bububooks

Helping children develop their American and native cultural identities together.

NAEYC Themes, Part 2: Build Positive Relationships with Dual-Language Learning Children

Posted by bububooks on December 10, 2009

A Safe Environment
The first common theme I gathered from the sessions I attended at the National Association for the Education of Young Children Annual Conference is that it is absolutely imperative that teachers build positive relationships with DLL children.  Help them to feel safe and included.

Have you ever been in an environment where you didn’t feel safe?  Heard some strange noises at night?  In the car with a reckless driver?  In a heated argument with someone physically stronger than you?  Or how about simply watching a scary movie?

Think about what was going through your head, the first thing you thought you needed to do.  Getting to safety, right?  Grabbing that bottle of mace, getting out of the car, calling the police, covering your eyes and hiding behind the friend sitting next to you. Anything to get you out of that situation. You focused on saving yourself, on self-preservation.

Some of these examples may seem extreme and unrelated to a child in a classroom (hopefully).  My point is that regardless of the situation, when you don’t feel safe, your first priority and thoughts focus on self-preservation, on getting to a place of safety.  The same feelings occur in a child who is in an unfamiliar environment, especially when they cannot communicate in your language.  If you’re in an environment where you don’t feel safe, you close down and only focus on self-preservation.  How can a child learn and prepare for kindergarten if she doesn’t feel safe?

Additionally, behavior issues can stem from this inability to communicate.  Think back to a recent meeting or presentation during which you did not pay attention.  The topic didn’t apply to you. The presenter was wretchedly boring and just kept droning on and on.  Or maybe it was a good presentation, but you were thinking about a looming deadline instead or what groceries you needed to get on your way home that night.  What did you do?  Pretended to listen, nodded in agreement during regular intervals and acted as if your grocery list were really notes from the material?

It’s okay, we’ve all done it!  John Gunnarson from Napa Valley College calls this “procedural display.”  We as adults know how to act like we are paying attention.  Children have not yet learned this technique.  If a child does not speak the language used in the classroom and, therefore, does not understand what is being said, what will he do? Act out?  Pursue activities that are interesting to him?  Can you blame him?  Over time, what message are we sending to DLL children who do not receive enough language support?  We are telling them that school does nothing for them.  Think about the long-term implications for this message.

Thus, teachers should focus on helping DLL children to feel safe and included by building a positive relationship with each one.  If a child feels safe in a classroom, she’ll take risks, like trying a new language.  Would you be more willing or less willing to jump out of an airplane if you were 100% sure the parachute would work?  How about 50% sure?  Helping a child to feel included and valued will encourage her to try new things such as speaking a few words in English.

Cognitive Growth
The greatest cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.  In our last blog, we mentioned how Secretary Duncan stated we can no longer ignore the evidence that social development and academic development are “inextricably linked.”  Academic development through social interaction becomes an even bigger hurdle for dual language learning children.  As a teacher, take the extra steps to show—and model—that you value the DLL children in your classroom.

Tips
Now, how do you go about doing this?  Of course myriad of tips and ideas exist.  Here are some general themes to get you started.  The NAEYC Program Standards and Accreditation Criteria state that Standard # is Relationship: 1) Teachers build positive relationship with children 2) Help children make friends 3) Create a harmonious classroom 4) Promote self-regulation.

Another key tip is to value the DLL child’s native language.  Doing so validates them and encourages their mental well-being.  Remember, children don’t realize they are different until they arrive in your center.  The only life they’ve known so far is their home life (or for immigrant children, their social life in their native country too) and that has defined their view of ‘normal.’  By valuing, embracing and including their native language, you tell these children—and model for the other children in your classroom—that they are indeed normal.

Opportunities for language learning exist all day, every day (except maybe nap time).  Every child should have a relationship with an adult.  This relationship not only helps with the feelings of inclusion but also can ensure the child gets maximum language exposure every day.

Finally, remember that the desire to include comes from within.  Ensure you hire staff to embrace diversity, multiculturalism and multilingualism.  If your teachers do not include “different” children, how will the children learn to do so?

Because children are developing language ability in general, consider this phrase: “everyone is an English Language Learner as a child.”  Keeping this frame of reference in mind may help you and your fellow teachers to discover techniques to include, value and develop strong relationships with all the children in your classrooms.

WOW! Thank you for reading this far.  A good chunk of this blog’s material came from three sessions at NAEYC.  They are:

1) Using standards-based curriculum to support language and literacy development for English-language learners.

Presented by:
Min-hua Chen, Education Specialist, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education;
Vicky Milstein, Principal of Early Education, Brookline Public Schools;
Min-Jen Wu Taylor, Pre-K Teacher, Brookline Public Schools;
James StClair, Kindergarten Teacher, Cambridge Public Schools;
Sandra Christison, Kindergarten Teacher, Boston Public Schools.

They haven’t posted their slides yet, but if they do, it will show up when you click here.

2) Home Language or English?  Implementing program policies and teaching strategies that meet the needs of dual-language learners.

Presented by:
John Gunnarson, Napa Valley College.

Click here for his handout.

3) Multicultural programs: Enriching families, supporting children

Presented by:
Rosene Johnson, Michigan State University.

She hasn’t posted her slides yet, but if she does, it will show up when you click here.

Upcoming Blogs under the NAEYC Annual Conference Theme:

Part 3:  Common Theme #2:  Develop meaningful relationships with parents and families

Part 4:  Common Theme #3:  Communication strategies

Part 5:  Common Theme #4:  Support the home language and culture

Part 6:  Research, Facts and Things to Know about Dual Language Learners

Previous Blogs under NAEYC Annual Conference Theme:

Part 1: Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan’s Presentation

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