“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
The classroom has always been a collection of unique students with unique needs. And then throw in language barriers and cultural differences, well, your job as an educator just got a lot harder. According to a study conducted by The Tesol International Association, ELLs are the fastest growing demographic in our school systems today at 51%, compared to 7% of the general population. There are approximately 6 millions ELLs in public schools (10%), and it is projected that in 2025 that percentage will increase to 25%.
Although it will take time and effort to make the adjustments necessary to accommodate an influx of ELL students, there are some steps that can be taken right now to help your ELL students feel as comfortable in the classroom as a fish underwater.
First, reach out to the parents. Make sure parents know that you have an open-door policy, and a way to communicate with them when language barriers become an issue. Don’t have on-site translators or the budget? Invite local high school or college students to be volunteer translators, who will surely jump at the chance to practice their language skills and brush up their resumes. .
Second, take advantage of technology. If ELL students are struggling to learn a concept in English, maybe they would understand it just fine if they first learned it in their native language. After watching an educational video or reading an article online, ask them to explain what they learned or what they liked in English, and then be willing to teach it to them again.
Show them the importance of what your students are learning. Make sure they know that every lesson or activity is actually useful in their lives, not just at school. Frequently ask questions after a specific lesson or activity to help them make the connection between school and life; for example: “How do you think knowing x will help you with y?” Maybe they are video game fans or young artists; help them see that knowing how to spell or do long division can help students their individual interests.
With just a few small adjustments, you can make a learning environment that will help all ELL students feel comfortable and confident in their schools and with their own learning abilities, fish or not.