Instructional Strategies for Migrant Students.
by Menchaca, Velma D. - Ruiz-Escalante, Jose A.
Children of migrant farmworkers spend parts of each school year in different
communities across the country; some children migrate back and forth between
schools in Mexico and the U.S. (Martin, 1994). The hardships and rich experiences
of this lifestyle provide educators with unique challenges and, at the
same time, opportunities to learn and develop new strategies. This Digest
offers research-based guidance for teachers, to help them use effective
instructional strategies that will build on strengths migrant children
bring to the classroom. The Digest does not address language instruction;
for Digests that do, see EDO-RC-91-2 and EDO-RC-90-9.
The National Agricultural Worker Survey found that migrant farmworkers
were mostly Hispanic (94%) with 80 percent born in Mexico. However, about
6 to 10 percent of migrants are White or Black Americans. The average annual
income for migrant families is $5,000 (Martin, 1994). Some live in housing
that does not meet minimum inspection standards, and many suffer occupation-related
health problems such as farm injuries and pesticide poisoning. Many also
suffer health problems related to poverty, such as malnutrition and poor
sanitation (Huang, 1993).
Several factors associated with the migrant lifestyle predispose migrant
students to being at risk of dropping out of school early (Baca & Harris,
1988; Platt, Cranston-Gingras, & Scott, 1991). Irregular school attendance,
traveling from one temporary site to another, and limited English language
proficiency can limit the school success rate of these students, leading
some to drop out of school as early as the upper elementary grades. As
with all students, migrant students achieve best when the schools honor
and value who they are. With that in mind, the following instructional
strategies are recommended to help teachers help migrant students overcome
circumstances that may jeopardize their success.
Create a positive environment. Migrant students often find themselves
in new and unfamiliar classrooms. The challenge of adjusting to strange,
new living and learning environments often contributes to feelings of isolation
and loneliness. Teachers can help students overcome these feelings by modeling
respect and eliminating any form of threat or ridicule. Teachers can further
foster a sense of safety and trust by sharing some of their own experiences,
and by assigning older students to act as mentors or buddies to new migrant
students. For a collection of strategies and activities designed to promote
mutual respect, trust, and support in the classroom, see Establishing a
Positive Classroom Climate (Huggins, 1983a).
Build on migrant students' strengths. Most migrant students have lived,
traveled, and studied in several states. Teachers can incorporate into
lessons these diverse experiences and the richness of students' cultures
and languages. Examples include recognizing migrant children for their
travel experiences, knowledge of geography, and for overcoming crises on
the highway. Building on these experiences and capabilities validates students'
knowledge. Such validation enhances students' self-images and sense of
self-worth (Gonzales, 1991).
Enhance self-concept and self-esteem. Migrant students must have faith
in their own abilities so that they can persist and succeed despite the
many obstacles they encounter in school. Having a positive self-concept
helps students achieve, which then further enhances self-esteem (Studstill,
1985). When necessary, teachers should modify assignments to allow for
real success in meaningful activities that are valued by the student and
by others, such as family and friends (Studstill, 1985). MACRO Educational
Associates, Inc.'s (1974) Teacher Resource Guide for the Development of
Positive Self-Concept in Migrant Children describes effective methods and
materials used in developing positive self-concepts for migrant students.
Another resource, Building Self-Concept in the Classroom (Huggins, 1983b),
provides activities designed to promote self-awareness, build self-esteem
and cope effectively with mistakes and put-downs.
Personalize lessons with students' experiences. Drawing from students'
life experiences in lessons helps students understand ideas and transfer
them to other content. To find out about students' experiences, teachers
can have children write or tell about them (MACRO Educational Associates,
Inc., 1974). Later, teachers can incorporate both their own experiences
and the experiences of the children into lessons in content areas such
as language arts, social studies, and science. Teachers can personalize
content by using familiar places and names in addition to using analogies
to connect new concepts to students' experiences (Tinajero, 1984).
Integrate culturally relevant content. A curriculum that includes culturally
relevant content enables migrant students to develop pride in their culture
and learn content from a familiar cultural base (Marinez & Ortiz de
Montellano, 1988). Examples of books that focus on the lives, challenges,
or adventures of children of different cultures include Pablo's Tree (Mora,
1994), The Rough-Face Girl (Martin, 1992), or Too Many Tamales (Soto, 1993).
Teachers can read to students, generate discussion, and then have the students
either write or share in groups some similarities and differences between
the book's characters and the students' own lives. Such cultural material
can be used in social studies, science, reading, or language arts.
Encouraging positive ethnic affiliation serves multiple purposes. It
can influence the development of values, attitudes, lifestyle choices,
and approaches to learning (Gollnick & Chinn, 1994). Nurturing ethnic
affiliation also helps all students learn about and respect other cultural
groups' heritages and histories, while keeping their own culture instilled
in their hearts and their minds.
Use cooperative learning. Both theory and research support cooperative
learning as an effective instructional strategy. Studies have shown that
migrant students do well in cooperative learning settings because they
sense other students are encouraging and supporting their efforts to achieve
(Johnson, Johnson, & Maruyama, 1983).
Cooperative learning lowers anxiety levels and strengthens motivation,
self-esteem, and empowerment by using students as instructional agents
for their classmates (Platt, Cranston-Gingras, & Scott, 1991). Students
take responsibility for both their own learning and the learning of their
peers. By becoming active group participants, they gain equal access to
learning opportunities. Teaching Cooperative Skills (Huggins, 1983c) provides
guidance in leading activities that enable students to work cooperatively
in pairs or in small groups.
Develop students' metacognitive learning strategies. This strategy is
used to help students become independent learners by helping them comprehend
concepts, monitoring their success, and making the necessary adjustments
when meaning breaks down. Students learn to recognize when they are approaching
an obstacle, make necessary corrections, and proceed.
Teachers instruct students to employ alternative strategies once they
have recognized and determined a breakdown in comprehension. For example,
if a student is reading and has difficulty understanding the text, he or
she could apply some "fix-it" strategies (Baker & Brown, 1984), such
*ignore and read on,
*anticipate the problem to be resolved by future information,
*make an educated guess based on prior knowledge,
*reflect on what has already been read,
*reread the current sentence or paragraph, or
*consult the glossary, encyclopedia, or teacher (Collins & Smith,
Migrant students present a challenge to our educational system and,
at the same time, they enrich it. Some of the enriching factors these students
bring into our schools are their cultural and ethnic heritage and their
knowledge of more than one language. They also have extensive travel experiences
and first-hand experience with our nation's agricultural, dairy, or fishing-related
industries. It is important that educators build on the richness of migrant
students' experiences and culture to make learning more meaningful. Educators
should present authentic real-life examples to students, make content information
culturally relevant, and use instructional strategies that promote cooperative
learning and develop students' metacognitive skills. When migrant students
can relate to the information being presented, they are more likely to
understand academic concepts and experience success in school.
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