Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sociocultural Aspects of Schooling for ELs

I can relate to the Rubinstein-Avila article statement that, "Secondary teachers may not be aware that many of their ELLs have been designated as such throughout much of their K-12 school experience because they failed to score above the 36th percentile on standardized test (in English)." When it comes to the students in my Acquisition Language Development (ALD) class, I had misconceptions about students before I knew their background, story, life, and history.

One of the twelve students in my ALD class was born in America—though her parents and family were born outside the United States and speak Spanish as their primary language—she doesn’t know how and never speaks Spanish at home or school, only learned English, but is classified as an ELD student! I had assumed, prior to supporting the teacher of the ALD class, that any ELD or ALD student must have been born in another country and speak another primary language other than English.

This student, like Miquel, struggled with later literacies. It makes me wonder, is this student, like Miguel struggling with English because of painful early literacy experiences earlier in her life. I imagine her parents wanted her to learn English only, like other immigrant families I knew throughout my life. My son's father immigrated from Russia, and his mother, who was bilingual, demanded that he must only speak English. He never learned or heard Russian after he was four. He was lucky because his mother also spoke English and helped him developed English literacy. But, he lost his first language and culture completely.

One strategy for me to understand students like the girl in my ALD class would be to listen to her story (and her parents) to find about her literacy experiences. If her parents don’t speak English and are not bilingual, this student may have deficits in Spanish, which would impact her early literacy development and ability to learn English, too. If her parents avoided Spanish and didn’t know English, my student could have suffered from lack of literacy in either language and therefore is English and Spanish deficient.  

Another strategy to help in creating a bilingual atmosphere would be to make a commitment to building a shared school community by displaying all cultures within the school on the school campus, integrate multiculturalism, and talk about language development and literacy as part of the instruction and student activities. I would also suggest to my ALD student, after finding out more about her background, that she consider developing her Spanish skills to help her better develop her later English literacy.

Rubinstein-Avila, E. "Conversing with Miguel: An Adolescent English Language Learner Struggling with Later Literacy Development." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 47:4, December 2008/January 2004. Pp. 290-301.

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