Increasing English Language Learners' Engagement in Instruction through Emotional Scaffolding

By Park, Mi-Hwa | Multicultural Education, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Increasing English Language Learners' Engagement in Instruction through Emotional Scaffolding


Park, Mi-Hwa, Multicultural Education


Introduction

Some of the challenges that early childhood teachers face include how to deal with a growing diversity in student populations, how to reduce learning gaps, and how to increase the achievement of all children (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009). The number of children who are English language learners (ELLs) is growing fast schools in the United States today and their limited English proficiency in an English-language school setting contributes to wide and persistent achievement gaps between these English learners and English-proficient students (Calderón, Slavin, & Sánchez, 2011). Emerging early in life and persisting throughout the school years, these gaps have serious consequences for ELLs and for society as a whole.

In an effort to improve the language skills, literacy, and academic achievement of ELLs, many studies have examined effective instructional strategies. These have included the use of body language and sign language (Konishi, 2007; Sime, 2006), video-self-modeling and digital technology (Ortiz, Burlingame, Onuegbulem, Yoshikawa, & Rojas, 2012; Wilson, Chavez, & Anders, 2012), music (Miranda, 2011; Paquette & Rieg, 2008), and family involvement (Farver, Yiyuan, Lonigan, & Eppe, 2013; Harper & Pelletier, 2010).

In addition to these effective strategies, another possible way to deal with the challenges facing early childhood teachers is the use of positive emotional experiences in the classroom. Positive emotional experiences that enhance learning can be called "emotional scaffolding," a term that borrows from Vygotsky's concept of "scaffolding" and combines it with an awareness of the role of emotion in the learning process (Meyer & Turner, 2007).

In recent years, cognitive scientists examining the structure and function of the brain have found that emotion and cognition interact in the learning process in a highly interwoven relationship, together constituting the fabric of children's learning and development (Damasio, 1999; Willis, 2007). The literature shows that emotion plays a decisive role in mediating children's acquisition of academic knowledge and skills in the learning process.

When both emotion and cognition are integrated in teaching and learning contexts, they provide more optimal and effective outcomes in children's learning and development (Goldstein, 1999; Meyer & Turner, 2007; Op't Eynde & Turner, 2006). The literature reflects the fact that children's emotional scaffolding in instruction can be critical teaching tools.

In addition, children express their emotions not only through language, but also through nonverbal language including facial expressions, subtle nuances in vocal intonations, gestures, eye contact, and body language (Hyson, 2004, 2008). Using emotions as an alternative language to express their feelings about, interpretation of, and appraisal of a classroom situation, children impart a picture of their mental states.

Children's emotions show what they know or think about the content of lessons through behaviors of engagement and disengagement (Damasio, 1999; Hyson, 2008; Meyer & Turner, 2007). Thus, staying conscious of children's emotions in instruction can have a powerful effect on increasing their learning engagement.

A study that explores emotional scaffolding in the early childhood context is important because of the tremendous potential for improvement in ELLs' learning engagement. Indeed, learning engagement is a strong indicator of academic success (Hyson, 2008). In the context of teaching ELLs, however, little information is available on discussions about emotional scaffolding in instruction. The existence of such literature would bolster teachers' understanding of the emotional aspects of teaching and learning and would provide them the pedagogical knowledge and skills needed to support emotions in instruction.

Therefore, the purpose of this study is to explore how a prekindergarten teacher makes pedagogical decisions that could be considered emotional scaffolding. …

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