Course Crafters

What Does Research Tell Us About Teaching Reading to English Language Learners?

By Suzanne Irujo, ELL Outlook™ Contributing Writer

As a classroom teacher, I was largely ignorant of, and definitely suspicious of, research. I believed that researchers could make their studies come out any way they wanted them to, and that a good teacher who reflected on her own teaching knew much more about how to be effective with her students than any researcher did. Later, as a university professor, I learned how important good research can be, and how difficult it is to do really good experimental research in a field such as education, where it is impossible to control all the variables.

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Teaching Math to English Language Learners: Can Research Help?

By Suzanne Irujo, ELL Outlook™ Contributing Writer

It seems almost unbelievable now, but many people in education used to think that mathematics classes in English would be easy for English language learners (ELLs) because math was less language-dependent than other subjects, as it dealt with numbers. When I was a bilingual teacher in the 1970s, it was routinely recommended that bilingual students be placed in math as their first mainstream subject. People really believed that math was nonverbal.

This belief was so pervasive that somebody had decided that the bilingual classes in my school system could learn math from nonverbal textbooks. These were programmed instruction texts that broke down calculations into their smallest parts and modeled each step for students to copy and then do on their own. They covered nothing but addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and most of my third- and fourth-grade students were so bored by the process that they never even made it to division.

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ELL Teacher Diary #1: Nagib Learns to Read

By Ámbar de Mejía, ELL Outlook™ Staff Writer

Ana had been absent for a week. Since she is almost always sick with some cold or another, I didn’t think much of it except to note that this time, her absence was longer than usual. Today I saw her during dismissal while I was standing in the hallway saying goodbye to the children and keeping my eye on the flow of traffic. “Walk, please!,” more of an order than a request, not that I’ll tell them that. Ana walked by me.

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ELL Teacher Diary #2: Nagib Moves On

By Ámbar de Mejía, ELL Outlook™ Staff Writer

January…
A few weeks ago, somebody said to Nagib, “You’re stupid. You had to repeat fifth grade! You don’t know anything!” When I heard about this, I did a slow burn. My adrenaline went up and down and up again. Touch one of my babies, will you? I fumed. We’ll see about that! Then I began to calm down and realized that part of the problem is that the kids in Nagib’s class think that he gets too much help from me. I’ve heard them complain, “He gets help on his tests.” They don’t understand his difficulties, nor do they realize that although his tests are modified and read aloud, we only read the tests but offer no additional help. I found an Arabic-English workbook with simple exercises. Hmmmm!

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Teacher Diary #3: A Chronicle Of a First-Time ELL Teacher

By Kristin Bair, ELL Outlook™ Contributing Writer

In January 2006, I visit the E. J. Harrington Elementary School in Lynn, Massachusetts, for the first time. Upon driving into the parking lot, I see that it is just as principal Joanne Roy described it when we spoke, back in the fall. Harrington is a big brick building surrounded by lots and lots of concrete. There are no trees and no playground, and as a first-time visitor, I find it nearly impossible to find the proper door for visitor entry. After I wander about for five or so minutes in the cold, a school employee points me in the right direction, up a flight of concrete steps that looks as if it had been built for Paul Bunyan, and across a concrete patio where Babe the Blue Ox could have easily stretched his legs. But despite the alienating exterior of the building, I quickly discover that inside is a warm, friendly, inviting school staffed by motivated teachers and full of bright, promising students.

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ELL Teacher Diary #4: Meet Danny

By Ámbar de Mejía, ELL Outlook™ Staff Writer

All names have been changed to protect the identity of the students.

Throughout my years as an ESL teacher, one of the recurring concerns expressed to me by mainstream teachers is that the difficulties experienced by students who take longer to acquire a functional knowledge of English might be due to a learning disability. We, as ESL teachers, must explain the levels of language acquisition to our mainstream teachers, even if briefly, and also provide them with a handout or a summary of the different level descriptors and expected outcomes or teaching strategies for each student, in order to minimize their misidentification as learning disabled when in fact the problem is learning new information in a new language. There are similarities between students who are going through the stages of English language learning and those who are actually experiencing language difficulties due to processing deficiencies, which brings me to my story.

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ELL Teacher Diary #5: Starting a New School Year

By Ámbar de Mejía, ELL Outlook™ Staff Writer

Thursday, August 30
The School Year Begins

August 27 was the first day of the school year for North Carolina schools with traditional school calendars. The week before found the teachers in workshops, school meetings, orientation, and classroom preparation. After looking at my things-to-do list, I have to ask, as all teachers ask, How in the world will we ever be ready to teach the children with so much paperwork and testing to get done? But we make it, we always do. Every day I have been scanning my new student list, checking student demographics, marking which ones come from our county, which ones from out of county, and which are out-of-state students. It seems as if this year, I will only have one newcomer student from out of the country, at least for now. But we know that can change at any moment!

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ELL Teacher Diary #6: What Do Teachers Think?

By Ámbar de Mejía, ELL Outlook™ Staff Writer

It was a dark and stormy night…
Actually, I can’t remember if it was day or night.

Suddenly, a shot rang out…
Not really: I was brewing coffee and roasting meat.

What really happens is that my brain works in overdrive while I am going about my chores—I mean housework, since it is my house and I ain’t no kid no more, so no more chores—but I digress, I digress, as always…

I was wondering about ESL teachers, what they face every day. Not just what I or my fellow ESL teachers in our county face, but what are ESL teachers in our state, or in other parts for that matter, facing day by day? What about NCLB (No Child Left Behind) and assessments, modifications, professional development, changes in our state assessments in both reading and math? What needs do other teachers have? What challenges are they facing? What professional development is needed? Are mainstream teachers being trained, too?

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What To Do With Only an Hour and a Half Week? That Depends

By Suzanne Irujo, ELL Outlook™ Contributing Writer

A reader sent in a question that will be familiar to anyone who has ever taught ESL in a pull-out situation (or in a push-in situation if it is not truly an integrated team-teaching model). She taught grades K through 5 in two different schools, and had an average of 45 minutes two times a week to spend with each class. She wanted to know if there was any advice I could give her about the most important things she should be doing with the limited time she had with her students.

Well, as with so many complex issues, the answer to her question is, “That depends.”

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Why Can’t Teachers Just Teach in a Way Kids Can Understand? Suggestions for Teaching Main Ideas

By Jeanette Gordon, ELL Outlook™ Contributing Writer

As an educational consultant, I am forever indebted to Miguel. The first time I met him was at a Summer Olympic-type athletic competition for migrant students. I was teaching high school ESL, and he was in the eighth grade. It was evident that he had been drinking alcohol before coming to the event, and it was even more evident that his teacher, at least a foot shorter than he was and somewhat intimidated, had just about had enough of him. She told me Miguel couldn’t read or write in Spanish or English and that his discipline was terrible. She advised that I refer him for special education right away because he was “worse” than his brother. I had his brother, a 20-year-old diagnosed as Educable Mentally Handicapped. After challenging adjustments for both of us, he was making exciting progress.

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