Creating a more inclusive environment for ELLs starts with the way we plan our courses and includes the way we interact with students in the classroom. Below are some general principles and tips:
Foster an inclusive environment.
- Consider including linguistic diversity in the syllabus statement on diversity/inclusion to show that you both recognize and welcome ELLs. Below is an example of a modified Human Rights Statement, which includes linguistic diversity. Feel free to use or modify.
As an educator and a human being, I care about your growth and wellbeing. I pledge to foster faculty-student relationships of trust and collaborate with you in creating a learning experience that upholds values respecting your unique identities, respecting cultural, racial, and linguistic diversity as well as differences in gender and sexual orientation. I pledge to make sure respect for basic human rights is carried by all students. You can see an elaboration of these values here: www.smu.edu/values. I also expect you to uphold these values in your interactions with your classmates and me.
- Encourage empathic behavior in classroom discussion guidelines.
- Do your best to incorporate ELLs in your classes. Be on the lookout for ELLs that appear to be on the fringe.
- Treat students as individuals. Consider cultural as well as personality differences when attempting to involve students. Recognize that cultures provide individuals with sets of general scripts for interacting in certain situations, but avoid simplistic judgments that overlook regional, class, and subcultural variation.
- Feel free to approach a student about their language proficiency. Be curious rather than accusatory. If you gather class info, ask everyone where they are from and what other language(s) they grew up speaking.
- Allow students to have time to think before discussing, providing discussion questions in advance or using a Think-Pair-Share or Read-Think-Talk-Write strategies.
Make clarity an aim when communicating with students in the classroom.
- Consider your rate of delivery and enunciate clearly. While we do not want to appear as if we are talking down to anybody, we do want to speak as clearly as possible.
- Highlight key points and signpost transitions. Consider providing periodic summaries in your lectures to recap.
- Include slides that periodically reinforce the overarching structure of the lecture rather than just providing one at the beginning and the end of the lecture.
- Reinforce lower frequency or new vocabulary as it is introduced by providing a synonym or alternate terminology. For example, rather than saying, "They were completely discombobulated," we could tack on a brief phrase: "looking around, obviously confused about what was going on."
- Ask questions that elicit specific information to check learners' comprehension rather than settling for a general comprehension check, i.e., "Everybody got that?"
- Use longer pauses after questions to allow all students time to process and to increase willingness to contribute.
- Be patient and let students formulate a response. Never finish a student's sentence unless they ask for help.
Consider potential gaps in background knowledge.
- Consider whether students will catch pop cultural references or other asides that rely on specific cultural knowledge that ELLs may not be privy to. Consider including a brief explanation or omitting obscure references that do not contribute to class learning goals. At times, tangential tidbits simply reinforce generational as well as cultural differences.
- Keep in mind that knowledge is constructed, that learning is a process in which we build upon current mental models or schema. If students are unable to attach knowledge to their current mental models, deep learning is less likely to take place. As educators, we should be trying to help students to attach new learning to preexisting models and to help them to identify when their preexisting mental models are insufficient.
- Provide students with any necessary background knowledge related to the course content beforehand. Some possible strategies for doing this:
- briefly surveying the class and inviting discussion
- including guiding questions that address context
- using a flipped approach that front loads supplemental readings, videos, and activities to prepare students to work with higher levels of cognitive processes in class. Canvas provides a useful platform that is quick, easy, and confidential.