Stress and Coping of English Learners
reviewed by Alma Sandigo, Rachel Juárez-Torres & Nancy Blitz - February 08, 2019
Title: Stress and Coping of English Learners
Author(s): Teresa Rishel & Paul Chamness Miller (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1641131497, Pages: 244, Year: 2018
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School is supposed to be a challenging place. Teachers are tasked with building the academic abilities of all students in their classrooms. But what about those students whose home language is different from the language of instruction? The demands on English learners (ELs) are doubled when they must learn the language of instruction while also extracting learning from that language, a complex and challenging paradigm for students and teachers alike. In developing ELs academic capital, a critical element that is often overlooked is the relationship between students academic success and their sense of connection, confidence, and identity.
This compilation of twelve chapters written by scholars from across North America and edited by Teresa Rishel and Paul Chamness Miller recaptures the value of second language acquisition at a time when, given the current political climate, attention to the emotional well-being of ELs is more important than ever. Framed within a critical paradigm, these chapters offer insights into essential and often ignored areas of teaching, unpacking the stories of EL, immigrant, and refugee students in the context of school. The authors analyze the power of discourse among students, examine narratives of immigrant and refugee students and their communities, and ponder the role of teachers and schools as facilitators and mediators of social and emotional adaptations. In telling the stories of ELs, the authors examine school and classroom dynamics with the idea that emotional responses are socially constructed and context-dependent, and that the attitudes of schools and teachers towards students emotional responses can reflect school ideologies, dominant cultural capital, and hidden curriculum.
Throughout the book, two themes appear to serve as underlying tenets: (a) confidence and identity and (b) the social aspect of language acquisition. Based on research in the areas of second language acquisition and socioemotional learning, this volume expounds on the implications of creating environments that strengthen ELs confidence and identity as they navigate the complex and often paradoxical elements of the education system. Corella and Choi provide a backdrop to consider the roles of confidence and identity as they emphasize that to intervene in ELs marginalization in the classroom, researchers and educators need to understand the array of interactional practices whereby students are marginalized (p. 84). This framework for understanding the effects of learning environments has been explored in the past, yet it continues to be of present concern. Although further research is needed, Stress and Coping of English Learners demonstrates the hegemonic functions of language that can undermine ELs confidence and identity formation.
The second central idea presented throughout Stress and Coping of English Learners is that socioemotional development is at the core of academic achievement. Research on ELs has tended to neglect the affective and interactional dimensions of their classroom experiences, focusing instead on issues viewed as purely academic, such as ELs academic literacy practices, which are often presumed to be deficient (p. 84). Authors in Stress and Coping of English Learners advocate that we bring our focus back to the classroom environment, not as an isolated element of learning but as interwoven with academic development. Classrooms where ELs home language, culture, and life experiences are expected to be checked at the door when they enter become a hotbed for rejection, marginalization, and academic underperformance by ELs. Conversely, the authors argue, teachers who diminish the tensions created by the social aspects of language acquisition thereby support their ELs in reaching their academic goals.
Another issue highlighted in the book is the limited attention given to the socioemotional aspects of instruction in most teacher training programs. As is noted in several chapters, teachers need to develop a comprehensive understanding of second language acquisition, and it is incumbent upon teachers to create an environment where access to the curriculum truly exists.
Early in the book, the authors make the important point that schools can work as buffers from environmental stress and function as a protective agency against discrimination, bullying, and threats to stereotype often endured by newcomers (p. 20). By unpacking the stories of ELs, immigrants, and refugee students and their communities, the authors of this book enrich our understanding of who these students are as a first step toward empowering teachers and researchers to bring about positive change in schools.