How much do you know about the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of your English learners? According to one researcher, this knowledge plays a key role in successfully teaching students for whom English is a second language.
In her article published in 2000, Arlette Ingram Willis says, “Effective literacy instruction builds upon the cultural and linguistic backgrounds, ways of making meaning, and prior knowledge that all children bring to the classroom. Such instruction also acknowledges the important role of culture in language and literacy learning. Understanding and respecting the array of different cultures and languages represented in their classrooms helps educators adopt strategies for teaching literacy that will encourage and support student achievement.” In other words, it is as important to know the student as it is to know the subject matter.
Here are six types of knowledge you can develop to help your English learners succeed in your classroom.
1. Learn about your own culture
Become aware of how the influence of your own culture, language, social interests, goals, cognitions, and values could prevent you from learning how you could best teach your students of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Also, understanding and respecting your own cultural roots can help you respect your students’ cultural roots.
2. Learn about your students’ culture
Understand how your students’ cultures affect their perceptions, self-esteem, values, classroom behavior, and learning. Use that understanding to help your students feel welcomed, affirmed, respected, and valued.
3. Understand your students’ linguistic traits
Learn how students’ patterns of communication and various dialects affect their classroom learning and how second-language learning affects their acquisition of literacy.
4. Use this knowledge to inform your teaching
Let your knowledge of your students’ diverse cultures inform your teaching. This, along with a sincerely caring attitude, increases student participation and engagement.
5. Use multicultural books and materials to foster cross-cultural understanding
Sensitively use multicultural literature, especially children’s literature, to honor students’ culture and foster cross-cultural understanding. Be open to a variety of instructional strategies as students’ cultures may make certain strategies (such as competitive games or getting students to volunteer information) uncomfortable for them.
6. Know about your students’ home and school relationships
Collaborate with parents and caregivers on children’s literacy development and don’t rely on preconceived notions of the importance of literacy within your students’ families.
Acquiring this rich store of knowledge may seem overwhelming, but whatever investment you can make will be well worth the time and effort. Make it a career-long goal to build your knowledge bases a little piece at a time. At the very least, notice how your students with diverse backgrounds react differently to various language and literacy teaching strategies and be willing to modify your approach to find mutual success.
Do any of these suggestions ring true for you? Have you had success using one or more of these strategies in your classroom?
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