Teaching Children Who Have Immigrated: The New Legislation, Research, and Trends in Immigration Which Affect Teachers of Diverse Student Populations

Article excerpt


Of the people who are currently living in the United States, about ten percent were born in other countries (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). In an even greater percentage of U.S. households - about twenty percent - a language other than English is spoken. Eugene Garcia (2002), author of the Student Cultural Diversity, has estimated that twenty-five percent of K-12 students will likely have limited proficiency in English by the year 2026. Addressing the needs of culturally diverse student populations is critical and can be accomplished through multicultural instructional strategies.

The ideas of Lev Vygotsky have had a significant impact on both the fields of multicultural and bilingual education. He theorized that the thought processes of children are influenced by social and cultural factors. Interestingly, he believed that the languages which people acquire structure their thinking (Vygotsky, 1986). If he was correct about the impact of social and linguistic factors on the mind, than the consequences for immigrant children of learning in a classroom environment with a foreign culture and language are important for educators to consider.

Depending on the circumstances, the consequences may vary. Students will create schema to accommodate the new information. They may code switch, speaking and combining their native languages and English. Assimilation into the school environment is another possibility as is the opposite: alienation from the school environment. The risk does unfortunately exist for the immigrant child that the classroom environment might not affirm his or her culture, language, or perspective.


One strategy for addressing the needs of immigrant students is scaffolding. Through this process, the teacher builds on the life experiences and knowledge of students by bringing their history, culture, and language into instruction. In their book Improving Schooling for Language-minority Children, Kenji Hakuta and Diane August (1997) described the characteristics of successful schools with diverse student populations. They found that in such schools instruction is tailored to meet the needs of the students.

In addition to the cognitive demands on students who have recently come to this country, there are particular psychological and emotional pressures which may affect their performance in the classroom. Teachers who are aware of what Cristina Igoa (1995) has called the "inner world of the immigrant child" will be in a better position to guide their learning.

Among the feelings common to immigrant children are isolation, exhaustion, helplessness, and resistance to change. (Igoa, 1995) Many immigrants experience culture shock. It is common for English language learners to go through a silent stage in which they speak very little as they absorb the new language and surroundings.

No Child Left Behind

Under the terms of No Child Left Behind which became law in January 2002, federal money is provided for the instruction of English language learners. School districts are assessed annually, however, based on the numbers of ELLs who become proficient in English.

The apparent trend toward an increased emphasis on English language acquisition is suggested by the renaming of the federal Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs (Crawford, 2002). …