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differentiation assessment, English Language Learners

Supporting English Language Learners

Supporting English Language learners (ELL) in the classroom requires careful planning, explicit instruction and continuous support.  Teachers of ELL students need to be familiar with the stages of language learning as well as the challenges second language learners encounter especially when trying to master a new language in addition to grade level content.

To make connections to the students we teach, teachers need to be aware of their own teaching practices.  Intonation, speech patterns and rate of speaking all influence how second language is acquired.  How concepts are explained and what strategies are utilized by the teacher will certainly influence acquisition as well. Think about your personal experiences in learning a new language,  how did you feel when you had to speak, what was helpful, harmful and just overwhelming?

The first time I was required to learn a second language was in high school. Spanish was a fun class that was rich with music, pictures and videos. However I  remember feeling overwhelmed with learning grammar and trying to make sense of a textbook that was filled with words I did not know.  My tongue felt like sandpaper as I tried to pronounce Spanish words in my thick Boston accent.   I remember feeling relieved when the teacher would ask a question, wait and not call on the first student who raised their hand.  This gave me time to think and most importantly translate her question from Spanish into English.  What strategies made you feel successful?

Instructional Strategies such as SDAIE can enrich a discussion and support the learner in making content much more meaningful. Teachers can also frontload information by preteaching vocabulary and accessing prior knowledge related to new content as a way to support ELL. This is often referred to as “anticipatory set” in a lesson plan.

Certainly being aware of a students’ background in terms of their ability as well as their home life and interests is a great first step.  The more you can frame instruction at the level of students proficiency  the better you will support your students in acquiring new knowledge.  The context from which information is shared is important to consider, does the textbook make information accessible, is vocabulary emphasized with visual cues to prompt recall, is information chunked in a way to make information digestible?

Where do you students come from and what prior knowledge and experience have they had? Have you thought about how you can bring awareness to a topic using visual cues, prompts and imagery that will support all learners in engaging with and applying the content in a meaningful way.  Many of the strategies we provide for our ELL’s such as pictures, graphic organizers, and cooperative learning (to name a few) is just GOOD teaching which all students can benefit.

In this presentation I share best practices and good food for thought when it comes to teaching English Language Learners.

As my nana would say “manja, manja”



About Dr. Dickenson

I am an assistant professor of Teacher Education at National University in San Jose.


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