ERIC Identifier: ED384072
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Nelson, Carol
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Language Diversity and Language Arts. ERIC Digest.
The passage of Public Law 94-142 mandated that students with a primary
language other than English must be placed in regular classrooms with
English-speaking children and teachers. Many teachers whose only language is
English, however, feel unqualified to teach non-English speakers. This Digest
will present practical strategies for teachers to use when working with
language-diverse students and discuss some of the most recent research on the
A CHANGE IN THINKING
Not too many years ago one could find
articles in education journals which proposed that children with different
cultural and linguistic backgrounds were inherently deficient and inferior, and
that their chances for success in school were very slight. Today, however, the
outlook for non-English speakers in our schools is much improved. Recent
research has shown that giving these students a chance to use English in natural
and meaningful situations in the classroom enhances their second language
Students who speak English as a second language may be referred to as
bilingual. Those who speak only their native language are monolingual. Lacking
English as a primary language, many students who are very capable of learning
are unable to do so because of the language barrier. In 1970 Justin indicated
that almost one million Spanish-speaking students in the Southwest were unable
to go beyond the eighth grade because of the language factor.
According to Bond et al. (1989),
perhaps the ideal situation is to have bilingual teachers to help meet the needs
of these children. However, this is usually impossible, particularly in schools
where there are many different languages spoken by the students. Yet teachers
who speak only English can still provide a warm and supportive atmosphere in
which their limited-English-speaking students can learn to communicate by
speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
Hayes and Bahruth (1985) describe such an atmosphere in a class in Pearsall,
Texas. The class consisted of 22 migrant children, ages 10 to 16. The age range
shows that some of the children had failed a year or more of school already. The
children all spoke Spanish and most knew little English. Besides school, their
exposure to English came from television and the radio. Most were reading three
or more years below grade level; some were nonreaders. Obviously, the prediction
that the majority of these children would become illiterate dropouts with only a
life of migrant labor to look forward to was quite likely to come true. From the
first day of school, Hayes and Bahruth worked on improving their students'
self-concepts. They undertook activities that emphasized working together. The
students drew pictures, talked about their favorite things, traced each other's
silhouettes, and developed a sense of unity as a class. The teachers read many
of their favorite books aloud to the students each day. When the book was read,
they printed the name on the bulletin board. After 6 weeks students were asked
to pick one of the books, illustrate a scene from it, and using the illustration
as a prop, tell the story to their classmates. In this way they "planted and
nurtured the seed of reading," a seed which began to germinate early. The
children began to ask to take home books which they had read, as well as other
books in the class library.
Another strategy Hayes and Bahruth employed early on was the use of dialogue
journals. As Hudelson (1988) points out, if there is no fear of being marked
"wrong," writing is a powerful tool for students with limited English skills.
The students wrote on any topic they chose. Teachers read the journal entries
and responded. The teachers neither criticized the content nor edited in any
way. With time, the students improved, often dramatically, in their use of the
When tested during the latter part of the school year, one child had improved
one grade level, seven children had improved two+ grade levels, and another
child had improved four+ grade levels. While most of the children were still
below their age grade level, it must be remembered that they were tested on a
test normed with a native speaker population. Their tremendous achievement is
certainly apparent. But perhaps even more important, these children learned that
they could learn, and they were very proud of what they accomplished.
In a report on other ways that classroom activities can be modified to
provide the special support that LEP children need, Allen (1986) also stresses
making the reading/writing connection. Like Hayes and Bahruth, the teacher read
high-interest stories to the children. She also found many strategies to extend
the stories in interesting and motivating ways. The classroom was not one of the
"no talking" stereotypes that so often appear in research literature--this
classroom thrived on communication. Dingboom (1994) also stressed a risk-free
environment for children to explore literature and added parental involvement
with home-based reading.
Ching (1993) succeeded in integrating a recently arrived Vietnamese first
grader into a summer course that focused on language arts by letting him use
cut-out art as his sign system for expressing his frustration at sometimes not
being able to communicate with his classmates. The many language arts
activities, such as silent reading, read alouds, story writing, cooking, and
singing, provided him with the resources to acquire language. His reading and
writing improved slowly in a print-rich environment, but his artistic creative
strength gave him the means to communicate more fully with his classmates.
THEORY AND PRACTICE
In a small and highly informative book
Cambourne and Turbill (1987) describe the theory and practice of this kind of
learning experience for kindergartners in Australia. Each of the classrooms they
observed had a mix of English and non-English speaking children. The two point
out that all children use coping strategies to learn to read and write, but that
the speed with which English speakers and non-English speakers solve the "written language puzzle" differs. The initial coping strategies, according to
Cambourne and Turbill, are: (1) use of related activities, particularly art; (2)
use of environmental print--that is, the print the children see around them
every day; (3) use of repetition; (4) assistance from and interaction with other
children; (5) assistance from and interaction with the teacher; (6) use of
One fear that many researchers have as they look at children of other
cultures being mainstreamed into regular classrooms is that their cultural
identity will be lost. For this reason, teachers should strive to use reading
materials that focus on the cultural heritage of the students, if such materials
are available. Alternatively, teachers should emphasize the positive aspects of
the various cultures in the United States, and reading materials that stress
cultural diversity should be used.
Another reason for using these kinds of reading materials is that some
research (Horowitz, 1984) shows that bicultural readers comprehend and remember
materials that deal with their own culture better than those of another culture.
There is evidence that cultural relevance of stories may be more pronounced in
higher grades than in lower grades. It may be that this factor accounts for
reports from some teachers that bicultural students are not interested in
school. However, this could also be related to the importance (or lack of
importance) given to schooling in the student's home culture. Teachers need to
use materials and techniques that utilize content which is meaningful to the
communities that they will serve. This means that if your class has Spanish
speakers, use of Mexican or Puerto Rican or Cuban folklore (depending on the
ethnic group), cultural activities, oral histories, or family stories as a part
of the reading program will help stimulate interest in new text content.
Some suggestions that the teacher of the multicultural student should
*Instruction in the language arts should always be adapted to individual
*The student should be taught some "survival" words in English, e.g., home
address, rest room, etc.
*The nonnative speaker should be teamed with another student who acts as a
"big brother" or "big sister" in helping the foreign student become acquainted
with the school
*Resources from within the community can be used to help the foreign
student--adults or other students who speak the language, for example
*Students should be placed in mixed groups for reading and language arts so
they can gain more experience with English
*Time is necessary for the foreign student to use English in real
communication--talking, listening, reading, and writing.
Baca et al. (1994) remind us that "language minority and culturally different
students are the fastest growing group of students in the public schools
today--as a group they are already the majority in more than 20 of our largest
cities in the nation." Of course, not every teacher teaches in an urban
environment where she or he will encounter a diverse student population, but the
basic strategies presented in this Digest can help those who do.
Allen, V. G. (1986). Developing Contexts to
Support Second Language Acquisition, Language Arts, 63(1), 61-66. [EJ 327 896]
Baca, L. et al. (1994) "Language Minority Students: Literacy and Educational
Reform." In Ellsworth, N. et al. (eds), Literacy: A Redefinition. Hillsdale, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum. [ED 377 466]
Bond, G. et al. (1989). Reading Difficulties: Their Diagnosis and Correction.
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Cambourne, B., and J. Turbill (1987). Coping with Chaos. Rozelle, NSW,
Australia: Primary English Teaching Association. [ED 283 209]
Ching, J. P. (1993). "Using Art as a Means of Language Development and of
Finding One's Voice: One Case Study of an ESL Learner." [ED 373 351]
Dingboom, D. et al. (1994). "Improving Student Reading Abilities and
Attitudes of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students through Curriculum
Adaptation and Home/Parental Involvement." M.A. Project, St. Xavier University.
[ED 371 319]
Hayes, C., and R. Bahruth (1985). "Querer Es Poder." In Hansen, J. et al.
(eds), Breaking Ground: Teachers Relate Reading and Writing in the Elementary
School. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. [ED 257 050]
Horowitz, R. (1984). "Orality and Literacy in Bilingual-Bicultural Children."
NABE: The Journal for the National Association for Bilingual Education, 8(3),
11-26. [EJ 308 930]
Hudelson, S. (1988). "Children's Writing in ESL." ERIC Digest. Washington,
DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics. [ED 303 046]
Justin, N. (1970). Culture Conflict and Mexican-American Achievement. School
and Society 98.