Companies like Intel, Pinterest, Apple, and Facebook are determined to diversify their workforce because they know diversity is a driver of innovation and success. Diversity has the same impact in the classroom. English language learners bring immeasurable value to the classroom due to their linguistic, cultural, experiential, and social/emotional diversity. However, the same mindset that has taken off in the private sector is slowly catching on in the public school system. Deficit thinking is still defining ELLs in the classroom, and it’s hindering student and school district success alike.
Deficit thinking creates stereotypes and assumptions around students, according to a report by researchers Garcia and Guerra. These assumptions are often so far-reaching that education reformers are often unable to see beyond assumptions to discover other factors that could be leading to ELLs’ underperformance. Education reformers then develop reforms based on the erroneous assumptions, without yielding meaningful results because they don’t target actual problems.
To create effective school reforms, educators need to better understand ELLs strengths, not just their weaknesses. WIDA highlights four ways that ELLs contribute to the classroom:
Linguistic contributions and potential: ELLs’ knowledge of different languages, and ways of learning new languages, enable them to communicate their ideas in various ways in different situations.
Cultural contributions and potential: Different perspectives, beliefs, and social norms enable ELLs to “navigate a variety of sociocultural contexts”, develop relationships with others of different backgrounds, and foster different ways of thinking.
Experiential contributions and potential: Also due to ELLs diverse background, they bring to the table different life experiences. They approach learning in new ways and express what they’ve learned differently, too.
Social and emotional contributions and potential: ELLs are more sensitive to different experiences, interests, and needs. Their empathy enables them to form important relationships and facilitate relationships between others.
Just like diversity is bringing value to the office, ELLs have the potential to enrich our classrooms and communities, but it is our responsibility to first recognize and celebrate every English language learner’s intrinsic value.