The Problem with ELD Instruction
Imagine being dropped in the middle of a foreign country where you don’t know the language. Now, imagine that you have been placed into a high school English class and the assignment is to analyze the metaphors in chapter 4 of The Grapes of Wrath. Except you don’t understand the words: metaphor, analyze, chapter, or The Grapes of Wrath. (The teacher keeps waving around a book when she says that last phrase, so you make a guess that it’s the title of the book.)
This is the frightening reality for millions of students across the US each day. English learners are dropped into a classroom and face the “daunting task of learning the academic curriculum and a new language concurrently” (CA DOE, 2006). And although EL students receive 30-45 minutes of English Language Development (ELD) instruction daily, the methods and curriculum used to promote the acquisition of the English language are not adequate. For instance, if an EL student doesn’t come to the US until the age of twelve or thirteen, they miss vital content like the alphabet, phonics, and sight words. ELs are taught greetings, colors, tools, numbers, and names for people. Then they are sent back to their English classroom to continue reading English literature and analyzing text that they cannot read because they have no knowledge of phonics. Some students who hail from Spanish-speaking countries can muddle through using similar cognates (which don’t always translate), but students who speak Vietnamese, Filipino, Mandarin, Arabic, Hmong, or a number of other languages cannot rely on cognates.
Changing ELD Instruction
After witnessing this struggle in classrooms across the US, DataWORKS Chief Researcher, Dr. Silvia Ybarra (an English learner herself) began developing a program that would take English learners back to the basics. Having entered the US from El Salvador in her teens, Dr. Ybarra has struggled most of her life with letter sounds, vowel patterns, and the proper pronunciation of words. So she was determined that with the program she developed, no matter what age students begin learning English, they would start with the alphabet, letter sounds, letter patterns, letter formation (handwriting), sight words, and vocabulary.
Learning to Read English
The program Dr. Ybarra developed is called, “Learning to Read English” because that is exactly what it is: A complete program to teach students of any age how to read in English. The program has many similarities to a traditional preschool or kindergarten program here in the US. Students learn the alphabet, and the letter sounds. They practice pronunciation, and they learn to write letters and words in English. The program has multiple levels of instruction for the most basic/emerging Els, to the more advanced/expanding students. It has also been adapted with realistic photos and more mature stories for ages 12 and up.
The Learning to Read English program is currently being piloted in schools in California and Australia. It has been met with great praise for the simplicity of the content and the new take on ELD instruction. For more information on the Learning to Read English program, or if you would like to begin using the program in the 2016-17 school year, please contact Dr. Ybarra at firstname.lastname@example.org