By Teri Davis, Jessica Baipho, Lori Deese, Kristel Gooding and Hope Robinson, Kershaw County School District, and Julia López-Robertson, University of South Carolina
A teacher must work to fill the gaps in their own knowledge in order to more effectively teach their students. These gaps extend to language similarities and differences between the student’s first language and English; cultural nuances that may be missing for a lesson; and religious considerations that may come up as part of teaching the whole child.
Reading The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano helped identify the gaps we have as teachers in knowledge pertaining to the social activism of Puerto Ricans living in New York during the Civil Rights and spurred more research. ‘Filling’ that gap by doing research will help teach the Civil Rights era more completely. Benefiting all the students, not just the Latino students. We tend to think that teaching about different languages and cultures is only for the children with those backgrounds. That way of thinking is so wrong. Opening the discussion of Civil Rights to include the Puerto Ricans in New York will provide another view of those who brought about change in this period.
Reading and discussing The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, was eye opening to see how culture can affect children. In the book, Evelyn is almost ashamed that she is Puerto Rican. That has us thinking about how the Spanish speaking children in our class might feel. As white women who have rarely been in situations where we felt like our culture was not accepted, it is absolutely necessary to read about and try to understand the insecurities the students may feel. Knowing your students and using the student’s first language to support their learning of a new language is so important for their language and academic development.
Thinking back to working with our first ELLs we thought a lot about the mistakes we definitely made. It was a lack of information and training on our part but it makes our hearts hurt for those who have passed through our doors. However, rather than focus on the unintended harm we may have caused then, we have learned about several ideas to implement that will help us in establishing relationships with our ELL students and families; the most interesting being home visits.
When reading about visiting an ELL’s home and through the discussions and books from our class, we learned how other cultures perceive visits from teachers in their homes. These visits are one of honor and pride on the part of the families. We filled our gap in this area too as we just thought that families would find the visits intrusive. Honestly, we were not aware of the esteem and respect our families have for us as their children’s teachers!
Another new area of thinking has been the role of the first language for our ELLs. While always maintaining respect, we were not aware of cultural differences and needs or how to meet them. Teri connected to one of her young ELLs who has been in the United States since birth. His family speaks only Spanish and Teri wondered how she would communicate with the family since she only speaks English. Teri made up a reading strategy as she explains:
As we read books, we write words on an index card. One side is written in English and the other side in Spanish. This strategy allows his family to help him learn unfamiliar words. In turn, it has increased his ability to communicate in Spanish. By allowing responses in English and Spanish I have been able to ignite a fire and motivation for his learning. He excitedly chooses bilingual books for us to read in our one-on-one or small group time. His excitement to learn to read in Spanish has caused him to read more in English as well because he is becoming more comfortable with the language and literacy aspects.
Without a teacher who motivates, propels, scaffolds and protects the learning process, students cannot exceed expectations. A child can learn on their own out of a natural curiosity, but they cannot work to the depths and required levels without the help of a teacher. Teachers can make or break a learning experience for a child. If you have a teacher who is willing to embrace all aspects of the learners cultural and linguistic background, the child becomes a valued part of the classroom. Relationship building is key to education. Students must know you love and advocate for them, especially when difficult situations arise. Teachers must know this aspect of their roles in the classroom. They must embrace it to the full extent to create successful learners and build bonds with the community. That is something that all educators need to work on.
[Editor’s Note: We encourage you to read last week’s post on this topic. Also, check out our previous discussion on how The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, which encourages readers to think about how familial capital helps challenge inequitable situations. Additionally, we talk about how this book can inspire students to start internal revolutions, revolutions of the heart.]
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