Students applying to the US, UK or Australia often do not have English as their first language. Hence classrooms in these countries are becoming increasingly diverse with increasing numbers of students whose primary language is not English.
Today these students are referred to as English Language Learners or just English Learners (EL). Support is provided in the foreign land for ELs, but local teachers are also responsible in aiding them with the right learning techniques and atmosphere for their English proficiency.
To adequately assist ELs in learning both content concepts and English simultaneously, all educators need to view themselves as language teachers. Here are 10 tips for supporting ELs in general education classrooms.
1. Know your students
Increase your understanding of who your students are, their backgrounds, and educational experiences. Understand how familiar they are with English and why it is important for them to learn English.
2. Be aware of their social and emotional needs
Understanding more about the students’ families and their needs is key. When ELs have siblings to care for afterschool, possibly live with extended family members or have jobs to help support their families, completing homework assignments will not take priority.
3. Understanding first and second language acquisition
Although courses about second language acquisition are not required as part of teacher education programmes, understanding the theories about language acquisition and the variables that contribute to language learning may help you reach your ELs more effectively.
4. Students need to SWRL every day
The domains of language acquisition – speaking, writing, reading and listening – need to be equally exercised across content areas daily. Assuring that students are using all domains of language acquisition to support their English language development is essential.
5. Increase your understanding of English language proficiency
Social English language proficiency and Academic English language proficiency are very different. A student may be more proficient in one but not the other. A student’s level of Academic English may be masked by a higher level of Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) compared to their Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP).
6. Know the language of your content
English has a number of polysemous words. Once a student learns and understands one meaning of a word, other meanings may not be apparent. Review their vocabulary list and how they comprehend the various meanings that may be associated with one word. For example, a “plot” of land in geography class versus the “plot” in a literature class. A “table” we sit at versus a multiplication “table.”
7. Use authentic visuals
These can be over- or under-utilised. Implement the use of authentic resources. For example, menus, bus schedules, post-cards, photographs and video clips can enhance student comprehension of complex content concepts.
8. Strategies that match language proficiency
Knowing the level of English language proficiency at which your students are functioning academically is vital in order to be able to scaffold appropriately. Not all strategies are appropriate for all levels of language learners. Knowing which scaffolds are most appropriate takes time but will support language learning more effectively.
9. Collaborate to celebrate
Seek support from other teachers who may teach ELs. Other educators, novice and veteran, may have suggestions and resources that support English language development and content concepts. Creating and sustaining professional learning communities that support ELs are vital for student success.