English Language Learners

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At the beginning of this school year, you may have discovered that there were one or more students in your class who did not grow up speaking English. They were raised in another country, or perhaps even in the United States, but where another language was primarily spoken at home. These students, who may not speak English at all or, at least, do not speak, understand, and write English with the same facility as their classmates, are commonly referred to as "limited English proficient" (LEP) or "English language learner" (ELL) students. If, in the past, you taught only native English-speaking students but now have some ELL students in your classroom, then you have joined a growing number of teachers who can no longer take for granted that all students speak English and share a common "American" cultural outlook. Your initial reaction may be, "What do I do?" You may be wondering how to handle the tasks of helping these students learn basic English language skills while completing your already packed list of objectives for the class as a whole. The purpose of this guide is to try to answer the question, "What do I do?" It offers perspectives, strategies, and suggestions to help you work with ELL students to improve their English while at the same time including them in content-area instruction in mathematics, science, social studies, and the other subjects that make up the school curriculum. Much of what is suggested is related to working within an active learning instructional model. You will find that working with your ELL students can provide a resource to your classroom, aid the learning process for all of your students, and improve language skills and cross-cultural understanding for the entire class. The English language learners in your classroom may be very different in their background, skills, and past experiences from the other students you are teaching. Some may have come to the U.S. from a country in which they attended school regularly and will bring with them literacy skills and content knowledge, although in another language. Other students may come with a history of survival within a war-torn country where there was no opportunity for consistent--or any--schooling. There will be differences in home background as well. Many will belong to very low-income families; the parents of some of these, however, may have been highly educated in their own country, and may have once held professional positions. The resources and the needs that the individual students bring are therefore often likely to be very different. The first step in answering the question "What do I do?", then, is to learn the answer to another question: "Who are they?" As for any of your students, understanding the skills, needs, and resources the students bring will help you to plan instructional goals and to build a classroom environment that will enhance learning for all of your students.

Although ELL students come from diverse backgrounds, they have several common needs. Certainly, they need to build their oral English skills. They also need to acquire reading and writing skills in English. And they must attempt to maintain a learning continuum in the content areas (e.g., mathematics, science, and social studies). Some ELL students will have other needs that will make the task of learning much more difficult. Some come from countries where schooling is very different. Some may have large gaps in their schooling while others may not have had any formal schooling and may lack important native language literacy skills that one would normally expect for students of their age. ELL students are also diverse in their economic backgrounds. Some may come from backgrounds where there are financial difficulties or health problems. These students may need support from health and social service agencies. Or, they may simply...
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