Adolescent English Language Learners

District Administration, May 2007 | Go to article overview

Adolescent English Language Learners


HELPING ENGLISH LANGUAGE Learners (ELLs) succeed and stay in school is a challenge faced by many schools and districts striving to achieve Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind act. This challenge becomes acute in secondary schools, where the emphasis shifts from learning basic literacy skills to applying those skills to learn academic content. Students who have not mastered English must perform "double the work of native English speakers," according to a 2007 report published by the Carnegie Corporation. The success--or failure--of ELLs can "count double" in AYP calculations, since a student classified as ELL may also belong to one or more other subgroups, such as an ethnic group, special education, or free and reduced-price lunch.

The 2007 Carnegie report, and a 2006 report published by the federally funded Center on Instruction, examines the research on educating adolescent ELLs. Both reports cite National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data from 2005 showing that, on the reading portion of NAEP, only 4 percent of eighth-grade ELLs and 20 percent of eighth-graders classified as "formerly ELL," scored at or above the proficient level.

Academic English

Many ELLs quickly develop verbal skills, but even those who have mastered "social English" may not readily comprehend "academic English," the kind of language they encounter in middle and high school textbooks. Most research says it takes three to seven years to master academic English.

Proficiency in academic language is "arguably the single most important determinant" of individual students' mastery of academic content, according to the Center on Instruction. The Center has identified several instructional elements that are especially important for adolescent immigrants who are new to U.S. schools.

Increased Educator Capacity

In most states, subject-area teachers have little or no training in developing literacy skills of adolescents, and even fewer have expertise in helping ELLs gain second-language literacy. These teachers need sustained, job-embedded professional development in helping ELLs understand not only course content but also the academic language used to teach the content. Math, for instance, has a vocabulary of its own. Most math teachers, however, have not been trained in adolescent literacy or ELL instruction. Those with such training gain an arsenal of instructional techniques that can help ELLs and native speakers, especially low-performing students. …

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