Monday, June 25, 2018

8 Things You Need to Know when Teaching Culturally Diverse Students

 "Whether they hail from different cultures, countries or faiths, children are children."
-- Kimberly Quinn

English Language Learners are culturally as well as linguistically diverse.  Understanding how cultural differences impact the conduct of your ELLs in your classroom will make you a more empathetic and effective teacher.  In this blog post, I’m going to discuss 8 features that all teachers need to be aware of when teaching culturally diverse students.  For tips about teaching linguistically diverse students, please read this blog post.

8 Features to be aware of when teaching culturally diverse students | The ESL Nexus
Cultural features that all teachers should know about when teaching ELLs; source: The ESL Nexus
Concept of Time
Being on time is important in the U.S. but not as important in some other cultures, in particular Southern European, Middle Eastern, and Latin American countries.  This is good to remember when making appointments with parents and guardians of ELLs.  Family members might show up after the scheduled time and not think they’re late because they arrived within 10-15 minutes of the appointment.   If that happens, you can politely explain that next time they should come as close to the actual time as possible, especially if you have a tight schedule, like for parent-teacher conferences or if it’s during the school day.  In fact, when you make an appointment, you could let the family members know that you’d appreciate it if they’d come at their designated time so everyone has plenty of time for discussion.

8 Features to be aware of when teaching culturally diverse students | The ESL Nexus
The concept of time varies around the world; source: The ESL Nexus
Body Language
Eye contact is one type of non-verbal communication that varies among cultures.  I had so many ELLs from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico who didn’t make eye contact with me when I was talking to them.  I knew they were showing me respect by keeping their eyes focused on the ground but other teachers didn’t understand that.  They’d get angry or impatient, especially if they were disciplining a student for something, and say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you!”  This is one of the most common cultural misunderstandings in schools.  In other Latin American as well as Asian and Middle Eastern cultures, making eye contact is frowned on also.

This refers to the physical distance between people.  In some South American and East European countries, people typically stand closer to each other than US Americans do.  This may make some teachers or students uneasy because they’re not used to it.  I had a Turkish student who would stand very close to me and his other teachers when he was talking to us and they were uncomfortable when he did that.  That was during his first year in the US when he wasn’t familiar with American culture and his teachers didn’t know anything about Turkish ways of behavior.  The opposite is also true – people from some other countries normally stand father away from U.S. Americans when talking to them.

8 Features to be aware of when teaching culturally diverse students | The ESL Nexus
Ideas about distance between people also vary from culture to culture; source: The ESL Nexus
In many cultures, especially East Asian ones, students are expected to sit quietly and listen to what their teacher says.  The teacher is considered the expert and it would be disrespectful for students to question what the teachers says.  That contrasts with the expectation in American classrooms that students will actively ask and answer questions.  If an ELL is sitting quietly and paying attention, it could be a sign of respect rather than a lack of interest.

Helping Other Students Do Their Work
When teachers assign homework in U.S. classrooms, the usual expectation is that students will do it on their own unless it’s specifically and intentionally meant to be done with other students or family members.  But in other cultures, the concept of the group is more important than the concept of the individual, and helping others to complete an assignment is an acceptable practice.  Many of my Caribbean students who came to my before-school homework club shared their homework and let their friends copy their answers.  A couple students who were new to the U.S. didn’t know that that was not acceptable until I told them.  You may also find this happening with students from other Latin American, Asian, African, and Middle Eastern cultures.

Writing Styles
In the 1960s, the linguist Robert Kaplan published an article describing 5 styles of writing and grouped them according to which culture the writer came from.  He differentiated between English, Semitic, Oriental (sic), Romance, and Russian rhetorical styles.  And although his notion has been challenged over the years, the key point that people from different cultures use different rhetorical styles in their writing is still valid.  What this means in the classroom is that not only will some students, for example, write quotation marks differently (angled quotations are used in French; the period is put outside the quotation mark in British English), but how they organize a piece of writing may also be different from the way students are taught in the US.

8 Features to be aware of when teaching culturally diverse students | The ESL Nexus
Plagiarism is viewed differently on some other cultures; source: The ESL Nexus
In Ancient China, obtaining a high score on the civil service examination to become a government official meant being able to write down verbatim what Chinese scholars and philosophers had written in previous centuries.  That legacy of being rewarded for copying means that in some Asian, as well as other cultures, the concept of plagiarism is very different.  Unless it’s clearly explained, some ELLs may not understand why copying from other works is unacceptable in American schools.  When teaching students from other countries, explicitly defining and giving examples of how to cite other's work correctly will help your students understand how to avoid committing plagiarism.

Students' Use of Their Native Language
Using English all day long in school is tiring for ELLs, particularly those who are less proficients in English.  When ELLs use their native language with their friends, it is usually just because it’s easier and more comfortable for them to communicate that way.  Other students often think ELLs are talking about them when they hear their classmates speaking in another language but that is rarely the case.  Unfortunately, it’s not unknown for some teachers or staff members to chastise ELLs and tell them to speak English.  But as a matter of fact, in a 2015 “Dear Colleague” letter from the Departments of Justice and Education, schools were reminded that they “(m)ust not prohibit national origin-minority group students from speaking in their primary language during the school day without an educational justification.”  Culturally diverse students are often (but not always) linguistically diverse as well and being able to use their native language should be celebrated, not criticized.  For more reasons why students should be allowed to use their native language in school, please read my blog post here.

One way to celebrate students’ native languages is to display greetings in other languages in your classroom or in a hallway in your school.  These bundles of resources give you 3 ways to greet your students, their caregivers, and community members in 26 languages commonly spoken in US schools.
Find the polka dot-themed bundle HERE and the other bundle HERE; source: The ESL Nexus
If you have a classroom with students from many cultures, it would be difficult to become familiar with the intricacies of every culture represented.  However, knowing what some of the major differences are between your students’ cultures and your own culture will help you be a better teacher for your ELLs.  And when you’re teaching in a culturally sensitive manner, your culturally diverse students will be more successful in your classroom.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Happy Memorial Day and Summer Announcements

"I always try to have a vacation."
-- Sophia Loren

Memorial Day, now celebrated on the last Monday in May, marks the unofficial start of summer in the U.S.  You can read about the history and origins of Memorial Day in this blog post I wrote.

Learn about Memorial Day, discover summer reading recommendations for educators & find out the summer publishing schedule in this blog post | The ESL Nexus
Memorial Day: To Respect & Remember; source: The ESL Nexus
Some students are already on their summer vacation – schools here in Arizona just finished – but many others, especially those in the Northeast, still have a month to go.  In recognition of the fact that educators need to decompress just as much, if not more, than their students, I have a couple announcements to make:

For the past couple years, I’ve written a series of book reviews about books that are useful for educators working with English Language Learners.  You can read them HERE.  But this year, I’ve decided to give myself a break as well.  Instead of publishing new posts every other week during June and July, I’ll most likely just publish one post in each of those months.

Also, the #ELLEdTech Twitter chats are on hiatus until August.  When we resume on August 20th, we’ll continue with our series about the Four Cs.  Last week we discussed Critical Thinking so future chats will be about Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and Innovation, though I’m not sure if that will be the order we do them.  You can read this article about these concepts if you are looking for some background information.

The #ELLEdTech chat is taking a vacation & will resume on August 20th | The ESL Nexus
See you in August! source: The ESL Nexus
Have a wonderful summer!  (Unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case I wish you a great rest of the school year!)


Friday, May 18, 2018

Can Tech Tools Develop Critical Thinking Skills in ELLs?

"Kids need time for problem solving, critical thinking, applying knowledge through project-based instruction, working in teams, falling down and getting right back up to figure out what they didn't understand and why."
-- Randi Weingarten

Teaching English Language Learners means, obviously, teaching them the English language.  But it also means much more.  It includes teaching these students content area subject matter in ways they can understand the material so they can stay on grade level with their English-speaking peers.  It’s also important to teach ELLs 21st century skills that will enable them to thrive in the workplace after they finish their education.

To that end, Laurah from Tools for Teachers by Laurah J and I are beginning a series of Twitter chats about the 4 Cs: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and Innovation.  Our first topic will be Critical Thinking and will take place on Sunday, May 20th, at 7pm Eastern / 4pm Pacific time.

Come and discuss using tech tools to develop ELLs' critical thinking skills in the next #ELLEdTech Twitter chat on May 20, 2018 | The ESL Nexus
You're invited to participate in the May 2018 Twitter chat! source: The ESL Nexus
If you’d like to read up on the concepts beforehand, this is a useful article.  Pages 8 – 13 specifically discuss the concept of Critical Thinking.  Come join us and discuss how you develop this skill with ELLs!  Details are below:

Schedule and Questions
7:00 = Introduction: Tell us your name, location, level/grade and subject taught. #ELLEdTech
7:05 = Q1: Which tech tools do you use to help your students engage in Critical Thinking? #ELLEdTech
7:13 = Q2: How do these tools help teachers facilitate Critical Thinking for ELLs at all proficiency levels? #ELLEdTech
7:21 = Q3: What are the advantages & benefits of using these tools? #ELLEdTech
7:29 = Q4: Are there any cons or drawbacks teachers or students might have when using these tools? #ELLEdTech
7:37 = Q5: What advice do you have for teachers who want to use technology to support Critical Thinking with ELLs? #ELLEdTech

Directions for Joining the Chat
1. Log into Twitter on Sunday; the chat runs from 7:00 - 7:45pm Eastern.
2. Search for tweets with the hashtag #ELLEdTech in the search bar.  Make sure to click “All tweets.”
3. The first five minutes will be spent introducing ourselves.
4. Starting at 7:05, @ESOL_Odyssey or @The_ESL_Nexus will post questions every 8 minutes using Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. to identify the questions and the hashtag #ELLEdTech.
5.  Answer the questions by prefacing them with A1, A2, A3, etc. and use the hashtag #ELLEdTech.
6.  Follow any teachers who respond and are also using #ELLEdTech.
7.  Like (click the heart icon) and post responses to other teachers' tweets.

You can schedule your answers to the questions in advance by using an online scheduler such as TweetDeck or HootSuite (and remember to use A1, A2, etc. and #ELLEdTech).  Links are encouraged, but use tinyurl, bitly, or to shorten your link so it can be included in your tweet.  Just click one of those links, paste the longer link in the app's box to shorten it for Twitter, then paste the shortened link into your tweet. If you have relevant images, we encourage you to post them, too.

Is this your first Twitter chat? Here are our rules:
1. Please stay on topic.
2. Please do not post about paid products unless explicitly asked.
3. If you arrive after the chat has started, please try to read the previous tweets before joining in.
4. Feel free to just read, like, and/or retweet if you prefer -- we know the first time can be a little overwhelming!
5. Always use the hashtag #ELLEdTech when tweeting.
6. Make sure your twitter feed is set to "public." (And do remember that Twitter is completely public; that means anyone--students, parents, administrators--may see what you tweet.)

You are welcome to let your teacher friends who might be interested in joining us know about this Twitter chat. We look forward to chatting with you on Sunday!


Monday, May 14, 2018

What Do You Know about Islam and Ramadan?

"I like to read about different religions -- Judaism, Islam,
Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism."
-- Wesley Snipes

I have lived in the Muslim-majority countries of Indonesia and Sierra Leone and visited and worked in other countries with significant Muslim populations as well: Turkey, India, China, and Mali.  In addition, Muslims comprise about 1% of the population of the United States, according to a 2016 Pew Forum estimate.  Many of the ELLs I taught over the years in the U.S. were Muslim and came from Turkey, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, and the Central Asian republics.

Did you know that Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world?  As of 2015, there were 1.8 billion Muslims around the world.  Christianity has more adherents but because Muslim women have more children and the overall population of Muslims skews younger, Islam is growing faster than any other religion.

Learn some facts about Islam, just in time for Ramadan 2018! | The ESL Nexus
Mosques the author has visited; clockwise from top left: Turkey, Sierra Leone, Indonesia, India;
source: The ESL Nexus
Did you know that Indonesia has more Muslims than Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam?  Indonesia is the 4th largest country in the world by population (after China, India, and the U.S.) with around 261 million people, and has the largest Muslim population in the world.  I traveled around Indonesia for several weeks in 1992 and then worked there the following year in the city of Banjarmasin on the island of Borneo.  Banjarmasin was very religiously conservative, with most women wearing a hijab and dressing modestly.  But when I went to Jakarta to visit my uncle, his Muslim wife and their 2 kids who lived in the capital, most women didn’t cover their hair and I saw plenty of women wearing mini-skirts.  In fact, nowhere in the Qu'ran does it explicitly say that Muslim women must cover their hair.

Did you know that Islam is split into 2 main branches, Sunni and Shia, and the primary reason was caused by a dispute over the rightful successor to Mohammad, the prophet who founded the religion?  There are far more Sunni Muslims than Shia Muslims around the world.  Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Bahrain, and Lebanon have the largest Shia populations.  Within Islam, there are dimensions of practice, such as fundamentalist Wahabis and mystical Sufis, just as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism include different denominations.

Did you know that at one time, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, had the same number of minarets as the Great Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia?  But another minaret was added to the mosque in Mecca because of its importance as the birthplace of Islam.  Only Muslims are allowed to enter Mecca so I will never be able to visit the city.  But I feel fortunate that I have been able to see the wide range of architectural styles of mosques in Asia, Africa, and in the U.S.  There was even a mosque in the small Massachusetts city where I taught ESL for many years because many Turkish families lived there.

Learn some facts about Islam, just in time for Ramadan 2018! | The ESL Nexus
Special foods are eaten to break the fast; source: The ESL Nexus
Did you know that fasting during Ramadan is one of the Pillars of Islam; that is, one of the basic tenets of the faith?  It was near the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, in 1975, where I saw a man butchering a sheep to provide food for the poor during Ramadan.  Giving charity, or zakat, is another Pillar of Islam.  Years later, when I was working in Banjarmasin, Indonesia, there were street stalls surrounding the Great Mosque selling sweets for iftar, to break the fast each day during Ramadan.  Even though I didn't fast, I often bought one because they were so delicious.

Ramadan in 2018 begins on May 15th in the U.S.  If you would like to learn more about this important holiday or teach your students about it, check out my Ramadan Activities resource in my TpT store.  It includes reading, speaking, and writing resources plus posters you can use for a bulletin board display.

Find 5 activities for Ramadan in this resource | The ESL Nexus
For more info, click HERE; source: The ESL Nexus
If you work with Muslim students, you might also be interested in this blog post.  It discusses what you can do to help your students navigate the school cafeteria during Ramadan and the rest of the year.

Ramadan Mubarak!