Identifying the English Language Learners
The teacher has come and the English Class has started. Everyone is excited about what they’ll be doing that day. They’ll be watching a movie based on the book they’re reading, The Velveteen Rabbit. Everyone is enjoying themselves and participating enthusiastically in the discussion, giving their two cents on when a toy becomes ‘real.’
All but a few kids sitting in the corner of the class are quiet and unsure about what is going on. They want to participate as it seems everyone is really enjoying themselves. However, they are unable to understand the basic plot of the story, let alone the nuances. They got stuck at the very first sentence and then got left behind.
Eventually, they fell so far behind that they didn’t even try to catch up. It’s a strong possibility that these are your English Language Learners or ELLs.
What are English Language Learners?
English Language Learners are a diverse group of students who come from non-English speaking households. They are trying to learn English and are trying to learn in English. This becomes a considerable challenge for them. They are unable to communicate fluently or learn effectively in English and have difficulty keeping up with their native English-speaking classmates.
They don’t learn differently than their classmates but they do have different academic, and social-emotional needs. Although many of them have developed basic communication social skills in English, they still struggle with academic language (language used in the classroom connected to learning and thinking peppered with technical words).
This disconnect can make classroom instruction difficult because they are still learning English.
Over 10 percent of students in the United States (more than 5 million kids) are ELLs, and the number is on the rise. ELLs are the fastest-growing student population in the country. It is estimated that by 2025, 25% of students could be ELLs.
Many people believe that ELLs exist in only some states, but that is not the case. There are ELLs present in schools in all 50 states, though their numbers are greater in states such as California, Arizona, Florida, Texas, New York, and Illinois.
The need of the hour is to bridge the gap between ELLs and non-ELLs. That is, however, a tough assignment for several reasons.
These students belong to families that often keep moving (especially in the case of students from migrant farmworker families) which attributes to the lack of consistent and effective language instruction. They often come from families with little to no formal education. This means that they have limited practice at home in developing and using their language skills.
They often have personal responsibilities during or outside school hours, which further takes away from their learning time. Also, English Language Learners are learning English in addition to their native language, which in itself is a challenge.
The Silver Lining
Now that you know the challenges of ELLs, it’s time to analyze what works in favor of someone trying to bridge this gap. Playing on these ELLs’ strengths and using the most effective strategies can prove to be crucial for their academic success.
A majority of the ELLs have strong literacy skills in their native language. They fall behind because they struggle with the medium of instruction. However, they often have strong academic skills and content area knowledge in their native language.
They often come from families that are strongly committed to their future and, therefore, have a strong interest in their education. Having to bear the burden of family responsibilities at an early age, these children often have high levels of personal responsibility, resilience, resourcefulness, and commitment to success.
What Can Schools Do?
Among other things, schools need to include methods for making materials comprehensible for ELLs and resources that will help educators learn more about effective, differentiated teaching strategies specifically addressing ELLs.
They need to promote a culture of diversity and inclusiveness. In this way, decision-makers should ensure that ELLs receive the ideal instruction to facilitate their English language development as well as their academic success.
To sum it up, working with ELLs can be full of challenges, but by consciously responding to the needs of the English Language Learners and adopting best practices and strategies consistently and effectively, they can be brought to par with their peers.
See this video to know some quick tips for teaching ELLs:
Encouraging students to use their native language to their advantage, and not considering it a drawback, is the first step in this direction. The teacher on their part, with minor alterations in the teaching methodology and just a little extra effort and attention, can transform the learning experience for the English Language Learner.
SplashLearn can help!
Fortunately, there are also a number of resources and websites out there like SplashLearn to help ELLs learn and master English faster. By regularly working on their phonics skills using the games available on SplashLearn, ELLs can learn how to sound out letters and read correctly right from the start. No more boring drills!
The reading and spelling games would help students spell and memorize vocabulary words and practice comprehension skills in English in a way that’s both fun and educational. It’s all about replacing their hesitation and fear and making English practice a fun and exciting experience for them! Game on!