A guest post by Deborah Cochran
ESOL Teacher for grades K-5 at Craig Elementary School, Parkway School District in St. Louis, MO
Imagine Learning now publishes monthly guest posts in order to stimulate conversations about K12 education across the country. Opinions expressed herein are those of the individual author and may not necessarily reflect the official opinion of Imagine Learning.
*The following article is an updated version of a prior post by the author.
Multiculturalism is a hot topic in education today; just ask any teacher.
As more multicultural students enter the classroom, educators have to continually challenge old ways of thinking about culture. But where to start?
Like it or not, most assumptions about other cultures arise from cultural stereotypes or complete myths. And debunking those myths is an important first step when entering the pathway to a global mindset.
America is a melting pot.
Truth: While one might expect immigrants to melt into the fondue pot of American culture and language, the truth doesn't always fit within a tidy metaphor.
For one thing, Americans to this point haven't melted into a homogenous blend of flavors.
Instead, we kept our own ways and simply expected newcomers to blend in.
Maybe it's time for a different analogy. How about the view of America as a mixed salad? Immigrants arrive and keep their own unique culture and language while learning more of the American culture and language around them.
In this way, multiculturalism can exhibit different, but equally appealing ingredients--just like the mixed salad.
Culturally diverse families don't want to be actively involved in their children's American education.
Truth: Some (but certainly not all) cultures employ a hands-off approach when it comes to children's educational experiences in America.
Likewise, some cultures promote a different view generally about the ways adults engage with children.
Perhaps these families
- Hold a different view on the topic of 'knowledge'
- Subscribe to a unique cultural view on teaching in general
- See literacy defined differently than might an American educator.
No matter how tempting it might be to assign an American view on new students' (and parents') behavior, resist the urge.
Instead, gain accurate insights straight from the source: your student and his/her family.
If guided by genuine concern and a desire for nuanced instruction, your inquiry will likely be received in a positive way. Remember, most families just want their children to succeed--just as teachers do.
Expect all multilingual students (particularly those with limited English proficiency) to need English language remediation from a specialist.
Truth: Given the growing English language learner (ELL) population in today's classrooms, shouldn't all teachers be language specialists?
Teachers' roles continue to evolve with the demographics, allowing even more collaborative and co-teaching opportunities.
What does this mean? Ideally, every teacher can learn effective language remediation strategies.
In other words, every teacher can help our multilingual students grow.
All multilingual students will need general remediation.
Truth: In most contexts, "remediation" implies a deficit of some kind--but teachers can switch their mindset.
In most cases, teachers view every multilingual student in the class as an asset, not a liability. After all, each student has a unique world view that can greatly enhance a classroom community, particularly when teachers apply the proper scaffolding.
Educators with a global mindset will be open to the following advice from the Center for Applied Linguistics:
Learn about, value, and build on the languages, experiences, knowledge, and interests of each student to affirm each student's identity and to bridge new learning.
Value multilingual students' funds of knowledge and treat them as resources in the classroom.
Research shows that taking students' cultural backgrounds and experiences into account in order to make instruction more appropriate and effective is a critical component of culturally responsive instruction.
Incorporate your English learners' native languages in lessons.
By following these suggestions, American educators can make the educational experience a better one for kids of all cultural backgrounds. Don't be afraid to take that first step forward!
For more culture-based resources, visit the author's prior post on growing a global mindset and scroll to the bottom of the page.
About the Author
Deborah Cochran currently teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in grades K–5 at Craig Elementary School in the Parkway School District, St. Louis, Missouri.
Her past experiences include teaching English language learners for 16 years, both in Missouri and northern New Jersey where she worked in pull-out, sheltered, and bilingual instructional models in grades K–12.
In 2010 Deborah began blogging during coursework for her Educational Administration degree from William Woods University. She uses The ESOL Link as a resource for the teachers she supports in Missouri.