Author: Goldenberg, C.
Publisher: American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
Publication Date: 2008, Summer
Journal: American Educator
Journal Volume: 32(2)
Pages: 18-21, 44
Full text available online at: http://www.aft.org/newspubs/periodicals/ae/summer2008/index.cfm
Abstract (written by WestEd):
This article is a sidebar to the main article, “Teaching English Language Learners: What the Research Does—and Does Not—Say,” which summarizes the key findings of the reviews of the research on educating English learners by the National Literacy Panel and the Center for Research on Diversity, Education, and Excellence.
The reviews evaluated the following instructional modifications and found them to have varying degrees of support:
- Making text in English more comprehensible by using texts with content that is familiar to students: The National Literacy Panel found that when English learners read texts with more familiar material, for example, stories with themes and content from the students’ cultures, their comprehension improves. When teaching new content, teachers can teach a unit in which students read about a topic for several days or weeks.
- Building vocabulary in English: Preschool English learners benefited from a visual representation of concepts. Upper elementary English learners and English speakers gained facility with both vocabulary and reading comprehension from a vocabulary program that utilized proven strategies for English speakers and additional support tailored to English learners. No examples of research on secondary school students were provided.
- Using the primary language for support: In addition to utilizing the primary language for clarification and modification, a teacher can preview and review content in that language. Also, teaching students reading comprehension strategies in students’ primary language improved reading comprehension when students read in the second language. The article recommends contrastive analysis of sounds in the alphabet and of cognates but also acknowledges that the effect of cognate instruction is unknown.
- Supporting English learners in English-only settings: Utilizing strategies that have been proven to enable English speakers to understand text might promote English learners’ understanding of English-language texts. Targeting both content and English-language objectives in every lesson, as in the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) model, enabled students to make only very modest learning gains.
- Assessing knowledge and language separately: Assessments need to be linguistically appropriate so that they measure students’ content knowledge and not their facility with English. Although the research is hardly definitive, one review concludes that simplifying test items linguistically but keeping the content the same is an effective accommodation that should be used to prevent language limitations from unnecessarily sacrificing English learners’ test performance.
- Providing culturally accommodated instruction: This strategy has been found to be less effective in promoting learning gains than developing lessons with solid content and clearly structured instruction. Tailoring instruction to features of students’ home culture (for example, interaction styles) might make them feel more connected to their classrooms and therefore more highly engaged in classroom learning activities, but greater engagement cannot be equated with higher achievement.
- Promoting productive interaction among English learners and English speakers: English speakers must be grouped with English learners who know enough English to engage in meaningful communication and engage with the academic task. Tasks must be carefully designed to be instructionally meaningful and provide suitable opportunities for students to participate at their functional levels.
- Adding time: Although there no research has examined the effects of extra learning time on English learners, the article suggests that educators, policymakers, and researchers consider programs such as extended day, after school, extended year, summer school, and extra years to earn a diploma.