Welcome to AEBLL! My name is Ingrid Heidrick and I’m a NYC-based educational consultant.
Since graduating with my doctorate in Linguistics from the Graduate Center, CUNY last May, I have spent this past year thinking about my professional career post-Ph.D. My area of specialization being vocabulary acquisition and bilingualism, I naturally have always been drawn to the issues surrounding our English Language Learners. I prefer to call them Emergent Bilinguals, because they come to school with a home language (and sometimes more than one language), not to mention rich life experiences that too often are untapped as a resource for learning.
I started out teaching English to adults, then entered academia where I have worked for years researching and learning about our city’s schools and its students, and meeting teachers, administrators, and students across New York. More recently, I have been working at the College of Staten Island in the TESOL program, teaching and supervising pre- and in-service teachers as they get ready to become teachers of English as a New Language (ENL).
I started looking for jobs and came across many interesting opportunities, but something was always holding me back. Quite simply, I realized that my life’s mission, both professionally and personally, is to advocate for Emergent Bilinguals and their teachers. That’s how I came up with the name Advocating for Emergent Bilinguals through Language and Literacy. It was only later that I realized I had a word acronym – AEBLL – that represents my core message:
All children are AEBLL.
This past year, I have been struck like never before by the crisis our Emergent Bilinguals and their teachers are in. Did you know that the graduation rate for ELLs in New York State is 27%? That’s a crisis.
The issues are well-known to those in the field of education: Currently, most ELLs attend schools in large, urban centers like NYC, with limited financial resources for programming and staff. Schools are overwhelmed by the sheer number of students needing to learn English and, at the same time, pass state tests. ELLs continue to fall further and further behind their non-ELL peers (and often their non-ELL peers need help too), and, after being pushed through the system year after year, many end up dropping out. With the population of Emergent Bilinguals continuing to grow (it is predicted that by 2030, ELLs will make up 40% of the nation’s public school students), the education of our Emergent Bilinguals is one of the biggest social justice issues of our time.
Let me tell you some of what I’ve seen happening in schools and classrooms across the city:
Scenario 1: An elementary school classroom with nearly 100% ELLs – from all different countries, speaking all different languages, with all different educational backgrounds, and all different English proficiencies. The classroom teacher is not trained in ENL, has not received adequate professional development, may or may not be supported by his or her administration, may or may not be collaborating with the ENL teacher, and is expected to have all students testing at grade level by the end of the school year.
Only the newest arrivals are being pulled out for ENL classes – students with more advanced proficiency as determined by the NYSESLAT (transitioning or expanding), who desperately need more targeted, individualized instruction to advance, are being overlooked due to the demands of servicing newcomers.
Scenario 2: A middle school where there is one ENL teacher for the entire school, who is servicing 90+ students.
Scenario 3: In elementary schools, young students arriving at ages 6, 7 and 8, who have never been to school in their home countries because the age of entry starts later, or because of their journey to the U.S., are being placed into the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grades with no flexibility in lower grade placement that would make their transition easier in terms of learning English, academic content, and taking tests.
Scenario 4: With no real guidance from the state as to what the ENL curriculum should comprise, teachers often plan lesson to lesson, with no concrete year-long language and literacy learning objectives. Then, in April and May, ENL instruction stops for two entire months to prepare students for the tests.
Scenario 5: Teachers are required to plan lessons around advanced Common Core skills like “making inferences” or “citing evidence from the text”, when in fact students, especially middle and high schoolers, need instruction in basic foundational literacy skills like decoding, and time to develop oral language and vocabulary around academic concepts. Teachers are not receiving adequate professional development on how to integrate language and literacy instruction into content instruction. Widely used curricula like ReadyGen and Teachers College only make it worse, as they require students to learn above grade level, and have not been designed for ELLs.
This is not OK. The research is there – we KNOW how to help Emergent Bilinguals succeed. As I go forward, I will try and blog about more specific research-related issues, with the goal of helping teachers help their students – please, stay tuned!
I would love to hear back from you. Please feel free to post comments on this blog.