Decreasing social anxiety for English learners
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
English learners, like all students, face the pressure of achieving in school, and they hope to learn the content being presented in the class. Additionally, like all of the other students in the class, they want to make friends with their classmates and other students in the school.
These social and academic pressures that all students face, though, can be compounded for English learners. They may be learning the social norms of a new culture, while they are learning English — both in terms of the social English that students use with each other, as well as the academic language used in classrooms and schools.
What then, can we as teachers do to support culturally and linguistically diverse students in our classrooms, both socially and academically? In Part 1 of this article, we'll look at four ways we can support students socially.
Culturally and linguistically diverse students are like every other child in that there are those who are extroverted and will make friends easily, others who are introverted and shy, and those who are somewhere in between. Some students will have large groups of friends, and others will have few. Some students will make friends primarily with other students from their ethnic or linguistic heritage, and others will have a diverse group of friends.
All of these scenarios are completely normal.
In some instances, though — especially when students are from an ethnic or language group that is not well represented in the school or in the community — the students may face challenges in making friends. Perhaps the student's cultural norms and language differ significantly, and other students do not immediately understand the student's behaviors and do not speak their native language.
Teachers can support all students in creating an environment that is welcoming to all students and embraces the uniqueness each student brings to the classroom. This is something all teachers strive to do anyway, but there are some strategies that may be beneficial, and others that may not be as helpful as we might think.
Create a safe classroom environment
No teacher allows her students to be openly rude, bully or otherwise intimidate other students in the classroom. It is important that we make this explicit to our students, and be sure the environment in the classroom is one where students take risks, are able to ask questions and receive assistance from each other and from the teacher.
For English learners, it can be especially intimidating to answer questions or speak up in class as may not be able to pronounce new words perfectly, or may have an accent. It is important that all students understand that when we learn a new language, most of us will speak with an accent, unless we learned that new language at a young age.
The classroom environment should be structured in such a way as to ensure that all students can participate without fear of being laughed at or teased.
Respect and care for all students
All teachers care about their students. Yet some students still feel their teacher does not like them, or feel the teacher likes some students better than others.
Be sure that each of your students, including the culturally and linguistically diverse students, know you respect and care about them. This can be done in a number of simple, yet effective ways. For example, individually greet each of your students each day. A simple "Hello! How are you today?" or other short conversation goes a long way.
Additionally, take notice of your students, physically and emotionally. Comment on a new haircut or outfit, or how the student looks excited, tired, upset, etc. Follow up with students who may need an additional moment of your time because they are not feeling well or are upset for some reason.
Resist asking students to be cultural ambassadors
Students who are from other countries are not automatically ambassadors for the culture they come from. Automatically asking students to do a presentation on their culture or country may be inappropriate, as the students may not know what your expectations are or what specifically should be shared.
Discussing culture is a challenge for most people, as culture includes norms and behaviors that are often internal and not necessarily visible. Students may not be able to articulate why they do things in a certain way, as the cultural norm just dictates it.
Students, over time, may want to share about their culture and where they are from. This should be encouraged and celebrated. But asking students — especially one who is new to the classroom, school, community or country — to do a presentation on their country and culture may be inappropriate.
Be a culturally responsive teacher
Students and teachers should be aware that cultural norms differ, and as a school and classroom community we should be aware of and embrace cultural difference and be culturally responsive.
For example, rules around touch, such as giving a pat on the back, a handshake or a hug between the teacher and students or even among students differ among various cultural groups. Additionally, it may not be considered customary for girls and boys to speak to one another in class, and the rules and customs around eye contact or speaking up in class may differ significantly.
Teachers should not only learn and respect these cultural differences, but should also teach their students to do the same.
In Part 2, we will examine three ways teachers can support culturally and linguistically diverse students academically.
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