Research-Based Recommendations for Effective ELL Instruction
Recommendations For Teachers
Present ELLs with challenging curricular content. Curricula should be organized around “big questions,” involve authentic reading and writing experiences, and provide textual choices as well as meaningful content for students. 1
Set high expectations for ELLs. ELLs will perform much better if placed according to academic achievement rather than language proficiency; placement in challenging classes with quality instruction will enable them to learn more. 2
Use technology effectively. Greater access to technology and computer-assisted learning can be effective in engaging ELLs’ motivation, developing writing and editing skills, and tapping into the collaborative potential of class websites and blogs. 3
Recognize socio-cultural factors. Awareness of students’ backgrounds, recognition of their prior literacy experiences, and knowledgeof the challenges and benefits that ELLs experience when learning a second language can enable teachers to be more effective. These challenges include: understanding implicit cultural knowledge and norms; developing metalinguistic awareness; learning to codeswitch and translate; dealing with political, cultural, and social dimensions of language status issues; negotiating disparities between home/community and school literacy practices. 4
Position native languages and home environments as resources. Teachers can help ELLs see their native languages and family cultures as resources that contribute to education rather than something to be overcome or cast aside. For example, research shows how students’ extracurricular composing develops ELLs’ abilities in text comprehension, collaboration with peers, and construction of a writerly identity. Teachers can use these techniques to reduce the distance between home and school, while helping ELLs to become more invested in school learning. 5
Teach ELLs in grades K–8 the basics of academic literacy. Focusing on content-specific and academic vocabulary, engaging students with class objectives, and encouraging them to write summaries of their learning, as recommended by models like Five Standards for Effective Pedagogy, Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA), and Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP), gives ELLs skills they can use in many academic subjects. 6 In addition, helping ELLs make connections between academic content and their own funds of knowledge about home and community literacies can help students see these knowledges as resources for building academic literacy.7
Teach ELLs in secondary school, like their K–8 peers, to simultaneously develop their skill with academic English and learn content in a variety of disciplines. Contexts of learning shift rapidly for ELLs in secondary school; on a daily basis they encounter several different teaching styles, varying tasks, multiple expectations, and a range of interaction styles. ELLs’ own socio-economic status, prior schooling, content knowledge, and immigration status also contribute to this variety. 8
Recognize the difference between ELLs and under-prepared students in higher education. Because first-year composition usually serves as a “gateway” course, it poses challenges for some college ESL students, including some who have attended U.S. high schools. ESL students who are new to the U.S. face the additional challenge of acclimating to a new culture and status at the same time they are learning English. 9 Conditions for their learning, especially in first-year composition, should include no more than 15 students per class, 10 and college instructors, as well as K–12 teachers, need to recognize students’ prior literacy experiences, provide connections to new learning, and give explicit instructions regarding expectations for work.
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