Common Myths About ELL Students (page 3)
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
Myth: Providing accommodations for ELL students only benefits those students.
Reality: Research suggests that making mainstream classrooms more ELL-responsive will also make them more responsive to under-served learners generally. Many cognitive aspects of reading are common to both native speakers of English and ESL learners, though research shows that teachers should pay additional attention to background knowledge, interaction, and word use with ELLs. 6
Myth: Teaching ELLs means only focusing on vocabulary.
Reality: Students need to learn forms and structures of academic language, they need to understand the relationship between forms and meaning in written language, and they need opportunities to express complex meanings, even when their English language proficiency is limited. 7
1 Artiles, A. J., & Ortiz, A. A. (2002). English language learners with special education needs. McHenry, IL: Center for Applied Linguistics and Delta Systems Co.
2 Zehler, A. M., Fleischman, H. L., Hopstock, P.J., Stephenson, T. G., Pendzick, M. L., & Sapru, S. (2003). Descriptive study of services to LEP students and LEP students with disabilities, Volume 1A: Research Report. Development Associates, Inc. Retrieved May 29, 2007, from http://www.devassoc.com/reports.asp.
3 Harklau, L., Losey, K., & Siegal, M. (Eds). (1999). Generation 1.5 meets college composition: Issues in the teaching of writing to U.S.-educated learners of ESL. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Harklau, L. (2000). “From the ‘good kids’ to the ‘worst’”: Representations of English language learners across educational settings. TESOL Quarterly, 34:35-67.
Short & Fitzsimmons, 2007.
4 Saunders, W. J. & O’Brien, G. (2006). Oral language. In F. Genesee, K. Lindholm-Leary, W.M. Saunders, & D. Christian (Eds.), Educating English language learners: A synthesis of research evidence (pp. 2-63). New York: Cambridge University Press.
5 McCarthey, S.J., Garcia, G.E., Lopez-Velasquez, A.M., & Guo, S.H. (2004). Understanding contexts for English language learners. Research in the Teaching of English 38 (4): 351-394.
6 Garcia, G. E. (2000). Bilingual children’s reading. In M.L. Kamil, P.B. Mosenthal, & P.D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research, (Vol. 3, pp. 813-834). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Jimenez, R.T., Garcia, G. E., & Pearson, P.D. (1996). The reading strategies of bilingual Latina/o students who are successful English readers: Opportunities and obstacles. Reading Research Quarterly, 31(1): 90-112.
6 Meltzer, J., & Hamann, E. (2005). Meeting the literacy development needs of adolescent English language learners through content area learning; Part two: Focus on developing academic literacy habits and skills across the content areas. Providence: The Education Alliance.
7 Schleppegrell, M. J., & Go, A.L. (2007). Analyzing the writing of English learners: A functional approach. Language Arts 84 (6): 529-538.
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