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Enhancing student experience through community engaged learning

How Dr Froso Argyri, UCL Institute of Education, worked with bilingual schools in London on a MA module in Bilingualism and Multilingualism.

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30 June 2020

 Dr Froso Argyri talks us through how she embedded Community Engaged Learning (CEL) into the Bilingualism and Multilingualism module (MA in Applied Linguistics/TESOL programme in IOE) and how it enhanced the experience of both UCL and school students. 

Remote, not distant: you can still embed CEL into your teaching.

Follow this newly created Teaching Toolkit and attend an event scheduled in June to August 2020 to find out how to design CEL in a digital learning environment. 

Overview of embedding CEL 

The Bilingualism and Multilingualism module involves 3-hour weekly sessions.

I decided to embed CEL activities as a way to increase student engagement and also enable students to apply their theoretical knowledge into practice. 

Building on previous public engagement work

I have been involved in public engagement activities relevant to childhood bilingualism since 2016 (I am a co-founder of UCL BiLingo).

In this context, I have been working with mainstream and supplementary schools. I am a childhood bilingualism researcher and I am also co-teaching/co-leading the Bilingualism and Multilingualism module for MA students in the Centre for Applied Linguistics.

I have always been looking for opportunities to embed CEL into the module. A few MA students attended two of my public engagement talks last year and they enjoyed the experience.  So I decided to take this extra step and embed CEL into my teaching.

This is why I invited our UCL BiLingo community language school partners to our class to work with our students.

Designing CEL into a session

Overview of the session

I split the session into two halves. 

  • First session: involved discussion of recent research relevant to bilingual development in childhood. 
  • Second session: involved CEL Activities: I invited community partners to work with my students on real-life challenges related to the discipline (Community Lecturers). The students had the opportunity to listen to the partners’ challenges and work with them. 

Who was involved

The session included Headteachers, teachers and parents from the Brazilian school and the Czech school (supplementary schools in London) & MA students at the IOE, Centre for Applied Linguistics (40 students).  

External partner feedback:

It was a great experience to share our work at supplementary schools with the students

Schedule of the session 

  • Students formed 5 groups
  • Introduce our 5 visitors from the Czech School and the Brazilian School (2 Headteachers, 1 teacher and 2 parents) 
  • Each Headteacher delivers a 10-minute presentation discussing their school structure activities, values and challenges
  • Students ask questions after each presentation 
  • Each partner sits with a group of students
  • Task: work collaboratively on a 2-3 minute presentation; focus: one of the challenges mentioned by the partners which as the “challenges of bilingual schools in London”. 
  • Each group presents their presentation in the classroom
  • Feedback from peers and partners for each presentation
  • Complete evaluation form at the end of the session

Students have also been offered the opportunity to deliver a presentation to the pupils of these bilingual schools and get the opportunity to engage with the external partners on their site. 

Equipping students with real-life experience

I engaged with CEL pedagogy to enable students to apply their theoretical knowledge into practice and I also wanted them to get better equipped to work with bilingual/multilingual students in different school settings when they graduate.

Giving them the opportunity to do this now as well as realising what challenges and opportunities there are, it helps them become better educational professionals.

The novel aspect was that I brought in the classroom external partners, who actually worked with the students.

Securing partner availability 

This happened during the second week of term 2. I had contacted our partners early December to secure their availability late January. I informed the students about the partners’ visit during the first week of teaching.

Partners had been informed about the structure of the session, their involvement and the focus of their presentation.  

Outlining student and partner requirements 

I had to take the below steps: 

  • Contact partners to confirm availability
  • Inform partners what you need from: 
    • prepare a PowerPoint presentation
    • discuss aims of their talk, length and structure of the session
  • Plan the session carefully
    • what activities are included?
    • what is the length of each stage? Think about evaluation at the end of the session
  • Voluntary engagement of UCL students, consider:
    • are they interested and available to visit the partners’ schools on a Saturday?
    • are they able to deliver a short presentation to pupils to address a challenge the partners have identified?
    • are partners interested and available?
    • is there a suitable date/time for all 

Positive student feedback 

Students provided very positive feedback, they benefited from the extensive interaction with teachers and parents of bilingual/multilingual children, learning about the challenges multilingual families may face as well as about the important work of these supplementary schools in London.

I was very pleased with the level of engagement of the students and the partners were so keen to share their vast experience and answer interesting questions.

Student feedback: 

I was able to connect with real examples of heritage language education and hear the challenges these schools face to maintain these languages 

Collaborative staff-student partnerships 

At the end, students and partners had to work collaboratively on a very short presentation on promoting bilingualism to young bilingual/multilingual children. An issue that had been pre-identified. 

Students and partners completed a short evaluation form at the end and the comments were very positive, showcasing the success of this collaboration.

This activity improved students’ understanding of the different dimensions of bilingualism/multilingualism in the family and in the context of two supplementary schools in London.

They were able to hear about the teachers’ perspective, the parents’ perspective and also get an idea about the bilingual children’s perspective in the family and the school contexts.

Multilingual children’s perspective is not discussed usually, although they are the ones who attend school on Saturdays and need to understand the adults’ perspective. 

Froso's top tips to embed CEL in your teaching:

  1. Talk through your idea with Marie Xypaki, Curriculum and Public Engagement Consultant across UCL Culture, UCL Arena and UCL East. 
  2. Attend a UCL Arena Event to find out how to embed CEL. 
  3. Contact partners that you would like to engage with your class. 
  4. Inform partners and students about the context, aims and outcomes of the activity and the reasons they are invited to work with UCL students during a teaching session. 
  5. Check partners’ and students’ availability. 
  6. Plan and time activities: it is important that the session is planned and timed well so that there is time for the partners’ contributions, students’ questions, collaborative activities between students and partners and students’ output and feedback.
  7. Ask partners and students to complete a short evaluation form at the end of the session, it’s very helpful!