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The student population in United States early childhood education programs is becoming more diverse every year (Miller, Miller, & Schroth, 1997; Waggoner, 1994). The diversity of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and language is quite dramatic in some instances (Wright, Chang, & Rocha, 2000, p. 50). English as a Second Language (ESL) education--English as a Foreign Language (EFL), Language-Minority Students (LMS), Limited English Proficient (LEP), Potentially English Proficient (PEP), or mainstreamed students--focuses on seeking the "appropriate" approaches to facilitate English language learners (ELLs) to improve proper academic skills (Young, 1996).
Drucker (2003) indicates that 'academic proficiency' in English is "the ability not only to use language for reading and writing but also to acquire information in content areas" (p. 22.) To develop 'academic proficiency' in English takes longer than to grow 'peer-appropriate conversational skills.' 'Academic proficiency' in English includes fewer contextual clues such as body language, gestures, facial expressions, or various signs to understand meanings of texts (Drucker, 2003).
"People learn to read, and to read better, by reading" (Eskey, 2002, p.8). In order to improve ELLs' academic English, teachers can help ELLs by previewing reading text (Drucker, 2003; Chen & Graves, 1998), providing contextual clues for reading (Drucker, 2003), choral reading (McCauley & McCauley, 1992), paired reading (Li & Nes, 2001), and simultaneous listening and reading of audiotaped stories (Conte & Humphreys, 1989).
At this point, Krashen (1981) argues for the importance of "I + 1." The reading text should be provided at the level of ELLs' current learning ability and should stretch their potential literacy level. Considering ELLs' differences of conversational skills and academic skills in English, it is important to plan ELLs' reading at their academic proficiency level, not at their oral ability level.
All children should have equal learning opportunities. As Lake and Pappamihiel (2003) suggest, however, "Fair does not mean 'equal'; rather, treating children fairly means treating children differently." In order to create "fair" learning environment, teachers' instructional methods, contents, materials, and assessments vary depending on individual children's cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
However, cultural and linguistic diversity indicates something more than language and literacy acquisition. Research has shown that many of these children feel loss, unsafe, alienated, and depressed (Congress & Lynne, 1994) when struggling to adapt and adjust to the diverse languages, knowledge expectations, traditions, attitudes, and values that exist between their home environment and their educational setting (NAEYC, 1996).
As our schools and communities become more diverse, it becomes increasingly important for teachers to be well prepared for teaching and learning in cross-racial, cross-ethnic, and cross-cultural situations. Teachers who are teaching in this multicultural era need to be sensitive to the diverse sociocultural backgrounds of children and should possess socioculturally relevant knowledge, values, decision-making abilities, strategies, and actions. This is essential if teachers are to help these children learn more securely and meet their needs more equally by providing a safe, challenging, and nurturing environment.
In particular, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (1996) posits that early childhood teachers have to acknowledge the ESL learners' 'feeling of loneliness, fear, and abandonment' in educational settings that are isolated from the ELLs' home cultures and languages. Accordingly, they propose the goal of early childhood education as "equal access to high quality educational programs that recognize and promote all aspects of children's development and learning and enabling all children to become competent, successful, and socially responsible adults" (NAEYC, 1996, p. 175).
As the school population continues to change, education has to focus on diminishing the conflicts between diverse cultural and linguistic children and others in the major socioculture (Miller & Tanners, 1995). In this context, Tinajero (1994) suggests that "Schools must ensure that the diverse needs of non-English and limited-English-proficient students are met, that they have access to all educational programs, and that they acquire high levels of proficiency in English" (p. 261). Diverse children should be part of a learning community where people acknowledge, help, and support one another.
A teacher with cross-cultural competence is considered as one:
who has achieved an advanced level in the process of becoming intercultural and whose cognitive, affective, and behavioral characteristics are not limited but are open to growth beyond the psychological parameters of only one culture.... The intercultural person possesses an intellectual and emotional commitment to the fundamental unity of all humans and, at the same time, accepts and appreciates the differences that lie between people of different cultures. (Gudykunst & Kim, 1984, p. 230)
Based on the premise that teachers hold their own beliefs, values, knowledge, assumptions, and attitudes about diversity from their own life experiences (Tirri, Husu, & Kananen, 1999; van Driel, Beijaard, & Verloop, 2001; Zanting, Verloop, & Vermunt, 2001), this study is an effort to understand an experienced teacher's--Tiffany's--practical knowledge about cultural and linguistic diversity. As a collaborative work with "Tiffany," this study tries to connect to her personal and professional lives, classrooms, and teacher education programs.
In particular, this study is to examine the ways to work effectively with culturally and linguistically diverse children. The research questions are posed in light of this purpose: (a) What practices and discourses does an experienced teacher enact regarding ESL education? and (b) What suggestions and strategies does an experienced teacher have to support ELLs?
Tiffany is a teacher with six years of experience in a first grade classroom. She felt that she had a natural gift for teaching young children. It is necessary, according to Tiffany, for teachers to understand a variety of ability ranges of children, although she admits it is sometimes hard to determine their maximum learning potential. She was enrolled in the master's program at a university in the southern area of the US. Tiffany expressed an interest in expanding her knowledge about and experiences with diversity in her school and community.
She feels that she has a natural gift for teaching young children. "I like to teach. I always love working with …