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A Rationale for Teaching Oral English to ELLs


Educators often diminish the importance of focusing on students' skills in speaking and listening in English as well as reading and writing, says a thoughtful post over at a new blog created by Ballard & Tighe, which publishes an English-proficiency test. The post is written by three consultants who specialize in education for ELLs at the Teacher Writing Center.

The writers say that "practical experience and formal research underscore the significance of oral language as a critical part of an English-learner's achievement of full language proficiency." Speaking English is a precursor to reading and writing, they argue. They go on to say that the teaching of oral English is especially neglected with older ELLs. In the upper grades, educators tend to particularly focus on reading, writing, and academic content, and diminish the importance of helping students to speak English better.

In nearly a decade of reporting on ELLs for Education Week, I've seen very little emphasis in schools at either the primary or secondary level on teaching oral English. I can recall only one time that I observed classes for ELLs in a school that deliberately set aside time to teach oral English. Those lessons occurred at Mountain View Elementary School in Salt Lake City, which I visited in May.

I have seen quite a few elementary school teachers spend time talking with ELLs about a particular topic and making sure they know vocabulary words connected with that topic as a preview to reading a story. That's also teaching oral English.

But my experience indicates the writers of the post at Ballard & Tighe's blog are right in saying the teaching of oral language often gets squeezed out of the curriculum.

Readers, I invite you to weigh in on this. Do you think that ELL teachers typically spend enough time on development of speaking and listening?


I really do not believe that language teachers spend enough time on these sorts of things. To be really honest I think that they may be a little lazy!

I think there are several factors that contribute to the lack of oral language instruction. 1. Teachers are under enormous pressure to produce results on reading, writing, and math assessments. Outside of ESOL, there are no oral language assessments. 2. Methods for teaching oral language development is not a significant component of teacher education programs. Not many teachers have oral language development as part of their routine, and 3. Many students engage in excessive amounts of loud, impulsively produced, superficial and trivial oral language. A great deal of energy is expended by the adults in schools to convince the students to stop talking. 4. My suburban East Coast school is very crowded. Two teachers are often working with different groups at the same time in the same room or in different parts of an open area. All conversations need to be quiet and respectful of the learning occurring in other groups. It's too crowded for any one teacher to teach a song, hand clap, chant, or play an entertaining CD.

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