Orientation to Teaching LEP Children
TEACHING LIMITED ENGLISH
Recent developments are indications of a positive reaction to the need
for extra training for children who may pass through a number of
educational landmark stages without the benefit of having been able to use
their own language as a mediator of learning, much less being able to use
an ill-formed second language. It is within this context that what I have
encouraged educators try to do is based and what, eventually, will be
their responsibilities. In my presentation, I will develop a framework
for examining the situation of these children. Specifically, the
a. LEP children and cultural context, cross-cultural
b. A general approach to the situation IN RE content
focused strategies + ESOL.
c. A demonstration of ESOL techniques applicable to a
variety of Basic Subject area concepts (examples elicited from teachers'
d. Group work on sample techniques.
What is the cultural and legal context of LEP students and instructional
implications (as per your role as a teacher.) First, let's look at the
legal basis for the recent attention to LEP children and needed teacher
training. In August 1990, the State of Florida entered into a Consent
Degree with the LULAC (League of Urban Latin American Citizens.) The suit
had been filed on behalf of language minority students in Florida. It was
based on the failure of public education to provide appropriate services
for LEP students over a number of years since a landmark decision of the
Supreme Court (Lau v Nichols, 1974) indicated that children from language
backgrounds other than English were being denied equal access to education
in schools due to the sole use of English as the means of instruction.
An immediate implication of this is that all Basic Subject teachers must
complete in-service training in the four areas (of five) required for an
1) Cross-cultural awareness, 2) ESOL Curriculum and Materials, 3) ESOL
techniques (language instruction) and, 4) Testing and Evaluation. The
Basic Subject areas are: Computer Literacy, Math, Science, and Social
Studies. Language Arts teachers will have to have the full ESOL
endorsement. The training components imply the use of ESOL concepts in
terms of TEACHING SUBJECT MATTER, not English, first. Obviously, much
stronger language skills are expected as a result.
Now, I'd like to develop a cross-cultural perspective. My own perspective
can be described as follows: I look for the commonality of human
experience and develop sensitivity to the perspectives of people from
different cultures. My own exposure to many cultures (from foreign
language education background, military service and working with an
international visitor organization, plus research on foreign students in
this country) supports a conclusion that a needed competence of teachers
is empathy for another culture. I call it allowing for the cultural
validity of other peoples.
Educators should be concerned with maximizing individual human potential.
This implies building on what the individual brings to the contexts of
learning and behavior change from his/her cultural, spiritual and
educational background. This concern allows for the fact that, as the
American Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development has stated,
"There is no single criterion of human potential applicable to all."1 As
part of this background, language creates for us an inner and outer world
with regard to our perceptions of values, behavior and interactions with
our surroundings. It, also, provides a means of passing on one's cultural
In this regard, the desire to speak a second language can be cultivated if
the person has positive feelings toward both the language and the country.
If one's mother tongue is perceived as unacceptable by such people, it
will be more difficult to encourage that person to speak the second
language. The home language is, in general, the one through which an
individual exhibits personality and cognitive developments. Therefore, it
is essential that teachers view language and culture as inseparable, which
they are. A teacher's respect for the home language of the child is,
essentially, respect for the child's culture. In a broader sense, a
teacher's respect of the whole child should encompass the child's language
and culture as importantly as his/her personality, intelligence, etc.
A basic strategy to include in this training related to ongoing programs
is INFUSION. It will have a focus of individualizing instruction based on
teachers' developing awareness of the broad aspects of culture, in-depth
knowledge of American culture, intercultural interaction, cultural
commonalities, in-depth knowledge of the content in the Basic Subjects
(and its implication for human competence), knowledge of and sensitivity
to the cultural milieux represented by the LEP students in their schools
and classrooms, AND special techniques for establishing appropriate
contexts of learning and facilitating that learning by English limited
students, as well as techniques for assessing achievement under these
Some new perspectives are needed, and a new conceptualization about what
we do in the name of cross-cultural education. Examine the cross-cultural
dimensions of the following examples of cultural interaction (and its
context of violence): the war in the Middle East, the on-going
Arab-Israeli conflict as well as the one in Ireland, underscore the
problems created out of cultural confrontation and animosity. However,
they have little to do with the lack of cultural understanding. They are,
in large part, results of or exacerbated by such cultural understanding.
Understanding does not, in these cases, lead to acceptance.
By the same token, teachers who understand certain cultural differences
may not, yet, be ready to accept people with different cultural
attributes. Cultural acceptance is the longest term development of the
many implications that this consent decree will have for Florida's
teachers. How, then do we purport to TEACH toward cross-cultural
communication if that can lead to such different results. I'll explain
In spite of social assumptions about the benefits of education with regard
to social problems, the following statement reveals a potential internal
weakness: "seldom are the deepest structures of schooling that are
imbedded in the school's use of time, space, teaching practices, and
classrooms fundamentally altered." (Cited from Dr. Cuban, a professor of
education, School of Education, Stanford. AERA Bulletin.) He goes on to
say that schools maintain accountability for such things as,
certification, providing adequate instruction, using appropriate texts,
maintaining order, providing appropriate models for students, etc. But,
when it comes to teacher - student interaction in the classroom, strict
accountability for socially accepted reforms breaks down, partly because
we assess students and teachers primarily on the achievement of school
If, as I believe, the teacher is the curriculum, then they must have
freedom to conceptualize subject matter, learning tasks, achievement and
individual outcomes in ways which are not dictated by the school
organization or by management priorities, especially the need for
accountability. For cross-cultural understanding and teaching Basic
Subjects to limited English speaking students to succeed, teachers will
have to undergo a change in attitude toward students, content, and
learning itself. Culture is only one component, although an essential one
in this situation.
A new perspective relates to both aspects: (1) teaching/learning context
(based on concepts of essential knowledge) AND (2) the child as the center
of the integration of all of the above within a context of acceptance of
his/her own cultural orientations to the entire educational
Training needs to be directed at skills regarding how people perceive the
world around them and how they respond to it. (This can lead to increased
sensitivity to cultural diversity.) Part of this adjustment to one's
environment uses language. So, teachers must develop expanded skills in
communication, potentially developing sensitivity as to how students
articulate their perceptions within the learning context created by the
teacher (under the goal of creating optimum conditions for learning.)
Another implication, then, is that teachers must learn to conceptualize
subject matter in terms of how this competence enables a human being to
have more control over the environment and interacting forces affecting
each of us: social (cultural), political, economic, ecological and
In this cross-cultural context, the better teachers understand the
cultural aspects of their own society, the better they can develop that
understanding as part of the context for students' new learning. In
contrast to the generally accepted notion of developing more understanding
of other cultures (which is highly desirable), I offer a caveat. We can
not know enough about the various cultures that we will come in contact
with so as to be able to do the right thing at the right time. In
addition, the LEP student must learn the culture and behavior of people in
the United States.
Consider the following implication: As teachers develop lessons, reduced
levels of English should be used in classroom presentations. This can
allow LEP students to concentrate on images received and interpreted in
terms of their own cultural, personal and cognitive backgrounds (an
expanded version of "learning set".) The focus is on using media for
communication, not just English, and oral language. The interaction
1. The teacher asks the child for any response, and the child
can use whatever level of English he/she is capable of to give a response.
This provides data to the teacher leading to further development of the
concept to be learned.
2. The teacher can, then, adapt his/her own communication to
suit that used by the student (as is done in elementary education all of
3. Using ESOL techniques of expansion, extension & variation
(to be shown later), the teacher helps the student develop further the
initial response given so that the teacher can reach the richer image that
the student developed originally from the instructional setting and
4. The data received from the child automatically represents
cultural information which the teacher can explore further, depending on
the language capability of the student.
The sensitivity to the development of such images and the extensions to
other aspects should reinforce for the student an acceptance of self which
is, often, lacking in U.S. schools. It should, also, make the teacher
more aware of the need for such sensitivity and the benefits of it. A
teacher's concept of the LEP student's competence may be negatively
influenced by the student's language performance. Let me share some
examples of how competent LEP students really are: First, there comes to
mind a limited Spanish proficient student, a very competent person who was
close to tears because she was not able to use her innate abilities to
master some rather simple Spanish dialogues in an immersion situation; 2)
a very competent Spanish speaker who has difficulty in English based
college classes; and, 3) two Vietnamese high school students whose English
was, obviously, faulty and hesitant, are seen discussing a math assignment
a/or math problems in their own language. Their competence was, also,
Perhaps it is obvious that attitudes must change in the classroom. But
this takes intrinsic modifications, over time, of the total approach to
education of all children. An essential orientation for such changes to
occur is that schools should allow for maximum interaction between
educational goals, content, techniques and personalities, and the cultural
milieux which students, especially, LEP students, represent. In essence,
schools must build more on what children bring with them to school in
order to create optimum learning conditions for successful achievement of
My perspective builds, also, on what the teacher brings into the
classroom, including a broad understanding of American culture, of
cultural phenomena in general, and a willingness to develop empathy for
other cultures. In addition, they need an expanded competence in various
means of communication, in order to reduce the heavy reliance on English,
especially spoken /English, for instruction in basic subjects.
Let us assume that there is no one model American. Then, if we accept
students as Welcome Outsiders to our world of education, we promote the
highest goals of education in this society through a demonstration of
tolerance toward the idea of students maintaining a healthy cultural
pride, as well as by using interactions with all students to strengthen
the validity of both our similarities as human beings and our differences
as competence, equal, individuals.
Presentation for a session at the 1991 conference of the National
Association on Multicultural Education, Orlando, FL
David W. Gurney, Ph. D.
College of Education
In Re LEP Mandate for Pre-service
KEY ELEMENTS OF DESIGN & RATIONALE MATERIALS
a. Schooling can occur without critical developments.
b. Confusion from English dominated curriculum / teacher
c. Child brings language and culture to school without much
integration with school material or focus. Also, brain!
d. Can use own perspectives as connection to curriculum.
a. High reliance on language, especial content-bound
b. No real training in communication or cross-cultural
analysis; not cross-cultural awareness.
c. No training for second language learning & little second
d. Potential to use sense of human competence in subject
matter to develop different learning environments, leading to making
connections between LEP student and curriculum.
e. Attitudes must change for teachers and curriculum to
a. Language bound
b. Curricular / evaluation assumptions not, necessarily,
valid for many LEP students.
c. No focus on cultural interaction or essentially cultural
basis of subject matter in present curriculum.
d. Lack of focus on the human competence underlying subject
content vs concentration on specific knowledge a/o specific subject
Implication: Teacher training needed.* See ESOL
PERSPECTIVE: The child is the center of integration of all of
the elements that comprise the concept: Education
1. How people perceive the world around them. (cultural
2. How language articulates perceptions about subject content
and perceptions about it, and how language influences learning contexts,
expected outcome and evaluation.
3. How to conceptualize subject content in terms of human
competence and fulfillment.
4. How to reduce the level of English in subject content
presentations to enable LEP students to utilize more of their innate
capabilities and cultural knowledge.
5. How ESOL techniques facilitate language develop and,
potentially, content acquisition.
6. How to connect with rich images that children bring to
school and which develop from instructional settings, presentations,
materials, activities, etc.
7. How to evaluate learning based on modified contexts (1 -
David W. Gurney
May 19, 1997
Suggested for ESOL preservice in 1991
A. Planning Training should depend upon adherence
to the following ideas.
1. Attitudes must change before skills and understanding can
be improved. Changing teacher attitudes toward culturally different
children and the implicit teaching tasks cannot be mandated, but must come
from an effort based on common needs and knowledge.
2. Adaptation to new methodologies is a developmental process
implying a sequential series of experiences which are differentiated as
much as possible to allow for individual potentialities to become
energized and fulfilled.
3. The ability to develop instruction and adapt materials to
be free of the inhibiting constraints of students' inadequate linguistic
competencies can promote motivation to seek further enhancements of
instruction as well as develop empathy for students' linguistic and
1. Competence in interpreting cultural aspects of children's
orientation to learning conditions and use of cultural perspectives in
adapting essential subject matter to the linguistic and cultural
capabilities and conditions of LEP children.
1. Competence in, essentially, a reduced language mode of
instruction, within a context of awareness of pupils' cultural and
2. Competence in methods for teaching English to limited
3. Awareness of the rationale and organization of instruction
in language arts through ESOL for basic subjects.
4. Competence in the use of innovative materials for the
reduced language mode and ESOL for instruction in basic subject areas.
5. Competence in the construction of tests and in evaluating
student performance consistent with their cultural, linguistic and
cognitive orientation, as well as a reduced language instructional
A great number of LEP children pass rapidly beyond critical stages of
cognitive development before reaching even an acceptable level of English
for basic communication, certainly not sufficient for essential learning
tasks. Underlying the Lau v Nichols decision is the realization that
increased amounts of English instruction and materials for children who
knew little English was, essentially, ineffective. These conditions
create a need for special training in techniques that do not depend
solely on the use of English for instruction so that teachers can create
effective learning conditions under which LEP children can use their own
native competencies for processing information and gaining skills. Such
training relies, predominantly, on a reduced language instructional mode
in which English is, essentially, a verbal extension of the teachers'
total communication strategy. Techniques of ESOL, applied cross-cultural
understanding, and new developments of curriculum and materials will be
the chief aspects of this training. Testing and evaluation will develop
contingent upon the kinds of learning situations that are created under
this new conceptual approach to the learning tasks of LEP children.
Applied linguistics will facilitate specific English language developments
as they arise from the learning situation and for purely ESOL
Pre-service (and regular) classroom teachers can adapt existing strategies
and materials to offset the primary dependency on the use of English for
instructional presentations and evaluation. Such training can help
teachers develop expanded competencies in conceptualizing the learning
task, perceiving learner potentialities based on individual, cultural and
linguistic factors. Enhanced, meaningful, contexts for learning are
A pertinent cultural orientation suggested by the American Association of
Colleges of Teacher Education with regard to the implications for teacher
training in an increasingly multilingual multicultural society underlies
the conceptualization for the training described above: whatever the
level of instruction/learning, students' learning reflects, in large
measure, what they bring into class with them from unique perspectives
formed within a diversity of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.
Education, then, has the potential for viewing, accepting and valuing LEP
children's unique perspectives to their own education. A rationale for
teacher attitudes and training follows: schools and educators should
allow for maximum interaction between educational goals, content,
techniques, materials, and personalities, and the cultural milieux which
these children represent. In essence, education must build on what the
learner brings into the classroom in order to create optimum learning
conditions for successful achievement. Teacher education must avoid
taking the form of specific training on "accepted" sets of cultural
variables, in order to open future teachers' minds to the vast richness of
cultural heritage represented by the LEP children they will have to
The recommended approach, then, concentrates on teachers developing
competencies in learning about the LEP child's cultural experiences and
their linguistic development in order to help create meaningful
associations between these experiences and the new experiences in which
they are immersed.
To facilitate such associations, teachers must develop broader
conceptualizations about the content and skills which shape these
associations from the point of view of the human competence inherent in
David W. Gurney