I was teaching a class for high school students at a local Providence school last week and was reminded of the issues that Virginia Collier raises in the chapter you are reading this week.
I had students working on college application essays, brainstorming descriptive words about themselves to use as an anchor for their writing. "Dedicated," "creative," "driven," "curious..." I gave them five minutes to draft a list. I watched two students on my right struggle with pen to paper. They are both native Spanish speakers, and they often talk to each other in Spanish when not addressing the group so I guessed that Spanish was a more comfortable place for them if given the choice.
They each had one or two words on their papers, while most others in the room were jotting down lists of 7, 8, 9... so I thought of Virginia Collier and had an idea.
"When you are brainstorming words for this essay," I said to the whole group, "you can write those words in any language. This is just to get your brain warmed up, and to get your initial thoughts on paper. When you write, you will write the essay in English, but as you are jotting down the best words to describe yourself, write freely in any language that feels most comfortable to you."
I made eye contact with the young women to my right and they smiled at me. Suddenly their lists or words flowed freely, filling up the page. And I knew that allowing them to start in Spanish would make this writing exercise much more successful for them.