Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Learning English vs. Learning in English--Skillful Balancing Act

Since more ELLs are being mainstreamed in greater numbers nowadays, teachers will not only need to make their content comprehensible to these students, but also develop their English skills.  Though this may appear to be an overwhelming challenge, it doesn't have to be. 

Contacting the English Language Coordinator is a must.  This person will able to provide some information on the English proficiency levels of the ELLs in class as well as offer some suggestions on possible teaching strategies which can be used with them. 

With background information in hand, the next step is to decide on what approaches can be used to insert language skills into the content delivery.  For example, if teaching science, teachers must teach ELLs to learn how to write lab reports.  Though this writing skill might be new to English only as well, the structure of written English is not.  For the ELL, recording details to use in a lab report will necessitate language support on several levels:   sentence structure/sentence frames, format of a lab report, use of academic/content vocabulary, access to highly visible models/examples of what lab reports should look like, etc.  Though lab partners may help in some areas, they are not substitutes for the teacher's input and facilitation.  Collaborative learning is to be encouraged, but teachers will also need evidence of individual mastery. 

Content instruction is probably the feature of instruction teachers feel most comfortable with.  They know their disciplines inside and out and can probably teach it blindfolded.  However, now there are ELLs in class so how is a teacher to make content accessible to this group of students?  Here are some suggestions based on my own experiences.  Find out what their learning styles are:  visual, kinesthetic, or auditory.  Remember that ELLs are people first with each one having a preferred learning style.  With this information, teachers can design multiple activities that will make content comprehensible through their learning style preference.  Another approach is the use of word walls and concept maps.  With vivid images tied to academic vocabulary plastered around the room, ELLs have vivid reminders of the meanings of key vocabulary.  Next, cornell notes for them to take notes on key information that they will be held responsible for in the lesson.  This is a skill that will also help them in college.  Teachers should also limit "must-know" vocabulary to 7-10 words a week and  use daily in a variety of formats.  Only in this way will ELLs be able to retain them over the long term.   One more strategy is to provide multiple opportunities for ELLs to verbally express their grasp of the content using complete sentences with key academic vocabulary. 

LEARNING IN ENGLISH  This article provides more insight in some of the problems ELLs face in trying to learn a new language along with learning in a new language.  There is great insight here on what the ELLs struggle with.

 STRATEGIES TO SUPPORT ELLS IN MAINSTREAM CLASSES  Here you will find more practical advice on meeting the academic needs of ELLs.   Notice the use of cognates for ELLs from romance language backgrounds.

LEARNING STYLES AND INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES   Here is an excellent refresher tool on student learning styles.  Include activities from all three styles and you will have a fully engaged classroom of ALL students:)




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