Wednesday, January 4, 2017

English Learners and The School System

A few months after finishing my master's degree, I enrolled in school once again to get an ESL certification. I've been working with ELL students for nearly six years, and I thought that obtaining the ESL Certification would enhance my teaching practices. As I read and participated in the class discussions with other students who are also educators, I realized that most of us have the same questions and concerns about teaching ELLs. After I had finished this particular class, I started thinking about the complexity of educating English Learners. One factor that seems to influence the ELL population and their academic development is the mismatch between them and the school system. This aspect needs to be addressed to be able to help our English Learners to narrow the gap between home and school. Research shows that many of the students in the US who perform poorly in school have been raised speaking, reading, and writing a non-English language or a variation of English that differs from the language that mainstream teachers use (Zwiers, 2014). Therefore, these students are behind academically in comparison to the mainstream students. It's important for teachers and school officials to understand that when an ELL speaks English with a friend during recess doesn't mean that they are academically ready to perform in a school setting. According to research, it takes two to three years for an ELL to acquire the language of social interaction, and six to seven years to learn Academic language (Cummins, 2001). At home, ELLs may speak English with siblings, neighbors, and friends but social English is not the type of English that is valued by schools, teachers, texts, and tests. English Learners have not had the same conversations or literacy experiences (including books and movies) that their mainstream middle-class peers have had (Zwiers, 2014). Therefore, the mismatch between home and school increases even more. How can we help to reduce the gap? We need to take the time to get to know our students. It's essential that we find ways for interaction and to get familiar with their cultural and academic background. Let's not assumed that ELLs would understand the schools' rules, procedures and strategies just because the rest of the class does. ELLs bring to school a wide range of ways of thinking, social experiences, and communication styles that differ from the established mainstream school culture (Edwards & Mercer, 1993). Once we have an understanding of our students' academic and social background, the teaching-learning process will take place by utilizing the right strategies ( a topic for my next blog). Let's keep in mind that for English Learners, the school setting is a large set of new situations, new language and several other new things to learn that could be overwhelming for them.

  Zwiers, J. (2014). Building academic language: Meeting common core standards across disciplines, grades 5-12 (2nd ed.). San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

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