First step - Up country

20th November 2009 at 00:00
Learning about pupils' cultures helps you to tailor your teaching to their needs

What are your perceptions of Islam? How do you feel about the use of native languages in your classroom? What do you know about children from refugee and asylum-seeking backgrounds?

New teachers are required to have "a full and accurate understanding of the needs of each learner so they can deploy a range of skills to tailor provision in ways that challenge, promote achievement and secure progress", the Training and Development Agency for Schools says.

This may require research, says Vini Lander of Multiverse, an online resource network for those teaching pupils from diverse backgrounds. She suggests taking time to get to know the community and the families the school serves.

"Educate yourself about different faiths rather than relying on misinformation gained through some of the mainstream media," she says.

"It is important to have an open mind to issues of diversity, rather than seeing diversity as a problem. It is by identifying your position and then challenging yourself to move on from it that is the start to meeting the needs of the children in your class."

Melanie Clarke*, a newly qualified teacher, often feels uneasy about her pupils speaking their native language in the classroom.

"I don't know whether to forbid it," she says. "Although it does qualify as a disturbance, I am often hesitant when it comes to telling them off.

"You may think the children are 'off task' but they may not be," says Ms Lander. "If new teachers were aware of the theory of second-language acquisition and how beneficial it is to learn new concepts by clarifying them in your first language, then they would think twice about some policies that ban the use of first language in the classroom or even in the school."

It is particularly important to understand the needs of children from asylum-seeking backgrounds. "While many families come to this country as a positive choice, others do so because they are fleeing difficult circumstances in their home country," says Frank Monaghan of the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum.

"Understanding something of how a child came to be in a particular classroom is an important aspect of planning for their education while they are there."

It may seem overwhelming having to address the needs of each individual child, but you do not have to cope with this alone. Don't hesitate to ask your induction tutor for help - they may be more aware of the communities that the school serves. "There are also multiple websites where NQTs can find the guidance they require - both practical and theoretical," says Ms Lander.

Other children in the class are another source of support. "If they are aware of the issues and determined to be good hosts, then they will provide the sort of role models that will help the child not only fit in but stake out an appropriate place for themselves and all they have to offer," says Mr Monaghan.

"The child's parents are also key in this - it would be shameful to waste the knowledge and skills they bring with them."

You will do well to expect that the child before you can do more than you imagine. When assessing their abilities, start from what the child can do rather than what they can't, and what more they can do today than they could yesterday. That way, their real progress will become clearer and the route to it easier to map out.

*Name has been changed

Things To Think About

- You may need to identify your own attitude towards diversity.

- Try getting to know the community and families the school serves.

- Identify gaps in your knowledge and address these through research.

- Don't be afraid to ask for help - your induction tutor may be more aware of your pupils' situation.

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