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Curricular issues - generic advice

There is plenty of generic advice elsewhere on these teachers' pages about helping ESL students in the classroom. The advice includes suggestions on how to make language comprehensible to ESL students and how to organize the classroom in order to maximize their learning opportunties. Each subject, however, presents its own special challenges to ESL students, and these are considered on the other pages of this section of the teachers' site.

Before turning to this specific advice, however, it is worth considering which curricular model best serves the needs of ESL students. It appears that ESL students benefit from an approach that favours depth over breadth. A comprehensive but superficial coverage of topics does not allow students the chance to fully understand important ideas or procedures. It follows from this that ESL students profit most from a thematic approach whereby a particular concept or theme is studied across various disciplines. (An excellent example of the interdisciplinary/thematic approach is the Structures project, undertaken by grade 8 students at FIS, which incorporates content from art, humanities, math, modern languages and science.)

There is another dimension to be considered, however. As I have stressed elsewhere on this site, ESL students do better and feel better when it is evident to them that their cultures and their cultural perspectives are valued in the school. This means that the thematic approach can be optimized by looking for opportunities to include the experiences, knowledge and cultural background of the ESL students in the class. In the case of the Structures project, for example, which centers on the design and construction of the ideal home, this could be achieved by involving language arts/mainstream English. Students could read and discuss what authors from the various cultures represented in the classroom have to say on the topic of home. They could write about their childhood memories of their own house and neighbourhood or describe a visit they remember to a famous building in their country. This could take the form of a short presentation to the rest of the class, with illustrations of the building and a map showing its location.

Such a curriculum model, in which every opportunity is taken to allow students to share aspects of their own cultures and learn about others, is truly multicultural. It contrasts strongly with a curriculum that pays lip service to, and trivializes, other cultures, by adding one or two assemblies or a special lesson here and there to "celebrate" ethnic foods, dress or festivals.


Frankfurt International School: Art and artists. (Click to see at full size.)