Welcome to Language Latte: a conversation about teaching world languages. This is Becky Morales, and I am your host. We are on episode 8, and today we are talking about supporting language learners. We are looking at the how teachers and staff can assist and encourage their students by offering one on one support as part of a team that addresses students’ needs. Treat yourself to a latte, settle in, and join our Language Latte facebook group to get in on the conversation!
Every episode, I examine issues that world language teachers face when trying to help our students’ achieve proficiency. In this episode we are looking at instructional support staff, and their role in helping students succeed.
As you have heard in other episodes, in the Language Latte podcast, I first examine research, either from a historical standpoint, or current trends, and then talk with leaders in language education, whether it be teachers, principals, support staff, tutors.
Today I am interviewing Ana Elisa Miranda, a Brazilian ESL teacher who works as learning support at an International School in Belgium. If you go to kidworldcitizen.org, and click on podcasts, I have the show notes for each episode. Look in episode 8 for the documents and links I mention today.
In this episode, we are focusing on reaching language learners’ needs and supporting language learners. Often cases, the students we are referring to are immigrants, refugees, or expats- students who are trying to learn the majority language of the school or community. These students often are in mainstream classes, and then are pulled either to a special language class, or pulled to receive one on one services, for example in reading or writing.
In the excellent dissertation by Mary Sharp-Ross (2011), called “The Role of ESL Teacher Support in Facilitaring School Adjustment in English Language Learners,” she discusses the needs of ESL (English as a Second Language) students, who are also called ELLS (English Language Learners. As I read the article, it struck me at how my kids are facing similar difficulties. My kids were English speakers, with some oral fluency in Spanish, when we moved to Mexico. They had not ever been in an academic Spanish setting, and weren’t able to read or write in Spanish. Although this study took place in the United States, I can see the conclusions and strategies applying to my own kids learning Spanish in Mexico, or immigrant students learning French in France, or English in Australia, or German in Germany.
All of these students, who have moved to a country that speaks a new language, are facing the task of school adjustment, while undergoing the pervasive psychological stress of acculturation– all while acquiring a new language. Such students are at a high risk for psychological disorders and distress. They might be fighting anxiety, depression, or in the worst cases, posttraumatic stress issues.
I have seen my own students, as well as my own kids, suffer from considerable social stress as they adapt to their new school environment. The are observing and trying to adapt to the new, appropriate school behaviors. They are often misunderstood by their mainstream teachers who could perceive them to be lazy or not intelligent. I remember having to coordinate countless meetings with core teachers to discuss my ESL students, and almost begging certain teachers to have more empathy with them. Even now, as my own children have drastically improved their spoken Spanish, their test scores remind us that their reading comprehension and writing skills still have a long way to go. Teachers often mistake a student’s conversational language with the ability to read and write at a similar level. When teachers are impatient with their progress, students pick up on the disappointment,
The role of the language teachers, such as ESL teachers, plus the learning support staff are many. First, the one on one support can offer specialized or personalized instruction for the students, based on their native language and their individual needs. Next, they can routinely implement instructional strategies designed to minimize performance anxiety, such as cooperative learning activities, which are attributed with diminishing ELL anxiety or lowering the “affective filter” of the language learners. Teachers and support staff and include acculturation strategies that perpetrate a sense of classroom and school belonging.
Language teachers understand the emotional benefit that language learners derive from the safety and comfort associated with a supportive language class. They perceive the connection between emotional well-being and academic progress. The teachers in Mary Sharp-Ross’s study say “Our ELLs must first feel comfortable and safe before they can focus on academics.” “I think that ESL classes provide a safe place for ELL students to learn. It is a place that is less stressful, thus lowering the “affective filter‟, enabling the students to learn at a more realistic rate.”
Language teachers believe that their students have a need for social acceptance and belonging in the school setting- this is important for ALL students, isn’t it? All kids feel successful when they can make friends and fit in.
And that is one of the reasons why ESL teachers have been referred to as “lifelines” for their students. Today we’re speaking with a support teacher who understand what it is like to learn a new language, and live in a new culture, and she shares how she is supporting language learners in her international school.
Interview with Ana Elisa Miranda, on Supporting Language Learners
Ana Elisa Miranda is from Brazil but lives in Belgium. She works as a learning support and ESL teacher at a primary international school. She’s also beginning to develop a blog for expat parents raising biliterate children (https://www.anaelisamiranda.com/).
Ana Elisa, can you tell us a little about what languages you speak?
- What brought you to Belgium?
- What does a typical school day look like for you?
- What are your top 3 tips for helping kids become biliterate?
- How do you work with kids who are struggling to read?
- Many people say that phonemic awareness and phonics are two of the most important pillars of reading. How do you teach these to kids in elementary school who are learning two languages, with two different systems?
- How does working on writing, help kids to read? (and vice versa)
- Finally, many language teachers are non-native speakers (like me). How it is beneficial that we have learned the language ourselves?