By Russell Roache
“We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams” – Jimmy Carter. In a country where the population exceeds 300 million, we find ourselves in the midst of diversity. Among the hundreds of different cultures and ethnic groups, there are various values, cores, beliefs, tastes, preferences, religions, etc. As a foreign group, members must begin to assimilate with the dominant culture, while maintaining the values that are true to them. In the education system, this task may become more difficult over time. As a facilitator of education, one must find many ways to approach a student of a different language, religion, and/or culture. For ESOL students, English for Students of Other Languages, communication and teacher/student interactions may first feel like an obstacle course, filled with expressways and heavy traffic.
My experience at Forest Glen Middle School exhibited a vision similar to the preceding analogy. Of the many students in the class, I understand how the few ESOL students trying to learn the commonly-used “foreign” language, could be similar to swimming up stream in a down streaming river. As the water begins to pull the students towards total frustration and maybe even thoughts of quitting, there seems to be a strong determination within the student to make sure that he/she can swim with the rest of the students.
For the few students that I have observed, I have seen amazing progress and distinct determination. Given the difficult circumstances, many of these young students did not allow their language barrier to block them from achieving great scores on their assignments. As one of the best subject areas to observe the struggles of ESOL students, I enjoyed the opportunity to see ESOL students in a Reading Comprehension setting. These students were given multiple assignments and practice exams for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which is also known as the FCAT. Instead of just reading through the passages to get them over with, the observed students strived to understand the words fully. Questions upon questions arose from the students, for definitions and clarification from the teacher. It was very impressive for me to observe these children behaving in such a dedicated manner. There was one child, in fact, that continued to get caught by the teacher. He wasn’t exactly misbehaving, nor was he causing any type of distractions to the other students. Apparently, he was so determined to learn, he could not take his eyes off of a book that he retrieved from the library. Throughout the class, this young boy would grab the book and with the determination in his eyes, turn the pages, only waiting to get to the end.
As I observed these young children, I really did not see any interaction with other ESOL students. Most of these children associated themselves with the English-speaking students for all of their questions. Trying to put myself in the situation, I imagined that these students tried to associate with the English-speaking students in order to help them to grow faster.
The cooperating teacher explained to me that she uses different reading passages to interest the different students. The practice FCAT exams have various passages relating to numerous subjects. In addition, the school has a program in place encouraging the students to read for one million minutes! All of the students are pushing to earn a million minutes in reading regardless of the book that they pick. This program gives these students the opportunity to pick the type of books that interest them the most. I believe that this program is very helpful and essential for getting the students to push themselves to grab books that will help them reach this tough goal. In addition, the teachers each have ESOL strands that they adhere to, to make sure that they are addressing the correct issues for their students. For the reading and science classes that I observed, the students were classified under the C2 sections. The teachers’ objective for these few students includes creating and using visual and graphic organizers. The style of visual and graphic organizers designated for these students is among the use of computers, software, and graphical design. The teacher implements graphs on the tests, and within the readings, in order to get the students to learn the correct way to read and interpret graphs. This will hopefully help the transition for transferring thoughts from their native language to English much smoother.
The school also uses a program from Discovery Education, called Discovery Education streaming. This streaming program is accessed through the internet and includes over 8,000 video clips that enhance learning through visual and audio effects.
I’m very big proponent in this style of learning for the students, both of other languages and of English. Otherwise, there were a few other things that I would have tried to use in the classroom to promote the multicultural atmosphere of this country. For one, I would have created a project requiring the students to research and develop a profile for three countries, one of which would be their country of origin. After they present these countries, all of the students would have the knowledge of the countries around the world and their similarities, and/or differences. Secondly, I would love to have signs around the entire classroom of the different outfits of the cultures, including greeting words and ways to say “goodbye.” For my third idea, I would like to have a brief celebration of the major holidays of as many of the ethnicities as we could. I think that these events would promote multiculturalism and help many of the students, especially ESOL, feel more comfortable in the classroom setting.
I was deeply surprised at the experience that I had at Forest Glen Middle School. The students are working very hard to maintain high levels on their FCAT. Although the ESOL students face major language barriers, they attempt to progress by associating themselves with English-speaking students. Also the teachers have numerous strategies to help these students feel comfortable, including online video streaming and the integration of computers in the curriculum.
Note: Russell Roache is an education major at Nova South Eastern University.
Also see Creating culture diversity