Teaching strategies for English-language learners

iStock_000020536048XSmallTeaching strategies for English language learners continue to be controversial in American schools. Tracy Gray and Steve Fleischman from the American Institutes for Research point out that educators face the daily challenge of teaching a large and growing population of students for whom English is a second language.

About 12 percent of all K-12 students are considered English language learners, and projections indicate that this could increase to 50 percent in coming years. These scientists write that amid the conflicting claims, research has established a number of straightforward strategies that educators can use to meet the academic, linguistic and cultural needs of these students.

Students are a resource in classroom

In many cases, these strategies are simply extensions of approaches that work well with all students. A key to working successfully with this growing population, researchers say, is to see them as a resource in the classroom. They can provide alternate perspectives and opportunities to expose English speakers to other languages, cultures and belief systems.

The use of scaffolding strategies such as simplified language, teacher modeling, visual and graphic aids, and cooperative and hands-on learning have been shown to be particularly beneficial for English language learners. Gray and Fleischman urge teachers to speak simply and clearly, using short, complete sentences and avoiding slang, idioms or figures of speech. Using actions and illustrations helps these students comprehend verbal instructions.

Asking students to choose a correct answer from a list or to complete a sentence gives support to these students. Establishing strong relationships with families is particularly important for these students. Families need to be invited to participate in meaningful activities at school. Expectations need to be clearly explained to both students and their families. Translation of all written materials into native languages is necessary for families newly arrived in the country. Many translation resources are available on the Internet at no cost. In addition, schools should identify bilingual contacts in the school and community as well as foreign language instructors in local colleges who might be willing to provide translation support.
Local organizations such as intercultural institutes, social service agencies and state bar associations have translation and interpreter resources.

“Successful Strategies for English Language Learners,” Educational Leadership, December 2004/January 2005, Volume 62, Number 4, pp. 84-85.)

Published in ERN January 2005 Volume 18 Number 1

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