After the professional development session for my teacher education program, I met with my supervisor and expressed concern about the program activity I needed for my students.
I told my supervisor that the design and language used in the activity was not accessible to my students. Most of my students immigrated to the US over the past year and they were all English learners, making it difficult for them to complete the activity.
The supervisor responded to my concern by saying, “Well, the good thing is that you know more than the kids you always teach. They don’t understand anything.”
I was shocked by their response. As a new teacher, I was often looking for advice to best serve my students. Instead, the needs of my students were denied. I can’t separate my lack of empathy for my students ’learning situation from the fact that I teach English to students throughout the class: 80% Latin, 10% Arabic, and 10% Asian and Pacific Islands. Looking back on my own experience of learning English, I find myself reminded of many occasions when teachers and administrators mistaken my ability to read or speak English as a disability.
Unfortunately, my supervisor’s sense of response is not unique to curriculum design for English learners. I was a first class assigned English learner due to my inability to read the California English Language Development Test (CELDT), English reading, writing, and speaking assessment at the expected fluency level. Being an assigned English learner put me in a class focused on classification and behavior management while my “native English speaking” colleagues took courses completely different from the classified students learning English.
The teachers refused to allow my peers and me to speak or communicate in Spanish and forcibly assimilated English. For example, once a teacher asked me to identify the word “server” (waiter) from an image. Given Spanish is my mother tongue, I said The waiter. Waiter has a literal meaning in Spanish, it doesn’t matter if I am able to interpret in my mother tongue Condenser (Someone who waits), or I had some ability to translate into languages because the server didn’t know the word. My reclassification as “English proficient” would not come until I entered high school, at which time I avoided reading, writing and speaking in class.
Coming back to class as a teacher, I have been informed that students, no matter how familiar they are with English, can participate and learn in a meaningful way. I work purposefully to ensure an expression that ensures students ’linguistic capital Community Cultural property – Accepted through language support by students’ pairs and vocabulary, sentence and speech patterns. I am not saying that these supports are widespread in any way, but the feedback provided by students and counselors proves that these class methods make students feel overwhelmed.
As a science and math teacher in school for students who have recently migrated (dubbed “novice”), I reflect on these experiences, primarily how policies are focused and what language should be applied to the black, indigenous, and color (BIPOC) community. People (students).
Building comprehensive language support
Immigration patterns are provided in the United States based on immigration law, housing logistics, and family reunification programs, with students frequently added to our class. To address student needs and the arrival of newcomers, new students are added to interact with our class volunteers in their spoken languages, gradually scaling up conversations in English.
All assignments are scaffolded in groups, while students translate questions and vocabulary into languages they can read and write. If they still cannot read and write in their spoken languages, the student is given a speaking role to practice writing in their mother tongue, while other students support them and help them read and write. In this way, students can contribute to the work of their larger group while developing their reading, writing, and speaking skills.
Although students are encouraged to speak English with their peers, they are provided with vocabulary and sentence scaffolding to translate and use to support their English language development. For example, assigned readings ask students to translate large scientific vocabularies that provide them with reference points to understand when reading aloud. Students are also given a graphic organizer to write their main takeaway in English and their most convenient language. The graphic organizer also provides students with the opportunity to share any relevant sentences, phrases and drawings. In this way, students can log their learning and place reference points for their assessment.
The effect of the study
In my conversations with students, I found that many students can use their native language to learn new literature. English makes it easier for them to engage with content (and learn languages other than English!). Students have told me that our class doesn’t give them “simple things” and challenges them more than teaching them basic concepts in English.
The support structures I use to improve students’ English and to participate in class have shown tremendous success. My science class students report the highest percentage of work completion and rank their work as meaningful and relevant to education in their disciplines. As a result, feedback from students and parents kept our school at a high level of meaningful peer-to-peer relationships across the district.
Being able to let students work in their native languages while learning English is a strong assertion for me as a formerly appointed English learner. Since students speak their native language, I can take advantage of my linguistic capital as a Spanish speaker to communicate with students and help them focus on challenging their knowledge and cultural wealth. Furthermore, I can help their families and the community to expand collective participation for the well-being of students and create an environment where no one knows more than others.
Together, we create a rich and culturally rich community of learners. This environment shows that students of academic and cultural knowledge and language enter the classroom. My job as their teacher is to make sure that our classroom is a reflection and confirmation of those experiences.