As an Instructional coach for the English Language Learners (ELL) department, my position consists of assisting both teachers and students. One of my roles as an instructional coach is modeling effective strategies for teachers that work with ELL students. These strategies ensure that the curriculum is accessible to each student’s needs as they develop appropriate grade level content while acquiring academic English.
One of the most effective ways of assisting ELLs is that of facilitating the acquisition of English not in isolation but in combination with one of the curricular content areas. In order for these students to master age and grade level appropriate content standards they need to be able to access the same core curriculum and they must be able to acquire more than simple language skills: ELLs must acquire the needed academic language that will allow them to compete with the rest of the school population.
According to the Connecticut State Department of Education
The Condition of Education in Connecticut
report, the percentage of students who are racial/ethnic minorities continues to increase
. There has been a 44% increase in the number of ELLs enrolled in CT schools from 2000 to 2005
. English Language learners represent 5.3 percent of the whole student population. However, based on the
Connecticut’s Strategic School Profiles, Connecticut Education Facts
we observe that these percentages can be deceiving. This is due to the fact that the highest concentration of ELLs is located in urban areas, and often times attending a few neighborhood schools within those districts. According to the New Haven Public Schools 2005-2006 Strategic District School Profile
, the number of minority students being serviced is 89 percent, and 28.7 percent is identified with non-English as the home language (as compared with 12.6 percent statewide).
The challenge that ELLs or second language learners face is a daunting one in that in order for them to catch up to grade level norms, they must acquire the needed oral language and literacy skills at the same time they acquire the required grade level content knowledge. The acquisition of academic language proficiency is a long process that is literacy dependent. Hence, ELLs need to be able to read, write, and speak making use of academic language.
In the last few years there has been a shift in the way that we work with ELLs, which allows us to begin differentiating between English language proficiency, academic language proficiency, and academic achievement or content mastery
English language proficiency places ELLs along the language acquisition continuum from beginner to advanced and refers, in general terms, to the ability to speak, read, write and comprehend the English language. As ELLs progress through this continuum and meet the English language proficiency standards, they gain access to academic content standards. These language proficiency standards are to English as content areas standards are to academic achievement (the knowledge and skills of a specific content area). While the first meets the academic English language proficiency continuum, the later are the anchors for measuring academic achievement which is an indicator of conceptual development in that given content area
. It is at the intersection of language proficiency and academic achievement that academic language becomes the medium.
Much of the academic language is vocabulary bound. Students must not only be able to understand English syntactically and grammatically, but most importantly, ELLs need to be able to have access to highly specific content area vocabulary that will facilitate concept comprehension. Ten Important Words Plus
is an effective strategy for building word knowledge that is very appropriate for use within content areas.