Welcoming ELLs in the Classroom

When looking at how to make a classroom a conducive to the learning of ELLs and non-ELLs alike, it would seem that positivity is the key. Mi-Hwa Park discusses reducing the achievement gap between ELLs and English-proficient students. Park focuses on the importance of positive emotional experiences or “emotional scaffolding” as a crucial element in helping ELLs succeed in the classroom in her article ¨Increasing English Language Learners’ Engagement in Instruction through Emotional Scaffolding¨. Much like Vygotsky’s idea of the co-creation of knowledge between student and teacher, the article engages with the idea of the “relational zone”, which is a shared emotional space between child and adult. She argues that cognitive development has been proven to be inseparable from emotional development in a number of studies, and emphasizes the need for teachers to make emotional scaffolding a conscious part of their pedagogy. Considering that emotional scaffolding can benefit all students, this to me seems to be a wonderful way to conceive of creating a classroom culture that can support ELLs in a covert way.

In this TEDx talk, Sid Efromovich talks about five techniques that make for effective language learning.

His first technique, relaxation, is key to me. I appreciate how he talks about the idea of feeling uncomfortable when learning a new language, and how students must be able operate in this discomfort, to make mistakes and learn. If a student is in this uncomfortable zone of language learning, the need to support them emotionally is of prime importance. A happy student is a relaxed student.

Another interesting strategy came up in an article titled “Imagining and Moving Beyond the ESL Bubble: Facilitating Communities of Practice Through the ELL Ambassadors Program” by Steve Daniel Przymus. The article describes a program that was implemented where ELL students were paired with non-ELL students in extra-curricular activities. Although the program occurred in a secondary school and the objective was to improve socialization, the results were interesting and I believe are relevant to any grade level. Przymus discusses the “intrinsically motivated language socialization” (Przymus, 278) that occurred when students were situated with buddies in areas of interest. He also stressed the importance of ELL “identity formation” as being inseparable from socialization and academic performance. This is something I would like to play with in the future. I can imagine that non-ELL students given the ambassador role would benefit, particularly if they are having confidence issues.

The take away for me from all of this seems over-simplistic. ELLs should be surrounded by a positive environment where they feel validated, and they will succeed. However, consciously scaffolding emotional and social contexts for ELLs is a new idea for me, and is another consideration to add to my (ever-growing it seems) list of things to consider when making lesson and unit plans.

One Comment

  1. I wonder what the classroom equivalent to the high school socialization programme would be. Maybe the fact that it was outside of the classroom was key, but I wonder about thinking about classroom integration with the same positive approach (as opposed to focusing on covering deficits).

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