Gaining knowledge from informational texts is an essential academic skill. Yet for too many English Learners, this skill is not developed sufficiently and as they move from elementary into middle school, the reading gap becomes a knowledge gap. This doesn’t have to happen, researcher Ana Taboada Barber explains, if we support EL’s reading of informational texts by pairing motivation practices with explicit reading comprehension instruction.
This week on the Heinemann blog, we’re sharing a series on Language in the Classroom. The series was inspired by an article published by NPR on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, on the ways we teach English Learners in our country. While the NPR article was specific to English Learners, our hope is to use that as a jumping off point to broader topics of language instruction in the classroom. Each day this week we will feature articles, excerpts and insights directly from Heinemann authors and affiliates that further the conversation surrounding language diversity in the classroom, the challenges it presents, and what we know works.
Breaking the Cycle of Limiting English Learners' Potential
adapted from No More Low Expectations for English Learners.
By Julie Nora and Jana Echevarria
Too often English Learners (ELs)—the students in our schools who are in the process of learning English —are described by what they cannot do: they cannot speak English, they are not prepared for mainstream classrooms, they do not understand the culture of schools in the United States, their parents don’t speak English and cannot help them with their schoolwork, they do not do as well academically, and so on. Even the official term limited English proficient consigns these students’ academic identity into a negative label of diminished capacity. These feelings are only increased by standardized tests and teacher evaluation, and we become trapped in a cycle of limiting potential. Of course, there are real challenges in teaching English learners in a language they have not yet mastered. Teachers need to use a variety of strategies to scaffold instruction. Many teachers of ELs have good intentions but lack specific knowledge on the complexities of teaching grade-level contents and language. There are many well-intentioned teachers whose teaching practices unintentionally communicate low expectations and deny English learners access to the education we want for them and that they deserve. Keep in mind, we deny English learners access when we:
Gaining knowledge from informational texts is an essential academic skill. Yet for too many English Learners, this skill is not developed sufficiently and as they move from elementary into middle school, the reading gap becomes a knowledge gap. This doesn’t have to happen, researcher Ana Taboada Barber explains, if we support EL’s reading of informational texts by pairing motivation practices with explicit reading comprehension instruction. In this post, adapted from the introduction of Reading to Learn for ELs, author Ana Taboada Barber writes how learning English, for her, was about broadening her horizons.
Understanding the Comprehension Gap for English Learners
Written by Ana Taboada Barber
It is true that English is a second language for me and that I experience less certainty communicating in English than I do in my native language, Spanish. However, the label of an English Learner (EL) would not be entirely accurate. I didn’t begin learning English because I was an immigrant in an English-speaking country. Learning English was the result of my parents’ choice. My mother spoke English fluently and believed in its value as a lingua franca—a bridge language, a language spoken worldwide that makes communication possible among people who do not share their first language. For me, learning English was an enrichment activity, a way to broaden my horizons.
English Learners are seen through a deficit lens, particularly in mainstream classrooms in which teachers have little or no training in how to meet their needs. In No More Low Expectations for English Learners, esteemed EL researcher Jana Echevarría argues that teacher attitude affects student achievement, and describes what best practice methods for supporting ELs academic achievement look like. Julie Nora, an educator and advocate, offers strategies to provide the instructional supports ELs need for both language acquisition and content-area learning.
As our global economy increasingly demands a highly educated, bilingual and biliterate workforce, educators feel more compelled than ever to offer culturally and linguistically responsive education that speaks to these demands as well as the diversity of today’s student population. In Dual Language Education, Sonia Soltero provides a comprehensive view of what it takes to create well-designed, effective, sustainable dual language programs based on current dual language research and theory. Each chapter examines the pedagogical and organizational principles of dual language education, and the specific conditions necessary for their effective implementation. Vignettes from teachers, parents, and school leaders, illustrate the transformative power of dual language education to benefit all students.
In this blog, taken from Sonia’s introduction, she writes about how dual language education is not a passing fad, nor is it an experiment for schools.
Language is deeply involved in learning mathematics as students both communicate and think about their mathematical ideas. For all students—and English learners in particular—access means finding effective, authentic ways to make language clear and thinking visible so they can reason more, speak more, and write more in mathematics.
In today’s clip, Johannah Nikula, one of the authors of Mathematical Thinking and Communication, discusses the role of visual representations in supporting English learners, including how visual representations provide a support for developing language and the potential visual representations have to unearth student thinking for teachers to see.