Welcome again to my blog, ALL CHILDREN ARE AEBLL. It’s back to school for the 2018-2019 year!
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is due to take full effect by mid school year. This means that NY state officials will be required to report English language proficiency and graduation rates to the U.S. Department of Education in order to receive funding. State accountability for English Language Learners (ELLs) will transfer from Title III to Title I, effectively including ELLs’ achievement along with all other students. In addition, with NYS’s adoption of the Next Generation standards, replacing the Common Core, the state will need to provide educators with additional guidance on ELLs.
Current statistics on ELLs in NY State are shocking: In 2017, the graduation rate for ELLs was just 27%, compared to a rate of 83% for non-ELLS. In terms of English Language Proficiency as determined by the NY State English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSESLAT), out of a total of just over 200,000 ELLs statewide, 22,720 (11.3%) are Long Term ELLs (LTELLs) – meaning they have been receiving ELL services for 7+ years, and have not been able to reach a commanding score on the NYSESLAT.
These statistics are unacceptable from a perspective of educational equity for all learners. Now more than ever, teachers need quality, in-depth training and support in integrating language and literacy into content.
So, I’ve decided I’m going to ‘blog’ my way through my introductory course, Linguistics for Teachers of Emergent Bilinguals to provide teachers with the information about language and literacy acquisition they need to support diverse groups of ELLs – including newcomers, SIFE, LTELLs, and ELLs with disabilities – in the classroom.
How do we acquire language as babies?
If we think about how babies acquire their home language, they begin by listening. In fact, they listen for almost a year before they start talking (although they do super cute things like gurgle, coo, laugh and cry)! This is the time that they acquire the sounds, stress, and intonation of their language (or, in the case of bilingual or multilingual families, languages!) and begin to parse the speech stream into meaningful chunks – words and phrases. By the time that baby goes to kindergarten, he or she will have had 5 years of oral language development before having to begin learning how to read and write at school!
Our emergent bilingual students go through much of the same process – they need time to hear English, connect the language to what they already know, and communicate before they can successfully start to read. That is why no matter what you are doing with your students, start by teaching it to them orally.
Oral language is the basis of literacy
A child’s first job in learning to read is to make sense of letters and words by applying their oral language to the task. As the child successfully sounds out the word cat for example, he or she makes a connection between the meaning of the word he or she already knows to the new letters on the page.
For emergent bilinguals, the task is trickier: they may have the decoding skills to sound out the word c-a-t, but they might not know what the word means. It’s not enough to put the text in front of them – you must build schema around the topic.
Strategies and activities that support oral language development
Watch me model schema-building through a concept mapping activity using a 3rd grade unit on the bullfrog and its habitat:
WAIT to put a text in front of them and give them a chance to hear you modeling fluent English and explicitly pointing out the academic vocabulary they will need to eventually access the text, scaffold their comprehension with visual images, videos, tactile objects, experiential activities like field trips, etc. Let them TALK about what they see, what they know about the topic, and what questions they might have.
Let them talk about it in their home language and start creating a bilingual graphic organizer by labeling images!
ELLs with disabilities?
Bring in tactile objects around your topic and let them see and feel the object! Let them point to images or objects to signal comprehension. Have them practice learning new vocabulary through repeating the word after you, spelling it or clapping out syllables, and labeling the image of the word’s meaning.
Students with advanced oral proficiency?
Even though advanced students still need oral language, they’re capable of integrating literacy into most tasks. In fact, they need more opportunities to link oral language and literacy. Have them come up with collaborative sentences/paragraphs about the topic based on their discussion. Make them find specific words and information in texts. Have them teach something to the class by giving a presentation.
Stay tuned for more! Comments or questions? Let’s discuss!
Roxanna Ledesma says
About students with advanced oral proficiency…I have a student who is currently reading at second grade level (K) and he doesn’t show that he has oral language at all. He does not participate in class, neither whole group, small group or one on one. I can’t figure out why he has the ability to read, decoding words and using many word solving strategies but he isn’t able to communicate with other people around or show that he is able to do anything else but read. How can I help him express his oral language since I know he can speak, he reads and comprehends but is only able to show it during one on one literacy assessment. He isn’t able or capable of integrating literacy into most tasks in spite of all the opportunities to link oral language and literacy to other areas.
Ingrid Heidrick says
Hi Roxanna, I know you that you teach 1st grade, so first of all, it’s wonderful that this student is reading ABOVE grade level. I am thinking there might be strong factors affecting his ability to participate orally – shyness, embarrassment, something going on at home, or perhaps even a learning disability or speech issue. It might also be that he has not had sufficient opportunity to communicate orally before being in your class. Oftentimes newcomer students go through what we call a Silent Period, in which they are acquiring the language passively (listening, reading, writing) but are not yet active participants. I would suggest pairing him with a student you know would be a good working partner (someone with good oral proficiency), and maybe letting them work together over a certain time period – perhaps he would become comfortable with this partner and start talking. He can also partner with you or another adult during group work. Maybe if he has a chance to just do small group or partner work around an oral language task – without any text in front of him – this will get him out of his shell. It would also be helpful to communicate with the other staff and his parents if possible to see what their observations have been. Do keep me posted on how he’s doing.