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

Kate Menken kmenken at gc.cuny.edu
Tue Jul 22 18:31:09 UTC 2008

I have just posted the following response to this blog entry in response to
Goldenberg's article:

I agree with you that this is a seminal article, and worth reading. A few
responses to your blog posting: First, the author is actually Claude
Goldenberg, not Claudine, and a man - he¹s a professor at Stanford

In answer to your question about why so many ELLs are US-Born: The majority
of ELLs are elementary students. Most of these students come from immigrant
households where a language other than English is spoken. Thus they had
limited or no exposure to English prior to arriving to school. However there
are also US-Born ELLs at the secondary level. I have just completed a study
of Œlong-term¹ ELLs together with a team at the Research Institute for the
Study of Language in an Urban Society at the CUNY Graduate Center, and we
found that the majority of US-born students in our sample had not actually
been in the US consistently. Rather, they had regularly moved back and forth
between the US and their country of origin. Of those educated mainly or
entirely in the US, we found that the students had not received the
opportunity to develop literacy skills or Œacademic English¹ in their native
language, which Goldenberg notes is critical for acquiring literacy in
English, because they had moved in and out of bilingual education, ESL and
mainstream classrooms (thus their schooling in this country has been
--Kate Menken

Kate Menken
Assistant Professor of Linguistics
Research Fellow, Research Institute for the Study of Language in Urban
Society, CUNY Graduate Center
    e-mail: kmenken at gc.cuny.edu
Queens College Department of Linguistics
    e-mail: kmenken at qc.cuny.edu
Website: http://web.gc.cuny.edu/Linguistics/people/menken
On 7/22/08 12:55 PM, "Harold Schiffman" <hfsclpp at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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.p
> df
> 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.
> http://compellingconversations.com/blog/?p=41

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