The school year is well under way, and teachers are beginning to get to know their students and to build relationships with them. The teachers that work with English learners (ELs) should know how crucial their classroom practices are to the success of these students. Here are four essential practices that effective teachers of ELs exhibit in their classrooms:
- Demonstrate a positive, asset-based relationship with students.
- Provide scaffolds to support ELs to acquire new information.
- Make use of flexible grouping of students in the classroom.
- Model appreciation of diversity in the classroom.
Following, I’ll discuss these four practices in detail.
1. Teachers demonstrate a positive, asset-based relationship with the ELs in their class.
When classroom teachers genuinely care about their ELs, they demonstrate concern for students’ social and emotional well-being as well as their academic progress. This care has a substantial influence on ELs’ motivation to learn. It is imperative that classroom teachers of ELs understand the cultures and educational backgrounds of their students. Teachers should be able to put themselves into their ELs’ shoes and understand what it is like to come to a strange country with a different culture and customs. Here are some samples of what teachers can do to build a relationship with ELs:
- Have positive interactions with ELs every day. Messages such as “You are really good at…”, and “I like the way you solved that problem…” can encourage ELs as they are learning. Use gestures to accompany your positive message (thumbs up, pat on the shoulder, high five, smile) so that a child whose English is limited will understand that you are saying something positive.
- Teach ELs useful phrases. Teach phrases ELs can use to develop the social skills they need to bond with their teachers and classmates. They need to learn, for example, how to approach a teacher to ask a question or engage a classmate in a conversation.
- Provide safe spaces. According to Teaching Tolerance, teachers must provide safe spaces for students where they are seen, valued, cared for, and respected. This is especially important for ELs. To create this learning environment, teachers need to ensure ELs see their experiences reflected in the curriculum.
2. Teachers use scaffolds to help ELs acquire new information.
When scaffolding instruction, effective classroom teachers provide supports that help ELs succeed academically. These scaffolds should be tailored to meet the their students’ individual needs. Scaffolds for ELs may include the following:
- Link new learning to what English learners already know. Teachers need to consider what schema ELs bring to the classroom and to link instruction to the students’ personal, cultural, and world experiences.
- Model think-alouds. Effective teachers use think-alouds to help ELs understand the step-by-step thinking process in finding a solution. They help ELs see the strategies and the language that the teacher uses to solve a problem.
- Use visual representations. Teachers of ELs should use photos, drawings, realia, graphic organizers, charts, graphs, and Venn diagrams to support EL learning.
- Reteach essential vocabulary. Effective teachers choose essential vocabulary for ELs to learn. New vocabulary is pretaught in context, not through rote memorization. Teachers provide multiple occasions for ELs to practice vocabulary.
3. Teachers make use of flexible grouping of students in the classroom.
In the classroom of an effective teacher of ELs, the physical layout of the classroom is conducive to small group and pair learning. Desks are arranged in small groups so that ELs feel that they are an integral part of the classroom community. ELs are provided with plenty of comprehensible output through interactions with their English-speaking classmates. Observers can see meaning negotiated unceasingly as students work in their groups. ELs have a greater opportunity for practicing their English and learning the content information through repetition. Small group and pair learning provide ELs with an opportunity for sustained dialogues with native speakers of English.
4. Teachers model appreciation of diversity in the classroom.
The diversity in the classroom is viewed as a resource from which all students can learn. Classroom teachers should value diversity and model this outlook to their students, demonstrating that they appreciate that the families of ELs have unique experiences to share with classmates. ELs feel that their culture is being validated when they see their home cultures and languages being studied in the classroom. This is a real self-esteem builder for them.
If you have other practices that classroom teachers can use to help their ELs’ social and academic growth, please share them in the comments.