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How Long Have Your Students Been ELLs?

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In a commentary published Friday at edweek.org, Joanne Jacobs, an education writer and blogger, draws attention to how long-term English-language learners can end up being shut out of a challenging curriculum.

If he’s not reclassified by middle school, José may sit through the same English-language-development classes he took in elementary school, classes designed for newcomers. He may leave the mainstream to take classes taught in simplified English. Expectations are low. Performance is lower. The dropout rate is astronomical for long-term English-learners, sometimes known as “lifers.”

There's that word "lifers," again, which I really hate to hear anyone use because it seems to imply that the students have done something wrong, when more likely, it's schools that have failed them.

But Ms. Jacobs is right that many educators do not really look closely at the data in their schools to determine how long some English-language learners have been classified as such and what it has meant for their educational prospects over the long run.

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In order to make the jump into proficiency a student has to be given a growing opportunity to be with native and proficient speakers of English and be increasingly exposed to classes with mainstream students. It doesn't mean the expectations have to be the same but if they never get a sense of proficiency and what is expected in the mainstream until they reach proficiency they'll never be proficient. I can tell that the district mentioned is a large district where they separate the ESOL students from the mainstream students from the beginning and are always harping on more time before allowing them to be with native speakers. Some of these programs are housed in the worst schools where the native speakers are some of the worst students the district has or the whole school is "ELL". I am willing to bet that if there was a really good study of ESOL students, they would find these programs which were proposed by ESOL academics without research and to merely promote less resistance in school districts who were not friendly to ESOL students. I think you'd find out smaller districts who have ESOL or (I wish!) Bilingual classes and allowed students to be with mainstream students from the get go with modifications and assistance would be superior. I've even worked with SIFE kids this way and they are good students now. Teaching ESOL in the first place needs to be done in small groups no more than 10 kids at at time. I can guarantee you that having 25- 30 kids learning English aren't going to have the interaction to be able to speak and read and write at a level that will promote growth. Listening too could be a problem if the teacher isn't able to monitor comprehensive input with each child except for asking questions in a big group. I'm also running into kids from the big classes that completely separate ESOL students from the mainstream who have spent several years in school with little exposure to science and social studies. Kids can sometimes cope with social studies but how about lacking even elementary knowledge of science after years of being in the US is ridiculous. The kids have described only having reading and math in elementary school and a round robin reading of a social studies or science textbook once a week. No labs or social studies papers.

This past year, even in my small district, I had several kids who were stuck as ESOL students for several years (6-7 years). Two didn't receive my services - one got help from special education and another in the mainstream with a reading teacher and an English teacher who promoted "free voluntary reading". They both did well on the state's English assessment and exited ESOL. Another who had been intermediate for several years - his family demanded I take him out of regular English after I just tried to "jump start" him, but worked with him finally became advanced and has to take English this year. (I'll still help him.) I learned from this that even those long term kids who everyone says "fossilized" their language ability, may not have "fossilized" at all. Yeah!

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