Supporting the Young English Language Learner

AUTHOR: Aliza Rivera, Education Specialist – School Ready

As a former pre-K teacher I often struggled with meeting the needs of my English Language Learners (ELLs), mainly because I didn’t completely understand the resources provided to me. Over time, I came to the realization that while the curriculum and lesson planning that were provided offered guidance on what to teach and when to teach it, they very rarely offered practical methods for how to teach it, which is exactly what the job of curriculum/ lesson mapping and planning is supposed to do. More specifically, I wanted to teach in a way that allowed me to maximize instructional time to meet the needs of my students’ oral language development in their native language as well as provide relevant and purposeful learning opportunities that supported and fostered my students’ English language development. I decided that I would go back to basics and build upon the relationships already being successfully formed in our classroom community.  

As I reflected, I began to understand that planning the act of having conversations with students was going to be the successful foundation that both the student and I would need to establish risk taking behaviors.  By being very deliberate in my planning I could create a love of learning that would be experienced all year long in both their native language as well as their new language of English as well.

So with the end of school year goals in mind, I began to intentionally plan backward to find ways that would support my students’ oral language development and allow for students to express and communicate their own personal experiences in multiple of ways that included listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  Research has shown that students who are supported in both their native home languages (L1) and English (L2) have demonstrated increased cognitive, linguistic, and social emotional advantages (Bialystock 2008; Kuhl 2009)

Planning support for the young ELL should include:

  • Variety – I learned that students were more interested in learning a new language when the conversations occurred in different parts of the classroom, not always limiting those dialogues to one area of the classroom. By utilizing a variety of literature in different parts of the classroom like songs, chants and rhymes, students enthusiastically learn and remember new vocabulary words, classroom expectations and concepts.
  • Visual reinforcements – By adding additional environmental supports like photos and rubrics, students receive a message of which behaviors, appropriate conversations and interactions were expected of them.
  • Let them know why – When I planned for engaging in intentional and purposeful play with my students during center time, students were more likely to use new vocabulary words, phrases and sentence stems because they understood the purposes of instructional materials placed in centers.
  • Peer-to-peer learning – Actively encouraging cooperative play and planning instructional work for students to complete in pairs or triads makes students feel more comfortable with taking risks and practicing their listening and speaking skills with one another. They also learn that their classmates are another resource in helping them to learn material being taught as well as a source of problem solving support.
  • Integrate the home culture – By adding labeling and environmental print to the classroom environment, I was able to communicate to parents and students that I was honoring not only their home language but the idea that one day they were going to be bicultural, bilingual and most importantly bi-literate—able to successfully read, speak and write in both languages.

References

Bialystok, E. (2008). Cognitive Effects of Bilingualism Across the Lifespan. In H. Chan, H. Jacob, & E. Kapia (Eds.), BUCLD 32: Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development. Boston, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Magruder, E., Hayslip, W., Espinosa, L., & Matera, C. (2013, March 1). Many Languages, One Teacher: Supporting Language and Literacy Development for Dual Language Learners. Young Children, 8-12.

Kuhl, P. (2009). Early Language Acquisition: Neural Substrates and Theoretical Models. In The Cognitive Neurosciences (4th ed., pp. 837-854). Cambridge, MA: M.S. Gazzaniga.

 


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