Many teachers are seeking ways to better help their English language learner students, who often have additional challenges to overcome. These students are learning English alongside all the content standards, and some have had their education disrupted by life transitions. The challenges that face them are many, but there are strategies to help them develop language and academic skills.
In her Fircrest Elementary School classroom, 7-year-old Yana Koroteyev is buried in books.
Her favorite, she says, pulling one from the stack on her desk, is “Elephant and Piggie,” a book series by Mo Willems. She flips quickly through an edition of the animal friends’ adventures, reading aloud as Elephant and Piggie prepare for a party.
“Party! Party! Party! Party!” she reads, running her fingers across the words on the page, giggling at the dancing animals.
As educators around the country know, the percentage of English language learners (ELLs) in U.S. schools is growing at a brisk clip. Recent figures show that ELLs make up close to 10 percent of the total student population — 4.6 million students by some estimates. With schools adding as many as 100,000 new English language learners each year, educators need to get strategic not only about the way they teach students, but about how they communicate to families as well. Parental involvement is one of the key drivers of student success, and research has shown that income level and ethnic background do not, by themselves, impact levels of family engagement.
High school English teacher Michael Godsey’s favorite work by William Shakespeare is Hamlet. But a few years ago, he stopped teaching his students about the centuries-old classic in favor of a story that was unfolding in the fall of 2014: Serial, the podcast.
The story of Adnan Syed, Hae Min Lee and the community at Woodlawn High School captivated podcast listeners around the world, including Godsey. The story was so engaging, he made listening to Serial in real time an assignment for his students and eventually made podcasts a regular part of his English class. He also teaches with episodes of This American Life, RadioLab and Serial Season 2 that cover subjects relevant to the lives of students.
New brain research shows that reading stories generates activity in the same regions of the brain for speakers of three different languages.
Ana Albir describes the development of a digital tool to help English learners in both mainstream and ESL classes
One of the most common arrangements for English language learners (ELLs) at schools in the U.S. is for them to take subject classes (e.g., math or science) in English, together with non-ELLs at grade level. ELLs are then pulled out of class for separate English language development (ELD) instruction. Existing software-based solutions are specific to ELD or ELA instruction and focus on targeting either foundational or linguistic requirements via computer-adaptive curricula.
Foundational and linguistic skills are essential for students. However, these challenges remain:
1/ Existing ELL tools are taught solely in a separate ELL class and receive support in a small portion of the day.
2/ Existing tools are curriculum dependent, leaving the majority of ELLs in core subject classes unsupported, to sink or swim.
3/ Existing tools do not incorporate the most recent best practices highlighted by the U.S. Department of Education, such as leveraging native-language proficiency (L1) to acquire English proficiency (L2).
They’ve lived inside barbed wire. They’ve fled genocide or other violence.
One student from the Middle East had lived through a kidnapping, while another experience the kidnapping and murder of a sibling. The child was killed while the family listened on the phone.
“School doesn’t matter after that,” said a teacher in the newly released Nebraska Loves Public Schools film “Seeds of Hope.” The film was screened at Chadron State College last week at the launch of Chadron High School’s strategic planning outreach.
It’s difficult to get a student to focus on math when they are still dealing with those types of trauma, another teacher pointed out in the film.