Learning from our conversations in English: Using video in the bilingual classroom as a tool for reflection on English language learning and teaching

Sarah Capitelli, Melrose Elementary School, Oakland CA
with Desiree Pointer, Knowledge Media Lab, The Carnegie Foundation

How we learned from our conversations in English:

  1. Overview
  2. What structures support English language development in my classroom?
  3. How do conversations between students support English language learning?
  4. What strategies do good English language learners use?
  5. How can video be used to give my students a window into their English language learning?
  6. Next steps


Class Materials



The School
Melrose Elementary School has a strong Spanish bilingual program that works to maintain the primary language and culture of its students, while teaching English through a differentiated English Language Development (ELD) program. The school-wide data have revealed that despite our efforts, the ELD program does not work for all of our students. The result of which is that students are not sufficiently proficient in English by the time they go to middle school. My current project evolved out of the research I have been doing for the past four years in my classroom on my own ELD program and teaching and the implications for our school wide program. I began the project intending to use video as an additional source of data that I would share with my teacher research group, where I was focusing on better understanding the structures that support English language development in my classroom. In the process of reflecting upon these video data, the idea of using the video as a text for learning with my students emerged.

My Class
My ELD class consists of 18 1st and 2nd grade students for whom Spanish is their first language. All of the students receive the majority of their instruction in Spanish. The ELD class is one hour a day, five days a week. Conversations that students are having amongst themselves during the ELD hour are routinely videotaped, as well as planned presentations and performances. Teacher selected pieces are regularly viewed by the entire class for analysis and collaborative reflection. A number of these conversations have also been taped for further analysis with colleagues. This incorporation of collaborative video analysis has become a routine part of my ELD program, and has come about as a result of earlier research findings. All of the students have participated in this project.
As a primary grade teacher one of my goals is help students develop strategies they can use when working with different subject matter (e.g. What do good readers do when they come to a word they can’t read? Use the pictures. Get their mouth ready to say the first sound, `etc.) Introducing the use of strategies not only helps students solve problems but allows them to think about and take charge of their own learning. Many of the strategies my students use in the classroom are inherent in the subject matter we are working with. However, my research on my ELD program and practice has revealed that English is different. Not all second language learners do the same things when they are learning a new language and many students, as well as myself, are unclear of what they can do to get better at English. The video data have developed into a text that the students and I use to reflect on our learning and my teaching. My research has enabled me to make this innovation in my ELD instruction and my research methodology to both support students in developing and using strategies while they are learning English and to help me teach this subject matter more effectively.

The Impact
At Melrose my project has contributed to a school-wide discussion about English language achievement. As a result, we have decided to group students differently next year and focus our professional development on improving our ELD instruction and program. Further, teachers at Melrose have begun to explore using audio and video as a source of achievement data. For the larger educational community, I believe that my project can provide a model of inquiry that is a tool for both student and teacher reflection and learning.