Teaching English Language Learners

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sun Jul 6 20:19:14 UTC 2008

Explorations in Learning

Notes on writing, teaching, and learning

Teaching English Language

American Educator has a 19-page article titled Teaching English
Language Learners: What the Research Does and Does Not Say (pdf) by
Claude Goldenberg, Professor of Education at Stanford University. The
article looks at the findings of two reviews of the research, one by
the National Literacy Panel and the other by the Center for Education,
Diversity, and Excellence. Here's an excerpt from the conclusion:

Although there are numerous areas in which there is insufficient
research to guide policy and practice, we can lay claim to some things
that matter for the education of ELLs. Chief among these is that 1)
teaching children to read in their primary language promotes reading
achievement in English; 2) in many important respects, what works for
learners in general also works for ELLs; and 3) teachers must make
instructional modifications when ELLs are taught in English, primarily
because of the students' language limitations.

Practically, what do these findings and conclusions mean? In spite of
the many gaps in what we know, the following is the sort of
instructional framework to which our current state of knowledge

If feasible, children should be taught reading in their primary
language. Primary language reading instruction a) develops first
language skills, b) promotes reading in English, and c) can be carried
out as children are also learning to read, and learning other academic
content, in English.
As needed, students should be helped to transfer what they know in
their first language to learning tasks presented in English; teachers
should not assume that transfer is automatic.
Teaching in the first and second languages can be approached
similarly. However, adjustments or modifications will be necessary,
probably for several years and at least for some students, until they
reach sufficient familiarity with academic English to permit them to
be successful in mainstream instruction; more complex learning might
require more instructional adjustments.
ELLs need intensive oral English language development (ELD),
especially vocabulary and academic English instruction. However, as
the sidebar on critical unanswered questions explains (see p. 12), we
have much to learn about what type of ELD instruction is most
beneficial. Effective ELD provides both explicit teaching of features
of English (such as syntax, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and
norms of social usage) and ample, meaningful opportunities to use
English—but we do not know whether there is an optimal balance between
the two (much less what it might be).
ELLs also need academic content instruction, just as all students do;
although ELD is crucial, it must be in addition to—not instead
of—instruction designed to promote content knowledge.

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