Supporting Newcomer Students, Advocacy and Instruction for English Learners
Lucinda Pease-Alvarez, Laura Alvarez, Katharine Davies Samway (2020), TESOL Press
By Yara Khamis & Kara Mac Donald
The authors come from distinct fields within education and utilize their extensive experience to define, embrace, connect with, and advocate for newcomer learners in the classroom and beyond. The text is highly accessible and relevant to novice as well as experience teachers working with newcomer students.
The introductory chapter helps to lay a foundational understanding for the rest of the book by defining the political, social, and economic contexts that newcomer students come into in the United States (U.S.) and more specifically schools. We learn about the newcomer experience once they arrive in the U.S, like the programs they are put into. This chapter also helps to outline the historical flow of immigrants into the U.S, the effect of current immigration policies, the difficulties faced along the journey and the effect it leaves on the students once arriving.
Chapter Two illustrates how to properly support newcomer students who have suffered emotional challenges and economic insecurities as a result of their journey to the U.S. The goal is to create a safe, nurturing, and inclusive classroom and schooling environment. This can be done by creating a warm initial introduction to the school, making important information available as well as resources and rights known. Teachers and administrators must be engaged, alert and understanding to tailor instruction according to the socio-emotional circumstances and needs while also disregarding any past assumptions of biases held.
Chapter Three begins by debunking myths regarding the learning and teaching of languages and literacy. For each myth presented a reality was provided. It then goes on to pair realities along with teaching points to adequately utilize what has been learned. The teaching points described include; involving newcomers in activities where they are able to meaningfully engage in the language, creating a variety of opportunities for students to use English, providing age appropriate and rich content, allowing students the opportunity to use all of their language resources including their native language, Providing activities that use a mixture of language nodes like speaking, listening, reading and writing, and making decisions accordingly for each student based on their distinct language abilities.
Chapter Four highlights the importance of assessing newcomer students outside the traditional realm of standardized testing. Assessment should be viewed as a means of documenting student progress in order to inform and guide teachers as they work with English learners. The chapter helps lay out the principles of assessment that can help teachers target their instruction to the variety of strengths, backgrounds and needs of new students. There are the four principles for this type of assessment, focusing on student engagement during meaningful tasks, informing learning and teaching, eliciting evidence from the use of data and tools and enabling student to become autonomous learners.
Chapter Five helps lay out instructional practices in order to properly support newcomers with their listening and speaking skills with the foundation of a welcoming and the supportive environment that has been described in previous chapters. Six supporting strategies are laid out in the chapter as follows: talking with the newcomers, using gestures and concrete language, providing physical support, integrating the arts, classroom experiences and routines; practicing conversation starters and storytelling for practicing English. Less than helpful strategies were also provided to avoid. It is suggested not to limit speaking with students, not to speak more loudly, in an exaggerated tone or in truncated English and to avoid correcting pronunciation. Overall, this chapter advises schools and educators to create an environment in which English Learners (ELs) feel comfortable and supported in their language journey and to avoid engaging in discouraging behavior.
Chapter Six continues the discussion addressing the various skills set, focusing on reading be starting point with an example that highlights reading verses decoding. An example excerpt about the game of cricket is presented to demonstrate how not only decoding and knowledge of the vocabulary is needed, but also specific background knowledge (i.e. schemata) is required to fully understand and engage with a text. This example presented to readers is then mapped onto examples and challenges for newcomer ELs, who may lack not only language skills but socio-cultural schemata for engaging with texts in English. Activities for building vocabulary awareness among others to build reading readiness are discussed.
Developing writing skills is the focus of Chapter Seven and it begins with describing common foreign language writing activities that in fact may not permit language learners to express themselves in English as they are often formulaic exercises focusing on a target vocabulary group or grammatical function. Suggestions to develop learners’ writing in the classroom with guidance like providing frequent systematic writing tasks and with meaningful purpose among other strategies are discussed. Writing needs to not be a tangent skill in developing proficiency, but one that is incorporated and seen as one in developing over language development.
Chapter Eight moves from the previous chapter addressing the various linguistic skill development for learners and focuses on subject matter, or content based learning for newcomer ELs. The crux of the chapter is how to teach, for example math, to a student that is not yet base level proficient in English. A couple of scenarios regarding learners are presented and then, guidance on planning for content instruction for newcomers is offered.
The final chapter, Nine, closes with a discussion of the recent political climate and what it means for newcomer students and how teachers and educators in the field can advocate for students. The authors advocate for a collective approach among all stakeholders to coordinate support not only for students in the classroom, but the learners’ whole collective reality within the home and in the community. For example, as in some cases meeting the parents’ needs enables them to better meet their children’s educational readiness.
There are various appendices addressing i) sanctuary cities and their schools, ii) and example of one school district responding to immigration policies/responses, iii) interactive and communicative activities for newcomer learners, iv) children’s books recommended for newcomer learners.
In closing, the book is a great resource as it is easily accessible in its discourse style and offers tangible recommendations and/or tools for the classroom. The book supports teachers interacting with newcomer students and their families, and provides realistic recommendations for those on the front line caring for and educating our next generation of educated local state, national or overseas adults that will guide us forward.
Yara Khamis is a recent graduate of UCSB where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. She hopes to pursue a career focusing on legislation and advocacy within the public education sphere.
Kara Mac Donald is an Academic Student and Faculty Development Trainer at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, Monterey, CA, where she support both teachers and students in academic development.
Call for Book Review Co-Authors
If you are interested in co-authoring a book slated for the coming months or if you would like to recommend a book that you would like to review as co-author/sole author in future issues, please contact Kara Mac Donald, email@example.com