Community Inquiry News Article
Carmen Kosow, Erin Falabella, Kimberly Costa, Dawn Chisholm
On September 23, 2014, ELL cohort team Emix met with Li Ni and Agnes Han, two culturally/linguistically diverse parents with students in public schools. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss Li Ni and Agnes’ feelings and opinions about their own education and their children’s education in a culture different from their own.
Agnes Han is originally from Taiwan. She came to the United States in 1999 to attend graduate school in Pennsylvania. She later married and relocated to Nashua. Li Ni is originally from mainland China. She came to the United States in 2003 and currently lives in Massachusetts. Agnes and Li Ni’s first language is Mandarin. Both women began learning English in middle school, around age 12, and completed their K-12 education in their home country. Both families have children who range from 2 years to 9 years old; all born in the United States. The children’s primary socialization focused on their native culture. This first experience of their L2 happened during the children’s’ secondary socialization. They were exposed to the language and culture of English in preschool and primary school.
When asked about acquiring English as a second language, Agnes and Li Ni shared that they themselves had a difficult time in the beginning, especially in the area of speaking. They also shared that their children experienced similar difficulties in the classroom. John and Sam’s primary socializations had been tightly knit with their cultural heritage and native language. Upon entering public school, which is part of their secondary socialization, both boys experienced a year of silent period in their Preschool year. Sam was assessed and qualified for ELL services, which he attended for three years. Just this school year, Sam was re-assessed and tested out of the ELL program.
When asked how they felt about their child’s school experience, both felt their child’s culture was well represented in the public schools they attended. Li Ni shared that her son was doing well and that they feel welcome in the school. She also shared that she sends her son to an American school and to a Chinese school, and she views each school experience as separate. “I haven’t seen our culture in the classroom, and that is okay.” Li Ni said her son’s American class was racially diverse, and that Sam’s school does a Cultural celebration once a year. In “Mastering ESL and Bilingual Methods” by Herrera and Murray, it states, “Effective teachers know that students are best motivated in ways that support (rather than demean) their ethnic or cultural heritage” (pg. 20). Factoring in the stages of acculturation within the school setting can greatly affect a student’s success.
Team Emix then asked if there was something Agnes and Li Ni would change in their school. Agnes shared that she would like to see a more diverse selection in the cafeteria. For example, in the Chinese culture they eat a warm meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, mainly soups and rice at every meal. They do not eat cold salad and sandwiches, which is common in American schools. She would like to see a variety of options based on the school’s cultural population. Agnes also shared that this would help other children learn about their peers’ diverse cultures.
Conversation and questions during the meeting led to further inquiries on the sense of community and teaching practices in American schools. With these questions in mind, Team Emix shared two videos with Agnes and Li Ni. One video showed a Language Arts close reading lesson in a first grade classroom. The second video showed a Math lesson in a fourth grade classroom. Both lessons were based on the Common Core State Standards, and were delivered in a culturally and linguistically diverse classroom. The team asked Agnes and Li Ni to share positive and negative feelings about each lesson. They were also asked to explain whether or not they felt the lessons would be appropriate for their children.
When reflecting on the lessons shown, Agnes and Li Ni had positive remarks about the Language Arts lesson. They enjoyed the use of visuals and kinesthetics during the close read, and felt the teacher’s pace made it easier to understand. In Mastering ESL and Bilingual Methods, Herrera and Murray state, “…guarded vocabulary is a common theme among variations of sheltered instruction… (guarded vocabulary) involves linguistic actions on the part of the instructor that increase the comprehensibility of instruction.” (Pg. 275). The women’s positive reaction to this lesson demonstrated validity to the guarded vocabulary theory.
On the contrary, in reaction to the Math lesson, both parents agreed that the lesson was extremely difficult and unclear. They went on to explain how, in general, mathematics as taught in the United States is very complex. This is in contrast to how they were taught in China and Taiwan. At home, both mothers prefer to teach their children the traditional Chinese methods of solving math problems.
Team Emix ended the discussion by asking the parents what we, as teachers, can do in our classrooms to connect cultures and embrace differences. Agnes and Li Ni were not sure what to give as a suggestion. The team offered a possible lesson extension and shared it with the parents. The lesson offered an opportunity for both languages to be represented in a hands on book, called a dual language identity text. In the article, Affirming Identity in Multi Lingual Classrooms, the authors state, “Identity text are products that can be written, spoken, visual, musical, dramatic, or multi-modal combinations, are positive statements that students make about themselves” (Cummins, Bismilla, etc. pg.40). For this family, in one of the team member’s classrooms, a book was written about a family trip to Taiwan in both Mandarin and English. The illustrations were actual photographs of the pictures the family had taken during their trip and were chosen by the student. The dual language book was then shared with the class and read by the student’s mother in both languages.
As these CLD students and their families contribute their cultural experiences of their L1 into the children’s academic setting, and voice their opinions of changes that they see may benefit their child’s experience to a new culture, the gap between the two may get smaller and lower students affective filter. Also, educators may make considerations and accommodations to share those CLD students’ suggestions and factor in their student biographies to help drive instructional practice. If teachers take these steps, we should see growth linguistically and socially for our CLD students and their families within the school setting.