A Case Study of an Early Childhood Teacher's Perspective on Working with English Language Learners

Article excerpt

Introduction

The student population in United States early childhood education programs is becoming more diverse every year (Miller, Miller, & Schroth, 1997; Waggoner, 1994). The diversity of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and language is quite dramatic in some instances (Wright, Chang, & Rocha, 2000, p. 50). English as a Second Language (ESL) education-English as a Foreign Language (EFL), Language-Minority Students (LMS), Limited English Profi- cient (LEP), Potentially English Proficient (PEP), or mainstreamed students-focuses on seeking the "appropriate" approaches to facilitate English language learners (ELLs) to improve proper academic skills (Young, 1996).

Drucker (2003) indicates that 'academic proficiency' in English is "the ability not only to use language for reading and writing but also to acquire information in content areas" (p. 22.) To develop 'academic proficiency' in English takes longer than to grow 'peer-appropriate conversational skills.' 'Academic proficiency' in English includes fewer contextual clues such as body language, gestures, facial expressions, or various signs to understand meanings of texts (Drucker, 2003).

"People learn to read, and to read better, by reading" (Eskey, 2002, p.8). In order to improve ELLs' academic English, teachers can help ELLs by previewing reading text (Drucker, 2003; Chen & Graves, 1998), providing contextual clues for reading (Drucker, 2003), choral reading (McCauley & McCauley, 1992), paired reading (Li & Nes, 2001), and simultaneous listening and reading of audiotaped stories (Conte & Humphreys, 1989).

At this point, Krashen (1981) argues for the importance of "I + 1." The reading text should be provided at the level of ELLs' current learning ability and should stretch their potential literacy level. Considering ELLs' differences of conversational skills and academic skills in English, it is important to plan ELLs' reading at their academic proficiency level, not at their oral ability level.

All children should have equal learning opportunities. As Lake and Pappamihiel (2003) suggest, however, "Fair does not mean 'equal'; rather, treating children fairly means treating children differently." In order to create "fair" learning environment, teachers' instructional methods, contents, materials, and assessments vary depending on individual children's cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

However, cultural and linguistic diversity indicates something more than language and literacy acquisition. Research has shown that many of these children feel loss, unsafe, alienated, and depressed (Congress & Lynne, 1994) when struggling to adapt and adjust to the diverse languages, knowledge expectations, traditions, attitudes, and values that exist between their home environment and their educational setting (NAEYC, 1996).

As our schools and communities become more diverse, it becomes increasingly important for teachers to be well prepared for teaching and learning in cross-racial, cross-ethnic, and cross-cultural situations. Teachers who are teaching in this multicultural era need to be sensitive to the diverse sociocultural backgrounds of children and should possess socioculturally relevant knowledge, values, decision-making abilities, strategies, and actions. This is essential if teachers are to help these children learn more securely and meet their needs more equally by providing a safe, challenging, and nurturing environment.

In particular, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (1996) posits that early childhood teachers have to acknowledge the ESL learners' 'feeling of loneliness, fear, and abandonment' in educational settings that are isolated from the ELLs' home cultures and languages. Accordingly, they propose the goal of early childhood education as "equal access to high quality educational programs that recognize and promote all aspects of children's development and learning and enabling all children to become competent, successful, and socially responsible adults" (NAEYC, 1996, p. …