New migrant pupils in regular classrooms
Miguel is a boy of 12 who came from Spain to the Netherlands when he was 10. Because of his Antillean Papiamento background, his father speaks Spanish and a little Dutch. His mother only speaks Spanish. Miguel, thanks to good results in the newcomers class, was able to go to the regular group 7 after only 6 months. He first took some classes to get adjusted before completely transitioning to the mainstream classroom. Although he finds it unfortunate that his friend Olaf did not join him in group 7 as he did not successfully complete the test, he is glad he does not have to go to transitional class 2.
Miguel is aware of the fact that he is in a mainstream, “normal” class and has outperformed his friend Olaf. Note: multilingual students generally need at least five years to reach the same level as native speakers of the same age (Cummins, 1981). So it is very important to look at the development of the students more than the absolute results (for different ways of evaluating see Huver, 2012).
In principle, transitional class students have to develop faster than their classmates and should be given that chance for at least five years. You will only get a good idea of the student’s level after 5 years at school. In the Netherlands it is not unusual for a student to spend more than a year in a transitional class. However, in Finland, after one year in a transitional class everyone will enter the mainstream classroom and there is no testing in transitional classes. In France, all students enter the mainstream classroom with substantial language support that decreases over time.
An important question to ask as a school is: which level of (academic) langauge proficiency irequired before a student can transfer to the mainstream classrooms? This depends on the expectations of the school team. Since it takes at least five years before a student has fully mastered the academic language (Cummins, 1981), it is important to think carefully about how long a student has to wait before they can ‘just’ go to school. In Canada, for example, students do not have to wait. They are immediately integrated into the mainstream class and receive support there. In this way they are less delayed in the curriculum and they can connect faster with the school system. Note: Tests do not always test what the teacher wants to know, for example because the target language is not yet at the appropriate level and / or the tests are culturally determined (examples include, inter alia, Malda et al., 2008; Le Pichon & Kambel, 2015).
How to stimulate the development of the transition student?
Take a student from your class in mind: what is he / she good at? How would you apply these properties to improve the aspects that he / she has difficulty with and stimulate his / her development? When you do the same for another student, will that result in something completely different?
When is a student proficient enough in the school language to proceed?
How many students in your class go on to the mainstream classes before they can speak and understand the school language as well as their native peers? None right? Write down: which requirements are there at your school regarding the school language to allow a student to enter the mainstream classroom?
Think of the last student who transferred from your class to a mainstream class. What was the development perspective of the students based on the development he / she has experienced with you? Based on your reports, how will the child be assessed: as a future university student or a vocational training student? Why is that and how would you change that?
After two years in the international transition class, Soufian transferred to the second year of pre-vocational education in a mainstream school 10 kilometers from his previous school. His mentor of the ITC has not heard anything from his student since the transition. Soufian was an enthusiastic student and developed well. He found it difficult to work independently and had a home situation that distracted him from his schoolwork a lot. He also got into fights with other students, he therefore needed to engage in a conversation with these students after school hours under the watchful eye of the teacher. The teacher is afraid that, with too little guidance in the regular classroom, he will lose his enjoyment and motivation for school. In addition, she is wondering if the results and prognosis are in line with how he performs at the moment.
A good transition, from a reception class or mainstream class, is dependent on many factors (see: Herzog-Punzenberger, 2016, pp. 18-19; Yeboah, 2010, pp. 65-66). It is important to not look at the absolute results for 5 years, but at the development of the student: what does he/she need to develop further? Frustration and inability lie in wait: it takes a teacher a lot of time and effort to assess the level of a student and what is in need of extra attention. What makes this issue even more difficult is that the evaluation standards during the first year are often very different from those in the regular classroom. Some methods also do not correspond with those of the regular classroom. Therefore, the results and comments in the student files are not always sufficient for the mainstream classroom teacher.
In addition, the contact between transitional classes and regular schools during and after the transition has to be optimal: as soon as a student moves to another school or location there must be feedback concerning the student. This would be beneficial for both the transitional classroom as for the mainstream schools; they help each other getting better at guiding the students and improving future education.
A newcomer in the mainstream classroom
Imagine that you work in a regular school: what would you like to know from a transitional classroom teacher to integrate a student in the mainstream classroom? How are these issues being dealt with in your student file? Is there a full, warm transfer at your school? Is the host school informed of the language repertoire of the student and hi/her cognitive development, creativity emotional development and ambitions in life? Is there emphasis on what the student can do? What are you missing to make the transfer even better?
Reflect on your own situation: how often do you get the question from a mainstream classroom if it can help with a former student of yours? Do you think that is enough? How often do you check with a mainstream classroom to see how it goes with a former student and whether the student meets the former assessments? Do you think that is enough? What would you wish for in order to improve the transfer?