Creating Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Classroom Communities in Early Childhood Language Immersion Schools

Creating Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Classroom Communities in Early Childhood Language Immersion Schools

Alina Slapac (University of Missouri, St.Louis, USA) and Sujin Kim (George Mason University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2503-6.ch005
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This chapter examined the development of a classroom community through a case study of a kindergarten teacher in a Spanish language immersion school. Case study data includes observational field notes, classroom artifacts, informal conversations, and interviews with an immersion kindergarten classroom teacher. Additionally, interviews with the two administrators from the Spanish and French immersion schools (networking schools) were collected and analyzed to learn about their perspectives regarding culturally and linguistically responsive teaching practices and their commitment to encouraging the creation of classroom communities within their schools. The results revealed both the administrators and the case teacher in the kindergarten classroom supported practices of drawing from their own and students' cultural identities and resources to create a culturally responsive learning and social environment, in partnership with students and families. Recommendations for future studies on diverse early childhood settings are discussed in regards to teacher preparation and policy enactment.
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Language immersion schools (LIS) in the United States (US) and across international settings afford learners opportunities for foreign language learning through at least 50% of content material instruction in the “immersion language” (Tedick, Christian, & Fortune, 2011). In addition to the language learning benefits, LIS embrace diverse cultural perspectives embodied in the worldviews of the teachers and administrators who are usually native speakers and were born in foreign countries. These content/pedagogical and cultural assets could also bring challenges for the immigrant faculty, given, for example, the short period of time of adaptation to a new culture, to new teaching and classroom management practices, and/or to new school culture and policies in creating classroom community. Students’ diverse backgrounds also add to the classroom complexities but along with the teachers’ diverse backgrounds they could also be used as assets in the classroom and school community (Ballenger, 1992; Rogoff, 2003; Rothstein-Fisch & Trumbull, 2008; Slapac & Dorner, 2013; Slapac & Kim, 2014).

As immigrants ourselves (Alina was born in Romania and Sujin was born in South Korea), we strongly believe that culture plays a very important role in fostering relationships and creating classroom communities (Slapac & Kim, 2014). Therefore, although historically, classroom management has been viewed as teacher-centered, where discipline was approached reactively by teachers through consequences in a controlling, authoritarian, and inflexible environment, we argue for a constructivist, learner-centered approach to classroom management, perceived as a dynamic process, responsive to students’ individual cultures, needs, strengths, and where students are seen as active participants in the classroom organization (Bloom, 2009). Despite the fact that there is limited body of research on the connection between classroom management and language classrooms (Curran, 2003; Fortune, 2011; Pauls, 2014; Preciado et al., 2009; Slapac & Dorner, 2013; Wright, 2005), we are focusing on how foreign-born teachers in a language immersion context create culturally responsive classroom communities.

We agree with Bloom (2009), Rothstein-Fisch and Trumbull (2008) and Weinstein (2003) that culture impacts both teachers and students while shaping the overall classroom culture. Teachers need to use their students’ cultural backgrounds and their own, and be aware of the influences of culture such as “communication styles, social behaviors, approaches to learning, values, and motivation” (Bloom, 2009, p.112) to be able “to create an inclusive, supportive, and caring environment” (Weinstein, 2003, p. 267). The school culture, practices and policies, and the child rearing values also impact the choices in approaches to classroom management made by teachers. In LIS classrooms, culture plays even more complex roles. Both the teachers who are native speakers of the target language and students from diverse cultural backgrounds make choices and responses based on their different cultural and linguistic upbringings, creating a unique cross-cultural and intercultural classroom space. Rather than disparate, reified traits of different groups, culture is an ongoing process of social construction (Kim & Slapac, 2015), defined as “a set of resources for action, as a narration shared, contested, and negotiated” (Mantovani, 2012, p. 22).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cross-Cultural Competency: One’s competency to understand and work with a wide range of cultural differences on the basis of one’s knowledge of self and others in different cultural contexts.

Culturally Responsive Classroom Management: Classroom management by way of cultivating classroom members’ intercultural competency and creating a collaborative classroom culture.

Culture: An ongoing process of social construction of a set of resources for one’s beliefs, actions, narratives, identities, etc. that are shared, contested and negotiated.

Inquiry-Based Curriculum: Curriculum that emphasizes students’ role in the learning process through exploration, asking questions and sharing ideas across different content areas.

Teaching Culture: A set of implicit and explicit knowledge, attitudes, values, theories, and propositions as well as embodied practices towards teaching in a particular context.

Constructive Classroom: A classroom in which learning takes place by drawing from students’ prior knowledge, cultural backgrounds and funds of knowledge in constant interaction with those of teachers and other external texts and contexts.

Language Immersion Program: A language learning program in which students learn content in the chosen target language of the school. Students may spend their entire day or a large portion of their learning in the target language to practice the language in an immersion environment.

Positive Behavioral Support (PBS) Model: A school-wide behavior management system to help practitioners identify students in one of the three categories (primary, secondary and tertiary levels) for services and prevent or address behavioral and or academic interventions from minor to serious behavior problems.

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