It’s 1995. I am 7 years old. My first grade class is eagerly looking forward to the arrival of a new student: Data. She is from Mexico. Her family has just moved here and today will be her first day at school. She doesn’t speak any English, but we become fast friends. Soon she and I are both learning from each other. I can now count to 13 in Spanish, and she can greet friends and the teacher in English. As the year goes on Data gets better and better at using this new language. At first she was shy and soft spoken, but in time her personality shines through.
It’s 1999. New neighbors move in on my block. My family is having a yard-sale. The new neighbors stop by because they notice the kids playing in the yard. I play with the new children while our parents chat. They ask for us to play with them after school to help them learn English. They just arrived from Brazil and don’t know much yet. Mom and dad think playtime with friends is the best way for them to learn.
Now I am 13. I’m babysitting for a family down the street. They recently moved here from Italy. Again, the kids don’t speak English, and I am asked to help tutor them. The stories go on and on.
English Language Learners (ELLs) have been around me since I can remember. In today’s world, public education includes the nearly 5 million ELLs enrolled in US public schools as of 2004. Taking care of ELLs is very important. According to the National Education Association (NEA) Research, the category of English Language Learners is rapidly growing within the United States. With a large amount of students falling into the ELL category, teachers must be equipped with the necessary skills to care for these children and help them learn and flourish. According to NEA researcher Dennis McKeon 90% of ELL students did not finish high school in 2001 and only 18.7% of ELLs could read at or above the their grade level (McKeon, 2005). This is unacceptable.
The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) provides a concise visual representation of the percentage of ELL students enrolled within the US in the school year of 2012-13 as you can see in Figure 1:
One of the greatest challenges to integrating these students into the classroom is underprepared teachers In an articled titled Professional Development for General Education Teachers of English Language Learners the National Education Association (NEA) states:
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) prohibits ELLs from being
pulled out of core academic content instruction. Therefore, general education
teachers responsible for corecontent are also responsible for providing effective,
comprehensible instruction to ELLs. Although this requirement has been in place
since 2001, appropriate in-service professional development continues to lag
behind the needs of educators. (2011, p. 1)
Research done by the National Clearinghouse for English Acquisition indicates that in 2006 of the 279 teachers who were teaching ELLs within a given school district, “81.7% believed they did not have adequate training to work effectively with ELLs” (Ballantyne, 2008, p. 10). That is a staggering statistic. Another survey done in 2006 among 1,200+ teachers indicates that 57% would like “more information to work effectively with ELLs” (“Professional Development” 2011, p. 2). Creating more professional development opportunities for today’s teachers is a must.
Dorit Sasson, an English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor and writer for Edutopia.org, gives a few practical suggestions to Elementary teachers. She explains that teachers must have methods in place to include the ELL students in their classrooms. She gives suggestions like pre-testing ELL students in order to determine student knowledge and customize lessons so that they enjoy learning. She suggests limiting verbal, reading or writing assessments to 5-10 minutes. She then outlines an example of helping ELL students through a research program and how lower/middle/higher-performing ELLs can be expected to perform the task (Sasson, 2014).
In light of this information and my own personal experience working with ELLs, I believe that this area of professional development for teachers needs to be prioritized and promoted throughout school-districts nationwide.
Ballantyne, K. G., & Sanderman, A. R., & Levy, J. (2008). Educating English language learners: building teacher capacity [PDF file]. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for English Language Aquisition (2008), 10. Retrieved from
McKeon, D (2005, June). Research Talking Points on English Language Learners. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/13598.htm
National Educational Center for Education Statistics. (May, 2015). English language learners
[Table]. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgf.asp
Professional development for general education teachers of English language learners: an NEA policy brief (2011).[PDF file]. Washington, DC: NEA Quality School Programs and
Resources Department. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/PB32_ELL11.pdf
Sasson, D. (2014, December) Integrating ELL Students in General Education Classes.
Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/integrating-ells-general-education-classes-dorit-sasson