English language learners' and non–English language learners' perceptions of the classroom environment

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<ul><li><p>Psychology in the Schools, Vol. 46(6), 2009 C 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI: 10.1002/pits.20398</p><p>ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS AND NONENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERSPERCEPTIONS OF THE CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT</p><p>COURTNEY LECLAIR, BETH DOLL, ALLISON OSBORN, AND KRISTIN JONES</p><p>University of Nebraska-LincolnThis study examines the degree to which English language learners (ELL) descriptions of class-room supports for learning are similar to or different from the descriptions of non-ELL students.Specifically, the study compared the classroom perceptions of ELL students and general edu-cation students using the ClassMaps Survey (CMS), which includes indices of classroom rela-tionships (teacherstudent, peer, and homeschool) and supports for self-regulation (self-efficacy,self-determination, and self-control). It was hypothesized that the CMS subscale scores woulddiffer for the two student groups. Results indicated that ELL students rated themselves signifi-cantly lower in academic efficacy and rated their classmates as more likely to follow class rulescompared to the ratings of non-ELL students. Implications for practical application of the resultsand suggestions for future research are discussed. C 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.</p><p>English language learners (ELLs) represent a growing segment of students in the United States.In fact, nonEnglish-speaking students are the fastest growing subgroup of students among thepublic school population, with their numbers increasing by approximately 10% each year (Kindler,2002; McCardle, Mele-McCarthy, Cutting, Leos, &amp; DEmilio, 2005). An estimated 5.5 millionstudents attending public school in the United States speak a language other than English as theirfirst language (McCardle et al.).</p><p>The U.S. Department of Education describes ELL students as those who did not grow upin a primarily English-speaking setting and lack the skills necessary to learn in an English-onlyenvironment. In particular, students who qualify for ELL services must have been raised in a settingwhere English is not the dominant language (National Center for Education Statistics, 2006). Toqualify for ELL services, students for whom English is not their first language must demonstrate thatthey are unable to learn successfully in English-dominant classrooms, due to insufficient English-language reading, writing, speaking, or listening skills.</p><p>Unfortunately, many ELL students are not succeeding in U.S. classrooms, despite receivingadditional support services. ELL students have lower levels of academic achievement and higher ratesof poverty, mobility, and high school noncompletion than students proficient in English (McCardleet al., 2005; U.S. Department of Commerce, 2004; U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Just 30%of eighth-grade ELL students in the United States achieved at the basic level in reading, comparedto 84% of their European American, non-ELL peers (National Assessment of Educational Progress,2007). Their limited progress in reading is concerning given the impact that reading ability has onstudents decisions to complete school and the association between reading ability and positive lifeoutcomes (Stanovich, 1986). Furthermore, ELL students are more likely to attend underperformingschools and are disproportionately represented in referrals for special education services relativeto their English-proficient peers (Artiles &amp; Trent, 2000; Coutinho &amp; Oswald, 2004; Zehler &amp;Fleischman, 2003).</p><p>Enhanced instructional practices, such as strong core instruction and frequent opportunities topractice new skills, may allow ELL students to overcome some of the struggles that they face in U.S.schools. For example, ELL students benefit from the explicit and systematic reading instruction thatis also important for the learning of non-ELL students (Mathes, Pollard-Durodola, Cardenas-Hagan,</p><p>The ClassMaps Survey is available on request from the second author at bdoll2@unl.edu.Correspondence to: Courtney LeClair, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln,</p><p>35 Teachers College Hall, Lincoln, NE 68588-0345. E-mail: leclair.courtney@gmail.com</p><p>568</p></li><li><p>Perceptions of Classroom Environments 569</p><p>Linan-Thompson, &amp; Vaughn, 2007). In addition, techniques unique to the needs of ELL studentsare important for their success, such as the use of concrete gestures; visual aids; consistent routines,phrases, and language; interactive and engaging instruction; scaffolding; and explanations usingknown or native phrases (Ediger, 2000; Mathes et al., 2007). Many researchers are examining otherways to augment the academic progress of ELL students through the use of various school-basedinstructional interventions (Chiappe, Siegel, &amp; Wade-Woolley, 2002; Fletcher, Coulter, Reschly,&amp; Vaughn, 2004; Graves, Gersten, &amp; Haager, 2004; Gunn, Biglan, Smolkowski, &amp; Ary, 2000;Linan-Thompson, Vaughn, Hickman-Davis, &amp; Kouzekanani, 2003; Vaughn et al., 2006).</p><p>An important but frequently overlooked research question is whether ELL students classroomlearning environments may be affecting their academic progress. Researchers have traditionallyunderemphasized the social and psychological factors that impact students learning, while focusinginstead upon instructional factors that affect students academic progress (Carroll, 1963; Glaser,1982; Masten et al., 2005; Wang &amp; Walberg, 1985). There are many reasons to suspect that thelearning environment may contribute to ELL students school success. First, relational and self-regulatory aspects of classroom environments have been shown to have a significant impact onthe school success of non-ELL students (Doll, LeClair, &amp; Kurien, 2009). A review of the schoollearning research showed that social and emotional variables, as well as classroom climate variables,were equivalent to traditional instructional and cognitive measures in their impact on a studentseducational progress (Wang, Haertel, &amp; Walberg, 1990). In fact, research has demonstrated thatsupportive learning environments can close the gap in learning between socially advantagedand disadvantaged students (Hamre &amp; Pianta, 2005). Perhaps the fact that students spend morethan 15,000 hours in school during their formative years explains why the classroom environmentis so significant in their development (Rutter &amp; Maughan, 2002; Rutter, Maughan, Mortimore,Ouston, &amp; Smith, 1979). If social and psychological factors within the classroom affect non-ELL students performance in the classroom, it is likely that they will also impact ELL studentsprogress.</p><p>Second, classroom learning environments have been shown to affect ELL and non-ELL studentengagement. For non-ELL students, engagement has been defined as observable displays of moti-vation, including intensity of, amount of, and emotional attachment to the effort displayed (Reeve,2002). Students academic engagement is enhanced when they experience autonomy, relatednessto teachers and peers, and an understanding of the environments contingencies, as well as theirown self-efficacy and control (Zimmer-Gembeck, Chipuer, Hanisch, Creed, &amp; McGregor, 2006).These environments tend to be supportive, warm, and structured (Deci, Nezlek, &amp; Sheinman, 1981;Newmann, Wehlage, &amp; Lamborn, 1992; Zimmer-Gembeck et al.). In high school, high levels ofengagement are a significant predictor of grade point average, achievement test scores, and mo-tivation to stay in school (Brand, Felner, Shim, Seitsinger, &amp; Dumas, 2003; Furrer &amp; Skinner,2003; Isakson &amp; Jarvis, 1999; Shernoff &amp; Hoogstra, 2001; Wenztel, 1998). Thus, strong learn-ing environments lead to student engagement, and subsequently to academic success and schoolcompletion.</p><p>Doll and colleagues have identified eight variables from the research on developmental riskand resilience that are significant components of the learning environment with the potential toalter students classroom success (Doll, LeClair et al., 2009; Doll, Zucker, &amp; Brehm, 2004). Theseeight variables include three self-regulatory factors (academic efficacy, self-determination, andbehavioral self-control) and five relational factors (teacherstudent relationship, peer friendships,peer conflict, concerns about bullying, and the homeschool connection). Each of these factors hasbeen demonstrated to affect at least one of the following important outcomes: school completionrates, student engagement within and outside of school, student vocational and prevocational success,and academic performance.</p><p>Psychology in the Schools DOI: 10.1002/pits</p></li><li><p>570 LeClair et al.</p><p>Other researchers have examined ways in which similar characteristics of classroom environ-ments affect ELL students academic progress. Szpara and Ahmad (2007) concluded that social andcultural support is essential to creating classroom environments that promote academic achievementand facilitate the transition from the students home culture to his or her new classroom. Social andcultural support can be enhanced by instructors learning about students cultures, family history, andhome life, explicitly voicing high expectations for all students, demonstrating a willingness to helpstudents overcome barriers to academic success, and inviting students to add content from their ownbackgrounds. Doherty and Hilberg (2007) found that increases in achievement among ELL studentswere correlated with teachers use of classroom strategies that included collaboration among stu-dents within small groups, cooperation, and frequent opportunities to dialogue with teachers aboutassignments and work goals. Lesson plans and assignments that allowed students to incorporatetheir home culture and language also contributed to ELL students academic progress (Doherty &amp;Hilberg).</p><p>Fletcher, Bos, and Johnson (1999) compared the accommodation practices of teachers inbilingual education classrooms and general education classrooms for ELL students with learningdisabilities. They found that the achievement of ELL students is increased and classroom cohe-sion and social support are promoted when the classroom has a positive and cooperative learningenvironment in which teachers grouped students together to complete assignments and incorpo-rated students culture and language into the curriculum (Fletcher et al., 1999). Gillanders (2007)conducted a case study of a classroom composed of ELL and non-ELL students and determinedthat the teachers strong relationship with her students enhanced the ELL students social sta-tus and vocabulary skills. The teacher developed the teacherstudent relationship by establishingtrust, learning to communicate without words, showing an interest in the ELL students first lan-guage, and establishing a consistent classroom routine that allowed the ELL students to fullyparticipate.</p><p>Finally, Morrison, Cosden, OFarrell, and Campos (2003) analyzed the differences betweenELL and non-ELL students sense of school belonging as well as the factors contributing to theseperceptions. They defined school belonging as the extent to which students feel personallyaccepted, respected, included, and supported by others in the school social environment (p. 87).Results indicated that beginning the fourth grade as an ELL student was associated with lowerperceptions of school belonging across the academic year. Fourth-grade students perceptions ofschool belonging were also influenced by strong peer relationships and teacher report of academicsuccess. The sixth-grade students perceptions of school belonging were not influenced by ELLstatus, but were significantly affected by their peer relationships.</p><p>These studies suggest that supportive classroom environments, characterized by positive andcollaborative interactions with peers and teachers, are important to ELL students academic per-formance. The self-regulatory characteristics found to be important to school success for non-ELLstudents, such as behavioral self-control, self-determination, and academic efficacy, have been lesswell-studied among ELL students. Moreover, no prior studies have examined how ELL studentsclassroom perceptions may be similar to or different from those of their non-ELL peers (Nickolite&amp; Doll, 2008). However, given that classroom environments affect school engagement and ELLstudents are often underengaged in school, a plausible hypothesis is that ELL students perceivemany of these crucial variables to be weaker in their classroom environment.</p><p>The purpose of this study was to examine whether ELL and non-ELL students perceptionsof their general education classroom environments differed. It was hypothesized that these woulddiffer and that ELL students would describe a less welcoming and supportive classroom. Ultimately,this line of research could examine the ways in which ELL students classroom environments mayaffect their school progress.</p><p>Psychology in the Schools DOI: 10.1002/pits</p></li><li><p>Perceptions of Classroom Environments 571</p><p>METHOD</p><p>Participants</p><p>Participants in this study included 257 students representing all upper elementary (third throughfifth grade) students attending a neighborhood school on the day of data collection in a medium-sized Midwestern school district. Of these, 37 students (14%) received ELL services for part of eachday. The participants gender and ELL status are detailed in Table 1. Participants ethnicity wasnot identified because of constraints imposed by the school district and the university InstitutionalReview Board (IRB). However, given the high participation rate of the school population in thecurrent study, participants ethnicities were reflective of the school enrollment, which included 61%European American, 14% African American, 13% Asian American, 11% Latino, and 1% NativeAmerican students. Furthermore, 72% of the schools students participated in the free or reducedprice lunch program, 12% qualified for special education services, and 27% participated in theschools ELL program. (The schools ELL enrollment was higher in Kindergarten through secondgrade, and the number of ELL participants in this study was consistent with the number of ELLstudents enrolled in the third through fifth grades). Although the ELL participants in the study didnot report their first language, 50.2% of students in the school districts program for ELL studentsspoke Spanish, 20.3% spoke Vietnamese, 12.9% spoke Arabic, and 7.0% spoke Kurdish, with 46other languages making up the remaining 9.6%.</p><p>Participants were identified as ELL or non-ELL based on their previously established ELLstatus in the school. During initial school registration, students were referred for assessment by theschool districts ELL program if enrollment information indicated that their primary language wasnot English. As part of this assessment, educational and language history information was gatheredfrom the students families, and students speaking, writing, and reading abilities were assessedusing the IDEA Oral Language Proficiency Test (IPT; Williams, Ballard, Tighe, Dalton, &amp; Amori,2004) and the Language Assessm...</p></li></ul>

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