Building Language = Building Learning

Who are our students?

In jumping back into culturally responsive teaching, I want to continue our conversation on who our targeted students are.  Before the holidays, we touched on our students of poverty, and how their brains are wired a little different for learning.

I want to move into our English Learners. The topic of English Learners (ELs) is very comprehensive, and we can’t group these students into one group. For the sake of organization and clarity, I will divide the next 3 blogs to these groups:

  1. ELs in general
  2. Newcomers
  3. Long-Term ELs

Each of these groups is unique in their own right, and it’s important to know which group your ELs fall into!

So let’s start with just some basic information about ELs.

English Learners are students who have another language besides English as their primary or first language. To give a little bit of background, when students enter school, they are given a Home Language Survey.  If the family puts down that any other language other than English is the language spoken at home, student are assessed linguistically.  If it is found that they are not fluent in English, students are placed into an ESL, Dual Language, or Bilingual program, depending on their age, language and what the district offers.

Now, each state has a slightly different way of exiting students from the program, but I think it’s pretty much a given that students will have to show fluency though some kind of linguistic, and possibly academic, assessment.

States have different ways to set the language expectations.  In Texas, we currently have the ELPS.  Many other states use WIDA.  These are a set of standards focused on building language proficiency.  

Here’s the deal: If you have English Learners, you need to have an understanding of the different expectations and proficiency levels. The language standards actually give us a guide as to what our students need to do, and the language descriptors by proficiency levels help us know where your students are and where they need to go.

Most of us didn’t go to school to learn about language proficiency and development, yet we have students sitting in our class that need to have language built intentionally!  For many of them, language is the number 1 reason they are not having academic success!

It is really important that your ELs are intentionally building their language. If not, they can hit a language plateau where building language becomes super difficult. 

So how do we build language intentionally?

Well, here are 2 steps:

  1. Plan for the students to read, write, listen and speak in every lesson
  2. Plan scaffolds during your first teach
    • Sentence frames
    • Visuals
    • Posted directions
    • Pre-taught vocabulary
    • Repetition

Scaffolds don’t dumb down the content, they provide supports that help the students get to the level of thinking necessary!

Here are some things to NOT do…

  1. Lecture only
  2. Have students copy notes word for word
  3. Dumb down material
  4. Give grade level tasks with no accommodations

Bottom line is that we need to know our kids, and then we need to be intentional with building language.  And here’s the great thing…when we build language, we build learning…FOR ALL KIDS!

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