How often do we sometimes have a student who fails every test, but comes to school everyday and never causes any problems? For ELLs, this is often the case. They never miss school, but struggle academically and are too embarrassed to ask for help. With dropout rates being so high in the US among this student population, schools are rightfully scrambling to discover ways to reverse this trend.
What can teachers do? Though they have no control outside the classroom, they do inside it. These students need to know that risk-taking is to be encouraged. After all, if it is not safe to offer an answer without risking ridicule, ELLs won't try. Don't forget that we are talking about mainstream classes with the majority of the students being native speakers of English. Students need to know that they are all part of a community where everyone helps anyone who needs it. When this is done consistently, ELLs feel it is safe to try.
Teachers also need to spend adequate time preparing ELLs for the planned lesson. Accessing prior knowledge is a big step here. If they have some experience that they can tie to the lesson a teacher delivers, they will get more from it and approach activities on that lesson with more confidence. If they are lacking in that background knowledge, teachers know "what holes need to be plugged." When all students are more or less on the same level, they all benefit from the lesson. How can teachers access prior knowledge? Whole class discussions where results are charted for the ELLs to access as needed in going through the lesson is a highly effective tool. Anticipation guides are also highly successful. Here teachers set up a serious of thought provoking YES/NO questions based on the upcoming lesson. Students may only answer Y or N. When they are done, teachers can do THINK-PAIR-SHARE activities to discuss the answers . Here the ELL is paired with a student who has more English. Students explain their choices. Since ELLs typically are stronger in oral skills than in reading and writing, this activity will do wonders to make the lesson accessible for the more demanding skillls of reading and writing. SCAFFOLDING is another approach where the teacher provides the ELL with various graphic organizers to put the meat of the lesson into a note-taking format that can be referred to as well as added onto throughout the lesson. One great tool for this is FREEOLOGY.COM. Here teachers will find many scaffolding tools for all grade levels. The time spent preparing them for the upcoming lesson is time well spent even if a teacher spends a bit more time here than planned.
As teachers proceed through the lesson, they must check for understanding or monitor student learning constantly. Often times in such settings, ELLs are more likely to ask for help when they know that their weaknesses won't be exposed to the entire class. This informal feedback also informs the teacher as to how well the content was understood. Small structured cooperative groups are a great tool to make content accessible as well. When the teacher selects the partners in such a setting, the teacher builds support into the group based on members selected. ELLs are frequently more at ease in asking a peer for help than the teacher. This type of support makes the academic task doable. When teachers take those crucial extra steps, they set the ELLs up to experience success with the assignment.
I have not talked about writing supports in this blog. I am working on some new ideas that I have been doing with my students that I think you will enjoy. I will be back on my blog Wednesday with the material.
Again, feel free to share:)