Andrea was a new immigrant. Her family had just arrived from Venezuela in January, and she was enrolled in third grade right away. She was a fluent Spanish speaker, completely capable of doing third-grade level work in Spanish. Back home, she excelled in school. On the other hand, this was her first experience with English in a classroom setting, and she was not in a bilingual program. Although Andrea’s teacher was ESL certified, he did not speak Spanish.
During the first few weeks of school, Andrea’s teacher found it difficult to figure out what Andrea understood during instruction. She seemed lost and unsure. Andrea’s teacher often went through lessons and watched Andrea in hopes that he could see if she was following along. But it only became clear when she began to do independent work that Andrea did not understand the lesson. Through all of this, Andrea herself felt defeated, sad, and as if she lacked the ability to learn.
As the demographics of the nation’s students become increasingly more diverse, we often find ourselves in front of beautiful children who do not look or sound like us. Many in education compensate for this difference by adopting the perspective of color-blindness, acting as though cultural differences are insignificant or do not matter. When looking at the cultural proficiency continuum (see Figure 1), which describes how an entity responds to diversity, one can see that being color-blind is certainly a better option than being culturally destructive or culturally incapacitated. And often, when educators embrace a color-blind philosophy, they do so with the best of intentions, misguided as they may sometimes be. Claims such as, “I don’t see race,” or, “I treat all my kids the same,” are often the banner responses of a color-blind individual. Truthfully, I probably uttered similar phrases when I was a new teacher. But the reality is that culture does matter, and to be effective and engaging with an increasingly diverse student body, we educators must strive to move along the continuum into cultural competence and cultural proficiency.
“The assumption has been that if students read enough, they’ll simply pick up writing skills, through a kind of osmosis. But writing is the hardest thing we ask students to do, and the evidence is clear that very few students become good writers on their own” (Hochman, 2017).
During this time of uncertainty, we are faced with many challenges that detrimentally affect and change how we are teaching. Whether we are teaching in a traditional face-to-face setting, completely virtually, or a hybrid of the two, it remains true that, as educators, we will continue to create, find, or purchase a variety of resources for the students we serve. Unfortunately, it is also true that the Lexile level of the grade level resources we have access to is not always appropriate for the various students in our classrooms. It is often difficult to find resources that are authentic and challenging and address grade-appropriate concepts, but are also at the students’ reading level. As educators we find ourselves adapting, changing, or supplementing the resources we have in order to teach our state-mandated curriculum.
When I decided to pursue a degree in Linguistics several years ago, one of the hot topics of research was contrastive analysis, a linguistic instructional tool that compares and contrasts two language systems. Even though comparisons of language features and language interference became part of my literature review and lexicon, instructional strategies to support language and content development became my passion.
The term “affective filter” originates from Stephen Krashen, an expert in the field of linguistics, who described it as a number of affective variables that contribute to second language acquisition. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines affective as “referring to, arising from, or influencing feelings or emotions.”
When I was growing up, “doing school” always seemed to come naturally to me. I was well behaved, I made good grades, and I was often one of those students raising his hand to volunteer an answer to a question. My ability to thrive in a traditional classroom was clear on open house nights, when my teachers invariably greeted my mom with flowery descriptions of what a wonderful student I was and how… surprising…that was compared to their experiences with my older brothers. (The Fleenor family has some stories, trust me!)
So when I started my teaching career, I admittedly struggled to empathize deeply with my most struggling and/or misbehaving students. I cared about them, of course, and I wanted them to be successful, but I was missing that visceral, I’ve-been-in-your-shoes connection. As I grew as a teacher, I learned better tools to support them, but I didn’t fully understand what it was like to be at the back of the class. That is, until I started doing yoga.
by Tim McHugh, co-owner and VP of Sales/Marketing at Saddleback Educational Publishing.
Educators have done an amazing job adapting to what many have compared to a “100-year storm,” but hurdles such as access to technology have proved especially challenging. Even worse, these challenges hit many of our less fortunate students the hardest (and this will likely continue in the fall). How can we talk about equity for learners if we don’t provide an equal opportunity for all students?
Cultivating a positive classroom climate, setting our norms, and getting off to the right start has an impact on how students interact throughout the year (Wong, 2005). The need for structure and a welcoming environment does not change as we shift to being physically distant or online. This is critically important to keep in mind as we enter a school year like no other. This year comes with unique challenges at every turn. While each school’s reality may be different, we have some common truths that remain important as we strive to cultivate an environment where all students have the best shot at learning.