Comminicating with gestures

Understanding Different Interpretations of Common Gestures

It is important for mainstream teachers to understand how the gestures they use unconsciously may be misunderstood. This activity allows participants to look a little closer at how body language might be interpreted by English Language Learners and their parents.

Demonstrate the gestures below and ask participants to write down what they think each gesture means. Participants should also indicate if they think the gesture is considered rude in the United States. Have group discuss how body language could influence communication between cultures.

  • Beckon with index finger.
  • Point at something in the room using index finger.
  • Make a “V” sign.
  • Smile.
  • Sit with sole of feet or shoe showing.
  • Form a circle with fingers to indicate “O.K.”
  • Pat a student on the head.
  • Pass an item to someone with one hand.
  • Wave hand with palm facing outward to greet someone.
  • Nod head up and down to say “Yes.”

Answer Key for Body Language Activities

Each of the following responses give a general guide to cultural differences in the meaning of gestures.

1. Beckon with index finger. This means “Come here” in the U.S. To motion with the index finger to call someone is insulting, or even obscene, in many cultures. Expect a reaction when you beckon to a student from the Middle or Far East; Portugal, Spain, Latin America, Japan, Indonesia and Hong Kong. It is more acceptable to beckon with the palm down, with fingers or whole hand waving.

2. Point at something in the room using index finger. It is impolite to point with the index finger in the Middle and Far East. Use an open hand or your thumb (in Indonesia)

3. Make a “V” sign. This means “Victory” in most of Europe when you make this sign with your palm facing away from you. If you face your palm in, the same gesture means “Shove it.”

4. Smile. This gesture is universally understood. However, it various cultures there are different reasons for smiling. The Japanese may smile when they are confused or angry. In other parts of Asia, people may smile when they are embarrassed. People in other cultures may not smile at everyone to indicate a friendly greeting as we do in the United States. A smile may be reserved for friends. It is important not to judge students or their parents because they do not smile, or smile at what we would consider “inappropriate” times.

5. Sit with soles shoes showing. In many cultures this sends a rude message. In Thailand, Japan and France as well as countries of the Middle and Near East showing the soles of the feet demonstrates disrespect. You are exposing the lowest and dirtiest part of your body so this is insulting.

6. Form a circle with fingers to indicate “O.K.” Although this means “O.K.” in the U.S. and in many countries around the world, there are some notable exceptions:

  • In Brazil and Germany, this gesture is obscene.
  • In Japan, this means “money.”
  • In France, it has the additional meaning of “zero” or “worthless.”

7. Pat a student on the head. This is very upsetting to students from Asia. The head is the repository of the soul in the Buddhist religion. Children from cultures which are influenced by Buddhism will feel uncomfortable if their head is touched.

8. Pass an item to someone with one hand. – In Japan this is very rude. Even a very small item such as a pencil must be passed with two hands. In many Middle and Far Eastern countries it is rude to pass something with your left hand which is considered “unclean.”

9. Wave hand with the palm facing outward to greet someone. In Europe, waving the hand back and forth can mean “No.” To wave “good-bye,” raise the palm outward and wag the fingers in unison, This is also a serious insult in Nigeria if the hand is too close to another person’s face.

10. Nod head up and down to say “Yes.” In Bulgaria and Greece, this gesture means “No.”

Collaborative Teaching

Reprinted from Essential Teacher, Volume 4, Issue 3,September 2007, Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)

“The city is more crowded. We would need more signs and traffic lights,” said one student. “We would have to live in apartments,” said another. Eight students in Ms. P’s 4th grade classroom were squeezed into a 4 x 4 square marked by masking tape on her classroom floor. Four of the students were English language learners.

The class was brainstorming how living in the city compared with living in the country. The eight students in the first square concluded that living in a crowded city required different types of transportation and housing. They predicted that they would need more stores, signs and garbage collectors. Students were kinesthetically experiencing the concepts of crowding and privacy. They were gaining hands-on experience with the basic concepts of the unit. This was possible because Ms. P and I were collaborating and had time to plan together.

In a collaborative or co-teaching setting, the ESL teacher “pushes into” the general education classroom to collaborate with the teacher. Co-teaching involves two credentialed professionals who are partners in the instruction of the lesson. One professional is usually a classroom or subject area teacher and the other is a certified ESL teacher. They have equal responsibilities for planning instruction and there are a variety of ways this instruction is delivered. Together the two teachers are lowering the student-teacher ratio and providing differentiated instruction in a manner that is not possible for one teacher.

Co-teachers are using the same physical space. Students are not pulled out of the classroom for one of the teachers to instruct. Although small heterogeneous groups may be pulled aside for reinforcement, English language learners are not isolated from mainstream students in the back of the classroom. In elementary schools, ESL teachers may come into the classroom for one instructional period each day. I spent two hours each week co-teaching in Ms. P’s 4th grade social studies class. Together we were able to lower the teacher-to-student ratio and combine our talents to provide comprehensive instruction for all of the students in her room.

Over the past few years co-teaching has become more popular as low incidence school districts search for ways to best serve the needs of their English language learners. What is co-teaching? Does it work? If you ask ESL teachers who have tried co-teaching, you will hear both negative and positive responses.

Compare the co-teaching experience that I had with Ms.P with that of another ESL teacher in New Jersey.

Paulo is a “push in ESL teacher” in a large school district. He teams with five different teachers each school day. He also teaches two classes of beginners in a pullout setting. Because of his work load, he is unable to plan lessons with his co-teachers. When he goes into some classrooms, the teacher turns the students over to Paul and uses the time as a prep period. In others, he is helping a few ESL students at the back of the room while the classroom teacher works with the rest of the students. Usually, he serves as a classroom aide, roving around the room to help students who do not understand the instruction. He is not necessarily scheduled into a classroom when the students need him most.

This is collaborative teaching at its worse. ESL professionals are not classroom aides. They should not be relegated to the back of the room with English language learners. What is the point of “push-in” ESL if students are kept on the fringes of the “real” instruction? Both teachers have a contribution to make. The classroom teacher contributes knowledge of the curriculum and of all the students in the class while the ESL teacher brings information about teaching strategies, second language acquisition and diverse cultures.

It is my experience that ESL teachers who are pushing into general education classrooms are generally more satisfied if they:

  • have input into their schedule and whom they will be teaching with.
  • co-teach specific subject and are in the classroom each time the subject is taught.
  • have time to plan with the co-teacher
  • enjoy equal status with the co-teacher.
  • can discuss and decide their role and responsibilities in advance.

Here are some models that are used when co-teaching English language learners:

  • Teach and write. One teacher teaches the lesson while the other records the important points on an overhead or chalkboard. ELLs benefit from this because information is being presented to them through different modalities. Station teaching. Students rotate through predetermined stations or activities. Each teachers works with all the students as they come through the station.
  • Parallel teaching. The class is divided into two groups and each teacher delivers the content information to their group simultaneously. This allows teachers with distinctly different styles to work together.
  • Alternative teaching. Teachers divide responsibility for planning. The majority of the students work in a large group setting but some students are pulled into to a smaller group for pre-teaching or other types of individualized instruction. The same students should not be pulled into the small group each time.
  • Team Teaching. Teachers co-teach each lesson. This requires a great deal of planning and cooperation. Both teachers are responsible for all of the students.
  • Lead and support. The lead teacher instructs the class while the supporting teacher provides assistance as she roams around the room. The supporting teacher may elaborate the important points or retell parts of the lesson. Ideally, classroom and ESL teachers should alternate roles so that one is not always the lead teacher. This type of instruction can be misused and the ESL teacher may find herself in a subordinate role.

There are many obvious benefits to co-teaching for students. ESL students have both academic and social benefits. They are exposed to the mainstream content but have the support of a second teacher. They are not pulled out of the class and learn with their classmates.

ESL teachers, however, cite many concerns. They do not want to lose ownership of their students be relegated to the status of an aide. They feel that collaboration is a lot of additional work especially if they are co-teaching with several different teachers. They are also concerned about ESL beginners, who they feel do not really benefit from learning in the large group setting.

I think the benefits of collaboration outweigh the drawbacks. When teachers share the responsibility of instruction, lessons are more creative because two people are planning them. It’s nice to have another adult in the room to be able to provide a range of support to students and to share those “ah-ha” moments.

Seven Teaching Strategies

These seven strategies are designed to help teachers meet the needs of all the students in their classes and to help make the mainstream classroom more inclusive for ELLs.

1.Provide comprehensible input for ELLs. Language is not “soaked up.” The learner must understand the message that is conveyed. Comprehensible input is a hypothesis first proposed by Stephen Krashen. (Krashen, 1981) He purports that ELLs acquire language by hearing and understanding messages that are slightly above their current English language level. When newcomers are assigned to a mainstream classroom and spend most of their day in this environment it is especially critical for them to receive comprehensible input from their teachers and classmates. If that teacher provides information by lecturing in the front of a classroom, the English language learner will not be receiving this input. Teachers need to speak more slowly, use gestures and body language to get across the meaning to ELLs.

2.Make lessons visual. Use visual representations of new vocabulary and use graphs, maps, photographs, drawings and charts to introduce new vocabulary and concepts. Tell a story about information in the textbook using visuals. Create semantic and story maps, graphic organizers to teach students how to organize information.

3.Link new information to prior knowledge. Teachers need to consider what schema ELL students brings to the classroom and to link instruction to the students’ personal, cultural, and world experiences. Teachers also need to know what their students do not know. They must understand how culture impacts learning in their classroom.

4.Determine key concepts for the unit and define language and content objects for each lesson. Teachers write the key concept for a unit of study in student-friendly language and post it in the room. New learning should be tied to this concept. Additionally, teachers should begin each lesson by writing a content objective on the board. At the end of the lesson, students should be asked if the objective was met. Classroom teachers also need to set language objectives for the ELLs in their class. A language objective might be to learn new vocabulary, find the nouns in a lesson, or apply a grammar rule.

5.Modify vocabulary instruction for ELLs. English language learners require direct instruction of new vocabulary. Teachers should also provide practice in pronouncing new words. ELLs need much more exposure to new terms, words, idioms, and phrases than do English fluent peers. Teachers need to tie new vocabulary to prior learning and use visual to reinforce meaning. Content area teachers should teach new vocabulary words that occur in the text as well as those related to the subject matter. Word wall should be used at all grade levels.

6.Use cooperative learning strategies. Lecture style teaching excludes ELLs from the learning in a classroom We don’t want to relegate ELLs to the fringes of the classroom doing a separate lesson with a classroom aide or ESL teacher. Working in small groups is especially beneficial to ELLs who have an authentic reason to use academic vocabulary and real reasons to discuss key concepts. ELLs benefit from cooperative learning structures. Give students a job in a group. Monitor that they are participating.

7.Modify testing and homework for ELLs. Content area homework and assessments needs to be differentiated for ELLs. Teachers should allow alternative types of assessment: oral, drawings, physical response (e.g., act-it-out), and manipulatives as well as modification to the test. Homework and assessment should be directly linked to classroom instruction and students should be provided with study guides so that they know what to study. Remember that the ELLs in your class may not be able to take notes.