Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Topic: English Language Learners (ELLs)

10-second review: The authors highlight four misconceptions about teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) in mainstream classrooms. However, they suggest at least two techniques with which I have had experience.

Title: “Misconceptions about Teaching English-Language Learners.” C Harper and E deJong. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2004), 152-162. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary. The four misconceptions:

1. Exposure and interaction will result in English language learning. Just exposing students to English speakers does not teach English.

2. All ELLs learn English in the same way and at the same time.

3. God teaching for native speakers is good teaching for ELLs. The article, however, does suggest techniques that are good teaching, e.g., pre-teaching vocabulary and rewriting ELL students’ original writing.

4. Effective instruction means nonverbal support, i.e., visuals.

Comment: I think it would be fair to say of these misconceptions that they are “half right.” By themselves, they do not do a complete job of teaching ELLs English. However, they contribute to a complete program of English learning. What’s missing from mainstream teachers’ repertoire is a knowledge of how ELLs learn English. RayS.

The two techniques that the authors suggest:

1. Pre-teaching and discussing key terms before reading or lectures. “One technique that is helpful is supporting ELLs’ reading and learning in academic content areas is ‘front loading’ a lecture or assigned reading with activities that highlight key language.” Link related background knowledge and highlight key vocabulary. p. 157.

2. Rewriting the ELLs’ writing.

“In responding to ELLs’ journal writing, teachers can rephrase students’ errors to clarify ideas, provide input on the grammatical form, or suggest a more appropriate word or phrase….” p. 154.

Comment: Have the ELLs write in English for ten minutes (no more) at night as well as they can. The teacher on the following night rewrites to correct grammar, word choice, idioms, clarity and awkwardness directly on the students’ originals.

I’ve used this technique with native speakers of English with great success. Don’t just label the problem, rewrite it.

If students have questions about the changes, the teacher can explain. It’s important that the students rewrite the corrected version in order to compare the original version with the corrected version and to visualize the correct version in a clean copy. RayS.

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