Understanding the Cultural and Educational Challenges Faced by Mexican ELL Students


Added on  2023-06-11

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Professional DevelopmentHigher EducationLanguages and CultureReligion
Understanding the Cultural and Educational Challenges Faced by Mexican ELL Students_1

English language learners (ELL) vary widely in linguistic and prior educational experiences, and
in their academic strengths and needs (Rubinstein-Avila, 2003, Tedick, 2013, CSIS, 2013,
iNACOL, 2017). Some students acquire new languages quite well and show their proficiency in
English while many students find it challenging to understand the nuances and complexity of the
English language. This includes the use of grammar and the construction of sentences as well.
The students who are unable to follow this face a major problem in using the English language.
In spite of receiving long trainings and teachings on the language if the base of the students are
not strong they will not be able to make progress. One of these populations is Hispanic ELL
students. As the substantial content gaps in developing their L2 language skills rise, there is a
definite need for reaching Hispanic through teaching to both their strengths and their needs
(Epstein, 2018). The term “Hispanic” is a term that entails people from the Spanish-speaking
Latin American countries and territories including the Caribbean or Spain it. The reason for
looking at the Mexican students is that there is maximum amount of diversity among them.
There are maximum amount of Spanish-speaking student and this is the reason it is easier to
conduct and extensive research on them. Apart from this there is a language gap among them.
They find it difficult to construct the English sentence. Therefore, in order to understand the gap
the research has been done on them. Hispanic is not limited to speaking Spanish but aloes
identifying with the Spanish culture. Thus, this paper sheds light on the some of the cultural and
educational challenges faced by students in one of the Latino cultures, the Mexicans. The author
suggests ideas and strategies to help teachers provide equitable opportunities for these students.
Understanding the Cultural and Educational Challenges Faced by Mexican ELL Students_2

Gabriel is a new elementary student from Mexico. He is the only one who speaks Spanish
in the classroom while his classmates speak four other languages. If you ask Gabriel’s parents
what his favorite class was when he was in Mexico, without hesitating to think, they would say
science. Despite what his parents say, however, Gabriel’s interest in science isn’t evident in Mrs.
Mary’s science class. In spite of his low proficiency in the English language, Gabriel’s parents
revealed to Mrs. Mary that their son is struggling with working with his peers since most of the
science projects are based on group projects. “They talk too fast and they do not help me to
understand some of the words, and I am too shy to ask my teacher,” says Gabriel.
Along with many researchers, Mrs. Mary considers that group work can serve as
scaffolding for ELLs, and Gabriel should not be a different case. However, from this scenario,
we cannot assume that ELLs will receive instruction efficiently, placing teachers in an
unenviable position as to how to modify instruction for every ELL student in the class.
Meanwhile, Gabriel’s situation reveals another focal point on understanding Latino students’
challenges in our diverse classroom: culture. For Gabriel, nodding and refraining from asking the
teacher is a sign of respect even at the cost of his understanding the content. So. what do teachers
need to know about Gabriel and his culture, and what are the implications of what we learn for
Understanding the Cultural and Educational Challenges Faced by Mexican ELL Students_3

how we might work with Gabriel? How can we modify our instruction to such students? The
answers to these questions are the center of this paper.
As a non-native speaker myself, I wanted to know more about the kind of challenges
students like Gabriel face and to connect to their needs. I also wanted to challenge my thinking
by understanding the teacher’s role in accommodating instruction and supporting language
development for such students. I wondered how my own experiences as an adult English learner
might align with those of this much-younger English language learner from a culture quite
different from my own. I decided that I needed to begin by completing a conscientious review of
the existing literature on xxxx. This review of literature begins with a theoretical framework on
cultivating teachers’ knowledge on diverse students followed by an overview of the Mexican
culture. I then designed a lesson plan because it would incorporate the culture of the students it
would address their need of learning the language. Lesson plan will serve as a schedule and a
structure that will help as a guide. This is the reason a lesson plan should be constructed.
Literature Review
Knowing your diverse students
Developing awareness of multicultural students first requires teachers to honor diversity
and to establish equal opportunities in education (Tonbuloğlu, Aslan, & Aydin, 2016, Halvorsen
& Wilson, 2010). As is the case for all learners, these students receive and process learning in
various ways; some students are orally oriented, some thrive in a rote-learning environment, this
is known as the memorization of information based on the repetition.Some show an eagerness to
think critically, etc. Students in many Asian countries, for example, often prefer to work
individually as they may believe that group work is distracting (Campbell & Li, 2008). On the
other hand, although Arab students rely mostly on rote memorization, they may not be exposed
Understanding the Cultural and Educational Challenges Faced by Mexican ELL Students_4

to critical and creative thinking skills. Thus, teachers need to consider these cultural differences
to understand what motivates and impedes students’ learning and engagement. Teachers need to
identify the contradictions, challenges, and parallels in the practices between the class and the
community as it helps for teachers in their relationship with students and avoids the creation of
conflicting situations (Gitlin, Buendía, Crosland, & Doumbia, 2003). Naturally, this statement
begs the question of what some of the important aspects are we need to know about our students.
Gordon, Lalas, and McDermott, 2006), offer some suggestions: They suggest that teachers need
to consider the following:
Does the student work most comfortably alone by her/himself?
Does the student enjoy working with others?
Do you think he or she can work productively with another student?
Do you think he or she can thrive in group work situations?
Does your student show eagerness in solving problems and thinking critically for
Does your student demonstrate independence in applying the concepts learned in the
various subject matter areas? Does your student think about consequences of their actions?” etc.
(p. 9). Answering such questions and understanding what they entail can serve as a framework to
understand our diverse students’ cultural and educational backgrounds, hence, building a mutual
understanding between the teacher and his/her students and creating effective differentiated
instruction for all students (McIntyre, Byrd, 2012, Carr & Bertrando, 2012, Radford, 2016
&Breiseth, 2016). No matter the culture, it is important that teachers consider the answers to
these questions.
Mexicans, Latinos, and Hispanic
Understanding the Cultural and Educational Challenges Faced by Mexican ELL Students_5

Before going further with this paper, it is first useful to clarify terms that are often used
interchangeably but incorrectly. The term “Latino” refers to someone who speaks any language
of Latin descent, the term “Mexican” is a nationality, and “Hispanic” is an old Spanish (as in
Spaniard) term to describe anyone from Spanish descent. Both "Hispanic" and "Latino" are used
to denote people living in America. They both are terms used to categorize many Latino groups.
Some people get offended by it or try to make a point they do not allow the government to put
them into a "box" so they refuse that term(Shin, 2017).
Mexican Values
There are unique characteristics of the Mexican cultural values in general. Some of the
core values include:
1) The group has extensive family memberships and strong family values. Such factors
contribute to the group’s collectivist mindset, where helping younger siblings and relatives, in
general, is part of the culture (Sáenz, Ponjuán, Figueroa, Serrata, 2016). Accordingly,
collaboration and cooperation are vital elements of the culture (Figueroa, Rodrigues, Hernandez
& Rosas, 2012).
2) The religiousness of the Mexican group is another characteristic cultural factor. Mexican
children are more inclined to adopt the religious beliefs of their parents (Changing Faiths:
Latinos and the Transformation of American Religion, 2007), and thus, contradicting values
might pose a conflict between culture at school and at home for the children. Regarding religious
affiliation, the majority of Mexicans and Americans of Mexican descent identify themselves as
Catholic with a small portion of Protestant. There is also very small percentage followers of
other religions such as Judaism, Buddhism and Islam (Changing Faiths: Latinos and the
Transformation of American Religion, 2007).
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