As teachers we are constantly trying to improve ourselves, our teaching strategies, and our ways of interacting with each unique student. Learning is difficult in itself, but a language barrier makes things more complex. Below are 3 tips about how to work with ELL students from Jennifer Marks, a teacher from Northborough, MA.
Tip 1: Learn the culture.
On a recent trip overseas, I was delighted to sit down with a group of people who had emigrated from Africa to Norway. In talking about what leaving their country was like (they all spoke Arabic, Norwegian, and English)—they shared how helpful it was when teachers learned about their native culture. Understanding just some of the cultural norms helped the teacher, the students, and those who had emigrated transition to a new culture in a way that felt respectful and supportive. When teachers try their best to pronounce names or to honor cultural norms (i.e. food restrictions, social mores) it helps to alleviate micro-aggressions which can feel hurtful to those who are new.
Tip 2: There’s a reason we say “a picture is worth a thousand words!” (color works, too!)
If you drive, walk, or ride a bike, you use color as a tool. We all know that red means stop, yellow means caution, and green means go. The international language of color is a wonderful—and easy—tool that can be used when students are learning a new language and can help bridge the gap so they are successful. Pictures or drawings are another, relatively simple, way teachers and students learning a new language can communicate.
Tip 3: Connect with your colleagues
When working with students who are ELL, it is tremendously beneficial to talk with our colleagues about what we are teaching! Sounds simple enough yet, we all know how busy we are once we set foot in the classroom. Whenever possible, work with your teacher and specialist colleagues to ensure you are supporting student learning by planning lessons and units that work in tandem with other lessons and units being taught in other classrooms. That way, language, stories, and other curriculum being used feels seamless and reinforces what is being taught.
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