Classrooms across the world are becoming increasingly diverse with increasing numbers of students whose primary home languages are not English.
In the USA, state-reported data estimated 10 percent of the US school-aged population (PreK-twelfth grade) as students identified as limited English proficient. Terms more widely accepted and used are English-Language Learners or simply English Learners (ELs).
By the way, that data is from 10 years ago, in 2009.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “The percentage of public school students in the United States who were English language learners (ELLs) was higher in fall 2015 (9.5 percent, or 4.8 million students) than in fall 2000 (8.1 percent, or 3.8 million students). In fall 2015, the percentage of public school students who were ELLs ranged from 1.0 percent in West Virginia to 21.0 percent in California.”
Students who are identified as English language learners (ELLs) can participate in language assistance programs to help ensure that they attain English proficiency and meet the same academic content and achievement standards that all students are expected to meet.
Participation in these types of programs can improve students’ English language proficiency, which in turn has been associated with improved educational outcomes.
The percentage of public school students in the United States who were ELLs was higher in fall 2015 (9.5 percent, or 4.8 million students) than in fall 2000 (8.1 percent, or 3.8 million students).
To adequately assist ELs in learning both content concepts and English simultaneously, all educators need to view themselves as language teachers.
Here are 10 tips for supporting ELs in general education classrooms.
1. Know your students
Learn more about who your students are. You need to know their backgrounds and educational experiences. Have your students been in US schools for several years? Were they educated in their country of origin? Are they literate (or not) in their native language? This information is important because it could help you to understand the educational needs of your students, and more importantly, suggest ways for you to help them achieve their potential.
2. Be aware of their social and emotional needs
Understanding more about the students’ families and their needs is crucial. For example, if your students have to take care of their brothers and sisters after school, or maybe live with extended family members or have part-time jobs to help support their families, completing your homework assignments will be impossible for them (unless they sleep less to do homework after they get off work at midnight).
3. Increase your understanding of first and second language acquisition
What works best? Read an article (or two). Read a book (or two). Observe your students. Hypothesize about what you aand your students are doing that is successful. Don’t be afraid to try activities that the experts say you shouldn’t.
Another good idea is to take a course on Second Language Acquisition. Always keep learning, because understanding the theories about language acquisition and the variables that contribute to language learning may help you reach your students effectively.
4. Develop all four skills: Speaking, Reading, Writing, & Listening
The domains of language acquisition, Speaking, Writing, Reading and Listening need to be equally exercised in all classes, not only your language class. Ensuring that students are using all four skills every day in every class will support their English language development.
5. Increase your knowledge of English language proficiency
What does it mean to be “proficient” in English? Academic English and Social English language proficiency are not the same. A student may be more proficient in one vs. the other. A student’s level of academic English may be masked by a higher level of Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) compared to their Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP).
What do I mean by this? In other words, a student may be able to easily recall orally the main events from their favorite movie but be unable to recall the main events that led up to the Second World War. Again, Academic English and Social English are not the same thing.
6. Know the “language” of your content
English has a huge amount of words that have more than one meaning. After a student learns and understands one meaning of a word, other meanings may be confusing. What can we do about this?
One suggestion is to review the vocabulary of your content area often and check that your students know the words and the multiple meanings associated with the words. For example, a “plot” of land in geography class versus the “plot” in a literature class. A “table” we sit at versus a multiplication “table.”
7. Understand what kind of language assessment your students must do
Language proficiency assessments vary from state to state, even from district to district. Find out when and how a student’s English language proficiency is assessed. Find out the results of those assessments. Using the results of formal and informal assessments can provide valuable information to help you plan lessons that support language acquisition and content knowledge simultaneously.
8. Use authentic (real-world) materials
Implement the use of authentic resources (realia). uFor instance: restaurant menus, bus schedules, postcards, photographs, music, songs and video clips can enhance student comprehension of complex content concepts.
9. Strategies that match language proficiency
Knowing the level of English language proficiency at which your students are functioning academically is vital in order to be able to scaffold appropriately. Not all strategies are appropriate for all levels of language learners. Knowing which scaffolds are most appropriate takes time but will support language learning more effectively.
Connect with other teachers who teach ELLs. Collaboration can be mutually rewarding and beneficial for our students. Other educators, novice and veteran, share their knowledge. They have suggestions and resources that support English language development and content concepts. Creating and sustaining professional learning networks (PLN) that support students and teachers are vital for success.