Teaching Secondary Physical Education to ESL Students
Glakas, Barbara A., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
Teachers may find that students who are enrolled in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program in their schools are also enrolled in courses that are less language-based, such as art, math, and physical education. How can physical educators communicate with ESL students so that their experiences in physical education are successful?
In 1989, the National Association for Bilingual Education estimated that there were more than 6.6 million limited English proficient (LEP) students in American schools (Gil & Gil, 1989). LEP students are often enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs and in other courses that are not considered to be highly language-based, such as physical education. ESL students may have a greater need to feel a sense of belonging and to experience success, and physical educators are in an ideal position to help fulfill the confidence needs of these students (Gil & Gil, 1989). For many language minority students, life in the United States it very different from life in their native countries. Adjusting to a second culture is often demanding and, in some cases, traumatic. Physical educators have a unique opportunity to make this transition easier. But it is not good enough to merely be empathetic or sensitive. Teachers must be willing to learn about the needs of these students and to modify programs or teaching styles accordingly.
To be successful in teaching ESL student, physical educators must not view them as merely a "problem" to be "dealt with." Although ESL students offer special challenges, physical education classes offer special opportunities for them. My high school is comprised for more than 60 percent ethnic minority students, and I have discovered a few helpful strategies for teaching ESL students in my physical education classes.
Identifying an ESL Student
On the first day of school, you may not know which students in your physical education classes are in the ESL program. Some ESL students are fairly proficient at speaking English, but they may not be able to read or write in English. Still others may not be able to speak English at all. Before explaining class policies and procedures, teachers must identify the English proficiency levels of their students. These levels may vary; the level of their proficiency will help teachers determine the students' needs. My school system categorizes ESL levels into the following groups:
* Level A: Students who have little or no proficiency in English and need intensive English instruction; some of these students may also be illiterate in their own native language.
* Level B1: Students who have limited proficiency in understanding and speaking English; they have little skill in reading and writing English; intensive instruction in English is needed.
* Level B2: Students who are fairly proficient in understanding and speaking English, but their skill is reading and writing is limited; they participate successfully in regular classes if instruction in reading and writing is provided.
* Level C: Students who are former members of the ESL program; they are considered proficient in English, have been mainstreamed into all regular classes, and no longer need ESL instruction.
One way not to identify ESL students is to say to the class, "Raise your hand if you are in the ESL program." ESL students may not raise their hands because they are too embarrassed to be singled out, or because they do not speak English and did not understand the question. There are three easy ways to identify ESL students:
* Ask to see the students' schedule sheets, which they will probably have with them on the first day of school. The schedule sheets should indicate whether or not a student is enrolled in any ESL classes.
* Ask the students to copy their schedules on a sheer of paper for you (again, their schedules should indicate ESL classes).
* Ask the guidance department or the school computer operator to provide a list of all students in the school who are enrolled in ESL classes. This information is often kept in the school data base, which may also list each student's native language.
Once you have identified the ESL students and their English proficiency levels, record this information in your gradebook.
General Communication Techniques
If you have ever visited another country, you may have experienced some of the frustration and culture shock associated with incomprehensible languages, different behaviors, and different procedures (Taira, 1989). Students who are new to the United States probably experience a lot of stress due to this same type of culture shock. Teachers shoudl try to make these students feel safe, wanted, and comfortable. Despite language barriers, communication techniques --both verbal and nonverbal--are the keys to reaching ESL students. I have used the following techniques successfully:
* Do not require these students to speak in class immediately; give them tiem to adjust (Yarmus, 1991).
* Learn to pronounce names correctly. This is the first step in establishing a trusting relationship. If necessary, ask the student or another teacher the correct pronunciation beforehand to prevent embarrassment during roll call (Swisher & Swisher, 1986). Teach other students to pronounce names correctly as well.
* Use a buddy system. Ask another bilingual student to help translate and to help ESL students learn class procedures.
* Use simple language with basic vocabulary. When speaking to beginning level ESL students, use short sentences and speak in the present tense. Speak somewhat slower, but use a normal volume--do not succumb to the tendency of speaking loudly when students do not understand you.
* Try to use words that ESL students will understand. Avoid using figurative language, but use a lot of synonyms. When describing the physical education uniform, ESL students might not understand the word "sneakers," but they might understand "tennis shoes." Interchanging the terms "PE," "phys ed," and "gym" might be confusing; use only one term. Do not raise you voice or repeat yourself when students become confused or obviously do not understand; find other ways to convey the message (Yarmus, 1991).
* If you are not sure you understand what an ESL student is trying to say, restate it ("I think you said..."), paraphrase it ("Is that what you are saying?"), or admit that there is a problem ("I don't understand") (Bensinger-Lacy, 1991).
* Use examples, gestures, and even pantomime to help explain meanings or definitions (Department of Instuctional Services, 1981). When talking about the locks and the lockers, point to both items. When explaining what "run" means, run in place and say "run" to demonstrate. When explaining the difference between a tennis shoe and a street shoe, point to both types of shoes as you name them so that ESL students will understand the difference. These techniques will help ESL students understand your meaning and it will also help them build their English vocabulary.
* Given them (or have their buddy give them) a tour of the physical education areas. Show where to find the gym, the locker room, the showers, the restroom, your office, and other facilities that are normally used for physical education classes. Teach routine procedures, such as locker room procedures, such as locker room procedures, forming squad lines, and using hall passes.
* Do not correct ESL students when they give appropriate answers in imperfect English (Yarmus, 1991), especially if they are just beginning to speak English. If they use an improper vocabulary word, or if their mistakes interfere with their language comprehension, correct them sensitively.
* ESL students might hesitate while talking. Allow them enough time to respond to you and to complete their sentences or thoughts.
* To provide opportunities for success, match the type of questions that you ask ESL students to their English proficiency (Bensinger-Lacy, 1991). "Yes/no" questions are the easiest (e.g., "Is a batter out if he/she gets three strikes?"); "or" questions are harder ("A batter is out after he/she gets three balls or three strikes?"); and questions that require detailed answers are the hardest ("When is a better out?").
* Have essential written materials translated into different languages. Some schools or counties may provide this service. Documents that you may want to have translated include departmental policies, course expectations or outlines, and form letters that are sent home to parents.
* Avoid miscues--cultural habits, mannerisms, or body language--that may be misinterpreted. For instance, in American culture, avoiding eye contact may indicate guilt or discomfort; Americans generally look directly into the eyes to indicate honesty and fourth-rightness. However, in some Hispanic and Asian cultures, lowered eyes indicate respect. A smile in American culture generally indicates happiness or amusement, yet in some Asian cultures, a smile may indicate embarrassment or acceptance of blame (Taira, 1989). Being able to accurately interpret the behaviors, expressions, and traditions of various cultures comes through research and experience. ESL teachers can provide useful information. "Culturgram for the 90's" (Shabelund & Sims, 1990), which includes items such as geographical, religious, family, cultural, and recreational information for every country, can help educators learn about the various cultures that are represented within a particular student population. It may also help teachers avid miscues when communicating with ESL students. Be cautious, however, when relying on the information in publications; cultural stereotyping must be avoided. Just as students born and raised in the United States do not all behave alike, neither do students from other countries. Be attuned to individual personalities and differences of ESL students.
In the Physical Education Class
In physical education classes, ESL students may have little familiarity with sports that American students have played since childhood. They may not understand the rules, the names of the pieces of equipment, the important terms, or the slang associated with each game. Without this background they may be unable to comprehend or follow directions (Department of Instructional Services, 1981).
In addition to the lack of familiarity with American games, differences in cultural practices and behaviors may also prevent participation in the physical education class. For example, girls from Afghanistan may not be able to wear a T-shirt and shorts due to their practice of keeping their bodies covered. Students from Muslim countries may not be able to participate in physical activity during Ramadan, a religious observance in which they fast for a month. Native American children may not participate in physical activity as readily as other students because they are generally encouraged to learn by observation and will perform a task after they feel comfortable and confident (Swisher & Swisher, 1986). Still other cultures consider it inappropriate for boys and girls to interact with each other in physical activity.
Physical educators should become familiar with the cultural differences within the student populations at their schools. Additionally, physical educators must be willing to step back and assess (within a cultural context) why a particular ESL student avoids participating in a physical activity. Is coeducational participation an appropriate mode of interaction of this student? What constitutes proper decorum in this student's culture? Why is this student uncomfortable when "spotlighted" in front of peers? Why is the student observing the game for so long before participating in it? (Swisher & Swisher, 1986). Teachers should investigate the cultural differences within their student population and modify their physical education programs to accommodate the language and socio-emotional needs of ESL students.
The following suggestions might help make physical education experiences positive and rewarding for ESL students:
* Allow flexibility in physical education uniforms. If students of a particular culture are required to wear headdresses or to keep their bodies covered, do not require them to wear shorts or to take off their head covering for physical education. Allow them to bring a "uniform" from home. You might request that their uniform meet certain criteria, such as that it must be loose-fitting and safe for physical activity or be of similar color to the school uniform.
* Some ESL students may not dress out because they are not used to undressing in front of others in the locker room. One way to resolve this is to designate an area of the locker room as a private dressing area, such as some of the individual shower stalls. Place signs labeling certain shower stalls as private dressing areas. Other non-ESL students may appreciate the additional privacy as well.
* Body odor can create problems in physical education classes. In some cultures the practices of daily bathing is not followed. In this case, it may be beneficial to educate the entire class on these cultural differences. (In contrast, some ESL students may not understand our practice of using scented soaps, deodorants, perfumes, and hair sprays.)
* Teach sports or games that ESL students are already familiar with when they first enroll. Ask ESL students what sports they know or have students do a research project on sports of the world. Each student could be assigned to a different country to find out that country's national sport. Look in the students' cumulative files or access the school's computer data base to find out students' nationalities, then research the sports that are commonly played in those countries.
* Help ESL students experience success by showcasing their wide variety of skills. Pay special attention to the activities in which ESL students excel and use praise often. If you think that a student will not be intimidated by the special attention, have that student demonstrate techniques or assist in teach others.
* Teach ESL students the basic skills and terminology of common American activities. Unless ESL students learn the rules and skills of American sports and games, they may miss valuable interaction opportunities (Gil & Gil, 1989), not only in the classroom, but also after school.
* Ask an English-speaking buddy to work with an ESL student in learning a particular sport. Sometimes peer teaching is the best form of instruction.
* Include ESL students in all activities. Do not exclude ESL students or assume that they do not understand an activity or a concept because they cannot speak English.
* Do not rely solely on verbal instruction--use visual aids in the gym and provide demonstrations. Put posters on the gym walls which label the parts of the court, field, or equipment; which show how to execute skills; or which summarize the rules of a game.
* At the beginning of the year, select games or activities that are low organizational, that are cooperative, or in which autonomy is acceptable (Schneider & Torbert, 1986). Cooperative activities take the focus off failure, remove the concept of elimination, and promote teamwork and collaboration among all students, thus, increasing the interaction level of ESL students. Circuit activities are also good to use with ESL students because they encourage success, challenge at personal levels, and allow room for skill variances.
* Allow ESL students to observe when playing new games or when learning new skills. Some ESL students may learn by watching and imitating others. Make sure they are not the first in line when trying new skills or drills.
* For students who observe Ramadan, make modifications in physical education class to accommodate fasting students. Avoid having these students participate in strenuous physical activity. Fasting students may need to be exempt from all physical activity. In such cases, these students may serve as game officials or score-keepers, or you may give them a written assignment and allow them to go to the library. If the student misses any skills or fitness tests, arrange a make-up date after Ramadan is over.
* Use a team teaching concept, which would allow one teacher to give more individual attention to the ESL students.
* Establish procedures in physical education class that the ESL students can learn to follow. For example, do not confuse ESL students by holding class in different places every day or by placing too many signs on the locker room doors with instructions that they may not be able to read.
Giving Written Work and Tests
Although ESL students have limited English reading and writing skills, never exclude them from participating in written assignments or tests administered in physical education class. Do not be afraid to give different assignments and/or tests to ESL students based on their ability levels. An unresolved issue is whether or not to use "easy" tests for ESL students. This is something that individual teachers must decide for themselves (Sadler et al., 1991). I have wrestled with this issue, so much so that I once compared the test grades of the non-ESL students (who took the "regular" tests) to the test grades of the ESL students (who took the "easy" tests) to determine if the ESL students had an unfair advantage. I found that the pass/fail rates in both groups were similar. When writing the easy tests, I make sure to test the same set of information that is on the regular tests, but I simplify the language and use more pictorial examples so that students with low language proficiency can better comprehend the information.
Other helpful techniques include the following:
* Do not give timed tests to ESL students. Administer the tests at the beginning of the class period and let them have as much time as they need. Remember, we are not testing how fast the students can take a test. ESL students need longer periods of time to read and process test information.
* Use good test formats. Write out directions on tests. Even though a non-ESL student will probably know what to do with a multiple choice or true/false question, an ESL student might not know what to do unless it is explained in the directions. Do not use too many of one type of question. When using multiple choice questions, list the answer choices vertically, not horizontally. When using matching questions, put the definitions in the first column and the words
key words on tests. Beware of "ready-made" tests out of publishers' books--they are often tricky or confusing, and they do not necessarily test exactly what is taught in class.
* Give worksheets or review sheets to ESL students prior to test day. Underline key words on these sheets.
* Encourage and allow the use of bilingual dictionaries in class on test day.
Getting Administrative Assistance
Teaching ESL students in physical education can be made easier with the support of the school's administration.
* Work with the principal and guidance department in limiting class sizes and/or putting a smaller number of language minority students in each class. When weighing student loads, one ESL student equals two "regular" students (Sadler et al., 1991).
* Arrange scheduling to facilitate team teaching (Sadler et al., 1991).
* Arrange scheduling so that health and driver education classes (if such classes are a part of the physical education curriculum) are offered to ESL students during the latter half of the school year to give ESL students additional time to master their English skills.
* Speak to counselors about the possibility of having specifically identified ESL students take physical education on a pass/fail or audit status, as necessary.
* Ask the administration for additional time and resources such as extra planning periods; administrative leave; mini-sabbaticals or grants for the purpose of developing modified physical education curriculum materials; sharing successful ideas and strategies with other teachers; doing peer observations of other physical education teachers who work with language minority students; or doing research on ESL students as related to your area of instruction.
* Ask the administration to provide the physical education department with inservice training on new teaching strategies, new curriculum ideas, and cultural awareness. Because physical education is not a language-based course, physical education teachers can expect to have ESL students mainstreamed into their classes. In some cases, the physical education class may be an ESL student's first experience in a regular class with English-speaking students.
How well we facilitate this transition and meet the needs of these students will greatly influence their feelings of acceptance and belonging. But meeting their needs includes much more than just teaching international dances and games. We must become much more culturally aware, learn how to use different teaching strategies, and modify our programs. The debate still remains: should our physical education programs try to socialize ESL students into the dominant culture, or should our programs emphasize diversity? Whatever we decide to do, we must teach activities that include everyone and that promote positive experiences for all.
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Publication information: Article title: Teaching Secondary Physical Education to ESL Students. Contributors: Glakas, Barbara A. - Author. Journal title: JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance. Volume: 64. Issue: 7 Publication date: September 1993. Page number: 20+. © 2009 American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD). COPYRIGHT 1993 Gale Group.
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