Any person who has taken the requisite foreign language classes in high school can understand how difficult it is to learn a foreign language. But now imagine you are back in high school and you are also required to take English, math, science, and history all taught in that same foreign language!
That is what it is like for the 4.4 million English Learners in the United States today. These students require instruction in both language and content, and they are expected to compete academically with their native English-speaking counterparts. So, as a teacher, you might ask yourself, what can you do to help them be successful?
What do English Learners need?
To be successful, ELs need to learn grade-level content while also advancing their English to the level of a native English-speaker.
In order for this to happen, teachers need to provide effective lessons in English Language Development (ELD) as well as in the four main content areas (English, math, science, and history). That’s right. ELs should still be taught all of the same grade-level content that their English-speaking peers are exposed to, in addition to their ELD lessons. Teachers also need to make sure that they are using Content Access Strategies like slowing their rate of speech, using context clues, and providing accessible text for ELs. Finally, teachers need to practice supporting English Language Acquisition in all content areas by doing explicit vocabulary development, listening and speaking exercises, and reading and writing online casino opportunities, within the context of every lesson.
What Does it Look Like?
Good instruction for English-language learners is similar to good instruction for English-speaking students. In his 2008 book, Improving Achievement for English Learners: What the Research Tells Us, Claude Goldenberg says that the best evidence we have suggests that English-language learners learn much the same way as their non-English-learning peers, and that good instruction for students in general tends to be good instruction for English-language learners in particular. Even when taught in English, a language they are simultaneously learning to speak and to understand, English-language learners do well with instruction that is similar in important respects to what is effective instruction for non-English-learners. Just as their English-speaking peers do, ELL students benefit from:
- clear goals and learning objectives
- well-designed instruction
- active engagement and participation
- opportunities to practice, apply, and transfer new learning
- feedback on correct and incorrect responses
- periodic review and practice
- frequent assessments with re-teaching as needed
- opportunities to interact with other students in structured contexts
Existing studies suggest what is known about effective instruction, in general, ought to be the foundation of effective teaching for English Learners. But accommodations are needed when instructing these students in English.
Goldenberg lists some additional supports or accommodations, which have not yet been adequately validated by research, but which he insists have proven successful:
Supporting ELs in English-Only Settings
- Predictable and consistent classroom routines
- Graphic organizers to make relationships visually explicit
- Additional time and opportunities for practice
- Redundant information such as visual cues, pictures, and physical gestures
- Identifying, highlighting, and clarifying difficult words and passages
- Greatly emphasizing vocabulary development
- Consolidating text knowledge through summarizing and paraphrasing (teacher and students)
- Providing extra practice in reading words, sentences, and stories to build fluency
- Providing opportunities for extended interactions with teacher and peers
- Adjusting instruction (teacher vocabulary, rate of speech, sentence complexity, and expectation of student language production) to students’ oral English proficiency
- Targeting both content and English language objectives in every lesson
Providing English-language-development instruction and opportunities to extend oral English skills is critical for EL students. This places an increased burden on students and teachers alike, since every lesson should target both content and English-language development. It is essential for students to make rapid progress in their oral English skills if they are to enter the educational mainstream and derive maximum benefit from classroom instruction delivered in English.
Goldenberg, Claude. (2006). Improving Achievement for English-Learners: What the Research Tells Us. Education Week, 25 (43), 34-36.