Teaching Newcomers Doesn’t Have To Be Stressful
Newcomers often present a significant challenge for teachers, but the students themselves entering upper level classes with little to no English abilities also face enormous personal, academic, and social pressures. As much of an adjustment for both student and teacher as the beginning of this relationship can be, preparation can take a lot of the angst out of those first few weeks. Here are some ideas for you to consider:
- If you have prior warning to the Newcomer’s arrival, research the Newcomer’s country of origin. Find out what are norms such as gender roles, typical educational attainment, diet, etc. This knowledge will help you anticipate things that might cause issues. Prepare the rest of the class for differences that may arise. If you don’t have the opportunity to do this before the student’s first day of school, it is still worth your while after the fact. You’ll want to know what are typical difficulties for a child learning English coming from that language group as well.
- Make sure basic needs are met. This cannot be over-stressed. I have had a second grade student try to walk home down a busy thoroughfare when he got hungry and a third grader publicly urinate on the playground. In many countries students walk home to eat lunch and public urination (especially for males) may be common. Your student needs to be able to communicate their basic needs and wants to you. If you don’t have another student in the class who can translate for him or her, consider using picture cards, at least initially, until the student acquires some basic vocabulary Consider teaching some basic survival phrases as well, such as “I have..” and “Can I…”
- Know where your student is in the English language acquisition process and use the WIDA Can Dos to set realistic expectations. The English Language acquisition process is a long-term one. Knowing where your student is and what each stage brings, will help you to provide better support and take some of the stress off your shoulders.
- Make your Newcomer feel like a part of your classroom and school community. This includes representing his or her culture on the walls of the school and in the literature that is read. Show respect by taking the time to learn how to pronounce the student’s name correctly.
- Be consistent and organized. Routines and procedures allow students to predict and participate in classroom activities. Routines give Newcomer’s confidence and reduce risk in participating.
- Use comprehensible input. That includes all of the following strategies that compliment language and add meaning.
- Break tasks into smaller steps and encourage your student as each step is completed. Your Newcomer is going to need your help each step of the way. Use exemplars and modeling to help him or her understand the end goal or finished product.
- Give students who are translating both your questions and their responses extra wait time. Research says the average teacher waits less than a second for a student to respond to a question. For a student translating the question, formulating a response, and translating the answer back, it’s almost impossible in that time frame.
- Don’t assume anything. It’s easy to assume that all kids have ridden a bike, played baseball, had a birthday party or owned a dog. Cultural norms vary widely in what is considered “normal” for childhood. Don’t assume that experiences American children have are universal.
- Provide actionable specific feedback for students. “Your English is getting better!” does nothing to promote language growth. Set achievable goals and give high-quality feedback as students work to reach them.
- Be on the lookout for culture shock. It’s ugly and it’s real. See my post on how to spot the signs of culture shock HERE!
- Encourage, encourage, encourage! Newcomers are often way outside their zone of proximal development and receive a bombardment of negative messages from their environment. Be sure to bring growth to their attention and celebrate even small gains together.