In Dr. Elena Izquierdo’s recent webinar, “Equity in Working with English Learners,” she explains some of the major “gaps” English learners (ELs) face in school and shares the ways that schools can reimagine how they teach ELs.
ELs make up about 9.4% of the student population in the U.S. and are one of the fastest-growing demographics in the country. However, according to the NAEP, ELs in fourth grade score 37 points lower than their peers in reading comprehension, while ELs in eighth grade score 43 points lower than their peers. EL students are lagging behind in what is called the “achievement gap.”
In a previous blog, Dr. Izquierdo shared what she sees as the main gaps that contribute to the achievement gap: the rigor gap, the resource gap, and the professional development gap. ELs spend most of their school time in integrated classes with native English speakers. Too often, these classes do not accommodate the specific needs of ELs, whether it is in regard to academics, technology, or teacher preparedness. So how can we as educators more equitably serve our ELs?
The key, according to Dr. Izquierdo, is in creating mindshifts—reconfiguring the way we view second-language acquisition and adapting our practices, policies, and resources to reflect it.
Optimal Classroom Contexts Expand Learning Possibilities for ELs
When teaching ELs, many educators believe that they should encourage their students to only use English in the classroom and to avoid using their native language(s). However, it’s important to utilize your students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds in the classroom. An important part of the learning experience is being able to make connections between past and present knowledge, and for ELs, most of their experiences aren’t in English or are from a different cultural background. Don’t be afraid to use “translanguaging”—using the native language as an example or a model—to help your students make better connections. When you demonstrate to your students that you value their native language and culture as much as you value them learning English and American culture, your students will feel they have more to contribute and will engage more in the classroom.
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