Wednesday / July 24

Disrupting Silence with Shadowing


Figure 1.1: Shadowing Reflection Wordle 

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 multilingual learners (MLLs). I like to describe the entire shadowing process as a “day in the life of a multilingual learner” where 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 do far more of the talking than their students.  

My decade-long involvement in shadowing projects across the country has taught me that the average percentage of time that multilingual learners are speaking is often between 5-10%. This is in contrast to what researchers like Pauline Gibbons (2015) tells 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 might have few opportunities for speaking. 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, which might be similar culturally to a MLL’s home that is more collective than individualistic. 

During Shadowing, we focus on the speaking and listening experiences of MLLs, as these two domains are often the 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 sea of talk.” Additionally and strategically, speaking is scaffold for writing, and listening is a scaffold for reading. For these reasons alone, we should intentionally embed classroom talk and active listening in our classrooms. After all, the person doing the most talking is doing the most learning. 

Shadowing can assist systems with refocusing their attention on 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 5-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 on the ground shadowing as well. 
  • Shadow using the Jeff Zwiers videos (all 9 videos and take down activity at the beginning and end of each video). Please note that these are exemplar videos, so you will have a slightly skewed shadowing experience with these videos. 

Ideally, a group of teachers engage in the Shadowing experience, followed by 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 manner that informs us 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 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 the district. After setting such goals, Shadowing can then be used for progress monitoring and used at least once a year, to continue to see if the goal that has been set is being met after on-going professional development. 

After the data collection portion of the Shadowing experience, it is essential that 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, and in the figure below, 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 each session 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 2 and 3 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 1.2: Three-Day Shadowing Series 

Day 1  Day 2  Day 3 
  • Introduction to MLLs 
  • Importance of Listening and Speaking 
  • How to Shadow 
  • Strategy #1: Think-Pair-Share 2.0 
  • Debrief Shadowing Experience 
  • Debrief and Analyze Student Work from Think-Pair-Share 2.0 
  • Strategy #2: Frayer Model 
  • Debrief and Analyze Student Work  

from Frayer Model 

  • Strategy #3: Reciprocal Teaching 
  • Strategy Review 

As we begin to reopen schools, I encourage systems to use the Shadowing process and series, in order 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 systems can devise explicit next steps to quickly meet the specific needs of their MLLs. 

Written by

Ivannia Soto is Associate Professor of Education at Whittier College, where she specializes in second language acquisition, systemic reform for English language learners (ELLs), and urban education. She is the Author or Co-author of 13 books, including bestsellerBreaking Down the Wall Essential Shift for English Learners’ Success and most recently she is the Author of Shadowing Multilingual Learners, Second Edition.  

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