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Welcome to Learning the Language


Welcome to Learning the Language, a new blog at about immigrant children in U.S. schools and the teachers and policymakers who help them to learn English.

I started working for Education Week more than nine years ago writing about school technology. But I soon realized that I really wanted to be the reporter who wrote about immigrant students. I wanted to travel to pockets of the country and learn about people from interesting parts of the world.

Seven years ago I got the beat I wanted, and I've had a blast with the cross-cultural experiences that it has given me. I've reported on Somali refugee teenagers in Columbus, Ohio, schools; Ukrainian Pentecostals in Harrisonburg, Va., schools; Mexicans in the Senath-Hornerville school district in the "boot heel" of Missouri; and recently, Hmong in St. Paul Schools. I've visited mosques, tasted Hmong egg rolls, shared a meal seated on the living room floor with a Kurdish family, and dropped in on a quinceañera (a 15th birthday celebration for a Mexican girl). This is all in the United States.

But I didn't forget that I work for a newspaper about education policy. I've also written about how voters in Arizona and Massachusetts approved ballot measures to curtail bilingual education, and lots of articles about new requirements for English-language learners under the No Child Left Behind Act. A couple of times, I compiled 50-state charts about the progress of states in meeting those requirements.

It's taken me a while to realize how much state and federal policy affects English-language learners at the classroom level, but I have seen the light. Otherwise, I wouldn't have just written four articles in a row for Education Week about testing.

In this blog, look for insight about some of the interesting groups of immigrant students in schools, such as the thousands of Meskhetian Turks from Russia who have recently resettled in this country, and new developments in education policy concerning English-learners.

Please, also, let me know what's going on in your schools. What have you learned about the culture of a group of immigrants who has come to your school? What kind of training do you think teachers need to work well with English-language learners? What methods have you found to be effective? What are the biggest challenges your school or state faces in improving schooling for English-language learners? You can reach me by e-mail at [email protected]


Congratulations, Mary Ann! Thank you for creating this blog.

Hi Mary Ann,
For 15 years, I've been teaching English Immersion in Waltham, Massachusetts (primary grades) and advocating for immigrant students in the classroom. I appreciate the new standards we have for ELLs and all students, but the required testing is questionable. Many of my kids weep through two weeks of state testing (one for ELLs, one for all students). It's hard not being able to give them any accomodations.
Thanks for the chance to post.
Anne CS

Dear Mary Ann- thanks for this contribution to language learning and teaching. I will follow it closely. Regards from Egypt.

Hi Mary Ann--
I'm curious what readers think makes a good ELL curriculum. In Detroit we've seen much success with Hampton-Brown's Avenues (for preK-5) and High Point (6-12). The latest winner of a national essay contest for ELL students came from a Detroit school using High Point. How critical to results are curriculum materials, vs. teacher training?

Thanks, Mary Ann, for providing information and networking opportunities for the English language learner focused educators.
I'll respond to Nan, based on my experience in a variety of ESL settings and roles. A curriculum which works well in one setting, may not work for other kinds of students in other settings. For example US born high school ELLs with good oral skills who haven't met English reading and writing exit criteria have very different needs from adolescent refugee newcomers with little prior education. A trained teacher can be flexible enough to deal with that, no matter what the curriculum is. A teacher without sufficient training/experience would probably not, no matter how fine the curriculum. Fortunately, it's not an either / or choice. Good teaching is enhanced by good curricula. For effective instruction we need to strive for both.

Hi Mary Ann,
Thanks for tracking this topic. Many will benefit, I am sure. However, this topic also goes beyond the border of the U.S. Currently, I am living in Bogota, Colombia where the schools have now required all children to learn English. Standards have been created, tests developed, but it seems to be that curriculum development and teacher training are slow to follow. For example, one of my family members here, a 9th grader, has taken English for years. She showed me her notebooks filled with all the verb tenses, tons of sentences and vocabulary. Seems good, right? Not exactly. The girl can't even pronounce the alphabet. Her comprehension and oral levels have suffered because there has been such a focus on written grammar. I saw this in the U.S. as well. We developers need to catch up with policy and requirements to get these English learners on matter where they live.

I am working towards my ESL endorsement right now and I am looking towards reading more blogs from you about English Language Learners.


I enjoy reading your articles and your insight into the issues impacting the English-language learners. I am interested in reading your report on Somali refugee teenagers in Columbus, Ohio, schools; however, I am not able to locate a copy. Is it possible to get an electronic copy of the report?

Thank you

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