Did you know that the February 2016 ASCD Education Leadership magazine focuses on “Helping ELLS Excel?” It is packed full of current research, practical strategies and important considerations for all educators. Some of the articles include, “Engaging Your Beginners, Getting to Know ELLs’ Families, Ten (Usually Wrong) Ideas about ELLs and If I Were an ELL…” One article, “Empathy is the Gateway,” written by David R.M. Saavedra, highlights the need to empathize with English language learners to fully support their academic learning. He references the work of Krashen (1982) and his theory as to how anxiety, trauma, low self-confidence, and other negative emotions can impede learning, “especially the learning of a new language” (p.66). It is through empathy that educators can overcome these barriers, and truly make a difference in ability of ELLs to achieve.
This article also stresses the need to respect the silent period many newcomers face as they adjust to all that is new in their world around them. Teachers must be patient as they welcome these students in their classroom, and strive to create a nurturing environment that encourages English language learners to speak when they are ready. Some strategies include inviting new ELLs to participate from day one, partnering them with a patient partner, creating opportunities for nonverbal forms of participation in group work, using visual and tactile experiences to support learning and differentiating their instruction. As educators, we must be aware that English language learners are often on cognitive overload, and can experience “mental tiredness” (as cited by Igoa, 1995) throughout their day. This tiredness may also be compounded by family stress. Giving new ELLs breaks from their learning may be necessary. In addition, English language learners may need emotional support as they work through this life transition and seek to find themselves in their new surroundings. This article encourages educators to get to know their ELLs and their story, and that it is by doing so, trusting relationships develop that allow for learning to take place.
As our province continues to welcome new refugees and immigrants, we are reminded that empathy is essential to overcoming trauma, building relationships, and to fully support learning.
Igoa, C. (1995). The inner world of the immigrant child. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Oxford, UK: Pergamon.
Saavedra, D. (2016). Empathy is the gateway. Educational Leadership, 73(5), 66-69. ASCD.