ERIC Identifier: ED447730
Publication Date: 2000-12-00
Source: Center for Research on Education Diversity
and Excellence Santa Cruz CA., ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics
Examining Latino Paraeducators' Interactions with Latino
Students. ERIC Digest.
Sociocultural theory emphasizes the social nature of learning and the
cultural-historical contexts in which interactions take place. Thus,
teacher-student interactions and the relationships that are fostered through
these interactions play a vital role in student learning. This digest discusses
a study that examined the impact of sociocultural factors on the interactions
between Latino language minority students and Latino paraeducators and the
relationships that result from these interactions. The study explored whether a
knowledge of students' culture and communities, primary language, and
interaction styles helps paraeducators and their cooperating teachers meet the
students' academic and social needs.
The study took place in two large, inner-city
public elementary schools in Southern California that serve low-income Latino
language minority children. Paraeducators were the subject of the study, because
they often live in the communities in which they work and likely share a
knowledge of the students' culture. The premise of the study was that these
paraeducators would prove to be important resources for tapping into students'
prior knowledge and for providing cultural scaffolding. Participants were 32
Latino paraeducators, 8 of whom had recently become teachers.
Each participant was interviewed individually and was observed working with
students in the classroom. The paraeducators also engaged in informal
conversations with study researchers. Topics explored included teacher beliefs,
school roles, the role of culture and language in learning, and student-teacher
relationships. Because paraeducators' comments indicated some conflict between
them and their cooperating teachers, interviews were also conducted with at
least one teacher working with each of the paraeducators. Interviews were tape
recorded and transcribed for analysis.
The Activity Setting Observation System (Tharp et al., 1998), which allows
for analysis, quantification, and description of school-based activities, was
used to record classroom observations. The Acculturation Rating Scale for
Mexican Americans-II (Cuellar, Arnold, & Maldonado, 1995) was used to
determine whether interactions with students were related to paraeducators'
levels of acculturation.
FAMILIAR CONTEXTS FOR LEARNING
paraeducators were found to interact with students in ways that seemed
culturally defined, resembling home and community interactions. Students
appeared at ease with those who used such interactional strategies and often
initiated interactions with them. Sometimes students' questions or comments
related to the instructional activity in which they were engaged, but more
often, they talked about out-of-school experiences, revealing their funds of
knowledge and providing a glimpse of their capacity in out-of-school contexts.
These conversations were rarely pursued by paraeducators in the classroom, but
they were encouraged and valued in out-of-class contexts, such as recess. The
potential that these contexts provide for accessing students' funds of
knowledge--the knowledge gained through participation in household and community
activity--is critical, and the interactional behaviors that foster these
opportunities are worth describing.
Carino, a demonstration of affection commonly found in the Latino community,
was observed often between paraeducators and students. Carino is characterized
verbally through endearments such as mijo/a (my son/daughter), papito (little
daddy), and mi amor (my love). It is also expressed behaviorally through touch,
proximity, and softened facial expressions. Carino often serves to minimize the
negative effect of correcting students' behavior or academic errors and to
encourage student participation in classroom activities.
Relaxed instructional style
Classroom interactions with students took on features typically associated
with informal conversations. Students tended to speak out spontaneously as is
common when conversing with friends or family members. Students were rarely
called on without having first volunteered, and when calling on students did
take place, it was typically done in a low-stress environment to encourage
participation. Care was taken not to embarrass students. Academic and behavioral
corrections were sometimes made in ways that the children recognized as verbal
play, a culturally based strategy used to make students comfortable.
Students were allowed to complete their independent work while chatting with
peers. Often, students were seen looking at and commenting on others' work and
sharing their own. There appeared to be little expectation that students work
silently or individually. The paraeducators engaged with students in informal
talk as they helped them with their work. It was during these times that
students tended to talk about their out-of-school experiences. In doing so, they
were able to connect with the paraeducators in more personal ways, as people
rather than just teachers. Likewise, paraeducators gained knowledge about the
children in their out-of-school roles.
Although Latino teachers used the same relaxed instructional strategies as
the paraeducators, they had fewer opportunities to interact informally with
students. Apparently aware of teachers' focus on the instructional task at hand,
students were rarely observed initiating off-task talk with teachers in the
Accepting students' ways of being
Paraeducators were rarely heard raising their voices, using sarcasm, or
embarrassing students. They were tolerant of student misbehaviors and dealt with
them discreetly. Public corrections, when needed, were brief and to the point.
Paraeducators rarely took privileges away from students for misbehavior.
Instead, they tended to talk to students about their behavior and offered
Teachers were much more likely than paraeducators to place students in time
out or take away privileges. Teachers and paraeducators both commented that
students perceived the teacher as the authority figure and that they seemed to
be more comfortable asking paraeducators for assistance. The teachers who were
formerly paraeducators noted that their relationships with students had changed
since they became teachers.
Validating student resources and instructional needs
Latino paraeducators seemed particularly attuned to the needs of their Latino
students. All identified Spanish as their primary language, and most indicated
that they had grown up in working-class communities similar to that of their
students. Many had lived or were still living in the community in which they
worked. They talked about the financial difficulties of the community; the lack
of supervision for students whose families had to work late hours; and the
obstacles families experienced in assisting their children with homework,
especially when it was in English. At times, this knowledge seemed to guide
their decisions about organizing activities and offering instruction.
Incorporating students' knowledge in instruction
Study participants were keenly aware of the importance of language
proficiency for instruction. To varying degrees, they all utilized their primary
language to make content comprehensible to students. They were also observed
relating instructional content to students' cultural or community knowledge.
While these efforts were not always directly tied to comprehension or analysis
of instructional content, this strategy seemed to foster a sense of shared
knowledge and understanding. Comments that brought to mind students' background
produced enthusiastic participation. Interviews suggested that while teachers
were aware of the value of tying students' background knowledge to instruction,
paraeducators, who tended to have little understanding of how their knowledge of
the culture and community could be tied to instruction, viewed cultural
compatibility as a way to provide students with an environment that was
comfortable and familiar.
Study participants sometimes waited longer than is typical for students to
respond to questions or to decode words while reading. They often told the class
to wait and give a student time to think. This seemed particularly important for
English language learners, many of whom need to translate information to the
primary language, process it, then translate it back to the second language
before offering a response. Paraeducators were also observed giving students
extended time to understand new concepts and skills, often repeating information
many times for students who were having difficulty.
Structuring for individual and community needs
Recognizing community constraints, teachers structured classroom activities
accordingly. Many were flexible about homework completion. To accommodate the
lack of supplies at home, one teacher sent extra paper home for homework
assignments and allowed students to color the assignments in class the following
day. Other teachers set aside time in the morning or after school for students
to complete their homework. Paraeducators, on the other hand, focused on meeting
students' social and emotional needs. They used informal talk to learn about
students' personal lives. But they did not appear to consider this information
relevant to the content of instruction.
BUILDING CONFIANZA: MEDIATING THE SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL NEEDS OF
Paraeducators were particularly concerned with the emotional and
social welfare of students. They believed it was important for children to have
someone in school they could trust, and that being Latino and speaking the same
language helped them foster a sense of confianza. Those who had gone on to
become teachers were also aware of the difficulties students experienced and
their need for emotional support, but their primary concern was to prepare
students academically, which typically left little time for anything else.
Having a sense of shared experience was thought to be key to the development
of close relationships that fostered confianza. The Latino paraeducators
suggested that sharing common experiences allowed them to connect to students in
meaningful ways. They believed that a special bond was created through
interaction in the primary language, regardless of the students' fluency in
English. Typically, non-instructional talk between paraeducators and students
was in Spanish. Non-Latino teachers working with Latino paraeducators also noted
a special connection between students and paraeducators. Paraeducators reported
using personal disclosure as a means of establishing a sense of shared
experience. They shared with students their own experiences growing up in
similar communities with similar needs and concerns.
The paraeducators in this study believe that interacting with students "at
their level" is an important way to establish confianza. They try to relate to
students as friends and foster reciprocal interactions. Listening to students
emerges as an important way to develop a close relationship with them.
Paraeducators comment that teachers are often so busy meeting the academic
demands of the whole class that they do not have time to listen closely to
students when they attempt to talk about non-instructional issues. Paraeducators
also have the advantage of regular opportunities to interact informally with
students while they supervise recess.
ACADEMIC IMPACT OF SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS
cultural scaffolding strategies discussed above supported the development of
personal relationships with students and gave paraeducators access to students'
out-of-school experiences and interests as well as insights into their
instructional needs, this knowledge was rarely used to enhance instruction and
support academic growth. Furthermore, although the knowledge that paraeducators
gained through social relationships with students would have been relevant to
teachers in making instructional decisions, paraeducators rarely shared this
knowledge with teachers. Two factors are most likely responsible for this
situation: (1) Most paraeducators are hired with little or no initial
preparation; they have not been trained to use what they know about their
students' funds of knowledge to enhance instruction; (2) Paraeducators have very
limited opportunity to interact with their cooperating teachers; no time is
scheduled for teachers and paraeducators to meet together to make plans or share
information (Rueda & Monzo, 2000).
Students from diverse backgrounds benefit from
opportunities to use the cultural- and community-based resources that they bring
to school. The Latino paraeducators in this study use a number of strategies to
help students draw from their rich and extensive repertoire of resources to
negotiate and create meaning in the new linguistic, cultural, and academic
contexts they encounter in school. Creating such contexts requires a knowledge
of students' cultural and community experiences as well as their modes of
interaction. Paraeducators, often members of the communities in which they
teach, are key resources to this knowledge for teachers who come from cultural
backgrounds that are different from their students.
Cuellar, I., Arnold, B., & Maldonado, R.
(1995). Acculturation rating scale for Mexican Americans II--A revision of the
original ARSMA Scale. "Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 17," 275-304.
Rueda, R.S., & Monzo, L.D. (2000). "Apprenticeship for teaching:
Professional development issues surrounding the collaborative relationship
between teachers and paraeducators." Washington, DC, and Santa Cruz, CA: Center
for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence.
Tharp, R.G., Rivera, H., Youpa, D., Dalton, S., Guardino, G.M., & Lasky,
S. (1998). "ASOS: Activity setting observation system" (Coding rule book). Santa
Cruz, CA: Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence.
This digest is drawn from "Sociocultural Factors in Social Relationships:
Examining Latino Teachers' and Paraeducators' Interactions With Latino Students"
(in press), by Lilia Monzo and Robert Rueda, Center for Research on Education,
Diversity & Excellence.