Answering the Call to Serve English Language Learners and Their Families: A Process-Oriented Approach for Diocesan and School Leaders

By Prater, Sedonna | Momentum, Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

Answering the Call to Serve English Language Learners and Their Families: A Process-Oriented Approach for Diocesan and School Leaders


Prater, Sedonna, Momentum


Since the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued their universal call to conversion Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity (2000), Catholic schools have responded by embracing students and their families from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The rich tapestry of ethnic heritages, traditions and languages has greatly enriched the Catholic school learning environment. For most Catholic school educators, welcoming these students into the classroom has been a seamless endeavor. However, providing an academic program to meet the needs of students whose home language is something other than English has presented some challenges.

This was certainly the case for the teachers in the Catholic .school where I served in 2003. Our pastor accepted the USCCB directive with resolute vigor by ensuring our school enrollment reflected the changing demographic of the parish. Within a short time, students whose native language was not English began gracing our classrooms. Our collective willingness in spirit and heartfelt hospitality were accompanied by a healthy measure of uncertainty and the essential question of how best to sene English language learners (ELs or ELLs). The validity of our concerns has been underscored by evidenced-based research. Within the three primary areas of teacher formation (i.e., initial preparation, certification and evaluation), about half of the teachers in the field have received no preparation or insufficient training in methods for teaching ELs (King & Mahaffie, 2016; Samson & Collins, 2012).

In the case of our school, eager faces in the classroom and hopeful expectations of families led to urgent, responsive action by school leaders. The resulting outcome was a systemic, inclusionary procedural handbook for Catholic school administrators and teachers serving ELs.

During the 15 years since, research in education and linguistics, as well as experiential insights from schools, have increased expertise in best practices for serving ELs. This article summarizes five key components Catholic school leaders can use in developing and implementing a procedural handbook to sene ELs.

ELs service delivery models

Schools have historically adopted one of three primary service delivery methods for English language instruction for ELs. Depending upon philosophy and available resources, the student either learned English as a second language (ESL) in a self-contained classroom with an ESL teacher, through bilingual education or structured immersion, or in an inclusionary model (France, Rivera, Lesaux, Kieffer & Rivera, 2006). Empirical evidence reveals dual language immersion, a model of instruction where content is taught in two languages at the same time, ensures higher cognitive and academic outcomes for ELs (Baxter, Abelein, & Harty, 2016; Kibler & Roman, 2013). Direct or explicit instruction in English facilitates learning, but evidence has also pointed to acceleration of language acquisition through meaningful, interactive, and genuine communication experiences in the mainstream classroom (Goldenberg, 2008). Both ESL pullout and bilingual programs require specialized expertise and resources often unavailable within the Catholic school. When a supportive and responsive framework within the school community is structured, the inclusionary model can be the most effective for Catholic school educators. The inclusionary model capitalizes on interactive instruction; learning is mediated through direct interaction with the teacher and other learners, with the greatest impact on ELs' overall academic success (Genesee, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian, 2005).

ELs in the regular classroom: inclusive education in the Catholic school

Reception and orientation procedures that ensure a welcoming and supportive atmosphere for new students and their families are an essential component to successful inclusionary practices. There are five process-oriented, preparatory steps Catholic school leaders should take prior to admission to ensure a successful experience in the Catholic school. …

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