Including Language Learners in a Mainstream Classroom

Amy Faeth      

“Daniel” is a sixth grade student whose mother recently brought him and his sister to a new country, where they don’t speak the language. He is intelligent and kind, but he is also quiet and reserved. He was put into a regular mainstream classroom, and does not receive any language support. The content area teachers and aide do not speak his first language (L1), and often ignore him in class while he reads independently. Most of his classmates also ignore him, and during breaks, he sits alone on a bench reading, or talks with his sister. Expected to understand the material, complete all assignments, and take exams in a language he doesn’t yet speak, he is frustrated and falling behind. As a language learner, Daniel is not receiving the same access to education as his peers. This access can be improved in several ways:

  • Set a good example. Students look to their teacher as a guide for behavior. Daniel is essentially ignored in the classroom, so his classmates follow the teacher’s example and ignore him as well. It is difficult with a language barrier, but if the teacher makes an effort to include him during instruction, Daniel will be more accepted by his classmates.
  • Assign a student guide. Ask a kind and sensitive student to be Daniel’s helper throughout the year. Give the student guide clear and specific responsibilities—“Show Daniel where the restrooms are,” “Help him find the right page in the math book”—so he or she doesn’t become overwhelmed by an unknown set of expectations. This partnership can help Daniel acclimate to the different school environment and promote an intercultural exchange between the two students.
  • Make use of the school’s bilingual aide. Introduce Daniel to the bilingual aide. Ask the aide for help in translating any materials that are sent home, and in suggesting additional materials in the student’s L1. Find out what kind of support the bilingual aide at your school can offer, and develop a plan to include that support in your teaching and lesson planning.
  • Provide supplemental materials. There is ample material on the internet that could support the learning of content concepts. This can keep students like Daniel from falling behind and benefits from learning the same material as his peers. Tools like a bilingual dictionary should be available.
  • Make sure the student knows his or her culture is valued. Daniel’s teacher can easily make him feel valued in the classroom. As a member of another culture, Daniel can provide valuable insight to his classmates, and explain differences. These contributions can be tied into the curriculum. This way Daniel will feel important in the classroom—rather than feeling invisible.

Situations like Daniel’s are all too common; many language learners are placed into mainstream classes with little or no language support. However, educators can make many small changes to create a positive, inclusive learning environment for all students. Daniel and his teachers have a challenging task in front of them, but with patience and resourcefulness, Daniel’s teachers can help him overcome barriers to his education.

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One Response to Including Language Learners in a Mainstream Classroom

  1. Gwen says:

    Great post, Amy! Your recommendations are clear and convincing.

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