A few ways to reach Long-Term ELs…

As we continue to look at our targeted students in culturally responsive teaching, we have to look at a population where the gap is growing significantly – our Long Term English Learners.

These are the students who have been in the US longer than 6 years, but haven’t exited the EL program, and there are all kinds of problems that come with this. I wrote a blog last year on this, but I wanted to revisit it, and added a few specific strategies.

I was discouraged today. And bored.  I sat in an ELA classroom of 11th graders, and was bored.  So were the kids.  They weren’t challenged.  They didn’t learn.  They weren’t disruptive.  But they were bored.  They were on their phones.  They were sleeping.  They were copying.  But they weren’t learning.

And then there was Jose.  He was the only English Learner in the class, and he was bored.  And unmotivated.  And copying. And listening to music on his headphones.  And the gap in his learning, both in language and academics, was growing.  I watched him shut down.  Then I watched him copy the notes off of his neighbor’s paper, turn it in, and probably earn a 100 for doing and learning NOTHING.

How do we stop this? While this problem runs deep, here are 3 ways to hit this problem head on…

  1. Engage – The learning must be on the student.  In a student-centered classroom, students carry the cognitive load.  The students are expected to inquire, struggle, and ultimately – learn! Here are some ideas!
    1. Ask good questions.
    1. Give wait time.
    1. Let the students work cooperatively (but with structure, so these students can’t hide – we’ll talk about some structures next week!)
    1. Make the content relevant – don’t rely on grades as the leverage point.
  • Be culturally responsive – Recognize where the English learner is coming from.  Know that each person was created with a brain to problem solve, but also created with a brain that avoids danger and uncomfortable situations at all cost.  If ELs are shutting down, acting out, or copying, they have moved into survival mode.  Teachers must create a culturally aware environment, focused on learning, and built on genuine relationships, in order to lower the affective filter of these students who have struggled for so long, and open up their brains to more learning –it’s what they’re made to do! Here’s some ideas on this:
    • Build an alliance with the student – create common goals, let them know each student is important to you (and not just their grade), get to know them as people
    • Build a tribe of family feel in your classroom. Give your students the opportunity to get to know each other and teach encouragement and empathy
  • Keep rigor high – when we understand that our brains are made to problem solve, and think on a higher level, we can design lessons that take students to that point. Although academic language still needs to be addressed through language accommodations and strategies that continue to build language, the cognitive level of rigor needs to remain high.  Students cannot fill their academic gaps if they are not required to think or learn.
    • Have clear learning objectives and ways to measure them.
    • Provide scaffolds to support the learning – checklists, anchor charts, word walls, sentence frames, chunked assignments
    • Teach vocabulary! Play games, teach word parts, and have the students interact with the words and use the words organically

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