student “gets in the way” (such as by
not understanding the question), that
student may be sidelined or resented.
With sufficient flexibility, students
may be more likely to creatively pri-oritize joint effort.
For example, during the video
project, a small group got derailed
because some ELLs were struggling to
understand their group’s task, which
was to create a short video segment
giving advice to a new student.
Marisol, the non-ELL who was trying
to lead the group, exclaimed in frustration, “I can’t make them understand!” She asked Nadif, another
student who spoke English well, to
help. Nadif started talking with the
English learners and discovered they
all shared a love of soccer. This group
eventually produced a simple video
declaring, “Soccer is the best in the
world!” Although this product wasn’t
exactly what had been assigned, it
still accomplished several of the goals
(practicing with the video equipment,
collaborating, and combining language
and images to inform). Throughout
the project, Nadif displayed this
willingness and ability to improvise
with his peers. It earned him their
affection and respect.
the Comfort Zone
As society grapples with globalization
and conflict along racial, cultural, and
linguistic lines, the need to cultivate
students’ skills at collaborating and
communicating across linguistic and
cultural difference has never been
greater. In a keen observation, Marisol
(a 12th grader) mused, “[People] just
feel comfortable with their kind. . . .
It’s a comfort zone—you know, it’s my
people, they speak my language; we
know the same music.” Schools and
classrooms can be an ideal laboratory
to support students as they step out
of such comfort zones.
By encouraging honest communication, a person-first orientation,
multimodal tasks, and a balance of
structure and flexibility, educators can
help students learn to interact generously and respectfully with peers from
different backgrounds. Along the way,
they may even find out—as video
project participants discovered—that
peers who’d previously been strangers
were actually “cool kids.” EL
1Project participants included, besides
beginning ELLs, students who were fully
bilingual by this point in their school
careers, but weren’t native English
speakers (because they came from families
where English wasn’t the home language).
Others were native English speakers.
Author’s note: All names in this article
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Anny Fritzen Case (casea@gonzaga
.edu) is an assistant professor in the
department of teacher education
at Gonzaga University in Spokane,
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