Stragegies for Helping Ell Students

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Strategies for Helping ELL Students in a Palm Beach County Intensive Reading Classroom by
Rozanne Sonneborn

Within The School District of Palm Beach County, there is a diverse immigrant population. Although many of these students many be new to this country, the ESOL programs and strategies are not. For the past year, I have worked as a reading teacher at Lake Worth Middle School. According to the Gold Report, in 2011 the school reported a population comprised of 48% Hispanic, 36 % black, 11 % white, and 6% other. Unfortunately, these statistics are not further broken down to represent the large Mayan and Haitian population present at Lake Worth. Approximately 90% of the black population is Haitian and 20 percent of the Hispanic population is Guatemalan, speaking various Mayan languages, making parent contact nearly impossible, as there is only one Q’anjob’al, and Mam translator for the district. About 20 percent of my parents speak these languages.

In my classroom, approximately 90 percent of the students are classified as ELL, whom exited the sheltered ESOL classroom. Within this ELL population, approximately 60 percent are classified as ESE, making it quite the challenge to meet the needs of this population, especially as ESE strategists are not required to work in reading classrooms as reading is considered an elective at the middle school level. Funny, all of my students were forced to take reading, as they did not score a Level 3 on the FCAT. In fact most of my 12-14 year old sixth graders are reading at a second or third grade level at best. Words like damp and trousers are bewildering to these reluctant readers, as their English vocabularies are very limited. On a recent vocabulary test, approximately 85% of my students could not use these words correctly in cloze passages.

Compounding this problem, many of my students lack the motivation to learn, as they do not have sufficient role models to demonstrate the importance of education. Most of my students’ parents do not have jobs that require a particular level of education. It is very difficult to get these students to see the importance of an education and to get them to want to learn, in spite of the fact that their parents make little money. This creates deeper-rooted problems. For example, many of the students do not see how completing their high school education can help them. They see their parents, family members and people from the neighborhoods that do not have a high school education. This lack of motivation also leads to other problems such as the need to study. Most of the students in my class do not study, or for that matter know how to study. Approximately 20 percent of the students in my class, on average, study for unit tests. Many are not consistent in their homework completion.

In an effort to address the varying language and motivational needs of my students, I employ various ESOL strategies, including utilizing flexible, small skill groups; oral and reading strategies; technology and routines to scaffold instruction.

When students enter my classroom, they are required to complete a bellringer. This 10- minute warm up drill utilizes skills we have been working on in the classroom. For example, this week we were working on context clues and the student has to identify synonyms and antonyms to help determine an unknown word in a sentence.

According to Yvonne and David Freeman, professors in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Brownsville, and authors of Closing the Achievement Gap, How to Reach Limited Formal Schooling and Long-Term English Learners, “English learners benefit when teachers establish daily routines…When there is a classroom routine, English learners feel more relaxed because they know the kinds of activities they should be engaged in.”

My classroom is constructed around routine practices. Following the bellringer, the students spend thirty minutes in whole group instruction,...
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