Teaching English Language Learners: What Seems to Work in American Public Schools

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Tue Jul 22 16:55:11 UTC 2008

Teaching English Language Learners: What Seems to Work in American
Public Schools

Do English language learners, or English as a Second language
students, learn better in sheltered programs? Should students receive
some instruction in their native language – and if so, for how long?
Are there clear differences to effectively write and speak fluently?

Teaching Language Learners: What the Research Does – and Does Not –
Say , a 19- page article published in American Educator attempts to
summarize current studies, detail the differences between studies, and
introduce a more nuanced language to a very passionate debate.
Claudine Goldenberg, the author, writes in a clear, accessible style –
and explains various bureaucratic jargon as she goes reviews the
material. This article, written for American public education teachers
in a union publication, deserves a large readership.

The article made numerous important points, including:

- the rapid growth of English Language Learners (ELL) students in
public schools;

- a majority of ELL students are actually born in the United States (Why????);

- smaller class sizes matter;

- some intensive instruction in the primary language, for an unknown
duration, helps improve target language abilities in writing;

- huge debate continues over best practices over duration and purpose
of primary language instruction;

- teaching English language learners from countries with low literacy
than teaching students who bring strong academic skills in their
native language (shock, shock!)

- written skills remain far below national standards, especially in high school;

- oral skills often lack written skills in ESL/ELL students;

- students have difficulty moving from intermediate oral skills to
achieving actual fluency;

- standard tests seldom test oral skills, leading to speaking skills
being somewhat neglected in ESL/ELL classrooms.

Personally, I found the first two pages a bit annoying with its
predictable complaints implying the impossibility of a second grader,
particularly an ELL second grader, learning everything that is
expected by state mandates. Yet when Goldenberg moved beyond the
predictable "union" frame "our impossible job" and actually starting
summarizing two major meta-studies of ELL practices, she provided a
balanced, informative, and level-headed article filled with
illuminating details.

As an adult educator, I also thought the article made a powerful
argument for a huge expansion and deepening of adult education
programs if a solid majority of ELL students are actually born in the
United States. Why should millions of children born and raised in the
United States be unable to speak English? If you believe that speaking
English helps students live in the United States and language and
culture are related, then this article provides a litany of troubling
details about the state of ELL instruction and public education
programs in general.

I strongly urge ELL and ESL instructors to read the long, ambitious,
and satisfying article. It may become a seminal work in MA programs
for ESL teachers, especially for people working in American public
schools. http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/american_educator/issues/summer08/goldenberg.pdf

This sometimes ugly debate over language policy will probably heat up
as McCain and Obama attempt to make distinctions in their immigration
and education policies. Perhaps this article will help clarify the
complicated issues that go beyond bumpersticker solutions.


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who
disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal. (H. Schiffman, Moderator)

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list