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Instructional Strategies that Support the Success of English Language Learners (page 3)

— State: Rhode Island Department of Education
Updated on Mar 13, 2010

Long-Term Action Options

Be aware of the options you have to best serve your population of English language learners

Both English as a Second Language (ESL) and bilingual programs are supported by the Department of Public Instruction. Know the difference between the methods of these two programs, and ensure that your school develops a program that best serves your students. ESL is the teaching of English and academic content to students who are ELL students. Bilingual education encompasses any of a number of approaches that use to varying degrees the language of the child and English in the teaching of academic content and literacy skills.

Ensure that teachers utilize a variety of student-centered methodologies with English language learners

Cooperative or small-group learning, thematic instruction, and integrated approaches to language arts enhance the context for learning for ELL students. Storytelling activities, for example, provide a wonderful vehicle to integrate English language learners into the classroom. Students can use drawings and actions to support the stories they tell in either English or their native language.

Encourage the use of content-based sheltered English methodologies in the classroom

Sheltered English instruction teaches language through content by contextualizing the English but maintaining the crucial academic content and concepts. Sheltered strategies will benefit not only second language learners, but also any student who is struggling with class material. The guiding principle for sheltering English is to keep the standards for academic content and skill development as high as possible while simplifying the language, making it more accessible to students. Beyond the obvious example of avoiding complex syntax and vocabulary, language simplification usually involves creating enhanced contexts in which language and content are presented. Teachers enhance context by providing visual props, hands-on learning experiences, drawings, pictures, graphic organizers, and small-group learning opportunities.

Utilize a balanced approach to literacy instruction

A balanced approach is just as important for ELL as it is for students with English as their primary language. This includes a combination of teaching techniques such as systematic and explicit reading instruction with consistent feedback, guided reading, teaching learning strategies, and free reading. A combination of both teacher-directed and experiential techniques may be used according to the student’s individual learning profile. Supplement these techniques with children’s picture books/storybooks, both in print versions and on tape. Audio-taped versions of children’s books are particularly helpful as second language learners can listen to the spoken English, follow the printed words, and use the pictures to facilitate meaning. Children’s storybooks are now available in CD-ROM versions that offer an audio component, good visual support, and bilingual versions. Such strategies should be used in conjunction with other bilingual/ESL strategies, not as the sole strategy for language acquisition.

Integrate a priori teaching into your supports for English language learners

A priori teaching requires support staff to stay at least a week ahead of regular classroom teachers, pre-teaching the most important concepts, language, and skills soon to be presented within the regular class. This bolsters student prior knowledge of the topics and the specific language needed to make sense of what is taught in the regular classroom. Teachers using a priori teaching utilize the same highly visual, hands-on methods described earlier but simply make sure they are preteaching what their students will need for the following week. This is far more effective than a “mop-up” model of helping students after they have already fallen behind. There is no question that a priori teaching requires careful collaboration and, often, significant restructuring of support services. For those who do it, however, the testimonials of increased academic comprehension are compelling.

Ensure that all staff members are receiving professional development directed at supporting the success of English language learners

It is important that all staff members receive training in language acquisition, cultural awareness, and instructional strategies for ELL students. Consider structuring professional development around strengthening educational staff in the following areas: student-centered instruction, content-based sheltered English instruction (e.g., Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach [CALLA] or Sheltered Instructional Observation Protocol [SIOP]), balanced literacy instruction, a priori teaching, and alternate assessments.

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