Professional Discussion Paper English Language Learners: The Essential Guide Amy Fornecker ELD 308 November 8th

, 2011

“The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2030, nearly forty percent of the school-age population will speak a language other than English at home” (5). As an English language learner myself, I was thrilled to begin reading the book English Language Learners: The Essential Guide by David and Yvonne Freeman. When I came across the abovementioned quote at the beginning of the book’s introduction, I was quickly made aware of the immediacy of the problem of improving education for the vastly growing population of American student’s beginning school with English as their second language. I was immediately inspired to discover how I could apply what I have learned from this book to make a difference in the life of English language learners that would one day be my students. This book provides the reader with an understanding of what is wrong today in education for English language learners, as well as an informative and comprehensive explanation of how we can work to improve the learning of English language learners in the future. I was captivated throughout the entire book, and each chapter presented new ideas, and provided examples of how I could one day implement these ideas into my own classroom. Throughout reading this book, five important principals, that will be discussed throughout this paper, stood out in my mind: Understanding the many types of English language learners, the importance of acquiring academic English instead of merely a conversational understanding, importance of teaching language through content instruction, organizing curriculum around big questions, and using language as a resource. “English language learners vary a great deal, and in order to teach them well, it is critically important to know who they are, where they have come from, and

what strengths they bring with them to the classroom” (12). A vital step in knowing your ELL students is to understand their educational background. Although I entered school as an ELL, I never considered that I might one day have a student in my classroom that has never experienced formal schooling. Chapter one has provided me with new insight into what I can expect to see as an elementary school teacher in the United States. For example, students in our country come to school with a background of adequate formal schooling, no formal schooling at all, and limited and interrupted schooling. In addition, it is important for all novice teachers to understand that some students are long-term English learners, while others may have no one in their home that speaks English. Another important principal emphasized throughout this book is the idea that ELL’s must first gain an academic understanding of the English language before they can develop conversational English. “After all, tests in science, social studies, math, or language arts use academic English, not basic communicative skills in English” (36). We must change the direction of teaching English language learners. For example, we must shift from first teaching English grammar, to beginning instruction with forming the ability to understand, speak, write, or read in English. Following the aforementioned idea further, the second principal that I found noteworthy was the belief that we must teach a second language through content instruction. Figure 2.4 on page 51 of the text summarizes why the concept of teaching a second language through content is vital to the success of all ELL’s. A few examples of why I found the ideas presented in this chart to be important is because it saves time, forces the students to apply their understanding in a meaningful

context, and it increases their motivation to learn because they are encouraged to talk, read, and write about the content they are learning. In addition, I believe we must limit the amount of content we teach ELL’s in order for it to be meaningful and comprehensible for them, and one way we can ensure that this happens is by asking teachers to teach a second language through academic content. The idea I found most inspiring throughout reading this book was the importance of organizing curriculum around big questions. These questions must be “complex and multifaceted,” such as “how does the weather affect our lives?” (6768). I believe this principal will influence my teaching significantly, because it is applicable in all educational settings. Organizing your curriculum around big questions is helpful to all types of students, because it focuses student’s attention on one idea, or “question worth investigating” (67), throughout the entire day. Consequently, the material being taught is more comprehensible because all content areas are interrelated. Lastly, many students become distracted in the shuffle between subjects, and this approach to education limits the confusion attributable to the shift between content areas throughout the day. Therefore, students are more engaged, successful, and focused. The last principal I found paramount to the education of English language learners was the importance of using language as a resource inside and outside of the classroom. In order to motivate ELL’s in school, it is imperative that they understand that they possess a valuable talent, and education should be formed accordingly. For example, ELL’s should be encouraged to read books in their primary language, tutor students who share their first language, write to a pen-pal

in their native language, have a classroom library rich with bilingual books, publish stories written in their first language, and much more. Knowing a second language is incredibly valuable in today’s society; therefore ELL’s should be encouraged to be proud of the skill they possess. When I was an elementary school student it was often encouraged that parents of English language learners fully immerse their child into the second language, resulting in a complete loss of their primary language. I firmly believe that this is not an effective strategy for ELL students, and it is evident that the authors of this book do not as well. In summation, throughout reading this book I have learned that it is vital that educator’s throughout our country restructure their current approach to second language acquisition. Research has proven that the methods we are currently employing for teaching ELL’s are ineffective and result in a lack of motivation in school. It is imperative that teachers implement and apply their understanding of the various types of English language learners, teach academic English, teach language through content, organize their curriculum around big questions, and use language as a resource in their classrooms in order to provide the appropriate education for English language learners.