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Book Aims to Make Research on ELLs Accessible

32639_Goldenberg_EnglishLearners_72ppiRGB_150pixw.jpgIf you liked the article that researcher Claude Goldenberg wrote a couple of years ago about how teachers and administrators can apply research on English-language learners in the classroom, you might like the new book he's co-authored that has the same goal. In Promoting Academic Achievement Among English Learners: A Guide to the Research, Goldenberg, an education professor at Stanford University, and co-author Rhoda Coleman aim to provide an "accessible account of the research base on English-learners." Coleman is a senior research fellow at the Center for Language Minority Education and Research, which is housed at California State University, Long Beach.

The book is scheduled to be released in April by Corwin Press and is expected to sell for $31.95 in paperback.

As was true of Goldenberg's article back in 2008 in the American Educator, his new book spells out what research does, and doesn't, say about ELLs. I believe that's one of the greatest strengths of the book, which focuses on interpreting the results of two comprehensive research reviews on English-learning (here and here) for regular folks like me.

I read the first chapter in the book, which argues that teachers and administrators need a guide to research because they aren't relying enough on research to decide what kinds of programs and practices to implement with ELLs. I also read the fourth chapter, which focuses on what research says about teaching oral language, which is receiving renewed attention in the field. Research studies show, for example, a correlation between strong speaking and listening skills in English and strong reading skills in the language. "Most surprising," write Goldenberg and Coleman, "is how little research there is examining the effects of different approaches to oral English-language development."

The chapter on oral language concludes with some concrete recommendations, such as that teachers should emphasize academic language, not just conversational language. Another recommendation says that English-language learners should have a separate time block in the day to focus on developing their English sklls. That last recommendation is backed with research on young children, but the authors said they didn't know of any studies that had looked at whether middle and high school students also benefit from a separate block of time for English-language development.

The book drives home how many gaps still exist in the research base on what works best for ELLs. For example, the authors say that researchers know "remarkably little" about the effectiveness of various approaches to teaching a second language, such as whether the "natural approach" or "audio-lingual method" is better. The authors conclude on this point that "we believe that direct, or explicit, teaching methods should be given serious consideration, primarily because of how critical academic language proficiency is."

For the time being, it seems then that a lot of decisions about instruction for ELLs will have to be made based on beliefs rather than proof of what works. The message from Goldenberg and Coleman is that teachers and administrators should at least apply the research findings that the field's got.

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