Sunday, February 14, 2016

implementing quality schooling for ELLs

Ester J. de Jong authored a chapter, "From Models to Principles: Implementing Quality Schooling for ELLs," in the book, Best Practices in ELL Instruction, edited by Guofang Li and Patricia A. Edwards. In general, this book covers perspectives, strategies and issues related to ELLs. As is common with many books with chapters by separate authors, there is significant overlap in many chapters as the authors introduce ideas and background critical to their topic. This means that someone can pick up the book and read a chapter of interest without worrying about the rest of the text.

Two ideas struck me in this chapter. The first is that although we know that students learn English best when their native language is developed and utilized, we do not often use a student's first language (L1) in school. There are, of course many reasons for this. Some states have outlawed it. Although Spanish is the most common native non-English language, there are hundreds of languages spoken by our students. We might have a critical mass of Spanish but rarely do we have one in other languages, except in small communities where an ethnic group has flocked to en masse. We also do not have bilingual teachers in anything vaguely resembling abundance in this country. Further, many people do not value bilingualism or multilingualism. That all being said, we need to develop ways to educate students in culturally respectful ways that will enhance their language skills.

In my community there is, as one might expect, a significant Spanish population. There are bilingual programs in the city of Rochester. When I was an undergraduate, I did a practicum in one such classroom. I look back and wish I had more training in working with ELLs in school to help me be effective in that environment. Several students that I have run across recently, however, are of Ukrainian descent. In our community we have a Ukrainian church that sponsors a small school. They offer Saturday schooling for local community members where the language and culture are taught to children. In some ways this seems to be a good compromise for the community members. They can develop their home language and English in structured programs. There might only be one student in the school where I am currently providing support. It is logistically untenable to hire someone specifically to be a bilingual provider, but there is some opportunity to support learning outside of school that still values the L1.

The second idea that struck me was an approach called preview-view-review. In it the preview and review portions of the unit are done in L1 but the meat of the instruction is done in English. This approach would develop both languages and promote leveraging of background information from the native language and culture. They suggest finding texts in L1 that could be used. Sources could be commercial, teacher made or student made resources. Some internet sources of parallel texts are here, herehere and here. I could see using this idea at the lesson level as well. Start the day with a short reading passage or question that can be done in the native language. Continue on in English and have some closure piece done in the native language. This would enable development of both L1 and L2 (English), build on explicit instruction, and assist not only ELLs but all students as well.

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