Magazine article Social Studies Review

Acculturating into the American School System: Supporting Our English Language Learners

Magazine article Social Studies Review

Acculturating into the American School System: Supporting Our English Language Learners

Article excerpt

Some people believe that nothing happens by accident; I am not sure if I ascribe to that belief, and I am certain that my entering the education profession was no accident. My passion for teaching has always been prevalent but a particular life experience enhanced my desire for sharing the passion and love for learning, which I possess. I arrived in the United States as an 11 -year-old child. I spoke absolutely no English, save for the exception of being able to say, "Hello, my name is Sebastian." I attended California public schools, where I acquired English and acculturated into the American school system. Contrary to what many education critics today preach me state public school system provided me with a world-class education. It is interesting to note from my early academic experiences, that the courses where I learned the most English and acculturated best to where not necessarily the English Language Development/ English (ELD) courses, rather they included the science and history classes I attended. The acculturation process was made possible through a combination of the rigorous academic challenge presented through the content of these courses and the teacher support that I was afforded.

During my first years as an ELD teacher, I began to notice the students in my classroom would summarize historical passages in a more proficient manner, when they were provided targeted support such as explicit instruction of expository writing. As an individual who is naturally passionate about history, I utilize a number of historical/social science readings to supplement the gaps of information, which often exist in textbooks. Through school district professional development with the Long Beach Unified School District, furthering my post-secondary education at California State University, Long Beach, as well as recently pursuing a post-graduate degree at the University of Southern California, I am able to comprehend many of the reasons the English learner students I instruct perform well when reading and writing from the aforementioned expository text.

As an education professional, I had the opportunity to reflect on my teaching and my own learning experiences through the challenging National Board Certification Process. I did some soul searching through this process and tried to understand, how as an English learner I succeeded in content area courses, such as science and history, and what it was about my teacher's pedagogy, which allowed me, succeed academically? Although I grew up in a loving family, I did not benefit from the financial or linguistic supports at home, which some of my native English speaking counterparts may have experienced, in order to succeed academically. My linguistic and academic growth was really influenced by my former science and history teachers. The instructional guidance these teachers provided me could be grouped into three categories: providing me academic/language support, providing me emotional/social support, and celebrating small victories and focusing on improvement.

Providing Academic/Language Support

There are a plethora of models such as SDAEE, CALLA, SIOP, which aid instructional designers in the formation of amazing lessons for English learners. I do not advocate, compare or endorse any particular one of them. I am a firm proponent in the notion of teacher autonomy and it behooves educators to possess an understanding and sensitivity for their students' socio-cultural context, prior to deciding which instructional approach best aligns with the learners needs.

In order for an instructional designer to create and implement lessons that target the needs of specific students', the designer must evaluate and consider the level of prior knowledge the learners already possess (Ambrose et al, 2010). For example, I recall my middle school science teacher as she would hold casual conversations, with what little language we could communicate with, about where I came from, and who I lived with. …

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