students. A survey of 729 teachers
in a midwestern U.S. district with
high numbers of ELLs, for example,
found that although most teachers
( 80 percent) believed students, in
theory, could be fully bilingual, more
than half ( 52 percent) saw students
not speaking English at home as an
impediment to their success—a view,
incidentally, not supported by research
(Karabenick & Clemens Noda, 2004).
Teachers who viewed students’
native languages in a more positive
light reported better attitudes about
having ELLs in their classrooms and
greater confidence in their ability to
teach ELLs (Caprara, Barbaranelli,
Steca, & Malone, 2006).
Flipping the Paradigm
Unrealistic expectations and ambivalence toward students’ native languages may reflect what some say is
deeply ingrained “deficit thinking”
about ELLs—a belief that students
(or their families) are at fault for
their low performance, which prevents educators from examining their
own practices or the system as part
of the problem. A growing chorus of
researchers and practitioners have
begun calling for educators to flip the
paradigm—to see language and cultural diversity not as a problem, but as
an opportunity to prepare all students
for a globally connected world.
Recently, the Annenberg Institute
for School Reform highlighted a
number of “asset-based” approaches to
ELL instruction, including the International Charter School in Pawtucket,
Rhode Island, a two-way immersion
school where all students are labeled
as second-language learners and help
one another learn a second language.
Something as intangible as asset-
based thinking is hard to measure,
The movie McFarland, USA portrays
Jim White as a reluctant resident of the
town who slowly came to appreciate
his students’ strengths. The real Jim
White, however, settled in McFarland
right after college and invested time
and heart in his students, knowing full
well the uphill road they faced, but
also the inner strengths they had to
draw from. ELLs are engaged every
day in an amazing feat that requires
great persistence. Recognizing this
may help us begin to see our second-language learners in a different light,
which itself may work more magic
than any “voodoo juice.” EL
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Bryan Goodwin is president and CEO
of McREL, Denver, Colorado. He is the
lead author of Balanced Leadership
for Powerful Learning (ASCD, 2015).
Heather Hein is a communications consultant at McREL and a coauthor of Balanced Leadership for Powerful Learning.
Unrealistic expectations and ambivalence
toward students’ native languages may reflect
deeply ingrained deficit thinking about ELLs.