Tag Archives: EAL students

The Education of Immigrant Students: My Essential Knowledge

As described by Buehl, essential knowledge is the learning that stays with us long after it is acquired (pg. 25). It represents comprehension of the “big ideas” we have learned and will always carry with us. To determine the essential knowledge I have gained over the last few months, I simply considered what important ideas I felt I have learned from this course. Reviewing my learning journals and notes provided the short-term information and background details in support of this knowledge. The pyramid diagram I created depicting this learning can be viewed at http://prezi.com/g2l0aqqdvy2l/pyramid-diagram/.

1. EAL learners are diverse.

This statement may seem obvious and simplistic because of course I know all learners are diverse. However, I have no experience myself about what it is like to be an immigrant and little experience teaching EAL students. I think before this course I may not have taken into account the range of diversity of immigrant students in my need to get through the curriculum. I probably would have assumed that the problems they might have in learning would be due to their lack of English. I might have put them into one category of learners and left it mostly up to their ESL teachers to help them transition to education in Canada.

• EAL students will have diverse learning styles, may be gifted or have a learning disability, and come from different socioeconomic or religious backgrounds even within the same culture.
• EAL students will have different exposures to education within their home countries.

Listen With Your Heart and Danger of a Single Story are two videos that helped me realize the diversity of experiences and knowledge immigrant students bring with them to Canada. The culture studies we completed articulated the problems these students may face when entering the Canadian education system. I had never really thought about the fact that students from the same culture may have vastly different experiences of that culture with the only thing in common being language (Helmer & Eddy, 2012).

Being aware of this diversity is an important first step (Helmer & Eddy, 2012), and I hope to bring this new awareness to my teaching practice. Whether it is through assessment, vocabulary instruction, the use of graphic organizers or other teaching strategies, I will try to create opportunities to observe EAL students, adapt my teaching methods to meet their needs, and create an environment in my future classroom (or library) that is welcoming for everyone.

2. Cultural differences can lead to miscommunication.

Again, this statement may seem obvious. I know that people have different ways of communicating and that non-verbal cues we have in Canada may be different from other cultures and vice versa. As well, cultural values that immigrants bring with them to Canada may be at odds with our own. However, even though I was previously aware of these potential differences I don’t think I really transferred this knowledge to the classroom.

• The tone of spoken words and non-verbal cues are important aspects of language.
• Underlying beliefs and values often lie at the root of miscommunication.

In English I am used to tone as a way of expressing emotions. I did not realize that in many Asian languages the tone in which you say a word can change its meaning (Helmer & Eddy, 2012). This could open up a discussion of how tone is used in different languages, maybe in an English class when discussing how tone is conveyed in writing. Students could explain how tone is expressed in stories from their own cultures. As a teacher-librarian I could provide a variety of materials to support this discussion.

In language, non-verbal cues are often just as important as what is being said. Posture, gestures, eye contact, personal space, touching, clothes, wait-time when speaking, are all non-verbal cues that will vary between cultures (Helmer & Eddy, 2012). Though it may be difficult to remember how individual cultures express themselves non-verbally, I will definitely try to be consciously aware of what messages I may be sending my students through my non-verbal cues.

I have always thought of cultural beliefs and values in terms of politics, religion, family etc. I never thought about how cultural values can affect something as simple as understanding a homework assignment or being on time for class. The scenarios on page 30 of Helmer & Eddy, depicting the differences between student and teacher expectations based on cultural norms helped me understand that the behaviour of immigrant students can often be explained by these differences in culture. In the classroom (or library) I will definitely put a greater effort into making sure immigrant students understand my expectations of them and acknowledge that those expectations may be different than what they are used to.

3. Accessing EAL students’ background knowledge is important for their learning.

I think it is with this statement that I have gained the most essential knowledge from this course. We talk a lot about celebrating multiculturalism and peoples’ heritage, but as someone pointed out in one of our posts, the connotation of the term “celebration” is that it happens once in a while, often associated with holidays. We as teachers need to acknowledge that the culture, experiences and knowledge gained in a student’s home language or culture is valid and useful to their education in Canada.

• It is important for EAL students to transfer knowledge from their home language to English to assist their learning.
• Preserving EAL students’ cultural heritage and continuing to develop their home language are important factors in their learning.

I started to think about this more deeply in the first week watching Listen With Your Heart. In it an immigrant student tells his father “English makes me feel stupid.” Teachers try to link the background knowledge of their students to new material they are teaching and we should be trying to do this with our EAL students as well. Most students, regardless of language, need guidance in doing this as I found out in the DRTA strategy assignment. I failed to use my background knowledge of the author of All Summer in a Day, Ray Bradbury, to give me clues about the story. Identity texts, dual language books, and online media are a few ways I have learned to support EAL students in transferring the knowledge they have in their home language to their learning in a Canadian classroom.

I did not know that preserving home language use may actually help students learn English (Cummins, 2001) and that home language proficiency is a strong predictor of English academic development (Cummins et al., 2005). I have never believed in the idea that students should be restricted to only speaking English in the classroom, but with this new awareness of the importance of a student’s home language I will do more to encourage its use. As a teacher-librarian I can provide a variety of print (e.g. books, magazines, newspapers) and online (e.g. news sites) resources in other languages to support home language use for my students.

I took this course, Education of Immigrant Students, because I have little personal experience myself of immigration or teaching EAL students. However, the schools I work at have a fairly high percentage of first or second-generation immigrant students and I wanted to learn how I could meet the needs of these students in my teaching practice. Looking back over my learning of the past few months, my essential knowledge gained seems to be from the first few weeks. That is not to say I did not learn anything in subsequent lessons, but I think these later lessons taught me the background information and details that support the big ideas I learned near the beginning of the course. As well, a previous course I took, Literacy in the Content Areas, covered some of the information found in these later lessons: vocabulary instruction, assessment, reading and writing strategies etc. Though I did learn new information specifically related to EAL students, I think my essential knowledge of these topics was gained in this other course. Instead for me, LLED 479 has revealed the big picture of the special challenges immigrant students face in Canada as well as provide me with knowledge and skills I can build upon to meet the needs of these students in my classroom. I am very glad I chose it as one of my electives for my Teacher-Librarian’s Diploma.

Works Cited

Buehl, D. (2014). Classroom strategies for interactive learning (4th ed.). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Cummins, J. (2001). Bilingual children’s mother tongue: Why is it important for education? Retrieved from http://www.fiplv.org/Issues/CumminsENG.pdf

Cummins, J. et al. (2005). Affirming identity in multilingual classrooms. Educational Leadership 63(1) pp. 58-43

Helmer, S. & Eddy, C. (2012). Look at me when I talk to you: EAL learners in non-EAL classrooms. Don Mills: Pippin Publishing Corporation.


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