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Helping English Learners and Newcomers Become Resilient

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

As ESL/ELD teachers we care passionately about our students to succeed. We feel their struggles, celebrate their successes and encourage them to try harder, even though we recognize the obstacles that challenge their lives every day.

So, why do some of our learners succeed and others give up! Recently there has been much written about resilience (Henderson, Educational Leadership, 2013; Davis, Pi Lambda Theta, 2013). Janine Davis in "Building Resilient Students: Three Strategies for Success," suggests three key elements of resilience that we, as teachers, can facilitate.

In the first strategy Davis suggests that teachers build strong relationships with tier students and their families. Learn about the personal obstacles each of your students face that may put roadblocks in their way, help them learn that there are options and resources to overcome obstacles. Connecting with families, help them find the resources they need, in spite of the language barrier that may impact asking for help. Help them connect with native language community for basic family needs. Break the barriers of isolation and the feelings of helplessness. Additionally, create and model ways in which parents and their children can work together on school assignments. For example, you can be find wordless books for parents and ELLs can "read" together, practicing story schema in native language, discussing story elements, such as The Arrival.

In the power of the narrative, strategy two, Davis suggests that "storytelling has intense power in building resilience." Telling our stories, constructing mental narratives is something we do every day. Additionally, we share our stories verbally and in writing blogs, on Facebook or Twitter, and by keeping journals and diaries. We can help our students by providing a time each day for free writing that is not teacher-edited! Students can determine if their journals can be read by teachers or not shared. Dialogue journals between teachers and students can provide students with "voice" and provide an outlet to share problems, concerns, learning questions, without judgement, but with a sense of release and relief in sharing.

Problem-based instruction , the "I Can" third component, helps ELLs learn how to solve real-life problems through the practice introduced in content or cross- content instructional assignments. According to Davis, problem-based content learning provides students with experiences in persistence, requires higher-order thinking skills, collaborative work, and helps to build learner confidence. This type of learning experience shows students that inquiry and information-gathering do not always provide clear answers, much like life. Sometimes seeking resolution to a problem-based situation requires revision, refinement, and even further inquiry. Students learn, through this instructional model how to persevere, in life as well as schoolwork.


Davis, J. S. (December 2013-January, 2014). PLT News, "Building resilient students: Three strategies for success." Vol. 9 Educational horizons magazine:Pi Lamb

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