California Educator

February/March 2021

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W H E N S T U D E N T S W H O are learning English struggle in school, it can be especially difficult to figure out why — and how to help. There are plenty of "myths and misconceptions about services and supports" for English language learners (ELLs), writes Lydia Breiseth in an online article at Under- stood, leading schools to sometimes refer language learners for special education services when they don't need them. It's important to "know the facts behind these myths," she writes, so educators can "make changes that can result in better outcomes for students." Start by getting to know English learners in your class- room and becoming better informed about their needs. Breiseth recommends gathering important information about them — including strengths, challenges, and background experiences — to help determine how to support them as they progress through the stages of language acquisition. "ELLs bring unique skills, gifts and talents to the class- room," says Breiseth, director of Colorín Colorado, a resource for teachers and families of English learners. " They often have rich background experiences, dif- ferent perspectives, and the ability to navigate between multiple languages and cultures. They may also have sophisticated social-emotional skills, such as being tuned in to body language and tone of voice." As you get to know your English lan- guage learners, Breiseth recommends keeping the following three ideas in mind. 1. Silence is a natural and important component of language learning. "Many students who are starting the process of learning a new language go through a nonverbal or 'silent' period," Breiseth writes. The length of this interval depends on "the richness of the student's language instruction and interaction in the classroom," the student's confidence level, and "whether they're being encouraged to take risks" in the classroom. Language learners should be gently encouraged to steadily increase their talk time each week using strategies like "turn and talk," she advises. "English language learners in particular benefit from ample talk time," agrees high school ELA teacher Rosie Reid, a member of Mt. Diablo Education Association. " While it is possible to learn by listening, I've found that oral participation leads to greater gains in student literacy and engagement." Consider giving language learners questions ahead of time so they have time to prepare, and remember to speak slowly and add a few seconds after posing a question to give students time to think. 2. Students often understand you better than their language skills suggest. Language comprehension tends to develop faster than speech, and students might fully understand directions but not yet be able to respond fluently. This can create misunder- standing and frustration between students and teachers. Using visuals like graphic organizers can help English learners organize their thoughts and learning — and demon- strate to you that they are on the right track, even if their grasp of the language is still developing. Consider pairing pic- tures with important vocabulary words, or include them in assessments, or alongside printed directions to boost comprehension. 3. English learners need a rich, engaging environment. When English learners struggle, Breiseth says, there's a ten- dency to look to special education for individualized support and attention — but that's often a mistake. Instead, keep in mind that English learners need regular exposure to the "rich language environment and scaffolded support that matches their level of language proficiency." A special education placement may cut them off from an environment in which, given enough time and targeted support, they might thrive. This story originally appeared in Understood and Edutopia. Helping Your English Language Learners Tips to remember when ELL students struggle By Meghan Laslocky "English language learners in particular benefit from ample talk time." —Rosie Reid, Mt. Diablo Education Association Felicia Buitenwerf/Unsplash 47 F E B R U A R Y / M A R C H 2 0 21 T

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