Behind the mask: Social studies concepts and English-language learners

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Social Education




Social studies educators are constantly teaching concepts. From culturally universal concepts in the early grades to highly contested concepts such as "democracy" in later grades, good social studies instruction often centers on helping students form key concepts. As anyone who has spent time in twenty-first century social studies classrooms knows, immigrant and English language learners struggle mightily with learning these concepts. If forming key concepts such as civil rights, liberty, and representative government, is critical to social justice and to assisting all Americans in becoming full citizens, then it is important to attend to the particular challenges immigrant and English language learners face. In this article, the author begins with the challenges he faces as someone foreign to a country and a language when trying to learn particular civics concepts. He then notes strategies he found himself using to mask his general lack of comprehension, followed by suggestions for what educators might do in their classrooms. (Contains 13 notes.)