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Discourse Analysis: Differentiated Instruction, Multicultural Education… Not Welcome Here

So my professor admonished me to change my blog title because it seems too targeted.  After reading these chapters, I stand behind my title!  Chapter 7, which is titled Discourse Analysis, highlights ELLs or better yet their exclusion.  Discourse analysis focuses on people and their community.  Thus, to understand sense-making in language it is necessary to understand the ways in which language is embedded in society and social institutions such as families and schools (Gee, 2012).  Although my brother had taken English in Haiti, he felt that he could benefit from night classes at the high school.  I remember seeing an assignment which called for writing sentences.  He had used the correct grammar however he had not used some words in the appropriate context.  He came home upset and could not understand why the teacher had marked the sentences wrong.  True, I know the grammar and the words, but yet I know not how to speak them (Gee, 2012).  That statement was made by Dracula who realizes that words alone aren’t enough to be part of a social circle.

It took me so long to speak English with confidence.  I knew the words but I did not know how to really put them together.  I stayed silent for a long time.  Dracula says, “…a stranger in a strange land,” I was in a strange land with strange primary Discourses.  When I look at our little African-American girl Leona from Chapter 8, I’m reminded of Alex Haley’s Roots.  She comes from a rich culture that influenced her to the point that she can take it to school.  She talks about her family’s tales in the same way that Alex Haley got to know his history.  Yes, my title is still appropriate because Leona would be considered SEL and we see how her story is swept under the rug.  She is made to feel insignificant because her primary Discourse is different and therefore makes her secondary Discourse different.  ELLs and SELs are society’s stepchild.  There is an apparent movement that is on the prowl to wipe out anything that is different.  Leona doesn’t fit in mainstream culture.  Mainstream culture was established by the very people who perpetuate it and there are only a handful of people that can really fit in that culture.  Leona-though only seven years old-is very much part of a specific cultural tradition of sense-making, a tradition rooted in African-American history in the United States and Africa (Gee, 2012).

I remember being interviewed for my first teaching position in 2005.  The interviewer asked me about Differentiated Instruction.  I had no clue.  She was nice enough to explain it to me; I still didn’t get it.  I wasn’t an Education major.  Today, I know what Differentiated Instruction is as well as Multicultural Education.  However, too often teachers aren’t prepared to teach the students who sit in their classes.  Other times, they may not care because their trainer didn’t care.  In the readings from Chapters 7 through 10, I heard a loud voice telling me that any primary Discourse that is contrary to the mainstream primary Discourse is not accepted.  There are some of us that were raised to not look into our elders eyes.  There are some of us that were raised to not be heard and only seen.  I realize that we are the transplants, however there should be some allowances made for our diversity.

References

Gee, J. P. (2012). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses.  New York: Routledge.

Simmons, Ronald D., Jr. (2009). The efficacy of Florida’s approach to in-service english speakers of other languages (ESOL) teacher training programs. Florida Journal of Educational Administration & Policy, 2(2), 112-126.

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“Don’t let him fool you; he’s been here since 2nd grade.”  “Administration doesn’t want us to translate in their L1.”  Those statements were made to me when I asked about what strategies were being used to help a particular ELL student.  I left that school but was left with scars which revealed themselves in the form of tears at a job interview.  The question was, “Why do you want to work with this population?”  I answered, “I am that population.”  Although I have an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Endorsement, the term Long Term English Language Learner is brand new to me.  I am a Long Term English Language Learner.

English is my third language.  In elementary school, I was briefly placed in the ESOL program.  I remember being given some exams in the fourth grade and after some time I wasn’t being pulled out of class.  They showed me pictures of animals and other mundane items which I had to name.  I don’t know if staying in the program would have made a difference to mastering the English language but I often feel as if I haven’t quite mastered the language.

As a special education teacher, I always gave my English Language Learners special education accommodations. As one of my Professional Developments, I decided to take an ESOL class at the district. It was completely ineffective.  There was no classroom management. We watched two movies and the teacher’s accent was completely incomprehensible. That training had no impact on my ability to teach ELLs.  As one teacher expressed in one study, I used to feel inadequate around Level 1 students. Because of where I taught, I was able to use my students’ L1 but I never felt effective.  Being able to speak a common language has nothing to do with teaching educational concepts.

As I reflect on what I have learned in this class, I realize that my past schools have missed the mark.  The objectives in this book have not been addressed at my one of previous schools.  After earning my ESOL Endorsement, I was able to help a Pakistani student who neither spoke nor understood a word of English. I do support communicating in a students’ L1 however it isn’t always possible. One approach in Hite, C. E., & Evans, L. S. article that is worth mentioning is to have a student centered environment rather than a teacher centered one. This helps to lower the affective filters. By doing this the students don’t feel like their actions are punitive. Contrary to Simmons, Ronald D., Jr. and O’Brien, J. articles where the participants found it useless to focus on cultural awareness, I believe that being aware of a person’s culture is most important. We often make jokes that we view as innocent but can misconstrued by people who aren’t in our same culture. Furthermore, respect is one of the key elements to succeeding with one’s students.

References

Hite, C. E., & Evans, L. S. (2006). Mainstream first-grade teachers understanding of strategies for accommodating the needs of english language learners. Teacher Education Quarterly, 33(2), 89-110.

O’Brien, J. (2011). The system is broken and it’s failing these kids: High school social studies teachers’ attitudes towards training for ELLs. Journal of Social Studies Research, 35(1), 22-38.

Simmons, Ronald D., Jr. (2009). The efficacy of Florida’s approach to in-service english speakers of other languages (ESOL) teacher training programs. Florida Journal of Educational Administration & Policy, 2(2), 112-126.