English Language Learners In Our Schools
There has been a dramatic increase of non-native English speakers immigrating to the United States and it is changing the school-age population. The National Clearing-house for English Language Acquisition (NCELA) reported that from 1995-2005 the population of English Language Learners (ELLs) in public schools in the United States grew by more than 60%, while the general school-age population only grew by 3% (Karathanos, 2010). It is projected that the trend will continue and in 2030 an estimated 40% of the K-12 population will be English Language Learners (Karathanos, 2010).
Many acronyms are used to describe these students, as well as the programs and people that service them. Before I go on to talk about this ever-increasing population, I would be remiss not to fill you in on those acronyms.
ELL-English Language Learner (the student)
EL-English Learner (the student)
CLD-Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (the student)
LCD-Linguistically and Culturally Diverse (the student)
ESOL-English for Speakers of Other Languages (the program and professionals that service the student)
ESL-English as a Second Language (the student, program and professionals that service the student-somewhat outdated)
So, how do you teach these students when you likely have little or no language in common? First, remember that each one is an individual and brings her own experiences to the table, no matter the country she comes from or her age. Next, observe. What can she do? Find out her strengths and build on them. Use them to support her in her areas of challenge.
After a brief period of observation, these students need to have their English language skill set assessed; this should be done by a trained and certified ESOL professional. The instrument should be what the state mandates; WIDA’s ACCESS for ELLs is an example. Where do they stand in the four language domains; speaking, listening, reading, and writing? Find their strengths and their challenges so they can be helped academically.
Don’t forget to tap into their knowledge. ELLs come to our schools with their own set of experiences, generally very different from the mainstream native English-speaker. They can add so much to your classrooms and understanding of the world and other cultures.
Through observation, evaluation, and getting to know your ELLs, you will be able to assist them in attaining success both academically and socially.
By Debra A. St. Lawrence