Focus School: Southbank International School, London, U.K.

Submitted by: Gillie Robson
Date: June 2021
Photo courtesy of Southbank International School, London, U.K.

Three children around a table connecting sheet of paper with different words

Southbank is a school whose quality and identity rest on its commitment to the International Baccalaureate program and promotion of international-mindedness. With more than 30 nationalities represented in the student body at our Hampstead and Kensington campuses, our Primary Years Programme provides opportunities for students to study other languages, as well as their own, and become good communicators. We are committed to challenging our students academically, have a liberal ethos and promote the values of the International Baccalaureate.

As IB PYP educators, we are all language teachers. Language is woven into every aspect of our transdisciplinary programme. At Southbank, multiliteracies, multiculturalism and multilingual education are valued and celebrated. Our English as an additional language (EAL) departments work closely with the wider staff to promote the use of translanguaging as an effective tool to promote student progress and language learning outcomes.

Translanguaging requires a culture of collaboration and sharing between students and staff to empower students to use their full language repertoires when learning and socializing. It is therefore very natural to see our Southbank students conferring with each other in one language to fact check their understanding about content and then ‘report back’ to the group in English.

It is not only languages that underpin translanguaging, but the culture, experiences and knowledge that exists across languages that enable us to empower students to bring their ‘entire selves’ into the learning and language learning environments. Students are encouraged to discuss their learning with their parents in their home language. This allows families, for many of whom English is an additional language, to communicate about subjects naturally using the rich ideas and vocabulary of their home languages, without the constraints of English.

Students then confidently carry this diverse knowledge and experience to the classroom to share with their peers. This English-Portuguese poem, written by a grade 2 EAL student from Brazil, plays with the rhythm of language. By using her full language repertoire, this student was able to connect with her peers through poetry.

Our entire school community supports language and multiliteracies. We believe that it is what makes us different that enhances our shared learning experience. Our parents collaborate with us at the Hampstead campus to deliver our bi-annual Read Around the World, where students can attend a read aloud session in their home language(s), or simply choose to experience a new language, by visiting a story session delivered by one of up to 40 parents reading in their home language.

At the Kensington campus, we also offer students the opportunity to collaborate with their peers, and parent volunteers, during Home Language Town Meetings which encourage children throughout the school to gather to celebrate and take pride in their first language(s). These meetings positively reinforce the advantages of their bilingualism& providing children with the confidence to naturally use translanguaging strategies to make connections in the mainstream classroom.

“At Southbank, we have seen much more than just a nod to multiculturalism. We feel that the activities the school arranges help to inform, educate and celebrate our differences in a way that teaches not just the students, but the whole Southbank community. The inclusive approach of the school is above and beyond, which makes us feel happy to know our children are being prepared for a global future.” – Southbank parent

WIDA’s Essential Actions are aligned with the IB PYP and therefore joining the WIDA International School Consortium was a natural choice. The WIDA assessment tools and its can do philosophy require that we, as educators, explore all of what students can bring to the English language learning journey. WIDA is more than a language assessment; it engages with the broader knowledge, understanding and transdisciplinary experiences multilingual students bring as pathways into learning.

In our Town Meetings and interactive displays, we share interviews with our multilingual students and their experiences. Building on the WIDA Can Do Philosophy, we also use the multilingual assets and profiles of our students to explore any learning strategies or needs that might be specific to each individual as a wider student support team. Most importantly, we aim for our students to be at the center of what we do and how we learn from them and the experiences they bring. They help us to think differently about Language.

WIDA enables us to assess across skill domains, focusing our teaching and learning engagements in a way that supports our holistic and individualized support at Southbank. Its philosophy complements our school’s mission, and its international network has given us meaningful and memorable professional development opportunities, connecting with WIDA schools worldwide. Becoming a WIDA member school was a decision we are happy to have made and one we encourage other schools and internationally-minded educators to consider.

two women reading a booklet together

Become a WIDA Focus School

Tell us about the ways WIDA has helped your school discover what your learners can do. Send a message to international@wida.us to nominate your school – or a colleague’s – to become a Focus School for an upcoming issue of the WIDA International Newsletter.