The population of English Language Learners is growing faster than ever in recent years as one out of every six school-age children use a language other than English at home (Diaz-Rico & Weed, 2006). Our classrooms are changing; racial, cultural and linguistic diversity is increasing and with it the importance of encouraging tolerance, self-esteem and fostering bilingualism.
A child’s early years determine if that child will become open or fearful of people who are different. Childhood environment many times will determine if they learn to appreciate or become ashamed of their culture and heritage and it lays the groundwork for children to become bilingual or lose their home language. Preschool will probably be the first group environment outside the home for most children and it is an early childhood teacher’s responsibility to lay the groundwork by fostering an inclusive and respectful classroom.
Cultural identity is strongly tied to linguistic identity. If the home language is lost so are the ties to home and the relationships to family and friends. As educators, we have the power to determine whether students feel included or excluded in our schools. By bringing students’ languages from their homes into the classroom, we validate their culture and their history.
Work directly with families
One of the most important ways to accomplish this is to work closely with the children’s families, some of whom may not speak English.
- Family involvement is linked to higher student achievement, better attitudes toward learning, lower dropout rates, and increased community support for education–regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnic/racial background, or parents’ education level (Antunez, 2000; Epstein, 2001).
- Family and community involvement that is linked to student learning has a greater effect on achievement than more general forms of involvement (Henderson & Mapp, 2002).
- Learning and cognitive development is enhanced when teachers develop an understanding of each student’s cultural, racial, personal, family, and community background and experiences, and reflect these in the learning experiences that they provide (McCombs, 1997).
- Trust between home and school creates a context that supports student achievement, even in the face of poverty (Goddard, Tschannen-Moran, & Hoy, 2001).
- Family members’ prior experiences with school shape their willingness to trust teachers and become involved in their children’s education (Antunez,2000; Mapp, 2002).
- Parents’ beliefs and attitudes about education influence children’s own perception of their abilities (Sigel, McGillicuddy-DeLisi, & Goodnow, 1992).
What Research Tells Us
Based on numerous studies, evidence supports that upholding and reinforcing a child’s home language early on and specifically developing early literacy skills in a child’s home language better supports later academic outcomes in English.