Meeting the needs of all your students, including those who are emergent bilinguals

Sandra Osorio is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at Illinois State University

Latinos represent the largest and fastest growing minority group in the United States.  About 22% of all children under the age of eighteen are identified as Latino (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010).  This growth means that there is an increasing importance for preservice teachers to learn how to better serve the needs of multilingual children. In their teaching career, it is guaranteed that a teacher will have several students that have a native language other than English.  Not just Latinos, but students from various countries, including students that are born in the U.S., but speak a language other than English at home. 

Children whose first language is something other than English are given many different names: Limited-English Proficient (LEP), English Language Learner (ELL), or English as a second language (ESL) learner.  All these names have a deficient connotation, they give the idea that not knowing English well should be seen as a bad thing, when in reality it’s not taking into account the qualities a student does have.  Children, whose first language is not English, still have a language that can be built upon.  Being bilingual is something that should be seen as a positive aspect.  In reality these children are emergent bilinguals, they are learning to function in both their home language as well as in English.

There are many simple things teachers can do in order to meet the needs of their emergent bilinguals.  I am currently working with a second grade dual language teacher who has both English dominant and Spanish dominant students, so all of her students are learning a second language.  Some of the practices I have seen her implement are:

  1. Think-pair-share This is where she asks her students a question or gives them a topic to discuss with a partner.  Students then get an opportunity to talk through their ideas before sharing with the small group.  The partners use whichever language they are most comfortable with.
  2. Highlighting key vocabulary The class was going to start a unit on weather, but before starting it the teacher was introducing the steps of the scientific method to them, which included: question, research, hypothesis, data, and conclusion.  The teacher realized that this would be vocabulary that students would be responsible for knowing throughout the whole school year so she wanted to make sure her students knew it from the start.  She had students work in groups and make a visual representation of the words.  Students were given on of the words and asked to draw pictures of ways to represent that word. The class did two of the words together; in order to make sure students understood what was expected of them. Another way of highlighting vocabulary is showing students the cognates between the languages, such as, conclusion and conclusión.  If they know the meaning of the word in one language, then they can attach that meaning to the new word.
  3. Use of native language Now of course, during class each content area is taught in a particular language, be it Spanish or English and the students are expected to use that language.  The teacher does allow for students to use the language they are more comfortable with, but then shows them how they would say it in the expected language.  This way she is acknowledging what they know, but also pushing them to reach the expectation of using the other language.

 There are many things that can be done to show an emergent bilingual that you respect and value their native language, too many to name here.

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