In case you missed it, the US Department of Education's Office of English Language Acquisition published a report in February 2017 of the top 20 languages spoken by English Learners in US schools. Not surprising that Spanish is at the top of the list. But there may be some other surprises. Check out the chart from the report. This report just goes to show the incredible linguistic resources that we have in the United States that need to be nurtured with strong bilingual programs.
Why must schools embrace bilingual education now, more than ever? Between 1998 and 2002 three U.S. states passed laws limiting and prohibiting bilingual education for students. This trend is now reversing as our globalizing world and the need for a multilingual population has become more apparent to all of us. As Wright, Boun, & Garcia (2015) report in The Handbook of Bilingual and Multilingual Education, "..bilingual and multilingual education is alive and well and expanding. Indeed, in a world with only 196 'nation states' but over 7,000 named spoken languages (Lewis, Simons, & Fennig, 2013), bilingual and multilingual education is essential. As García (2009) has argued, in the 21st Century "bilingual education, in all its complexities and forms, seems to be the only way to educate as the world moves forward' (p.6)."
A 61% graduation rate. This is a call to action. Once again, national data on school achievement by our nation's language learners lags. We must think smarter, work harder, and care more about our students who come with another language, who could become bilingual in our schools and make our country and the world a more connected and enriching place but who are left behind, often lose their first language, and insufficiently learn English. Study, work, and problem-solve with me on behalf of and with our language learners and their families. Check out the latest high school completion data for language learners and other groups:
On January 7th, 2015 the US Department of Education issued guidance on how to be sure schools are ensuring that English Learners are being the opportunity to meaningfully and equally participate in education. There are a variety of documents and guidance memos to assist you, the educator in ensuring you are meeting all US federal laws that protect the civil rights of English Learners. Please see the attached Fact Sheet and for more information and guidance, visit: Schools' Civil Rights Obligations to English Learner Students and Limited English Proficient Parents
Especially since the growing implementation of the Common Core State Standards, schools and teachers have become increasingly focused on how to teach 'academic language' to English Language Learners - this is in contrast to what many call 'playground English'. In this post, I will summarize the important review of the existing research on teaching academic language recently published in The Review of Educational Research by DiCerbo, Anstrom, Baker, and Rivera (2014).
You might guess that researchers don't actually agree on what academic language is, although there seems to be consensus that current ways of looking at academic language need to capture the incredible complexity of academic language. In fact, many of the studies published since 2000 are attempts to tease apart, define, build, and identify all of the different things that make up academic language. It is clear that researchers seem to be trying to include the complexity of language into their definitions. For example, Snow and Uccelli (2009) say we could break up uses of academic language into categories such as: interpersonal stance, information load, organization of information, lexical choices etc.
Researchers have also considered vocabulary - mostly as 3 levels or tiers, increasing in specificity and specialized use as you progress up the tiers. Grammar in academic language is considered to be vastly complex and defined as making linguistic choices for different tasks as opposed to looking at sentence level grammar. Researchers are identifying grammatical features in academic texts that are difficult for English Language Learners because they are hard to teach and cognitively demanding to learn.
Researchers have begun to drill down to the subject-specific structures and devices of academic language or discourse - the language used to convey or express meaning. For example, how can teachers support English Language Learners when they are describing how to complete an experiment, or write up a science report? Or in math, how might an English Learner approach the specialized grammar: "The triangle has sides, 8, 10 and x cm. Solve for x." Or, consider the academic English found in social studies and history that assumes students know the following compares and contrasts two groups: "This group is also matriarchal, however hunting and gathering was accomplished by the women and children."
More recent studies have focused on the academic language demands of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). For example, Sato, Lagunoff, & Worth (2011) identified the most common language functions in the English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics CCSS: interpretation, analysis, evaluation, explanation, and description (ELA); symbolization, representation, explanation, argumentation, description, and comparison/contrast (math). All of this research serves to help teachers identify what they should teach English Learners when it comes to academic language.
DiCerbo et al. (2014) also review the work of researchers that see academic English as the intertwining of language and social interaction - that connote be separated. Research in this area helps to identify different types of language used in classrooms that shows how social and academic language are used in concert to achieve goals.
Finally, DiCerbo et al. (2014) review the research on academic English instruction in the areas of: teaching vocabulary, teaching grammar, teaching classroom discourse (student interaction in academic English). Research on vocabulary instruction supports a focus on Tier 2 words (general academic words like conclude, summarize, result etc.); studying words, their relationships, and multiple meanings; implementing quality vocabulary instruction but not to the detriment of spending time meaningfully using the words in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Research on grammar instruction for academic instruction is not sufficient to make conclusions about effective practice. Some research suggests targeting the teaching grammatical forms in meaningful contexts. In other words, pointing out a grammatical feature during a lesson on photosynthesis is superior to teaching a disjointed lesson on the grammatical feature. Research on teaching students how to develop academic English through social interaction. English Learners need practice with oral and written interaction. Effective practices include asking follow-up questions, supporting instructional conversations, non evaluative listening, modeling responses for beginning and early-intermediate learners, challenging more advanced learners in extending utterances, many opportunities for small group and pair work. Opportunities to write to peers and on academic subjects, not just opinion writing. An ineffective strategy described is: "linguistic enabling" (p. 465) wherein the teacher does not support or challenge students in producing academic English and instead accepts a statement that is not academic English. One study reviewed showed a shift in student's language to be more academic by: recasting student's language in more academic forms, explicitly talking about academic forms, , reminding students to use new language with one another, showing how the language supports communication of academic ideas.
The review finishes with several implications and suggested areas of new research to further our understanding of how to teach academic English to English Learners. The review ends with the suggestion that teachers "think and act linguistically" (p. 468) or, in other words, all teachers are language teachers.
November 18, 2014
Today was slated to be a day of protest for parents who oppose the Common Core State Standards by keeping their children home from school. There are several Facebook protest pages and early news reports tell of some parents nationwide keeping their children home from school in protest. A quick search on Facebook using the term "Common Core" brings up dozens of pages that say "Stop Common Core in (fill in your state)". From a quick look today there were, on average, about 1,000 "likes" per page with a few pages with 5,000-7,000 "likes". Most of the sites claim they want local control over curriculum and are concerned that a one-size-fits-all curriculum hurts student's passion for learning and side-steps students' different needs.
The protests make me wonder: What are people really concerned about? What does this mean for language learners?
Standards or Standardization?
First, the protests and concerns that have gained increased media attention come from educators and parents in New York and Long Island who seemed to be concerned about standardization and less about having standards. These protests questioning standardization are long overdue given much of the curriculum I have seen in K-12 schools in the past 20 years across the country is so similar that you could close your eyes in a 2nd grade classroom in Utah and then open them in one in California and you'd likely see uncanny similarities. As a long-time educator of language learners and students living in poverty, I have always had these same concerns over a one-size-fits-all curriculum - especially when most curriculum does not take into the consideration the specific needs of students learning a second language nor value what immigrant students and students living in poverty bring to school. In other words, standardization of the curriculum is nothing new.
Standards or Testing?
Second, are we protesting the standards themselves or the fact that they are (will be) linked to a high-stakes test? I think it is important to differentiate between the two concerns. Is it uniform standards that people are against or linking those standards to a test that teachers increasingly must teach to given teacher accountability measures? What would happen without standards? What would happen without a bubble test?
These are important questions that all of us should be able to answer so that we can support an educational system that will serve as many diverse students as possible - offering every child a path to seeking freedom and happiness.
Everyday ELL is now Every Language Learner.