In this section, the researcher shall discuss the main attitudes and perceptions of middle school teachers who are teaching language arts to students who are English language learners, or ELL, with the focus being on schools in North Carolina. There have been studies written about the topic in the past, since classroom across the United States are currently supporting the system of including such students in mainstream schools that include native English speakers. Since the researcher is also interested in how these teachers react towards their students using their native language in class, the researcher also wants to find out the different instructional strategies that are used and the support that is received by these students as well. In addition, the researcher also wants to further investigate the experience that middle school teachers require first before they begin to teach ELL students, including the kind of training that they have received and should further receive. Moreover, since the topic is quite a controversial one, the researcher would also like to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of teaching ELL students along with their other students who are already native English speakers.
In the United States, middle school refers to any school that prepares a student who has just finished elementary school before he/she attends senior high school. For some, middle school can also be termed as ‘secondary education,’ or ‘junior high school’ which consists of students who are in their early adolescent years, therefore meaning that middle schools cater to students who are between 12 and 14 years of age (Krug, 1964).
Research studies that have been conducted in the past reveal that in the United States, there exists a content knowledge gap between children from minority groups and children who are of the non-minority demographic. Apparently, this knowledge gap lies in language being a barrier towards a well-conducted learning environment (Sirota & Bailey, 2009). Teachers may find that teaching students in middle school are quite challenging since this is the time when their students may be undergoing physical and emotional changes which may be for the better or for the worst. Along with these changes, there is also the issue of the inclusion of students who do not speak English as their primary language and may find it difficult to keep up. Naturally, teachers may find that teaching such students along with other native English speakers may prove to be quite complicated to say the least (Laenen, 2008).
Demographic Changes in Public School Enrolment in the US
In 2008, reports were rife that public school enrolment across the United States almost reached the 50 million mark, with students from different racial backgrounds enrolling in public schools across the country. Based on the statistics, Hispanic students were found out to be one of the main reasons why such high enrolment statistics have been recorded (Glod, 2008). This is a huge difference from how the case was in the late 1980’s when only 11 percent of students in the United States were Hispanic (Rodriguez et al., 2007). The latest recorded figures available for this major ethnic group was in 2006, when 20 percent of the student enrolees were of Hispanic backgrounds. According to the Condition of Education, a congressional mandate released annually, 43 percent of the students in the United States actually belong to minority groups, thereby increasing the need for educational institutions across the country to implement new teaching strategies and programs in order to boost student achievement (National Education Association, 2008). Apparently, reports have revealed that a large number of minority students who come from low-income families are behind in terms of academic achievement compared to other Caucasian and middle to upper-income students. There have also been reports that released that among all of the students enrolled in schools across the nation, African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to drop out of school before finishing their secondary education. However, such recent reports are still a huge improvement compared to how the case was in 1972, when dropout rates were much higher (Glod, 2008).
Demographic Changes in Public School Enrolment in North Carolina
The inflows of immigrants into the North Carolina State, most of them being Hispanics has brought about an increase in the enrolment of multi-racial children in public schools across the state. In turn, this means that there has also been a considerable increase in the number of English language learners who have decided to make use of the rights that they are entitled to.
In a study performed by Santillano (2009), it was found out that most families in North Carolina prefer to send their children to school that is not populated with immigrant students. This is because most parents seem to feel that the quality of education that their child may be receiving would be considerably less because of the increased attention that teachers pay towards English learners.
High Stakes Testing
In the United States, high stakes testing refers to a test that has significant importance to the test taker. It is one in which depending on the scores that the examinee gets, the examinee may then receive a lot of benefits. These may include a license to practice a degree such as law, a scholarship to a good school or university, or as simple as a diploma. A perfect example of a high stakes test are the medical exams that must be taken and passed in order to be able to earn the label of ‘Dr,’ or ‘MD,’ to a name. There are no strict structures or formats of what these tests are. They vary from multiple choice questions to essay questions, and may even require the examinee to be interviewed (Rigg & Enright, 1986).
However, these type of tests have received a lot of criticism from the past. There are many reasons why a student could possibly fail a test, and these reasons may have nothing to do with how much the student knows. For one thing, it does not define a student’s capability to prove to others that he is equipped with sufficient knowledge and skills. In addition, since such tests can cause negative psychological and physical effects brought about by stress, it is of no surprise that despite how much time and effort a student has poured into studying, the results turn out to be disappointing. Since these tests are used as proof to show how much a student knows about the subject, some of these tests may have serious consequences for the student who fails. It makes all the difference between achieving a bright future and settling for a mediocre one (Glover & Bruning, 1987).
The ABC’s of Education in North Carolina
In 1995, the North Carolina State Board of Education was directed by the North Carolina General Assembly to develop a plan that aimed to boost student performance of students between Grade 4 to Grade 8. In The program emphasized the importance of schools having Accountability, where teachers should teach the Basics of education, ensuring that high standards are attained. In addition to this, maximum local Control is required in order to maintain excellent educational standards and further improve it (NC Public Schools, 2009). High educational standards are the focus of the ABCs. The program was actually implemented in order to make sure that all students are able to learn something by attending school and that they show continuous improvements. Furthermore, the stakeholders of the program do not only include the parents and the teachers, but also the school boards, supervisors, principals, superintendents and the entire community. All these stakeholders need to make certain that a child is encouraged to reach his/her full potential for academic growth and achievement (Brumback, 1999).
In 1997 to 1998, Assistance Teams were formed in North Carolina that was assigned by the State Board of Education to work in schools that were not showing progress with regards to academic growth. These Assistance Teams, consisting of highly skilled teachers, school administrators, higher education representatives and even retired educators were placed in K-8 schools wherein 50 percent of the students were not performing as well as expected (Knight, 2008). Members from these Assistance Teams were basically tasked to assess student performance and develop recommendations for further improvement. Assistance Teams were also responsible for evaluating school staff more than once a year at least in order to also make recommendations regarding the staff’s teaching strategies. It was also necessary for the members of the Assistance Teams to collaborate with school staff, central office personnel and members of local boards of education to design, implement and monitor a systematic teaching system in order to boost student performance. Monitoring progress must be maintained and reviewed periodically. Members of the Team were also required to write up reports, also periodically to the local board of education, the community and the State Board of Education regarding any progress that the schools have achieved (Brumback, 1999).
The No Child Left Behind Act and the Adequate Yearly Progress
In January 23 2001, President George W. Bush proposed the No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB, which has been passed as a federal law, with the aim of improving the performance of students in both primary and secondary schools. The law plans to improve the country’s education system by increasing academic standards and accountability for school districts, schools and states. In addition, parents are given the freedom to choose the schools that they would like their own children to attend (Hess & Petrilli, 2006). The law also emphasized on the promotion of reading in schools in order to improve literacy and an increase in the quality of education provided for the students and to enhance their learning experience. In addition to this, writing and subjects such as math and science are considered to be ‘core academic subjects,’ all of which teachers must focus on teaching. This law also promotes the responsibility of teachers to create common expectations with regards to their students’ academic performance, despite issues relating to class, gender and race (Abernathy, 2007). In fact, the law also requires teachers to pay attention to students with disabilities, students who come from low-income families and those who come from a different racial background. Each state in the US has to be responsible by defining both racial and ethnic subgroups according to their academic performance since schools previously only measured average school performance, neglecting the fact that some students from different social and racial groups vary in terms of their academic achievements. Thanks to the NCLB, there has been an increase in the academic achievement of minority students as shown by the California Standards Test, or CST. (Wright et al., 2003).
The Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP, on the other hand, is a part of the No Child Left Behind Act, which determines how public schools and school districts fare in academic achievement through the administration of standardized tests. These tests shall be administered to kindergarten students until they reach the twelfth grade where they shall be tested according to their abilities and performance in reading, mathematics and language arts. The establishment of this issue has caused quite a controversy in recent years since private schools are not required to undergo the AYP. However, government officials and the Department of Education are quick to explain that utilizing the AYP as a measurement tool allows the States and other educational institutions to find out how, where, and why resources should be used wisely. In addition, this measurement tool also determines how schools all over the country can further improve their educational standards and where the financial budget should be allocated to (Peterson & West, 2003).
Countries all around the world have certain language policies whereby they promote the usage of one or more languages, or ban or discourage their inhabitants from using another set of languages. According to Spolsky (2003), there are three components of the language policy. These include the language practices of a community, its belief in the language or ideology and its efforts to change or influence any kind of language intervention, planning or management.
Language policies are important for most countries that do implement them because language is the source through which societies are born. As a result, it is only for the good of a nation to make sure that their language is protected and if possible, even further promoted (Christian, 1999). Different groups have different stands regarding language policies. Clearly, these groups are divided into those that agree and those that disagree. Some individuals are quick to point out that multilingualism is what nations need in order to increase their competitive value. The US for instance, which is a melting pot of almost, if not all nationalities all around the world. According to Marcos & Peyton (2000), multilingualism not only helps maintain America’s competitiveness, but it also protects political and security interests within the country. Restoring and using the language of immigrants and indigenous groups contribute to a country’s diversity, and also holds the advantage of promoting inter-cultural awareness and tolerance for the differences in one another.
Thus, according to the Center for Applied Linguistics, bilingualism within academic institutions should not be banned but should further remain. Since bilingualism is a national resource, the same approach towards the education system will help students from minority groups when it comes to communicating with their teachers and their peers (CAL Board of Trustees, 1981).
The English-only Movement was established with the aim to advocate English as the official language to be used in the United States. In 1994, this Movement was also referred to as the Official English Movement, as it was preferred by some U.S English associates (Lang, 1995). The legislation of mandating such an official language policy is one that has received controversy and protests from US residents who belong to minority groups. Supporters of the Movement however are keen to point out that allowing the English language to take over the nation’s language system would only unify the American people, since a common language is one of the best ways in order to resolve conflicts between parties, regardless of their racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds.
According the Movement’s supporters, the English-only Movement still poses an advantage to the classroom setting in schools than what most people would expect. For one, allowing children to use their mother tongue inside classrooms has a significant impact on the educational and cognitive development of these students. Thus, their English language abilities may not be practiced as much as it should (Baron, 1992). However, most individuals are still able to protest that banning the usage of the student’s mother tongue may actually slow down cognitive and educational development. This is because children who are not native English-speakers, use their primary language skills in order to facilitate them into learning English in the first place (Ollia & Mayfield, 1992). According to Damen (1987), children are able to use the skills that they have learnt in their primary language such as visual, cognitive and linguistic strategies in order to help them learn English. Without the utilization of these students’ primary language, students may not know how to communicate, since they are forced to learn and speak a language that they have not even mastered. As a result, academic achievement can be hampered.
Despite such disadvantages, supporters of the Movement point out that equality in educational institutions should be the main focus of the Movement in the first place. The usage of the English language as the sole instructional language in every classroom and every student means that equal educational opportunities for all children are achieved (Adams & Jones, 2006).
Lau v. Nichols, 1974
In 1974, there existed a popular case that was brought forward by Chinese-American students who claimed that their teachers failed to help them learn much in school because special treatment was not provided for students like them who had limited English proficiency. This was the Lau v. Nichols case. The students complained that they felt that they were discriminated upon in their own school because of their own cultural and racial background, which they are indeed entitled to according to the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (U.S Supreme Court Center, 1974). Since the ruling of the Supreme Court that equality in schools cannot be defined by simple providing the same teaching and learning instructions and materials to all students, schools all over the country now have a responsibility to provide and implement appropriate teaching programs in order to cater to such students who are in need of learning English as their second language. This can be done by hiring bilingual teachers or the implementation of the ESL, or English as a Second Language program in order to see to it that students from minority groups are not ignored (Dale, 1997).
Plyler v. Doe, 1982
In 1982, in the case of Plyler v. Doe, the US Supreme Court ruled that public schools should not deny immigrant individuals the right to education. In fact, according to the Court, even individuals who are undocumented and are illegal residents of the US, still have the right to gain access to public education just like all permanent residents and US citizens (American Patrol, 2009). The rights that immigrant students have towards the US education system is known as the Plyler rights, and under these rights, school authorities are prohibited from questioning a student’s legal status in the country. The school authorities are also banned from asking for any documentation to confirm a student’s legal status. Moreover, educators are also prohibited from treating immigrants in a different way due to their undocumented legal status (Conover, 1987).
Language Programs to Teach Language Learners
Schools and school districts are usually faced with the problem of what type of language program to offer and how to staff that program with highly skilled teachers who are capable of teaching the students under the program. Schools in the United States basically have language programs that can be divided into three categories. The first would be the a) Immersion Program, b) FLES program, c)FLEX program, or Foreign Language Exploratory or Experience program, or d) the auxiliary language program (Curtain & Pesola, 1988).
The language immersion program is one that is usually used in second language instruction. In other words, the usual curriculum activities are conducted in the second language. Children in immersion programs in the United States may be children from racial or ethnic backgrounds and even social issues. These children are those who wish to speak a foreign language, which is English, a language that is far from their own (Potowski, 2007). Immersion programs consist of four goals that are quite similar to all immersion programs across the United States. For one, the program aims for functional proficiency in the second language. Thus, children should be able to communicate in the second language regarding topics that are appropriate with their age. The program also aims to master subject content material of the curriculum being used by the school district, as well as fostering cross-cultural understanding between all students under such a program. Finally, immersion programs also aim to gain achievements in the English language arts that are equivalent to achievements of students in English-only programs, or even surpassing the latter (Lipton, 1998). It must be noted that there are various types of immersion programs that differ from each other either by strategy or the segregation of different age groups. There is total immersion, partial immersion, early immersion, middle immersion, late immersion, double immersion, two-way immersion and continuing immersion. For students in the middle school, late immersion programs are the ones that are being implemented. Under such a program, non-native English speakers begin learning the English language at the beginning of middle school. Such a program may involve 90 to 100 percent of the instruction in the second language for the first year and 50 to 80 percent in the second year, or the year after, or 50 to 60 percent all throughout (Kinberg, 2001).
FLES programs on the other hand are focused towards elementary schools describing their own foreign language program. Under this program, a foreign language is taught to students at least one to five times a week for class periods that span for 20 minutes to an hour or more. Because of time limitations, even though FLES programs integrate other areas of the curriculum, the focus of these classes is usually on the second language being learnt and its culture (Hadley, 2000). Despite the fact that the goals of FLES programs are similar to the goals of immersion programs, students under the FLES program do not gain higher proficiency levels than those students who are under immersion programs. This is because levels of proficiency may vary with regards to the amount of time that is needed and available to provide sufficient language instruction. As a result, listening and speaking skills are more emphasized as compared to reading and writing which is equally important (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). It must be mentioned that some FLES programs are ‘content-enriched.’ This means that some subject content is taught in the foreign language during a certain time of day, but less than half a day. Less time spent teaching subject content through the language distinguishes this model from the immersion program. This means that the FLES program focuses more on subject-content instruction rather than on language instruction alone.
Exploratory programs or FLEX (Foreign Language Exploratory or Experience) programs are short term programs that are self-contained. This means that they normally last for three weeks to one year and are conducted usually in elementary schools. However, middle schools have also been known to use such language programs. It must be mentioned that these types of programs have many variations and may depend on the goals of the schools districts. For instance, the English language, in some districts is introduced through a high quality language learning experience. Other courses on the same program teach the language thoroughly. The courses that emphasize on language learning experiences are those that have the greatest implications for program planning (Asher, 1986). Students are capable of learning enough language in such courses so that when they take the same class the next time, they will still be able to catch up with the teacher’s instructions. These types of programs share basically the same goals. They are all aimed towards being introduced into learning a new language, having an awareness and appreciation for other cultures, appreciating how to communicate in another language and also appreciating its value. When students find that they already have a better command of the language, they will also be motivated towards studying more.
Auxiliary programs can also be referred to as non-curricular programs which may include immersion weekends, summer camps, before and after school programs and activities and the like. Basically, the concept of such a program is that English learning classes do not necessarily need to take place within the four walls of a typical classroom setting. These may be sponsored by the school district, by community groups or organizations run by both teachers and parents alike. The structure of such programs may also differ from one another. For instance, some auxiliary programs have developed sophisticated and very well structured curricula, proving to be very successful. Immersion weekends extend the school experience into a non-academic setting which may actually prove to be more fun for the English learners (Asher, 1986). Of course, some of the programs following the same model would prefer to conduct their lessons inside the academic institution and within a regular school day. One of the main advantage of utilizing such a program is that community resources are used widely, which would have otherwise remained unnoticed. One of the downsides of learning English this way is that volunteers who facilitate these programs may have little or no training on how to deal with non-native English learners. In addition, the fact that these programs may take place outside the school, would give the notion that learning the language is just something ‘extra.’ This may therefore not encourage the students to take learning the language seriously (Gaarder, 1978).
English Language Learners in School
When it comes to mainstream classrooms that include non-native English speakers, it is important for the teacher and the student as well to realize that in order to gain a meaningful approach to learning, communication between all the individuals within the classroom is key. Krashen & Tarrell (1983) in fact, state that language can be best taught when it is approached as something that can be used in order to send messages from one person to another, instead of focusing on conscious learning. Peṅalosa (1981) also reiterates that a person can be a competent communicator if he/she is able to realize what to say, when to say it and how to say it. People have to know when using language is appropriate or not, depending on the current social setting. Canale & Swain (1979), on the other hand, agree that communicative competence can be achieved through the ability of an individual to 1) get a good grasp of basic grammar rules so that messages can be sent and interpreted as accurately as possible, 2) to have discourse competence, wherein he/she is able to relate several ideas with one another in order to maintain an extended exchange of messages, 3) have sociolinguistic competence. The learner must have the ability to choose language usage based on the current social situation, which is similar to what Peṅalosa (1981) has also written about. Finally, students can be said to possess communicative competence when 4) they have strategic competence. This means that they are finally able to understand basic meanings of what is being communicated to them, despite the fact that they may still be lacking in the vocabulary department and may not be able to master the structuring of the language yet.
It should be expected that English learners will not be able to speak, read and write the same way as native speakers. When it comes to speaking, English learners begin to speak when they have acquired sufficient language through exposure to a rich language environment with all sorts of varieties. Of course, English learners will also be more confident in speaking when they know that they have something to say. Once they do begin to express themselves verbally, it is the teacher’s duty to make sure that these students are provided with enough encouragement and the opportunity for them to communicate more (Hansen-Krening, 1982).
Listening, speaking, reading and writing should all be regarded as an integrated whole of how students in middle schools should be taught. Of course, the same also applies for elementary schools. It must be expected that there will be times when the native English speakers may receive more attention than the English learners, and vice versa. However, the total instructional program in American classrooms should always include activities that strengthen all four skills in all schools (Terrell, 1985).
Listening skills are one of the most important skills that have to be mastered by all English learners since this is the basis for the development of the other three skills that have been mentioned. Since the early 1960s. language learning has mostly focused on speaking skills, thereby ignoring the importance of how listening contributes to how an English learner understands the language even better (Ur, 1984). Even at advanced educational levels, students would find that they would be able to benefit from the language in two ways. For one thing, learners would be listening in order to find meaning within a message, instead of simply listening for speaking. Thus, learners need not be pressured to imitate the language they have just heard, or ask the speaker to repeat what has just been said. Secondly, leaving a certain period of time to allow for comprehension to take place, ensures that students are able to think and use the new information presented to them in such a way so that they can respond accordingly (Met, 1984).
When it comes to reading, English learners differ from native English speakers in that most students are already able to make the connection between the meaning of the words being read and what the written symbols being read stand for. They are then able to transfer the skills that they have acquired through their primary language to the secondary language. However, there are principles to reading and writing that have to be considered. Learning to both read and write should simply be an extension for speaking the language (Rathmell, 1984). Students have to be constantly motivated, because through motivation, they are able to grasp easily what is being taught to them. Reading materials in mainstream classrooms always has to be written in the clear and simple language that most, if not all students in the classroom will be able to understand. The teaching of reading and writing should also be done simultaneously so that the English learner is able to improve on both areas without the fear of forgetting (Ada & de Olave, 1986). Apparently, there exists a relationship between how students are able to develop their oral abilities through reading. As a result, English learners in mainstream middle schools should always be encouraged to read more and more. It must also be kept in mind that these English learners are able to read more quickly and easily when there is a need for the task in the first place (Van Ek, 1977).
Instructional Needs in the Classroom
Since adolescents are at a stage where they are keen on establishing relationships, teachers should take advantage of such a situation in order to make the learning environment more enjoyable and interesting for his/her students. English learners in particular, should always be encouraged to foster relationships with their peers since this is what encourages more communication between all members of the classroom and this also provides an excellent opportunity for English learners to practice whatever they already know about the language. Reports have shown that students exhibit an increase in performance levels when collaborative learning or learning in groups is implemented in teaching strategies (Huntley et al, 2000). It seems then that collaborative learning poses to be an effective teaching strategy since it keeps students engaged in their lessons and also fosters the development of social and communication skills, both of which are needed for the development of a child’s overall well-being (Leikin and Zaslavsky, 1999) In addition to an increase in learning, students are also increasingly motivated to learn from working and learning with peers (Johnson et al, 2000). Since questioning the teacher may prove to be intimidating, asking help from peers and problem solving in groups is most definitely more efficient because the view points and ideas of all individuals involved can help analyze and find solutions to any problem at hand, with whatever subject. This way, students have the opportunity to learn so much more, and they are also given the opportunity to interact with each other and learn more about other cultures (Pesonen and Malvela, 2000).
For English learners, it is important for teachers to use language that would not be too difficult for the students to understand, and at the same time, would also be filled with context-rich activities in order to make the learning environment even better for the students. Creating a stress-free environment is also necessary in order to ensure that students are not uncomfortable with speaking. At the same time, it is also advisable for teachers to avoid correcting grammatical errors publicly in front of the other students, to avoid embarrassment on the part of the student. As much as teachers should encourage students to speak up, they must also not be forced to do so (Romijin & Seely, 1983). It must be understood that these English learners are caught between two cultures and teachers must therefore encourage their students to take risks to get to know the American education system, its culture and how it works. Moreover, teachers must also understand that stereotyping their students will just hamper educational development and the effectiveness of their teaching strategies. They should never, under any circumstances, lower their expectations of their students since this would have a negative impact on the entire classroom environment and how the teacher perceives their students to be (Cazden, 1988).
It has also been advised that bilingualism should be encouraged in mainstream schools with a multi-cultural population. In order to understand different cultures more and how they are likely to behave in the academic institution, teachers should learn how to tolerate instances such as code-switching, and even learn the language of the student himself/herself. Getting to know the parents of the student may also be a good idea since it gives the teacher an idea of how to deal with the student better, based on the advice from the people who know the student the most.
Teacher Attitudes and Student Achievement
In order to establish order and a healthy learning environment within a classroom, it is extremely important that teachers are able to gain the cooperation of their students. In fact, according to Doyle (1986), classrooms can be compared to a conversation that takes place between people. The conversation would only be worthwhile if both parties are able to participate and have the opportunity to. For English learners, it is mandatory for teachers to give them as many opportunities as possible to express themselves. This way, the students are more motivated to learn not only the subject at hand, but also how to communicate his/her ideas out loud. Of course, the teacher’s behaviour contributes immensely to how his/her students would be willing or not willing to cooperate. Brekelmans, Wubbels and Creton (1990) characterized teachers’ behaviours according to two dimensions. The first dimension refers to ‘dominance/submission’ which basically means the degree to which teachers are able to influence student behaviour. This may consist of leadership skills, organizing skills and setting tasks. The second dimension refers to cooperation/opposition, where teachers are able to demonstrate helpful, friendly and supportive behaviours, or irritable and negative attitudes. To sum it up, it has been discovered that effective teachers are those who have the ability to make the classroom environment both relaxed and comfortable, but also orderly and productive (Richards & Rodgers, 2001).
Teachers often misunderstand what their student means to say or the intent of their verbal expression because teachers may not understand the student’s culture, background and language as well. For the same reasons, teachers may also not be understood by their students. Naturally, in mainstream middle schools that include English language learners, miscommunication is a given expectation (Bassano & Christison, 1987). Therefore, being familiar with the student’s language and their manner of behaving in accordance with their background and culture is critical towards the teacher achieving communication competence. This is why one of the most advisable requirements for teachers who teach in schools that include English learners is that they may also have to be bilingual (Cummins, 1982).
Aside from this, the teacher also needs to understand how to listen and talk to their students since this makes all the difference in encouraging success while discouraging inappropriate behaviour in classroom management. Listening effectively involves more than just hearing. English learners may not be able to communicate what they mean to say thereby making this a challenge for all teachers who may find themselves in such a situation. Even more than this, listening demands attention to context, nonverbal behaviour and affect. Since verbal messages may have different interpretations depending on the individuals communicating, teachers should set clear expectations for classroom talk in order to decode students’ communication intentions. It is advisable for the teacher to simply ignore the verbal challenge. If teachers do not understand the emotional meaning behind such talk, students may respond in ways that are not constructive at all. Therefore, standards should be set in a classroom to communicate in a certain manner in order to avoid any misunderstandings and confusion (Gollnick & Chin, 2002). Talking about behaviour should be consistent with the teacher’s instructional goals, and the teacher’s objective should always be about how self-control can be taught to his/her students. They must also learn how to avoid getting into arguments with their students as a result of miscommunication, and which may produce unproductive verbal interactions. Teachers must be very cautious and conscious of both their verbal and non-verbal communication skills such as listening, proximity and body language, establishing eye contact, changing facial expressions, pausing, reflecting, probing, describing, choosing particular words, voice modulation, pacing, summarizing and questioning. Taking note of such verbal and non-verbal cues all contribute to having effective and productive communication exchanges between both parties (Rivers, 1986).
Before teachers can develop a good management strategy and implement appropriate teaching strategies, it is advisable that the teacher must first assess his/her own behaviour, values, sensitivities and knowledge about his/her students. The classroom management problem may be the disadvantage of an inappropriate curriculum or teaching strategies. Teachers’ demands may also be communicated in a poor manner and may tend to be misunderstood by the students themselves (Banks, 1983). Such demands may also either be too lax, too strict or simple inappropriate in a way that students will never be able to understand. Teachers should also be concerned about their students’ academic failures, aggression, depression and the teacher should also pay attention to how a student interacts with his/her peers since these behaviours have a significant effect in the development of future behaviour patterns. Since English learners may exhibit such negative behaviours due to being exposed in an environment where they may not fit in, teachers should always make their students feel welcome within the classroom and in the school itself. Moreover, teachers should also keep their goals in mind which shall guide them towards proper class management (Kauffman, 2005).
In a study done by Wentzel (1994), there exists to be a correlation between the motivation of students to attend school, how much effort they exert when it comes to academic performance and their different perceptions of their teachers as caring individuals. According to the study, the results remained constant despite several instances where students may have to undergo stages of psychological distress and other instances that were beyond their control. Although quite underestimated in some academic institutions, the ethic of caring is actually meaningful for both students and teachers alike. By fostering such a positive attitude in the learning environment, teachers are able to demonstrate the relevance of knowledge to the lives of their students. Moreover, students are also more likely to perceive their school as a place where they are looked after and cared for. The same then holds true for English learners who are seeking for ways in order to be accepted by their peers, their teachers and the entire education system as a whole.
Teacher Attitudes and Teachers’ Years of Experience in the Classroom
A study had been conducted in the past to see whether teachers’ attitudes towards the inclusion of English learners have any relation to the number of years that they have spent in the same profession. Based on the study conducted among teachers living in the Long Island School District, New York, it was found that there is a relation between the teacher’s attitudes and their years of experience in the academe. When it comes to teacher attitudes, Graham et al. (2002), defined 4 attitudes exhibited by teachers in their jobs. These included their response to educational change, organizational change and teacher-administrator relations. Based on the results of the study, it is only the teachers who have remained in the education industry for so long who may have problems with accepting change in their classroom and teaching strategies, They are also more likely to feel unmotivated to implement new teaching strategies that they are not used to, and may not take to handling English learners very well.
In fact, according to Miller (1994), teachers who have been in the education industry for a long period of time may feel that what teaching strategies work for their Caucasian students would also work for their other students who are of different races. However, recent years have shown that more and more experienced educators are taking to the diverse student populations and how to handle them in such a way to ensure that they receive optimum quality of education.
Teacher attitudes and Teacher Experience with the English Learners
Although race and social class do have a part to play in determining the expectations of teachers for student learning, some research studies have shown that there are still some teachers who may hold more positive perceptions towards children from minority groups as compared to Caucasian students. In addition, it has also been found out that the teachers have particularly higher standards and hold more expectations towards Asian children as compared to other nationalities, particularly Caucasians (Goyette & Xie, 1999).
Research studies have also shown that the self-perception that teachers have towards their students are also reflective of how the student feels about himself/herself (Brown, 2006). Over the years, there has been much controversy regarding teacher’s perceptions of students and how some students seem to think that different student treatment coming from the teachers is a result of the student belonging to a different race or ethnicity which the teacher does not and cannot understand. As a result, the perception that students have towards discrimination has also been affected (Weinstein et al., 1987).
In a study done in Oklahoma, teachers were asked to rate their students according to cognitive abilities and academic performance. According to the findings, teachers indeed viewed Asian-Americans as the ones who lived up to their expectations, particularly when it comes to exhibiting appropriate behaviour towards academic demands. This was followed by African-Americans who were rated the highest with regards to their personal-social dimension. Based on these findings, it can be seen that teachers do not necessarily hold low expectations on their students who are English learners. In fact, the teachers themselves have stated that no matter how effective their teaching strategies may be, the student’s ethnic and racial background has a lot to do with how they perform (Sirota & Bailey, 2009).
English learners upon entry to middle school may exhibit spoken English in a syntactically less complex manner. They enunciate words clearly, speak more slowly and avoid idiomatic expressions altogether. They may also use short sentences in order to verbally express themselves and may fail to use basic grammatical rules, thereby resulting in their sentences to be ‘broken sentences.’ For instance, instead of saying, ‘I do not have a pen,’ they may simply say, ‘No pen.’ However, as these English learners acquire labels for new concepts and more sophisticated structures, they will inevitably progress to use longer and more complex sentences, which should be expected and which is what all teachers should aim for (Burling, 1982).
Throughout their experience in teaching English learners, teachers have discovered that English learners tend to mix both English and their own native tongue. This may be known as code-switching and may be a tough habit to break, since the learners have spoken in their mother tongue for so long that it may prove to be very difficult for them to simply just speak only English (Lara, 1989). It has also been reported that English learners take a longer time to read as a result of having to translate everything that they have just read into their native language. Although such slow progress may be quite troublesome for teachers and the other students in the class who are already native English speakers, teachers have realized that code-switching is actually a special linguistic and social skill and should not be misinterpreted to be a result of confusion between languages, or worse, a corruption of students’ native language (Tompkins, 1998).
Teacher Attitudes and Administration Support
In order to produce effective and efficient working organizations such as an educational institution, a supportive environment is mandatory in order to support the development of education and its improvement in the United States. Organizations such as local school boards, the government, educational agencies and the community as a whole including the support of the parents are all helpful in ensuring that teachers are supported even amidst the challenges of dealing with multi-cultural and even difficult children and adolescents on occasion (Yoon & Gilchrist, 2003).
According to Chalfant & Can Dusen Psych (1989), teachers consider the support of the principals of their schools as particularly significant in boosting their confidence and motivation to teach. This indeed has also encouraged effectiveness in teacher performance and on the performance of the student body as well.
Impact of Training to Teach English Language Learners Effectively
Language Arts teachers should be trained to first of all understand and like children and adolescents alike. Since middle school students need to be understood first in order to understand teaching instructions, teachers would benefit a lot in their profession if they undergo training programs aimed at understanding middle school children more, particularly in a learning environment that consists of students coming from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Teachers should also be trained to create an effective and physical environment where learning can happen between both the students and the teacher and vice versa. Training is required in order to ensure that teachers are skilled in classroom management in the middle school setting.
Training teachers to be familiar with their own school curriculum is advised by all academic institutions since this allows the teacher to approach his/her instructions from a holistic, content-based and integrated perspective. Teachers must further be familiar with the precepts of communicative language teaching and from this, they can draw from a repertoire of strategies to implement these precepts. For English learners, it should be mandatory that teachers have an excellent grasp of the English language so that English learners are aware that they are actually learning from experts who know what they are teaching. In order to encourage English Learners to use the language more frequently, teachers should also be trained in different ways on how to conduct their lessons in a manner that not only promotes the language itself but also promotes the culture that uses it. This way, teachers are able to encourage English learners to understand the American culture, its diversity and at the same time, teachers would also be able to learn something new from their students who come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds (Byrnes & Canale, 1987).
Benefits and Challenges of Having English Language Learners in Mainstream Classrooms
The ability and opportunity to learn more about other cultures, empathy for others, as well as global awareness, all help into shaping an individual’s mindset and perception about the world different from their own. These are all mentioned frequently when it comes to the teaching of a foreign language to a foreigner at the middle school level, as well as the elementary level. In schools, cultural topics may have to be included in a communication-based middle school classroom setting (Stevick, 1980). This is because learning about different cultures allows English learners to communicate with their fellow classmates through the English language. The native English speakers, on the other hand, have the potential to motivate English learners into using the English language even more. In addition, the cultural dimension of a language class enables the English learner to appreciate and understand his/her own culture even more, since they are able to draw comparisons and understand different points of views from their other classmates who may not share the same (Burling, 1982).
Schools are indeed important and help to contribute to the success and development of society as a whole. If inclusion of English learners inside mainstream schools have not been passed as a law by the US government, then racial discrimination and segregation may still proliferate and continue. Being able to interact with other cultures is an experience that students will also encounter once they step out into the real world and join the workforce. Therefore, from an early age, including fellow students with differences helps in fostering acceptance and unity between individuals who all have the common desire to learn and be an accomplished person someday.
Earlier, it was advised that in order to understand the English learner better, teachers can try to make an effort to get to know the student’s parent. However, there have been cases when the parents of the student do not care much about the education that their child is getting and may seem not interested altogether. In addition, the cultural background and beliefs of the English learner may be perceived as irrelevant in a mainstream middle school, thereby allowing the student to feel that he/she is discriminated against.
Of course, as it was mentioned earlier, incorporating English learners into mainstream classrooms does pose a number of challenges that would be faced by all the members of the classroom. One of the main challenges is that due to the lack of English proficiency, teachers find it difficult to grade their students in terms of the academic performance. Since the vocabulary of English learners are limited, teachers may find it extremely challenging to find that whatever they instruct is not understood, or worse, is simply being imitated by the student, without necessarily understanding the content of the instruction. As a result, the student may tend to rely on the teacher too much than what is necessary and this may have negative implications on the adolescent’s development and growth. However, this would only be the case if the teacher is not fully trained and aware on how to better approach the student (Schnitzler, 1986).
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