There are many different factors that can play a major role in a young child's language development. With an increase in racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in our schools it's also reflected in many of the early childhood classrooms. Early childhood classrooms are seeing an increased number of children with disabilities and/or developmental delays. The diverse structure of these early childhood classrooms brings forth many challenges as well as many opportunities to educators and their families. With the support of administrators, colleagues, families, knowledge of effective practices, and the local community, it makes it easier for teachers in their classrooms so that they can be more responsive to the entire classrooms needs. In the year 2000, there were more than 30 percent of Americans that had a racial or ethnic minority background (Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs, 1995). If the children of those families were evenly distributed across the nation's classrooms, a hypothetical class of 30 children would have 10 students from racial- or ethnic-minority groups; of these 10, six children would belong to families for whom English is not the home language, and two to four children would have limited English proficiency (National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning, n.d.). Our nation has been a pretty much diverse nation, in our schools today; there is an increased awareness of the need to acknowledge the issues of diversity within the school system. This subject is one that can be very sensitive to many, but there are pros and cons that on the topic.
Children with special needs are becoming increasingly abundant in the early childhood classrooms. Federal laws' relating to children with disabilities, such as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142), states that all students who have disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate public education, regardless of skill levels or severity of disability, in the least-restrictive environment possible. There have been some questions that came about relating to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 and whether or not it can help schools that are trying to conform to the requirements of this recent legislation. Federal law has also made attempts to integrate disabled students in regular classrooms, from some type of mainstreaming, this would bring students in with disabilities into regular classrooms for some class time, then potentially move in to full inclusion. By doing this it would make students with disabilities more visible in all types of early childhood classroom settings. It would also be a good learning experience for everyone involved, causing all students to get familiarized with their classmates. We have an autistic child in our program and he goes to a school that is full inclusion, so we do the same for him here at our program. He is in a classroom with children his age, he gets no special treatment, when it's homework time he has to be quiet just like everyone else in the classroom and he actually does better than some of the children that don't have special needs.
Schools need to be held more accountable for meeting the different needs when it comes to educating children with diverse needs, every child is different and they need to be treated as such. Where I live we have a school just for children with special needs that range from handicaps to behavioral needs, I don't think that these children need to be secluded from the rest of the public schools just because they have special needs. I think it's best if they integrate all the kids together so that all students are able to go through the experience of interacting and communicating with someone who has a special need. Teachers have to be willing to embrace the many aspects of instruction and curriculum that come along with a diverse classroom. Many times teachers will stick to one way of teaching just because it has worked for them over the years, but education is something that is forever changing and teachers have to be up to date on new information, they have to be able to encourage every child and also engage them in the information that is being taught. I think it's imperative that teachers be trained when it comes to children with special needs. Teachers need to understand that there is a probability that a child will come through their classroom that has a special need and they have to be willing to at least try and take on the challenge of teaching the child in some type of capacity. Research shows that including children from multicultural backgrounds, children from homes in which English is not the primary language, and children with disabilities indicates the importance of several interrelated educational strategies such as heterogeneous student grouping (Dodge & Colker, 1992; Sanchez, Li, & Nuttall, 1995). This type of grouping is developmentally appropriate, it has an inclusive curriculum that emphasizes children's strengths yet accommodates their needs at the same time. There should be standards in place not only for the children but also for the teachers as well. That's one thing that's wrong with our schools where I live, teachers complain about not making enough money, or "I don't get paid to do this". So with teachers complaining it causes a negative damper to be placed over the entire situation, then everyone involved becomes complacent and loses sight of the real reason why so many others work so hard to make a difference in a child's life. High expectations for all schools should be set so that the students and teachers can follow suit. Their environment in the classroom needs to be mentally and physically prepared with the correct materials in place to carry on smooth transition in the classroom for the student and the teacher. Teachers need to be willing to team up with one another in order to have a strong instructional team; you never know what you might learn from someone outside of your school, so teachers have to be willing and open to learn from one another.
Diverse student grouping as research shows, is something that is becoming more and more prominent in the classroom. Research has been done on grouping practices and it has some detrimental impact of identifying students from minority racial, ethnic, and language backgrounds as low achievers and placing them in "lower" tracks (Wolery, 1994a). "High and low academic tracks or instructional groups constitute different interactional contexts. Rather than narrowing the gap between the groups, the instructional methods typically used with the less-advanced students tend to accentuate any inequality in skills and knowledge that may be present when children are initially admitted to school." (Villegas, 1991 p. 5) Grouping students even if they have a disability or are in special education classrooms may make them feel isolated from the other classrooms and limit their opportunities to interact with other children. Students with disabilities that are placed in regular classrooms can be beneficial to everyone involved; it can help promote social interaction with other children as well as adults and the development of social skills that will be able to compliment the overall learning environment.
There are positive results both socially and academically for at-risk, ethnic-minority, and language-minority students in heterogeneous, cooperative learning groups (Oakes, 1985; Wheelock, 1992; Johnson & Johnson, 1990; Slavin, 1990, Benard, 1995; Garcia, 1991). Teachers that are responsible for this type of diverse classroom must be able to identify each individual child's needs, including any needs or accommodations that need to be met in and out of the classroom. The schools should be obligated to accommodate each child that is in need of assistance in and out of the classroom to ensure a consistent environment for the child. Sometimes assessments are done on young children to determine where they are at in their language and overall development. Assessments can be done in many different ways, from a formal method of screening to a diagnosis from a doctor. There are many other methods that are used as well such as determining eligibility for special services, planning instruction, and placement in particular classrooms. Assessments can also be used for monitoring progress through an Individualized Education Plan or Individualized Family Service Plan, which are required by law for children with disabilities group (Dodge & Colker, 1992; Sanchez, Li, & Nuttall, 1995). Assessments can be an informal determination of any extra help that an individual child may need in the classroom (Wolery, 1994a). Observations and conversations with family members, as well as formal test information, can help the teacher build upon each child's strengths, regardless of whether the child is disabled, has a primary language other than English, or is from an ethnic-minority group (Dodge & Colker, 1992; Sanchez, Li, & Nuttall, 1995). This "advocacy orientation" can have positive results in empowering students (Cummins 1991).
Developmentally appropriate practice is "based on knowledge about how children develop and learn" (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1996). According to the Southern Regional Education Board (1994), a developmentally appropriate early childhood program focuses on a number of different skills a child should possess such as ongoing observation and assessment, which informs the program of a child's progress, and self-directed, hands-on learning activities balanced with teacher-directed activities which is a good way to keep a child engaged in the learning process. They are able to learn at their own speed with little direction from the teacher which is always good. Most children don't like to be told what to do all the time. So when you have hands on activities that they are able to do on their own, it gives the teacher a chance to observe and see what the child is capable of on their own.
Usually it is up to the teacher to make recommendations about a child's development and where they stand in their learning process. The teacher relies on three types of information and knowledge: what is known about child development and learning; what is known about the strengths, interests, and needs of each individual child in the group; and knowledge of the social and cultural context in which children live (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1996). In a diverse early childhood classroom it also allows for cultural sensitivity towards people that may not be like you and I.
Encouraging greater cultural sensitivity plays a big part in the developmentally appropriate practice in the classroom. Being able to use hands on teaching models in the classroom offer guidance that doesn't necessarily have to be facilitated by the teacher. With this type of instruction, it is states as follows," is automatically culture-fair in that all students are actively involved in expressing, sharing, and amplifying their experiences within the classroom" (Cummins, 1991). It is very crucial for children with developmental language challenges to experience the language emersion in the classroom because it provides an enriching any child can learn in on an individual basis environment (Cummins, 1991). Research shows that children with disabilities also benefit from this interactive or experiential approach because it emphasizes the child's engaged exploration (Cummins, 1991).
The developmentally suitable interactive approach allows teachers to familiarize themselves with the different classroom interactions that may go on to accommodate the many different cultural communication patterns within the classroom. Patterns include the role of eye contact in interacting with adults, the amount of time a student considers appropriate before responding, the type of sequence used in storytelling, and the sharing of information in a group (Villegas, 1991). Some cultures discourage calling attention to oneself and showing knowledge; children from this type of background may not participate verbally in classroom activities (Villegas, 1991). Teachers can help children in many different ways when it comes to cultural differences and disabilities. Teachers being able to identify and acknowledge the different cultural communication patterns, they are able to help the children feel more comfortable and confident in the classroom (McLaughlin, 1995).
Validating culture and the developmentally appropriate teaching style allows for teachers to work with the different ways that children acquire language, whether it is their first language or a second language. Children that learn a second language simultaneously with or successively to first-language acquisition, with or without code-switching, or inserting single items from one language into the other to make meaning clear (McLaughlin, 1995). Developing sensitivity to children's language use and acquisition helps teachers put into practice the viewpoint that bilingualism is an asset, not a deficit to be remedied (Gomez, 1991). "By validating the students' cultures and using communication patterns familiar to them, teachers provide a much richer and more effective approach to culturally sensitive instruction than by focusing on occasional celebrations of the history and traditions of different ethnic groups. Children will feel validated in the classroom if they are encouraged to acclimate gradually through daily affirmation of their learning styles and communication patterns" (McLaughlin, 1995).
Developmentally appropriate practice promotes naturalistic teaching strategies (Dodge & Colker, 1992). These different types of strategies that are integrated into the classroom allow for a child to reach their own personal goal within the classroom. It also allows for the teacher to interject when necessary without really disrupting the rest of the classroom. Immediate teacher intervention can improve the language skills of a student whose home language is not English (Dodge & Colker, 1992); it also can assist a disabled student in reaching developmental goals such as feeding oneself or asking appropriately for juice at snack time (Dodge & Colker, 1992). If students become prejudice in some way and actually display it in the classroom, it is imperative for the teacher to interject at the first sign and address the issue (Dodge & Colker, 1992).
Overall, language acquisition in young children in the classroom is imperative for any early childhood program. There needs to be more emphasis on the child's success with the disability or challenge. I believe all children can interact in one classroom setting and every child can learn from each other as well as the teacher. It is up to the teacher to make sure that the classroom environment is up to standards and making sure that he or she is also doing their job appropriate. Being able to use all your resources that are available to you is imperative when it comes to a diverse classroom. I think schools are afraid of the integration when it comes to children with disabilities when they should be more open to the fact that everyone might actually be able to learn something.