Key considerations for mainstream teachers of newcomer ELLs
Wednesday, November 05, 2014
Content-area specialist teachers new to English language learners (ELLs) might experience something of a shock the first time a student who speaks not a word of English is placed in the class.
Mainstream teachers should seek out high-quality professional development opportunities that focus on sheltering and differentiating instruction, understanding sociocultural and linguistic concepts, and learning the theoretical foundations of second language acquisition. They should also understand that the following notions must be at the forefront of planning and teaching newcomers:
Activity and interaction. It is vitally important for beginner ELLs to become involved, so teachers should incorporate kinesthetic activities to get students moving and engrossed in the learning. Total physical response (TPR), a strategy that has been around for many years, is a great way to get newcomers to show their comprehension and be a part of classroom activity.
Direct focus on language. There needs to be a strong, overt and palpable focus on language within the curriculum. Yes, the strategies used in working with ELLs are good teaching strategies, but the big difference in "just good teaching" and "good teaching for ELLs" is considering the language they need to know. As a result, it is important to work on including linguistic issues in the lessons. Using language objectives is a good way to incorporate this into the curriculum.
Vulnerability. Gain the trust of your ELLs. Know them individually. They may have come from a war-torn country or have immigrated without one or even both parents. Help them become at ease in your classroom. Consider a "biography-driven approach" that starts with a student's home language, culture and knowledge base. It is important to know not only the students' names, home countries, religions and prior schooling, but also their feelings, beliefs, aspirations and things that make them sad and happy, so as to tailor lessons appropriately and effectively.
Orchestrate your classroom well. Establish routines. Be sure all students understand the classroom rules, where equipment is, safety rules and daily routines. When students know where the things they need to use are in the classroom, and what to expect next, they will be more comfortable and more participatory.
Cultural relevance is critical in content teaching and assessment. Additionally, well-built background is of utmost importance for a student attempting to understand concepts in math, science, social studies or otherwise. It is vital to correct any cultural misconceptions that might affect a student's understanding. Take for example, the idea of miles per gallon and miles per hour in math. These concepts are similar, but can easily be confused as the same concept. Clarify issues such as this, and provide enough time for ELLs to understand.
Academics must be high quality and not watered down. It is easy to give beginner ELLs lower-level content or readings because it appears they are struggling, but be aware that it may be the language alone that challenges them. Wait time is a valuable tool in this instance that can be used so that the students have processing time. Often, students from other countries are at a higher level in mathematics and science, but simply need support to help them in understanding these concepts in English.
Translanguaging happens. ELLs need to use their first language, or L1, in school. It is natural, expected and useful for a language learner to shift between their L1 and their L2 (second language) as they are learning. Group the ELLs appropriately so that they can make use of their first language for understanding and bridge to the second language in learning.
Expectations must be high. ELLs can do more than you might think. Believe they can do anything they set their mind to, because they can. They just need appropriate scaffolding and support to get there.
Standards must be met. Whether your state or area uses the Common Core State Standards or has its own standards, ELLs must be held to high standards. Content standards and language standards are useful for learners as well as teachers. Incorporate them into the learning in planning, lesson execution and assessments.
In summary, mainstream teachers of newcomer ELLs must do a great deal. They must be ADVOCATES for their students. ELLs have tremendous potential, but need the support of educators who believe in them and will advocate for their needs and desires, so they can be as successful as possible.
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