In addition to teaching full-time in high school during the day, I’m on the adjunct faculty in the teacher education programs at California State University, Sacramento and the University of California, Davis. I’m finding an important question keeps on cropping up:
How do I teach a newcomer, with next-to-zero English proficiency, who is placed in my mainstream classroom without any additional outside support being provided?
Unfortunately, I suspect that this is a very common issue for teachers across the United States – a newcomer is “parachuted” into their classes and they’re just told to “integrate” the student into their instruction.
Here are some suggestions – from readers and from me:
MY NUMBER ONE PIECE OF ADVICE: Remember, your newcomer student is as intelligent as any native-English speaker you have in your classroom. He/she is just new to the English language. Start off by reading this piece that Katie Hull and I have written: Do’s & Don’ts for Teaching English-Language Learners. And, please, don’t make the mistakes of speaking loudly in English to them or giving them a seat at the very back of the room.
PROVIDE EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
* Learn their story – why their family came here, what their interests are, goals they might have for their life. If you cannot speak their home language and/or can’t find another staffperson or student who can, using Google Translate is a very viable option. Using the audio translation mode, it will automatically provide verbal interpretation. It’s not perfect by any means, but you should be able to have a basic conversation. Just last month, Google announced a breakthrough in improving their Translate tool for some languages and expects to apply a similar tech upgrade to all of them.
Start with continued kindness, from teacher and all students classmates… https://t.co/1bb52KDfcX
— KMDartandarch (@KMDartandarch) November 16, 2016
PROVIDE ACADEMIC SUPPORT
* Provide access to a computer or tablet (I often will let a student use my “teacher” computer). If a student has zero or next-to-zero English, the best help any teacher – no matter what subject they are teaching – can provide is support to students in developing basic English communication skills. Duolingo, LingoHut, USA Learns and English Central are the four best online tools for that kind of support (here are other language-learning sites, too). Doing this – for a short time, at least – can help them begin to develop self-confidence, get them familiar with online tools they can also use at home (if they have Internet access there) and give you some time to develop a longer-term plan on how you are going to teach them your content matter and pull together needed resources.
* If the newcomer is literate in his/her home language, you can also provide access to online materials in their language that are comparable to what you are teaching in English to the rest of your students. Many such resources can be found at The Best Multilingual & Bilingual Sites For Math, Social Studies, & Science.
*If you are fortunate enough to speak your newcomer’s language, using the Preview, View and Review method is an option (preview the lesson in the home language, then the main lesson in English, and then review it in the home language). I’ve also used the bilingual resources listed in the previous suggestion in the same way – previewing and reviewing with those materials.
*There are many sites that provide similar high-quality materials on multiple subjects using different “levels” of text. For example, an article on the Electoral College might be edited for three or four different reading levels. Using a high English level version of one for most of your students and a simplified version for your newcomer is a fairly easy way to make content accessible. In fact, there are tools that let you do the same for any text you copy and paste into them. You can find links to all these options at The Best Places To Get The “Same” Text Written For Different “Levels.”
*There are a number of content-specific books that are designed to be particularly accessible to ELLs – you can see a list of a few of them at The Best Books For Teaching & Learning ESL/EFL. I use some of the books listed in my history and English classes (note that, though the book titles are all accurate, the links where to purchase them might be out-of-date). You can find other content-specific books at The Best Places To Buy ESL/EFL Books. Software & Multimedia. Providing these textbook alternatives, which likely cover similar subjects to the ones you use with the majority of your students, could be a useful scaffold.
*At the very least, make sure you have a bilingual dictionary in your newcomer’s student language.
*At our high school, seniors often get a class period when they are T.A.’s (teaching assistants) or “Peer Tutors.” With support and minimal training from me, a student who doesn’t even speak the newcomer’s home language can provide invaluable support to them. In addition, having the title “peer tutor” can look better on a senior’s transcript when applying to college.
*Inductive teaching emphasizes pattern-seeking, which is a skill found to be particularly important to those learning a new language (and it’s important for everybody else, too!). If you presently employ inductive methods in your instruction, creating more simple versions for your newcomer should be fairly easy, though would take a little extra time. If you are not using them now, I’d encourage you to consider experimenting with it. You can learn more at The Best Resources About Inductive Learning & Teaching. In particular, you might want to read how I use it: Get Organized Around Assets and The Picture Word Inductive Model.
*If your newcomer does not have Internet access at home (or even if he/she does), providing him/her with accessible books they can read at home can be a big help – plenty of research documents the importance of home libraries. Our local Friends of the Library has provided hundreds of free books for our newcomer students, and you can also print out many online (see The Best Sources For Free & Accessible Printable Books).
*If your school has a specialized class where the newcomer is learning English, regularly talk with their teacher to learn more about the student and to both listen to – and offer – ideas how you can both support the student in their classes.
Prioritize – choose two or three concepts from the unit you are teacher and work hard to get those across to your newcomers. Trying to ensure the student understands every little last thing will be overwhelming for you both.
PROVIDE SOCIAL SUPPORT
*Provide a peer mentor to your newcomer – ideally, someone who speaks their home language. At our school, peer mentors leave one of their classes for fifteen minutes each week and chats with their “mentee.” You can read more about what we do at Here Are The Instructions I Give Mentors To Our ELLs – Help Me Make Them Better.
* Talk privately to individual students who have demonstrated empathy in the past about their reaching out to your newcomer. Perhaps share with them this story:
Must read: Girl Uses #GoogleTranslate to ask classmate to sit with her https://t.co/zgbxds2qDf #ELLs #WIDA #education #language #caring pic.twitter.com/q8OhIw7fbb
— WIDA™ (@WIDAConsortium) November 7, 2016
What do you think is missing from this list?
Since I originally published this post, I realized I forgot to include a few other strategies:
Though I discus Google Translate, I forgot to mention its relatively new ability to “read” text, including print textbooks and PowerPoint slides, by using its camera function (see Video: “How Google Translate Makes Signs Instantly Readable”).
In fact, Google just published this video that highlights that feature and the features I mentioned in the earlier post:
In addition, I neglected to mention the obvious strategy of showing English subtitled with any videos you show.
Finally, this was an idea suggested by one of the credential candidates at my California State University, Sacramento, course: if you are teaching whole novels in your class, why not get a version of it in your ELL’s home language, if available?
Also, see The Best Online Resources For Teachers of Pre-Literate ELL’s & Those Not Literate In Their Home Language.
😮I ONLY HAVE A FEW NEWCOMERS. NOW WHAT? No worries…we got you!
🎧NEW! Episode 58 of the #BoostingAchievement #ESL Podcast just dropped.
Listen or read here: https://t.co/5tw7kZwpsd 👈
Thx to @senorapatten of Alabama & everyone tuning in.#ellchat #ELLs #ESOL #ELs #ESOL pic.twitter.com/CI3ewDl6bC
— Carol Salva (@MsSalvac) August 13, 2019
Sadly, schools still believe that throwing teenage newcomer students, even SIFE and refugee applicants, into the general education classroom is going to somehow be a productive use of time. I teach ESOL and ESL reading, and have the unenviable task as LPAC chair of trying to hold other teachers accountable for providing accommodations to their students.
How can I ask a teacher with 45 students in a world geography class, or 37 students in Algebra 1, to take the time to accommodate to a newcomer who only speaks Spanish or Vietnamese or Burmese, and may not even be at grade level in their own language? The answer is, I can’t, because it’s impossible. No teacher can do it.
When I look at the huge disparity in resources dedicated to other special populations compared to English Learners, I can only come to the conclusion that people do not WANT English Learners to succeed.
I had this happen to me twice in my first grade class (as a first year teacher too). The most important thing is to RELAX! These students just had their entire world upended. Give them some time to be silent, and a place to go when they get overwhelmed. USE NONVERBAL CUES and PICTURES with your instructions and content. LABEL things using English words and their language (if you can find a parent or aide to help you). Have picture definitions of essential VOCABULARY words. Think of ways the student can demonstrate what they know without using language – can they draw a picture, act it out, or match words to pictures? Can they glue together sentence fragments to make a coherent story or fill in the blanks? Many older students are embarrassed by their pronunciation. Praise the student for the things they can do that cross languages (art skills, mathematical computation skills, PE skills). And never underestimate the need for a friend with something in common. For the first week after a student arrived, they and their buddy (another student) would be allowed to play with math manipulatives or puppets while the others were working on their reading centers to give them a chance to practice communication and feel more accepted. These new students also loved when we would use Google Earth to visit their hometown and ask them questions (usually a few weeks after they moved in), share their favorite food, and show some pictures of their interests and hobbies. The best tool I had though, was when I practiced my limited Spanish enough that I could teach a 15 minute lesson on colors using only Spanish, pictures, and gestures so that my English-speaking students could feel what it is like. Afterwards, my native English speakers had a new respect for their classmate.
To me using google translate to give the student directions and help would be the most difficult. Although google translate is easy to use this would take a lot of time by the time you were finished and/or the child responded. In some of the schools I have worked at then while you are helping the ESLstudent then another child is acting up and getting the whole class riled up. Then being the only teacher in the room then some other students will interrupt no matter how many times you tell them not too. This will also hurt the ESL student’s learning.
Also making students feel left out is a big problem. The newcomer doesn’t want to feel left out they want to be made to feel welcome which is why I try to give them a body that speaks the same language.