As Kansas and the rest of the country prepare for major demographic shifts, training for bilingual or multilingual students in the classroom shouldn’t be limited to a single assignment or college course, one Kansas University professor argues.
Instead, the tools should be integrated throughout the curriculum.
“Every teacher will have an ESL (English as Second Language) student at some time. If not now, in the future. That is pretty much guaranteed. Unfortunately, these teachers aren’t being prepared to utilize the student’s background,” said Hyesun Cho, an assistant professor of curriculum and teaching at KU.
Cho has co-authored an article with Terri Rodriguez of Duquesne University that examines the experiences of bi- and multilingual student teachers and the insight it could provide in developing more effective teaching practices.
The article, published in the journal Teaching and Teacher Education, studied the experiences of Latino teaching candidates in the Midwest and a group of bilingual student teachers in Hawaii. Those in the study described what it was like to be a bi- or multilingual student and how their backgrounds influenced their teaching styles.
The research showed that teacher education programs need to take a holistic approach to preparing teachers for ESL students, Cho said.
“Before they actually become teachers, there really needs to be more effective strategies and skills to better help them serve the needs of more diverse students,” Cho said.
Cho’s research comes at a time when the Lawrence school district’s ESL program has come under examination by those studying ways to close the district’s smallest elementary schools.
The district has two cluster sites, Hillcrest and Cordley, where ESL students from other elementary schools are sent. It also has smaller neighborhood sites at Schwegler and Sunflower. As part of the school closing discussions, some parents have wondered whether it would make more sense for schools to stop sending students to cluster sites and form their own ESL program. Parents have also asked why the ESL-trained teachers aren’t in more schools because ESL programs are touted as being a benefit to many different learning styles.
Since the majority of student teachers don’t share the same linguistic and cultural backgrounds as their ESL students, teacher preparation courses needs to consider cultural norms, values and power differences.
In particular, Cho pointed to students she interviewed who felt that they had been stereotyped by teachers as being “silent Asians.”
“In the United States, a lot of teachers expect students to speak up and voice questions and opinions,” Cho said. “In America, you have to say something to show people that you are smart.”
That expectation is different from what many ESL student are accustomed to in their native countries, where they listen to the teacher and process the information. Teachers need to be aware of these differences, Cho said, and make spaces that allow for ESL students to participate.
“You have to give them the floor,” she said.
And, teachers need to get to know their students to better understand how to incorporate their culture into their learning environment.
“As a teacher, if you don’t know where your students are coming from, ESL students or not, you can’t engage them in learning. It’s that simple,” Cho said.