Diversity and Language Arts
ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication
The passage of Public Law 94-142 mandated that students with a primary
language other than English must be placed in regular classrooms
with English-speaking children and teachers. Many teachers whose
only language is English, however, feel unqualified to teach non-English
speakers. This Digest will present practical strategies for teachers
to use when working with language-diverse students and discuss some
of the most recent research on the topic.
Not too many
years ago one could find articles in education journals which proposed
that children with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds
were inherently deficient and inferior, and that their chances for
success in school were very slight. Today, however, the outlook
for non-English speakers in our schools is much improved. Recent
research has shown that giving these students a chance to use English
in natural and meaningful situations in the classroom enhances their
second language acquisition.
speak English as a second language may be referred to as bilingual.
Those who speak only their native language are monolingual. Lacking
English as a primary language, many students who are very capable
of learning are unable to do so because of the language barrier.
In 1970 Justin indicated that almost one million Spanish- speaking
students in the Southwest were unable to go beyond the eighth grade
because of the language factor.
Bond et al. (1989), perhaps the ideal situation is to have bilingual
teachers to help meet the needs of these children. However, this
is usually impossible, particularly in schools where there are many
different languages spoken by the students. Yet teachers who speak
only English can still provide a warm and supportive atmosphere
in which their limited-English-speaking students can learn to communicate
by speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
and Bahruth (1985), describe such an atmosphere in a class in
Pearsall, Texas. The class consisted of 22 migrant children, ages
10 to 16. The age range shows that some of the children had failed
a year or more of school already. The children all spoke Spanish
and most knew little English. Besides school, their exposure to
English came from television and the radio. Most were reading three
or more years below grade level; some were nonreaders. Obviously,
the prediction that the majority of these children would become
illiterate dropouts with only a life of migrant labor to look forward
to was quite likely to come true. From the first day of school,
Hayes and Bahruth worked on improving their students' self-concepts.
They undertook activities that emphasized working together. The
students drew pictures, talked about their favorite things, traced
each other's silhouettes, and developed a sense of unity as a class.
The teachers read many of their favorite books aloud to the students
each day. When the book was read, they printed the name on the bulletin
board. After 6 weeks students were asked to pick one of the books,
illustrate a scene from it, and using the illustration as a prop,
tell the story to their classmates. In this way they planted and
nurtured the seed of reading, a seed which began to germinate early.
The children began to ask to take home books which they had read,
as well as other books in the class library.
Hayes and Bahruth employed early on was the use of dialogue journals.
Hudelson (1988) points out, if there is no fear of being marked
"wrong," writing is a powerful tool for students with
limited English skills. The students wrote on any topic they chose.
Teachers read the journal entries and responded. The teachers neither
criticize the content nor edited it in any way. With time, the students
improved, often dramatically, in their use of the English language.
during the later part of the school year, one child had improved
one grade level, seven children had improved two+ grade levels,
and another child had improved four+ grade levels. While most of
the children were still below their age grade level, it must be
remembered that they were tested on a test normed with a native
speaker population. Their tremendous achievement is certainly apparent.
But perhaps even more important, these children learned that they
could learn, and they were very proud of what they accomplished.
In a report
on the other ways that classroom activities can be modified to provide
the special support that LEP children need, Allen
(1987) also stresses making the reading/writing connection.
Like Hayes and Bahruh, the teacher read high-interest stories to
the children. She also found many strategies to extend the stories
in interesting and motivating ways. The classroom was not one of
the "no- talking" stereotypes that so often appear in
research literature--this classroom thrived on communication. Dingboom
(1994) also stressed a risk-free environment for children to
explore literature and added parental involvement with home-based
(1993) succeeded in integrating a recently arrived Vietnamese
first grader into a summer course that focused on language arts
by letting him use cut-out art as his sign system for expressing
his frustration at sometimes not being able to communicate with
his classmates. The many language arts activities, such as silent
reading, read alouds, story writing, cooking, and singing, provided
him with the resources to acquire language. His reading and writing
improved slowly in a print-rich environment, but his artistic creative
strength gave him the means to communicate more fully with his classmates.
In a small and
highly informative book Cambourne
and Turbill (1987) describe the theory and practice of this
kind of learning experience for kindergartners in Australia. Each
of the classrooms they observed had a mix of English and non-English
speaking children. The two point out that all children use coping
strategies to learn to read and write, but that the speed with which
English speakers and non-English speakers solve the written language
puzzle differs. The initial coping strategies, according to Cambourne
and Turbill, are : (1) use of related activities, particularly art;
(2) use of environmental print--that is, the print the children
see around them every day; (3) use of repetition; (4) assistance
from and interaction with other children; (5) assistance from and
interaction with the teacher; (6) use of "temporary" spelling.
One fear that
many researchers have as they look at children of other cultures
being mainstreamed into regular classrooms is that their cultural
identity will be lost. For this reason, teachers should strive to
use reading materials that focus on the cultural heritage of the
students, if such materials are available. Alternatively, teachers
should emphasize the positive aspects of the various cultures in
the United States, and reading materials that stress cultural diversity
should be used.
for using these kinds of reading materials is that some research
1984) shows that bicultural readers comprehend and remember
materials that deal with their own culture better than those of
another culture. There is evidence that cultural relevance of stories
may be more pronounced in higher grades than in lower grades. It
may be that this factor accounts for reports from some teachers
that bicultural students are not interested in school. However,
this could also be related to the importance (or lack of importance)
given to schooling in the student's home culture. This means that
if your class has Spanish speakers, use of Mexican or Puerto Rican
or Cuban folklore (depending on the ethnic group), cultural activities,
oral histories, or family stories as a part of the reading program
will help stimulate interest in new text content.
for the teacher of the multicultural student are:
in the language arts should always be adapted to individual needs.
- The student
should be taught some "survival" words in English, e.g.,
home address, rest room, etc.
- The nonnative
speaker should be teamed with another student who acts as a "big
brother" or "big sister" in helping the foreign
student become acquainted with the school.
from within the community can be used to help the foreign student,
adults or other students who speak the language, for example.
should be placed in mixed groups for reading and language arts
so they can gain more experience with English.
- Time is
necessary for the foreign student to use English in real communication--talking,
listening, reading, and writing.
et al. (1994) remind us that "language minority and culturally
different students are the fastest growing group of students in
the public schools today and as a group they are already the majority
in more than 20 of our largest cities in the nation." Of course,
not every teacher teachers in an urban environment where she or
he will encounter a diverse student population, but the basic strategies
presented in this Digest can help those who do.
Allen, V.G. (1987).
Developing Contexts to Support Second Language Acquisition, Language
Arts, 63(1), 61-66. [EJ 327 896]
Baca, L. et
Language Minority Students: Literacy and Educational Reform.
In Ellsworth, N. et al. (eds), Literacy: A Redefinition. Hillsdale,
NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. [ED 377 466]
Bond, G. et
al. (1989). Reading Difficulties: Their Diagnosis and Correction.
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
B., and J. Turbill (1987).
Coping with Chaos. Rozelle, NSW, Australia: Primary English
Teaching Association. [ED 283 209]
Using Art as a Means of Language Development and of Finding One's
Voice: One Case Study of an ESL Learner. [ED 373 351]
et al. (1994). Improving
Student Reading Abilities and Attitudes of Culturally and Linguistically
Diverse Students through Curriculum Adaptation and Home/Parental
Involvement. M.A. Project, St. Xavier University. [ED 371 319]
and R. Bahruth (1985).
Querer Es Poder in Hansen, J. et al. (eds), Breaking Ground:
Teachers Relate Reading and Writing in the Elementary School. Portsmouth,
NH: Heinemann. [ED 257 050]
and Literacy in Bilingual-Bicultural Children. NABE: The Journal
for the National Association for Bilingual Education, 8(3), 11-26.
[EJ 308 930]
Writing in ESL. ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Languages and Linguistics. [ED 303 046]
(1970). Culture Conflict and Mexican-American Achievement. School
and Society 98.
is Assistant Professor of Language Education at Indiana University
publication was prepared (Digest #103, EDO-CS-95-06, June 1995)
with funding from the U.S. Department of Education under contract
number RR93002011, and published by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading,
English and Communication.
expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions
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