The following is an excerpt from an NAEYC online author Q&A event with Judy Jablon, Amy Dombro, and Charlotte Stetson on the book Powerful Interactions: How to Connect with Children to Extend Their Learning. The Q&A took place September 26-30, 2011. To view more highlights from 2011 online Q&As, click here.
How can I encourage powerful interactions with second-language learners?
Cryer and Harms (2000) affirm that a vital ingredient for language learning is the quality of the relationship that the child has with the adult who is helping her learn the second language. A close, nurturing relationship, in which a child feels loved and safe, helps her feel comfortable using new language skills, making mistakes, and trying again. Our colleague Karen Nemeth, an expert in supporting children who are second-language learners, says that the strategies we use to observe children, build relationships with them, and have positive interactions apply to all children, including those who are second-language learners. Let’s look at the three steps of a powerful interaction as it may apply to teachers’ interactions with children whose home language is different from her own.
Step 1: Be Present. Pausing to be present allows you to quiet the static that you may be thinking or feeling about how to support a second-language learner. Might it be uncertain or afraid of not knowing what to do? Unsure of how the child might be feeling? Pausing to be present also allows you to find the just right fit for the child. Perhaps you will use a softer voice, fewer words, or more gestures to help the child feel safe and secure.
Step 2: Connect. To connect with the child, learn a few words in his home language. Focus on words that capture her interest. Smiles, gestures, and your tone of voice go a long way in helping to convey that you are interested in deepening your relationship with the child. If the child is building with blocks, point to the detail that you notice. Nod your head and smile to affirm what the child has created. Then tell the child what you see using one or two words. Your facial expression and gesture will help the child understand your words. The more you slow down and are there for the child, the more he or she will begin to trust you and take some beginning risks using English words to talk with you.
Step 3: Extend. There are many ways to extend children’s learning besides with language. As you read the extend strategies in the book, you’ll notice, for example, that laughing together is exercise for the brain. Inspiring imaginative play by offering a new prop or taking a role to help the child develop a story line in the dramatic play area will help to extend learning.
We look forward to hearing from you as you experiment with powerful interactions with second-language learners.