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Slide 1: Welcome. I’m Stanley Dudek from WordFarmers Associates. This slideshow focuses on how to communicate with English Learners and their families. I’m presenting it on behalf of the Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation (OPEPP, for short) at the University of Cincinnati’s Systems Development & Improvement Center.

Slide 2: If you are one of the fortunate few Americans who speak more than one language, you are in a wonderful position to help speakers of other languages succeed in classrooms and schools in the United States. You likely understand the struggle to learn new languages, and you understand the connections between language and culture. But if, as is more likely, you speak only English, you too can help English Learners. This slideshow, in fact, is created to help you “scaffold” the academic experience of these students. In the process you may see the value of developing some new routines and outlooks.

Slide 3: Students who speak first languages other than English come from an incredible range of circumstances. Some come from American families, but live in communities that are culturally separate (for instance, some American Indian or some Mexican-American communities). Some are refugees who have escaped dreadful and traumatic situations. Some are children of affluent families who have relocated to the US—permanently or temporarily. In the past 20 years, in fact, the number of students in K-12 schools whose native language is something other than English has more than doubled, to about 4.9 million students—more than 10% of the total PK-12 school population. Here’s the most surprising fact: about 82% of prekindergarten to 5th grade English Learners and about 65% of 6th through 12th grade English Learners were born in the US!

Slide 4: Working with students who don’t speak the language of instruction (in this case, English) is a challenge for educators. It’s no wonder that sometimes educators become impatient with these students. Educators may not understand how hard it is for students to learn a second language well enough to use it for academic learning. Except for very young children, however, most people find that learning a second language takes a great deal of time. Sadly, in the real world, not speaking English very well is often mistaken as a deficiency. The real world is not very patient. As educators, though, we understand the rewards of patience.

Slide 5:  So, what should educators do to help English Learners learn both English and academic content? Fortunately, a great many resources exist to help educators work with these students.

Slide 6: In this slideshow, we’ll lay out some practical principles for paraprofessionals who speak only English. If you are viewing the slideshwo in an instructional setting with bilingual or multilingual colleagues, as might be the case, then you will learn a lot from talking with them.

Slide 7: Here are the practical principles, each of which we will consider separately in the upcoming discussion:

  • Exhibit the admiration that English Learners deserve for their efforts to speak a second language and for their eagerness to learn English.
  • Help these students interact with English monolingual speakers.
  • Learn about the cultures of English language learners.
  • With the help of your instructional team, participate in home or community visits.
  • Beef up your own language learning a little: demonstrate your willingness to learn a little Somali, Spanish, or Chinese, or French Creole, for instance.

Slide 8: English Learners deserve our admiration. These students are emerging bilinguals. That is, unlike most Americans, they will wind up fluent in two (and maybe more) languages. So, it’s important to let the entire class know how valuable it is to learn more than one language. Emerging bilingual students (that is English Learners) demonstrate to everyone that this accomplishment, so unusual in America, is something everyone can do.

Slide 9: It’s also important to help monolingual students interact with ELs. After all, monolingual students and ELs are all members of the same classroom community. Their interactions will allow them to learn from and alongside one another. There are four benefits: (1) ELs will get a lot more practice with English, (2) ELs will form stronger bonds with classmates and become valued members of the classroom community, (3) American monolingual students will come to appreciate peers from difference backgrounds, and (4) monolingual students will learn about the advantages and challenges of acquiring a second language.

Slide 10: You might, for instance, do the following things:

  • make sure that small groups include a mix of ELs and native English speakers;
  • direct questions to ELs and give them sufficient time to formulate answers or ask for clarification;
  • give students (both ELs and English speakers) the chance to explain what life is like in their culture; and
  • help scaffold academic work by using explicit explanations, graphic organizers, pictures, and even pantomime.

Slide 11: These sorts of provisions help integrate ELs into the social and academic environment of the classroom. Remember that not knowing the language that surrounds you is isolating. It’s important to find good ways to make the classroom more inviting and less isolating for everyone.

Slide 12: Learning about the cultures of ELs is also important. They may come from many different places around the world and speak many different languages—Somali, or Guatemalan, or Haitian. Language is the chief carrier of culture, and each language is therefore deeply bound up with how its speakers understand the meaning of life. Languages with which we are unfamiliar have strange words and sounds and exploring these words and sounds can be interesting. But exploring the cultures that are expressed through different languages that is even more interesting. When ELs arrive in the classroom, learn all you can about their culture. Cruise the web. Read books. Find out how family life works. Learn about politics and economics, and history, and geography, and differences in how people interact with one another. Knowing something about your new students’ cultures will help you work with them and their families—and it can change your view of the world, as well. Talk with your mentor teacher and others on your instructional team to arrange opportunities for cross-cultural sharing.

Slide 13: There’s one big caution, however, when it comes to learning about other cultures. Remind yourself that the student’s world—the one you don’t know much about—is complicated and contradictory in about the same way as life in America. What you read and learn from texts and videos isn’t the whole picture. Listen to what your students say about their cultures; and keep an open mind.

Slide 14: Educators should also participate in home or community visits. Families may feel intimidated by school personnel; home visits can help them feel more comfortable. And you will learn a lot about your students’ circumstances—as with any home visit. Once you know a little about the students’ cultures, home visits will help you learn even more. And visits to students’ homes will help their families feel connected to, and appreciated by, the school. Another possibility is to pay a visit to the community—especially if there’s a community event in which one or more of your students will be involved. For example, the community may hold a festival that is open to the public. If you ask your students to tell you about such events, you can plan to attend. Perhaps bring along your own children, grandchildren, or young people from your church or neighborhood.

Slide 15: Another useful idea is to become a language learner yourself. You’ll find that students from other places love it if you pick up and use some words and phrases from their language. Ask them to teach you! You might discover that you can develop some expertise in the culture and language of some of the students in your school. Such expertise would be helpful to the students, your instructional team, and the whole school community. Many people fear making a fool of themselves by trying to say things in another language. But remember: your students and their families also confront this fear whenever they try to speak in English. You can make it easier for them by reciprocating.

Slide 16: One more, very important, point.  Whether citizens or not, all your students are entitled to a free public education; and their immigration status has nothing to do with it. In fact, if you have information about their immigration status, you should not share it with anyone. Confidentiality is required. Check with your mentor teacher or team to find out precisely how this situation is handled in your district.

Slide 17: That’s about it! An increasing number of students come to school with a first language other than English. Educationally speaking, this is a good thing because Americans desperately need the example of people learning additional languages! And, in our increasingly diverse country, students need encouragement and support for learning to get along with people from many different groups. Remember, when you are working with English Learners:

  • admire their accomplishment,
  • help the rest of the class interact with them,
  • learn about their cultures,
  • make home and community visits to show you care, and
  • try to use words and phrases from the students’ languages.