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Thursday, August 11, 2011

ESL Students and Behavior Problems

In one of my trainings, we read an article called "Understanding the Impact of Language Differences on Classroom Behavior." I found the article very helpful in understanding the behaviors of children in the classroom who spoke little to no English. I found most interesting the four stages that children go through when learning a new language:

  1. The continued use of home language
  2. The silent or nonverbal period
  3. Sound experimentation and use of telegraphic speech
  4. Productive use of new language
Last year I worked with several students who spoke and understood varying amounts of English. Almost every situation was different and most of the children spoke different native languages including Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, Chinese, and different Indian languages. The brother and sister from Turkey didn't speak a word of English when they started, but took a lot more chances in beginning to use the language.

I did have a few that went through a definite nonverbal period. One in particular, a very shy Spanish speaking girl, (who we'll call Jane) did not speak for several months when she started. I remember when she began uttering a word here and there, mostly when no one else was around, but when another little girl heard her, exclaimed "Jane talked!!" There were times that we weren't sure if Jane had social-emotional concerns because she refused to participate in any large group activity. Jane is a very smart little girl and we began to see this when she pointed out all the letters on the alphabet chart when asked. By the end of the school year, though you still couldn't really hold a conversation with Jane, she was using English in play so much, especially her favorite area of the classroom, dramatic play.

Some strategies we used with non-English speaking friends included labeling items in the classroom in their home language, singing songs and talking to them in their language, and getting books in different languages. Also, involving the families in classroom activities is a good way to encourage these children and to make them feel more comfortable. Some suggestions the article gives are "pairing new words with gestures, pictures and cues; commenting on things a child does; expanding and extending upon children's words; and repeating what children say." But mostly just understanding the stages these learners might go through and that their behaviors might seem challenging at times due to their lack of understanding are the keys to helping them succeed and feel like a part of the group.

I also liked how the article talked about taking into account the child's abilities in his/her first language. This is where we really need to rely on parents to convey to us what the child is able to do at home. The partnership between family and school, while important for all children, is crucial to learners of English as a Second Language or Dual Language Learners.

I also happened to be looking around some more on the site where the article came from, The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, and I discovered this book list, categorized by social/emotional topics. I think you will like it too!