Common Myths About ELL Students
Myth: Many ELLs have disabilities, which is why they are often overrepresented in special education.
Reality: While it is true that a disproportionate number of ELLs are represented in special education, placement rates vary with the size of the ELL population in each state and access to ELL programs. Studies find that current assessments that do not differentiate between disabilities and linguistic differences can lead to misdiagnosis of ELLs. Unfortunately, inappropriate placements in special education can limit the growth of ELLs without disabilities. Research suggests that ELLs with disabilities can learn, and early intervention can prevent academic failure. Inclusive environments that provide challenging rather than remedial instruction will be most effective. 1
Myth: Children learn a second language quickly and easily.
Reality: A variety of socio-cultural factors can affect language learning. ELL students might face additional challenges such as acclimating to a new culture and status that interfere with learning English. Given this, instructors should use culturally relevant materials to build on students’ linguistic and cultural resources, while teaching language through content and themes. Students should be encouraged to use native language strategically, and will be motivated by student-centered activities. Because English language learning is a recursive process, educators should integrate listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills into instruction from the start. 2
Myth: When an ELL student is able to speak English fluently, he or she has mastered it.
Reality: Some teachers may assume that students who have good oral English need no further support to succeed academically, but everyday oral language uses different rhetoric, structure, and vocabulary. Furthermore, research indicates that oral language should be systematicallyassessed with instruments that are academically oriented. 3
Myth: All ELL students learn English in the same way.
Reality: ELLs’ prior schooling, socio-economic position, content knowledge, and immigration status create variety in their learning processes.4 Some ELLs speak languages with English cognates, while others speak languages with little lexical similarity to English; this changes the nature of how students learn content-specific vocabulary. 5
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