It’s the personal stories that are often lost in the conversations we have about immigrants and refugees. One personal story may seem insignificant; however, when the stories of nearly five million English Language Learners are absent from the education narrative in the United States, so is the context through which we can learn to know our students, to build empathy, and to truly understand what our students — especially newcomer students — need to be successful.
A Story Can Shift Practice
Emily Francis’ immigrant story is compelling standing on its own; however, it becomes even more powerful if we ask what this story — and the many others like it — can teach us about how we can best reach newcomer students and any student who doesn’t quite fit in.
As you read about Emily’s experience, think about the similar struggles and barriers your students face in the classroom each day. Allow Emily’s story to illuminate some of the ways that educators can identify their students’ needs and support newcomers with a few simple pedagogical shifts.
More importantly, keep in mind how a growth mindset and asset-based way of thinking is required to see the gifts that every student brings, particularly those from other cultures, languages, and countries.
When we remember the power of stories from others unlike ourselves, we can put ourselves in their shoes, developing empathy for different perspectives and different paths in life. We can learn about the funds of knowledge our students and their families posess, or the rich backgrounds, skills, and assets diverse populations bring to school. We can move beyond the challenging socio-political rhetoric and focus on the realities in our classrooms — the realities of the world our immigrant students bring to us every day.
Whether this is your first, tenth, or maybe even your last year of teaching, you’re probably still settling into your classroom and getting to know your learners. Each year, a new set of students brings new challenges and opportunities. Most likely, your class has at least one English Language Learner (ELL). In fact, one out of every ten students in public schools is an English Language Learner. And, in reality, all of your students are learners of language!
Teaching Channel is here to support you by adding more new video series about teaching and learning with ELLs to our library and our ELL Deep Dive. In this first series, we take you to Banting Elementary in Waukesha, Wisconsin, where Jessica Hegg and Kris Carey co-teach in a fifth grade, dual language classroom. They open up the walls between their two rooms and share the teaching of 45 students in a class where 75% are ELLs. Watching Jessica and Kris in action, we not only see effective strategies for bridging content and language, but also a model for how two teachers collaborate and share their strengths to create an amazing learning environment.
Spanish, Somali, Hmong, and Telugu are a few of the 48 languages spoken in the School District of Waukesha (SDW). At SDW, we’re proud to say that our student population brings many assets and global experiences to a suburb west of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. However, our largest population of students is Spanish speaking.
This has proven to be an opportunity for bilingual education in SDW. The research from Wayne P. Thomas and Virginia P. Collier, 1997, 2010, shows that students who participate in high quality, dual language programming for five to seven years, where at least 50% of learning is in the partner language (in this case Spanish), outperform their peers academically.