Michigan State University

Educating Newcomers – The Inquiry Question

Now you are ready to start an inquiry into educating newcomers at your school or in your community. Start by writing out your main line of inquiry. Here are a few that we suggest, but you may come up with something that works better for your context and focus on that instead which is OK, too!

  • In the first podcast, Jean-Michel Dissard and Mario Perez both point out that one barrier to welcoming and supporting newcomers relates to views and attitudes at the school. Sometimes, assumptions are made that language acquisition is the only or the primary “task” of educating newcomers and that the language acquisition classroom is the only space where learning takes place. Dissard and Perez make the case that the whole school community needs to be engaged in listening, learning and caring. This approach is key in transforming mindsets about and approaches to educating newcomers from being issues to assets.What are the beliefs and views of newcomers at your school? What are the views of teachers and administrators about what newcomers need and where learning takes place? What are their thoughts about how that happens at your school and what are your ideas for how the whole school community can begin listening, learning and caring in order to better welcome and support newcomers at your school?
  • In the first and second podcasts, Jean-Michel Dissard and Mario Perez both mention that creating “allyships” connecting newcomer students with domestic students is very powerful for all students. They give specific strategies that they have observed or used to positively leverage these relationships. Later, both Alam and Naghyal give specific examples from their own experience about how they gave and received support from other students. What would be the benefit of connecting newcomer and domestic students at your school? What opportunities already exist? Where might new opportunities be developed? What specific strategies would you use to create ally relationships between students?
  • Frequently, teachers produce a “get to know you” assignment at the beginning of the term to learnt the strengths and interests of each of the their students. Alam and Naghyal both state that they benefited when teachers got to know through listening. Dissard referred to each student as a book and challenged teachers to open each book. How would you go about interviewing newcomer students? What might be some challenges and where would you find the resources to overcome these challenges? What questions would you ask that might be different than the questions you might ask domestic students? How would you use this information to benefit the student and help you to be effective in helping the student?
  • Schools often reflect the dominant linguistic, religious, social and economic culture of the community. This dominant culture is represented in many ways including traditions, language and symbols. Very often, newcomers enter their new school as cultural outsiders. In the first and second podcasts, Jean-Michel Dissard and Mario Perez both emphasize the importance of schools and teachers making newcomers feel comfortable culturally. Consider the traditions, rituals and symbols and how they are represented in your school and classroom. How are they expressed? Are there any traditions, rituals and symbols that should be changed, removed or added to make newcomer students comfortable in their school?

Once you have formulated your inquiry focus, show it to several colleagues. Do they think it is valuable or relevant in your context? What are their thoughts about the issue your inquiry project seeks to understand? Do they have any advice on how to proceed with your project, hypotheses you might investigate, or suggestions for how to carry out your inquiry?

Then share your project plan to an administrator. Ask for their feedback and thoughts. Ask for their commitment to help you in answering your question and in following through with further inquiry, further dialogue, and actionable steps.

Remember, this is a micro-credential. The inquiry part of this credential – from formulating a question, to gathering data, to writing up your inquiry brief – should take you about six hours, so make sure that your project is achievable in the time you have. You may only be able to get the ball rolling with this project. You will not change the world overnight. But in undertaking such an inquiry, you are not only demonstrating your competency in the area of welcoming and educating newcomers, you are contributing to positive social change.

Now, it is time to gather data.

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