic repertoire: languages, cultures, knowledge, values, and beliefs. 

Under this understanding, educators in Tibetan classrooms should make full use of their students’ linguistic resources not only to activate students’ language creation so that they can learn English effectively, but also to empower them to reconsider the hegemony of Han-dominated language and culture.

Predicated on translanguaging theory, we put together a curriculum with the topic “I am a tour guide” that encompasses four classes and an assessment task.

First, we adapted the existing official English textbook more relevant to Tibetan students’ daily lives without altering its instructional focus. For example, Han festivals and foods were replaced with their Tibetan equivalents, and narratives of urban culture were revised to reflect rurality and snow mountains. On the one hand, the adaptation of teaching materials substantially increased students’ interest, and encouraged students to enjoy language learning and participate more actively in learning tasks and activities, thereby facilitating students’ connection to English by the means of Tibetan. In these, both languages were used non-hierarchically by them. The adaptations of the activities in the textbook addressed Qian’s concern for his students and provided multilingual support for them.

Second, we innovated the original test-oriented assessment by requiring students to simulate a tour guide to introduce Tibetan culture using all of their linguistic resources. In addition, students are encouraged to create an account on Douyin (TikTok in China) and upload their video recordings. The plurilingual identities of multilingual speakers and multimodal video creations served as a powerful incentive to enjoy and learn English. Throughout the process, they experienced, by knowing, doing,” becoming”, that their plurilingual self was underscored and valued.

Notably, repeated practices in front of the camera enhanced the students’ self-esteem and self-confidence in English interaction. Their oral fluency vastly improved, corroborating M. Amiryousefi’s (2018) conclusion that self-assurance indicates a solid command of a foreign language.

The innovative translanguaging-informed teaching strategies and curriculum reform that Qian applied in the Tibetan region promotes Tibetan English language learners’ plurilingual identity. However, we believe it is highly unlikely to institutionalize an all-encompassing democratic and inclusive curriculum that respects Tibetan identity and language under China’s current political system. Despite the severe censorship and surveillance of the government though, we can still do more to assist minority speakers not only in overcoming language learning hurdles, but also affirming and promoting their cultural and linguistic identities. Teacher professional development and exercises of their agency, and ethical commitment to responsive pedagogy are crucial in this process. 

This curriculum reform approach can be adapted by stakeholders involved in any diverse context of teaching and learning in terms of literacy and language education.

From left to right: Xingxing Yu has a Master of TESOL from the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Graduate School of Education. Experience in working in Chinese state-owned enterprises and her family history in remote areas of western China have prompted her to study educational inequities in China, including gender and ethnic disparities, as well as urban-rural imbalances melody0901@gmail.com. 

Nashid Nigar has taught Master of TESOL and Master of Education programs at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne. She is at the final stage of completing her PhD at Monash Education. Adopting a transdisciplinary theoretical lens and hermeneutic phenomenological narrative enquiry, Nashid  has investigated immigrant teachers’ professional identity in Australia. Nashid.nigar@monash.edu Qi Qian completed his Master of Education at Melbourne Graduate School of Education. He has taught at Garze Ethnic Middle School in Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province. He is now teaching English in another junior high school.

Header image of the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture by Colegota

Trauma in all our classrooms: Here’s how to respond

Children and young people who have been victims to complex trauma are sitting in most school classrooms and early learning settings across our country. 

Complex trauma results when infants or children experience physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, significant neglect, or family and other types of violence, without the buffering support and protection of nurturing and available adults. 

One in 32 children under the age of 18 are identified as accessing child protection services due to this type of harm but this is a considerable underestimate of the numbers of trauma-impacted children across Australia.  There are many others who are not receiving these services for a range of reasons and unfortunately, there are also those children who continue to be harmed and yet remain unidentified.

Neuroscience has provided abundant evidence that, due to what is happening to these young children and around these young children, there can be a worrying impact on the development and functioning of their nervous systems.  This can lead to an equally worrying impact on their learning, emotions, and behaviours. 

These young victims can struggle with feeling safe, with attaching and relating effectively to other people and with regulating their emotions.  Also, overactive threat responses in the parts of their brains that manage distress and other interpersonal challenges, can shut down the pre-frontal cortical activity that is needed for them to engage effectively in learning environments and to connect to the curriculum.

If you are not good at feeling safe, you are not great with relationships, and you struggle with your emotional regulation, you are very likely to behave in a way that will lead to disengagement with learning.  Also, concerning behaviours can result from an overactive “flight, fight or freeze” response and this can unfortunately lead to many young learners experiencing quite significant discipline, and for some, suspension or exclusion from school.

Thankfully, the growing awareness of the impact of complex trauma on the development and functioning of young bodies and brains has led to a global reassessment of how the behaviours of these learners should be “managed”.  So, rather than depending mostly on techniques that are informed by behaviourism and reward/consequence methodologies, education sites are now exploring supports and strategies that are informed by neuroscience.

The theory of behaviourism underpins many quite common behaviour management approaches in schools and early childhood education settings. Behaviourism suggests that all behaviour can be explained as responses to environmental stimuli.  It proposes that by manipulating environmental stimuli, educators can achieve and reinforce the behaviours that they want from learners and reduce or extinguish those that they do not want.

Although these approaches can work well with most young learners, they tend to be quite unsuccessful with trauma-impacted learners.  This is because the concerns experienced by these children are mostly due to internal, bodily factors that are driven by maladaptive and overactive nervous systems.  If these internal factors are not recognised and addressed, it is very unlikely that the manipulation of external, environmental factors will address any behaviour concerns, which tends to frustrate busy educators.

Due to the particular (internal) concerns suffered by learners living with unresolved complex trauma, trauma-aware education focuses on three main areas.  Strategies and processes are put in place to help learners to:

·         perceive their learning environments as safe and non-threatening

·         develop their capacities to engage effectively with relationships with other learners and with the adults within their learning environments

·         develop their capacities for emotional self-regulation.

Another important aspect of trauma-aware education is to support and enhance the knowledge, skills and personal and professional wellbeing of educators. It is undeniable that engaging with learners who live with unresolved complex trauma, day after day, can be very taxing and challenging.  Therefore, this approach emphasises that purposeful activity be embedded into organisational processes to prevent harm and enhance outcomes for educators and any other practitioners who are working in education settings.

Trauma-aware education is not a program or another piece of work for busy educators to manage.  Rather it is a shift in thinking, believing, planning and acting so that the harm that trauma exerts on the functioning of children and young people is minimised or alleviated and engagement, learning and achievement, can happen.

Increasingly, education sites and education systems are considering what they should do to address the overwhelming and debilitating impact that unresolved complex trauma can have on education experiences and wellbeing and life outcomes for young learners. To support the thinking and action of sites and systems across Australia, National Guidelines were developed in 2021 through a collaboration between the Queensland University of Technology and the Australian Childhood Foundation.

To further support the growing movement in trauma-aware education in Australia and beyond, my new book, “Trauma-aware education: Essential information and guidance for educators, education sites and education systems” is designed to provide solid guidance for individual educators, for schools and early childhood education settings, and for the education systems that provide resourcing and governance to education sites. The book explains the research that informs a trauma-aware approach in an easy-to-understand manner and describes a range of practical strategies sites and individual educators can use. 

One chapter examines in-depth a trauma-aware approach to behaviour support, behaviour policy, crisis management, case management and individual support planning for learners. The book also explores the application of this approach for learners living with disability and includes vital messages for people who are keen to lead work in trauma-aware education.

I wrote the book to meet the needs of a varied readership and I believe it provides vital and timely professional learning needed for anyone working directly with young learners. It also provides information for leaders of education sites and managers and decision makers in education systems that can inform systemic discussions and policy development. Finally, and importantly, the book can be used as a text to support pre-service teacher education in universities providing our future educators with great preparation for their future careers.

Judith Howard is an associate professor in the Faculty of Creative Industries, Education and Social Justice at the Queensland University of Technology, focussing on the concerns of young learners who have experienced complex trauma. She promotes a neuroscience-informed approach and believes every educator and worker in every school and early childhood service needs access. She oversees pre-service and post-graduate teacher education in trauma-aware education and has developed online courses reaching thousands internationally.