7 tips for engaging ESL students in music education
Monday, November 14, 2016
GRAPEVINE, Texas — "So many of my students enter my room, and I see a wave of relief wash over them," says Angela Ammerman, a speaker at NAfME's fourth-annual conference at the Gaylord Texas Conference and Resort.
Ammerman is referring to her English language learner (ELL) students who face the daily pressure of taking classes in a variety of subjects in a language and country that are unfamiliar to them. For centuries, music has been used as a way to not only bridge cultures, but also as a form of expression that doesn't explicitly require words.
Music educators are in a unique position in that they provide a way for ELL students to communicate and express themselves without having to simultaneously remember grammar rules. And because of that, ELL students can relax when they walk through those band room doors.
As the demands for ELL courses continue to soar, music educators must find new ways to engage these students in music performance at school. Ammerman, who had just one ELL student in her beginning orchestra class during her first year at Annandale High School in Virginia, shares seven tips on how she was able to grow that number to 11 by the next year.
1. Welcome them
A small, but powerful gesture music educators can do to welcome ELL students is smile. If you're not already greeting your students as they enter your classroom, start now. And play some music while you're at it. Ammerman likes to play popular music from different countries before class starts, which is an easy way to get her ELL students talking.
For Composer Heritage Days, choose composers from ELL students' home countries to show them you value them. For middle language learners, have them create a bilingual musical terms chart or select warmups — something that will make them comfortable.
One of Ammerman's students taught her the phrase "instrumentos arriba" — the Spanish translation to "instruments up" — which she now says in her classes.
2. Show, don't tell
Gain mastery over nonverbal cues and instruction through "call and response" modeling. If you want your students to know how to properly hold a violin, have them immediately follow each of your movements.
And always remember that repetition is key for any student and especially so for ELL students who already have to process so many things at once.
Enunciate your S's and R's, and speak slowly enough so your students have time to process what you say.
Write it, speak it, draw it, show it and show them — do them all! Students, ELL or not, process information in a variety of ways, so always strive to convey information through written, aural and visual formats.
5. Chamber ensembles for the win
Chamber ensembles are a great place for ELL students. It allows them to develop relationships with their peers and to build confidence in playing their instruments. But if you can, try to keep them there for a year.
Ammerman goes one step further when placing her ELL students in chamber ensembles by pairing students taking Spanish language classes with native Spanish speakers.
6. Value their experience
Do some intel on your ELL students' background. Talk to their ESOL teachers and their counselor to find out where they're from, who they live with and what they do outside of school.
"Some of these kids have come from their countries to America living with an aunt who they've never met, and this is common," Ammerman says. "When a student says, 'I'm tired,' they mean it."
A quarter of the room during the presentation raised their hands when asked if anyone knew of ELL students who go to school and then have to head to a 12-hour work shift. So it's important to inquire about their lives, because you never know what the circumstances are behind "I'm tired."
7. Cast the net wider and enjoy
When recruiting ELL students for your ensemble, use their language. If you're recruiting at a certain school that has a high number of, let's say, Korean kids, bring a current Korean student who can speak their language. Music brings people together, so don't just use western classical music in your recruiting concerts.
And let's not forget one of the most powerful marketing tools in your arsenal: word of mouth. Many ELL students aren't even aware they can learn an instrument in the U.S. Encourage your current ELL ensemble students to share the word.
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