Ms. Berwick brilliantly observes that “newcomer English language learners (ELLs) with interrupted educations have distinct challenges—among them jumping into an upper grade with few formal school skills, living in households with unstable incomes, or coping with buried traumas—but in many ways, they mirror the future of classrooms in America.” With the ELL population steadily rising (nearly 1 in 10 U.S. students is an ELL) and with a substantial amount of those students of “limited English fluency immigrated here from outside the U.S.” (42%, according to Migration Policy Institute study), teachers may wonder how we can best serve this population.
To quell some of these fears, Ms. Berwick offers a few tangible solutions:
1. “Set high expectations”
Maria Santos, a director at the research group WestEd and co-chair of the Understanding Language project at Stanford University, states that “what traditionally has happened for ELLs in many systems is that they are not afforded or invited to participate.” It is important to continuously challenge ELLs, even if they do not seem to be at the same instructional level as the rest of the class. According to principal Julia Kessler, from San Francisco International High School, “If the student doesn’t have the language to read the New York Times article the rest of the class is reading, that doesn’t mean give them a children’s book.”
2. “Meet students halfway”
Ms. Berwick writes that when “high expectations [are met] with tailored instruction, new English learners can pick up both content and language skills with surprising speed.” She mentions a few hands-on applications of this; for example, a simple, yet practical application of meeting your students halfway could include “[using] T-charts and sentence stems to help students develop a strong thesis for an essay about the French Revolution [in history class].”
3. “Get them talking”
Principal Kessler believes that it is fairly easy for an ELL to “hide in the margins and get home and realize they spoke no English that day at school,” and so it is our job as educators to make sure ELLs speak in the classroom. Ms. Berwick took this advice to heart in her own classroom: “In a recent Saturday class, my colleagues and I put aside the flashcards and coursebooks, and instead give the students sample dialogues to help them write their own conversation scripts on a topic of choice.”
As members of TWIN-CS, we are constantly looking for ways to better engage ELLs in the classroom. Please comment below if you have any suggestions for classroom engagement!
-Melissa Hoppie, Graduate Student Researcher