Implementing Effective Strategies for English Language Learners - Part II

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 -- Shari Rios

Last month, I began a series, Putting Theory into Practice: Implementing Effective Strategies for English Language Learners

In Part I, we journeyed into the classroom of Mr. Boyd, and uncovered some effective strategies for teaching English Language Learners (ELLs). Mr. Boyd focused on Vocabulary, and ways to ensure his English Language Learners were able to access the academic vocabulary in this class.

Before we dive into a new strategy, let’s take a moment to reflect on the following:

As we all learn new information, we comprehend the information more quickly if it is tied to something familiar.

Let’s put this into the context of learning to read. Before we learn to read, we need to learn the alphabet. Once we learn the alphabet, we learn letter sounds. We begin to form simple words, then words with more complexity. After we learn words, we start to put words together and form sentences. We learned all of this in order to provide a foundation to learn to read. With this foundation, we have the skills needed to read more fluently, comprehend what we read, and apply the information as needed.

How can we take this same thought process and apply it to teaching concepts/topics/ideas, to our students?

For this offering, we continue our journey and meet Isaac, an ELL student, and Ms. Finch, a 7th Grade Texas history teacher.

Let’s enter the world of Isaac, an intermediate level English Language Learner, sitting in a Texas history class. In this traditional classroom setting, there are 35 students. In addition to Isaac, there are 10 other ELLs. Very often, the class has assignments consisting of reading from the textbook and answering questions at the end of the chapter. In addition, the students have to define key terms and use them in context to further understanding. Because Isaac is an ELL, his teacher, Ms. Finch, allows him additional time to complete assignments and come to tutorials. Isaac struggles with understanding the material, gets frustrated, and often gives up.

Ms. Finch wants to help Isaac comprehend the material, but knows the content is difficult, even for her native-English speakers. She needs to find additional avenues to help Isaac connect with the information in order to further his understanding.

One strategy Ms. Finch decides to implement is to provide background information, prior to introducing a new chapter or topic. Providing background knowledge, sometimes with native language support, allows ELLs to tie new information to something familiar. This helps students as they decode information; first trying to understand in their native language, and then transferring that understanding into English.

Ms. Finch searches for other texts and online resources to help introduce her class to the topic. She even finds a similar story in Isaac’s native language. Ms. Finch gives Isaac this story ahead of time and has him read it and relay back to her the main idea, and how the events in the story affected the country and impacted the lives of its citizens.

Ms. Finch decides she wants to provide context to the class prior to jumping into the chapter in the textbook. She passes out some articles and current events and has the class break into groups to read the articles and then share out to the class what they found. After the class shares this information, Ms. Finch leads them in a discussion on how the events impacted our state and country. In order to make this information culturally relevant, she relates these events to the events Isaac read about and the class discusses similarities and differences.

The class then starts reading the chapter in the textbook, and as they read and discuss, she continues to relate back to the prior readings, reinforce main ideas, and helps students makes connections between all of the material.

Throughout the course of instruction, Ms. Finch frequently assesses her students to ensure they comprehend the material. As an additional support for Isaac, she asks him to write down questions he has and allocates some time with him to ensure his questions are answered and his learning is on track.

Ms. Finch begins to see improvement in Isaac’s understanding, as well as the rest of her class. By providing some background information, she was able to give Isaac a frame-of-reference. As she introduced the topic in class, she also used various contexts, providing connections to the information in the textbook.

Ms. Finch continues to reflect on how to support her students. She determines that it in order for her ELL students to understand the content, she must also simultaneously support their language acquisition.

In this scenario, we followed Ms. Finch through the scaffolding process. By implementing some changes in her teaching strategies and delivery of the complex material, her students were better able to comprehend the information.

How can you apply the above strategy in your classroom?

Next month, we will continue this series and explore more ways to practically implement teaching strategies for your English Language Learners.

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