Let’s Get Together Thursday – Working with English Language Learners

In Texas, as in so many parts of the world, bilingual education is prevalent.  A few years ago, a librarian in our district wrote her dissertation on the difficult situation of working with second language learners when you yourself are not bilingual.  One of the things that we notice is that teachers themselves can be reluctant to work with you, especially if they smell your fear!  Teachers are protective of their classes and want to know that you are collaboration worthy before they commit.  Here’s some sage advice from Dr. Jo Anna Patton, elementary librarian from Hazel Harvey Peace Elementary in Fort Worth ISD, on how she works with bilingual students, and ways that you can approach this work confidently:

First, it is important that all children feel comfortable and safe in their school environment, whether it’s in the classroom or the school library. When children are involved in class discussions, every child’s comment is valuable and every question has merit. As the discussion leader, it is important to be assured that all the children understand the conversation. It is through their comments that you will know whether or not they understand the topic.

Second, any discussion of cultural traditions can include the various cultures represented in the class, being careful to not specifically point out any particular child. For example when discussing traditional holidays, it is important to be aware of the traditions in other countries and to share that knowledge with the class. Including traditions from specific countries represented by your class adds value to the discussion. If, for example, you know ahead of time France and Germany are represented in your classroom, then in a conversation about winter holidays it is easy to work in a discussion of how the winter holidays are celebrated in France and Germany. Allow students the freedom to discuss their cultures or traditions with the class when they are ready to do so. Just because the class is discussing the traditions of another country, avoid identifying students in the class from that country and asking them to talk about experiences. The class environment should be such that students can make the decision to share or not share experiences.

Third, allow students to see that although we might all be different in the way we look and the languages we know, yet we are all the same in our dreams for the future. Bilingual students want to be like everyone else and the more you can demonstrate that with the group, the better. Although as an adult we may be tempted to brag about students who can speak two, three or more languages, remember that many bilingual students don’t want to stand out. They want to be part of the group. What may seem like an outstanding achievement to us may make the student uncomfortable.

There are plenty of articles available on best practices with bilingual students, but I think that making certain that students understand concepts and are confident about asking for help, goes a long way toward ensuring a successful experience at school.

Author: Jennifer Laboon

Jennifer LaBoon is the Coordinator of Library Technology in Fort Worth ISD. She serves on the AASL Blog Committee, on the Executive Board of the Texas Library Association, volunteers with a local children’s musical theater group, and is an avid TCU fan.

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration

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