This particular entry will require an introduction of its own, as I believe it to be part of a larger issue that is very hot these days. I need to preface this by stating that I am a second-generation American married to a first-generation American; I live in the greater New York City area. To this extent, I must stress that I am no stranger to immigrants, English Language Learners, and the like. My opinion, expressed below, is strictly in reaction to the article and author discussed.
In her article, “Exploring US mainstream teachers’ perspectives on use of the native language in instruction with English language learner students,” Katya Karathanos describes the surge of students that do not use English as their primary language and the need for the educational community to respond to it. She describes the argument that English language learner students benefit more from implementing instruction of their native language into a mainstream class and reports a more favorable opinion of the concept over practice in Midwest teachers. She concludes her report with the idea that the use of a primary language in mainstream classes is beneficial to the ELL students and that her findings provide “important insight and direction for teacher educators” (630).
When reviewing the attitudes of teachers, she states that “traditional teachers (in English-dominant mainstream classrooms) expressed more negative attitudes toward the native languages of their students and were generally against using the native languages for instructional purposes” (619). She does not, however, offer any elaboration about these attitudes, nor does she make an attempt to discern why they hold their particular viewpoint. Another item of note in her article is the location of the study. She reports that Kansas, where the bulk of her study occurs, has seen a drastic increase in ELL students. The flaw to her claim, however, is the lack of a percentage and its relation to prior demographics. How drastic is this surge, and how does it compare to demographics for larger cities? For argument’s sake, four ELL students in a class of forty is a ten percent demographic; on a larger scale, a small rural community could easily show similar proportions, but would not be able to compare in scope to a major city. Therefore, the alleged negativity on the part of the mainstream teachers could possibly be a belief that a second language is not necessary for instruction of a class when it only serves to aid a very small number of the whole.
I, like many of the teachers in Karathanos’ study, believe the underlying principle is good, but I take issue with the practicality of it in the context of a more culturally diverse environment. The location of her study is likewise not an appropriate representation of national demographics. The lack of any counterargument in her article makes it extremely unilateral. In such a case, is it a negative attitude these teachers had, or concerns for its practicality in a post-NCLB educational system? Reviewing Karathanos’ work, it is doubtful that anyone would know.
Karathanos, Katya (2009, November). Exploring US mainstream teachers’ perspectives on use of the native language in instruction with English language learner students. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 12(6) 615-633.
Edit: With regard to Karathanos’ assertion, such an idea would be impractical in its implementation. To insist teachers utilize a student’s native language in insturction would cause professional development to be focused on learning a student’s native language. Imagine, then, a scenario where a teacher learns Spanish to better assist the surge in Latin American students; who learns Tagalog to accommodate the needs of the transplanted Filipino students joining the class the same year? While Karathanos’ intentions are good on paper, the instruction must be scaffolded within the confines of the larger community’s language. It is impractical and unrealistic to cater to the linguistic background of every non-English speaking student, and has potential to alienate to one group while assisting another.