This research paper is based on the school and social experiences of a first-grade 7-year-old boy named Alex1. Alex is of Hispanic descent and moves residences every two years because his parents work in the military. Having been born and brought up in the United States, Alex has a good command of spoken English although a keen ear will detect a Spanish accent in some of his speech. His accent suggests that he uses an alternative language while at home, or that he has picked the accent from his parents. Based on his reaction to loud reading exercises in class, it is easy to tell that Alex is a shy reader. Although this researcher did not talk to him to confirm suspicions, it looks like the boy is conscious about his accent hence his shyness in reading. Notably, his teacher encouraged him to read on, and nothing in his fellow students’ behaviors suggested that they tease him about the accent.
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Most students in Alex’s class were mainly of white American descent. There were two more Hispanic students, four African Americans, and two students of Asian descent. Despite Alex’s earlier hesitation to read aloud in class, he looked quite confident while speaking to his American desk mate. He also looked like a good listener, and during the research, he asked two questions to his teacher. In the first question, Alex was requesting the meaning of a word, and inquiring about the plural form of a noun in the other question.
Outside class, Alex hung around his deskmate and a friend of Hispanic descent. On the playground, he interacted with the other students although he only chose to play with one child at a time. Alex could quickly pull out of a game if a third student joined in a game. Observably, he kept away from group games hence suggesting that he was very particular about the individualized attention he got from his playmate. This suggested that Alex enjoys a more direct approach with his friends and probably feels out of place in large groups. His behavior outside the classroom setting was not out of the ordinary except for one incident during lunch. Being a catholic, he bowed down for prayers before starting to eat. Not even his Hispanic friend (who he sat with during lunch) did the same thing. His behavior did not however attract any unnecessary attention.
The interplay between Alex’s culture, language, and/or socioeconomic status classroom Experiences
Observing Alex, one gets the impression that his military background and his Hispanic culture have some considerable effects on his mannerism. His shyness when asked to read aloud in class is an obvious reflection of the discomfort caused by his accent. Generally, Alex’s inquisitiveness overcomes his shy nature twice. This explains why he was able to direct questions to his teacher twice. His mannerisms towards his desk mate in class are a clear testimony that though he does not pay any particular attention to their physical differences. Notably, however, Alex hangs around two friends only; one was his desk mate, while the other was a boy of Hispanic descent. This could be interpreted to mean that Alex is most comfortable around people whose trust he has already ascertained. His reluctance to have new friends is perhaps explained by Deiner (2009) who states that children who keep relocating may find it hard establishing a friendship with new colleagues. Knowing that they will have to move again, Deiner (2009) suggests that a child-like Alex may even find it unrewarding to form close relationships with other children since they detest having to lose such friends every time they relocate.
The frequent relocation may have influenced Alex’s motivation to learn new things. During the observation for this research, Alex asked two questions to his teacher. Notably, both questions relate to the English language and may be an indication that Alex has an inner desire to become a better communicator. As observed by Diaz and Klinger (1991) children aged above seven years can differentiate between their mother tongue and their acquired language. Besides this, Diaz and Klinger (1991) note that the recognition abilities of such children are fairly developed and hence a child can distinguish between roles played by his native language and his acquired language. Alex’s quest to understand the English language better may have been inspired by his realization that its mastery would improve his chances of socializing or relating better with people beyond his home.
Alex’s shyness in reading aloud may be an indication that he is hesitant to use English for fear that his Spanish influence may be too noticeable to his classmates. At seven years of age, it is highly unlikely that Alex understands the role that the two languages have on his academic and social life. The greatest responsibility of helping Alex get a mastery of the language that will help in knowledge acquisition and socializing lies with his teachers. It is for this reason that Diaz and Klinger (1991) suggest that teachers should promote the child’s efforts to learn and communicate with an identified language. Moreover, the teachers should let Alex understand that the language differences between Spanish and English do not automatically mean he has communication deficits.
Alex’s family’s frequent relocation and the use of the Spanish language at home may further complicate his school experiences. Luckily, Ball (2010) states that teachers have a responsibility to provide students like Alex with “didactic principles, adequate resources, and educational continuity” to enable them to make a successful transition between schools (p. 40). In Alex’s context, helping him become a skillful user of the English language would promote his social inclusion, and make his academic performance equal to that of students from the dominant American culture.
The response that Alex receives from other children suggests that he does not suffer from any social isolation or peer rejection. His preference for interacting with only one person at a time may however exclude him from team-based activities. As such, his teacher or games instructor needs to use instructions that would make him a more-willing team player. In the class, for example, the teacher can hone Alex’s interaction skills by encouraging him to work cooperatively with other students in a group setting. Considering that the class is has a predominantly white American student population, the teacher should also keep an eye on students who may want to tease Alex. According to Gilbert (2001), shy students are an easy target for bullies. However, a teacher may not notice it because the bullies are usually smart enough to hide their actions from the teacher.
Alex’s teacher should also normalize shyness whenever he detects that the boy is uncomfortable. One of the suggested ways of portraying shyness as a normal feeling is by referring to successful, yet shy people who are well known by the child. Alex may not know a lot of such people at his age, but mentioning leaders, politicians, and entertainers who have admitted to being shy may reassure him. Giving Alex “a reason to interact with others” as suggested by Gilbert (2001), could also improve his tolerance and confidence levels. The teacher should start by assigning Alex tasks in small groups, which could be expanded to include more students as Alex becomes a better team player.
If Gilbert’s (2001) observation that shy students could be craving for attention is anything to go by, then little acts of awareness towards Alex by the teacher could help change the boy’s behaviors. The teacher could start by complimenting Alex for his accomplishments in class. However, to avoid exposing the child to too much attention from the others, Gilbert (2001) suggests that a teacher should praise the student and then proceed to an entirely different subject immediately. Such an act ensures that the child is not exposed to stares from the other students thus exposing them to embarrassment and even more timid episodes.
The teacher can also educate Alex’s parents on some of the viable ways of helping the boy overcome his shyness. As Gilbert (2001) suggests, children can quickly overcome shyness if the skills to do so are lovingly affirmed by their parents. In Alex’s case, his teacher can encourage the parents to have the boy read them a story every day. With time, Alex would gain confidence in his reading skills at home and in school. The parents should also practice some social skills with Alex to enhance his interaction with other students.
Ball, J. (2010). Enhancing the learning of children from diverse language backgrounds: Mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual education in the early years. An analytical review commissioned by UNESCO Basic Education Division.
Deiner P. L. (2009). Inclusive Early Childhood Education: Development, Resources, and Practice. Florence, KY: Cengage Learning.
Diaz, R.M. & Klinger, C. (1991). Toward an explanatory model of the interaction between bilingualism and cognitive development. In E. Bialystok, (Ed.), Language processing in bilingual children (pp. 181-197). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Gilbert, R. (2001). Shyness in the classroom…a page for educational professionals. Web.
- Name changed for anonymity.