With the increasing linguistic diversity of students in many classrooms around the world, teachers need to be well-equipped with strategies to address the learning needs of students with limited proficiency in the dominant language of the classroom. This article outlines various strategies that might help teachers reach that goal by taking advantage of students' proficiency in their first language, using examples from the United States. Conversations about the significance of students' first language can contribute to enhancing students' confidence and learning abilities. What can be learned about the value of first language in education has relevance for multi-lingual learning environments across the world.
Ms. Thompson has a new student in her 7th-grade class. Reem is from Egypt and does not speak much English; her reading level is far below grade level. Because she is behind the other students, she suffers from a lack of confidence and is hesitant in class. As Reem is very dependent on the teacher for guidance and reassurance, Ms. Thompson is seeking ways to build her confidence and help her acquire her new language. But she also must attend to the needs of the 24 other students in her class. In this article, we hope to outline strategies that may help Ms. Thompson accomplish some of these goals by taking advantage of her student's first language (L1).
For the past few decades, many mainstream teachers have seen an increase in the number of language minority students (LMSs) in their classes. These students often have lower levels of proficiency in the dominant language of the classroom, their second language or L2, and speak, read, and write in a minority language that the mainstream teacher rarely comprehends. The examples used in this article refer to nonnative English speakers learning English as a second language, but the challenges are mirrored around the world wherever teachers have students whose first language is different from the language of instruction.
In the United States and elsewhere, inclusion movements have resulted in LMSs spending more time in the mainstream classroom as opposed to being segregated in self-contained LMS classrooms (Samson & Collins, 2012). While this inclusive movement has allowed LMSs to truly participate in the school community, it also has placed more pressure on mainstream teachers, many of whom are not adequately prepared to help LMSs achieve academic success. In the United States, approximately 74% of mainstream teachers have had little to no preparation for working with LMSs (Lucas & Grinberg, 2008). Of those who had participated in professional development related to ESL practices, few had more than a few hours of preparation. According to the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (2008), only 29.5% of U.S. teachers with LMSs in their classes have the preparation to effectively engage LMSs in academic instruction, and 57% of teachers believe they need additional preparation with regard to LMSs.
Often, monolingual mainstream teachers who have LMSs in their classes are hesitant to take advantage of an LMS's L1 in class for a variety of reasons. Some...