Teaching language learners takes implementing research-based best practices into the classroom. Strategies and methods that help students learn, practice and use their English skills in every subject throughout the day. English Language Development or ELD is used to help students learn English based on language standards from the state. Those standards include collaborative conversations, building on others answers, presenting and comprehension along with standards that align closely with literacy Common Core Standards.
Student levels are tiered based on their test scores and teacher input. These three proficiency levels are emerging, expanding and bridging. The proficiency levels help teachers understand the needs of the students and what to expect from their independent skills and aid to identify scaffolding methods/needs for student growth. These proficiency levels are not a full picture of student’s capabilities but do help us remember that our student’s social language can be more robust than their academic levels and that support is necessary for growth. If students do not receive adequate support for their needs their language progress may go stall, go backwards and/ or negatively affect their home language skills. Additionally, students who never progress out of ELD coursework and proficiency exams are known as long term English Learners,
“These long-term ELs have been schooled in the United States for six or more years but have not made sufficient linguistic and academic progress to meet redesignation criteria and exit English learner status. Fluent in social/conversational English but challenged by literacy tasks, particularly disciplinary literacy tasks, these students find it difficult to engage meaningfully in increasingly rigorousCalifornia ELD Standards, 2012
The goal of teachers is to help our students be the most prepared and able for opportunities that lay ahead of them. We do not want them to lose a language, we are adding not subtracting because two languages are better than one. This is especially close to my heart as my parents gave up on one of my languages and I don’t want that to happen for other children. Learning a new language is tough! Learning a new language in isolation is extremely tough!!! Let’s look at some ways we can help our students learn English both socially and academically in our classroom and tied to content.
ELD/EL Best Practices:
- Visuals (pictures, sketches, photographs)- If students see it they will more likely understand what you are trying to say or teach, We can’t go everywhere on a field trip but pictures help to expand the world to your students and increase their knowledge and vocabulary, Example Show a picture, Say and repeat the name of the item in the picture, add a label, use a sentence frame for speaking and writing.
- Class/ Teacher made Charts/ Graphic Organizers- Make posters to teach adding titles, pictures, labels, facts, sketches see GLAD/SEAL for more information. These are to stay up and are used for reference so students can easily find the information they need.
- Sentence Frames/ Starters Help students organize their thoughts, give them the frames to put into their vocabulary and they will feel more successful. This is a scaffold so their is a gradual release needed or all your students will sound and write like robots for the whole year.
- Preview/Review/ Practice/Practice/Practice
- Choral Response- repeat after me, say it with me, say it together. Students with different sounds in their native languages need practice making the sounds (phonemes) that are produced in English. My name is not the same coming out of the mouth of my Azorean grandmothers’ as it is from my English speaking in-laws. We need to hear and practice speaking over and over again as we learn languages.
- Wait Time/ Think Time.
- Connect Language Skills in all Content- teaching in isolation doesn’t help us connect what we are learning abstractly to the real world. Students need to see, hear, touch, taste and smell (if possible) what they are learning. I taught a group of Silicon Valley kids about the subway system in NY- that was a waste of time and added frustration for what?! My poor students didn’t get much out of those boxed lessons until I made local connects to things they could see in their real world. What a difference! Language should be connected!
- TPR Total Physical Response see: https://www.tpr-world.com/mwhat-is-tpr.html and https://www.ef.com/wwen/blog/teacherzone/total-physical-response-efl-classroom/ Total Physical Response or movement helps students connect the meaning with a movement and that muscle memory helps us to make connections and working memory for later use.
- Games/Cooperative Work/ Hands on Learning – these promote low affect filter so students don’t feel scared to make mistakes and try out their English skills. Also games are fun! When learning is fun is it really learning? YES!!!
- Cognates– adding in words that are similar in student’s home language can help make language connections and see similarities. Cognates are words that look and sound similar with the same meaning as the English version.
- Incorporating cultural aspects and viewpoints on learning and behaviors/ Cultural Dimensions- the more you know about your student’s background the more you can incorporate that into their learning and your lessons plans.
- Model (You do, We do, They do) or watch a sample ahead of time so students know what to expect. When students guess at what you want chances are you won’t get what you think you are asking for from your students.
- Readers/ Writer’s Workshop- this helps build vocabulary both academic and social as well as adding idioms to their vocabulary and meaning. Writer’s Workshop also allows students to rewrite get specific feedback on their writing.
- Explicit Instruction- don’t leave students guessing. Let them know what you are teaching and why you are teaching it and what you expect from them and give them the tools to get it done.
There are really many best practices. The above best practices can be used in all curriculum/ subject matter. I have my students respond in complete sentences. That means they start with sentence starters/ frames to help put their words in order and give me a complete thought. This also means that I have to help students be successful, after we work out the sentence they say it again without my support. This activity is simple but can take time. I let students know why I am asking for complete sentences, keep my expectation high and have scaffolds in place like sentence frames, practice with them, and allow students to get help and make mistakes- space and time. But, I don’t correct the students in their social conversations. They need room to explore and practice their skills with a low effective filter
Connect strategies to your students real content, life, and world so learning is meaningful. Give students the space and time to practice, make mistakes, reteach, practice again and so on. And remember we learned language first by listening and mimicking, it is important that students listen and speak the academic language you are wanting them to learn.
Irby, J., Lara-Alecio, R., Tong, F., Guerrero, CA., Sutton-Jones, K., Abdelrahman, N., (2018). Implementation of Research-based ESL Strategies with Lower Grade
Middle School ELLs in the Science Classroom: Findings from an
Experimental Study. Volume 22. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1178995.pdf