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Stragegies for Helping Ell Students

Strategies for Helping ELL Students in a Palm Beach County Intensive Reading Classroom by Rozanne Sonneborn Within The School District of Palm Beach County, there is a diverse immigrant population. Although many of these students many be new to this country, the ESOL programs and strategies are not. For the past year, I have worked as a reading teacher at Lake Worth Middle School. According to the Gold Report, in 2011 the school reported a population comprised of 48% Hispanic, 36 % black, 11 % white, and 6% other.

Unfortunately, these statistics are not further broken down to represent the large Mayan and Haitian population present at Lake Worth. Approximately 90% of the black population is Haitian and 20 percent of the Hispanic population is Guatemalan, speaking various Mayan languages, making parent contact nearly impossible, as there is only one Q’anjob’al, and Mam translator for the district. About 20 percent of my parents speak these languages. In my classroom, approximately 90 percent of the students are classified as ELL, whom exited the sheltered ESOL classroom.

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Within this ELL population, approximately 60 percent are classified as ESE, making it quite the challenge to meet the needs of this population, especially as ESE strategists are not required to work in reading classrooms as reading is considered an elective at the middle school level. Funny, all of my students were forced to take reading, as they did not score a Level 3 on the FCAT. In fact most of my 12-14 year old sixth graders are reading at a second or third grade level at best. Words like damp and trousers are bewildering to these reluctant readers, as their English vocabularies are very limited.

On a recent vocabulary test, approximately 85% of my students could not use these words correctly in cloze passages. Compounding this problem, many of my students lack the motivation to learn, as they do not have sufficient role models to demonstrate the importance of education. Most of my students’ parents do not have jobs that require a particular level of education. It is very difficult to get these students to see the importance of an education and to get them to want to learn, in spite of the fact that their parents make little money.

This creates deeper-rooted problems. For example, many of the students do not see how completing their high school education can help them. They see their parents, family members and people from the neighborhoods that do not have a high school education. This lack of motivation also leads to other problems such as the need to study. Most of the students in my class do not study, or for that matter know how to study. Approximately 20 percent of the students in my class, on average, study for unit tests. Many are not consistent in their homework completion.

In an effort to address the varying language and motivational needs of my students, I employ various ESOL strategies, including utilizing flexible, small skill groups; oral and reading strategies; technology and routines to scaffold instruction. When students enter my classroom, they are required to complete a bellringer. This 10- minute warm up drill utilizes skills we have been working on in the classroom. For example, this week we were working on context clues and the student has to identify synonyms and antonyms to help determine an unknown word in a sentence.

According to Yvonne and David Freeman, professors in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Brownsville, and authors of Closing the Achievement Gap, How to Reach Limited Formal Schooling and Long-Term English Learners, “English learners benefit when teachers establish daily routines…When there is a classroom routine, English learners feel more relaxed because they know the kinds of activities they should be engaged in. ” My classroom is constructed around routine practices.

Following the bellringer, the students spend thirty minutes in whole group instruction, followed by twenty minutes each of small group, computers and independent reading. During whole group instruction, I provide explicit skills based instruction. Whole group is a very important part of the ELL students routine, as it provides the basis for the scaffolding supports in my classroom, which include reading aloud, helping students to understand the reading they are doing and making connections to students’ personal lives as well as discussions and classroom assignments.

I scaffold the classroom assignments by drawing upon their prior knowledge and vocabulary and through the use of brainstorming activities to increase the success of my language learners. Graphic organizers are also used to help students visualize and organize information. Following whole group, leveled reading groups separate the students, and they complete the center part of the curriculum, which utilizes a rotational model.

The favorite of the rotational model is the computer center, which features the Read 180 reading program. This program provides prescriptive reading assistance and is tailored to meet each students’ individual needs based on the results of their most recent Scholastic Reading Inventory Test. Research of the L2 learner and the computer states that technology elicits more learner participation (Beauvois, 1992) and creates a less stressful environment for language learning (Chun, 1998).

While students seem to enjoy the computers in my room, in an effort to help build fluency, vocabulary and hopefully interest in reading, they also participate in independent reading, where they read a novel appropriate to their reading levels and answer comprehension questions that I create for the various books. For students who have lower level reading skills, books on CDs are also provided. According to the Freemans, children succeed in becoming literate in English when their classrooms are flooded with large numbers of high-interest illustrated books.

Although I have a decent classroom library, which sadly has been robbed of many of the urban Bluford series books, including my personal favorite The Gun, most of my books lack illustrations. However, what I lack in pictures, I make up for in my small group efforts – a final strategy I use to address language needs. There are many approaches I use when placing my students in small groups. My first consideration is to make the students feel comfortable and not threatened Fortunately, I have many students speaking the same native languages to ensure that students in each group have peers with similar cultural backgrounds.

In fact, in all of my classes there is a small group with at least three students speaking the same Mayan language. In addition to language, I also try to make sure that there is at least two of the same gender in each group. This helps to alleviate stress and creates a comfortable atmosphere to promote speaking. When students are in small group, they work on various reading skills, including phonics, vocabulary and comprehension strategies. I have a low, medium, and high functioning group in each class.

My lower groups will work on more basic reading skills such as phonics, syllabication and basic vocabulary and comprehension skills, while my higher functioning groups will be challenged with FCAT style reading passages and higher-order thinking skills. Drawing on the work of Gerten and Jimenez 1994, the Freemans identify four premises in their book, which they say are the keys to success that underline and sound instructional plan for English Language Learners.

One of these premises is challenging the students. “Students must be challenged to engage in academic studies,” states the Closing the Gap authors. “The fact that students are limited in their English proficiency does not mean they are limited in their thinking ability, and they must be pushed to engage with difficult ideas. ” I push all of my students and although most of my students are not reading on grade-level, many do respond and the majority is making gains on the FCAT.

With refinement of practices and continued research on the best strategies to help ESOL and ESE students, I hope to someday boast that all my level ones are now former intensive reading students as they scored a level three or greater on the FCAT. References Beauvois, M. H. (1992). Computer assisted classroom discussion in foreign language classrooms: Conversation in slow motion. Foreign Language Annals an·nals   pl. n. 1. A chronological record of the events of successive years. 2. A descriptive account or record; a history: “the short and simple annals of the poor”  …..

Click the link for more information. , 25(5), 455-464. Chun, D. M. (1998). Using computer-assisted class discussion to facilitate the acquisition of interactive competence. In J. Swaffar, S. Romano, P. Markley, & K. Arens (Eds. ), Language learning online: Theory and practice in the ESL and L2 computer classroom (pp. 57-80). Austin, TX: Labyrinth Publications. Freeman, Yvonne and David with Sandra Mercury (2002) Closing the achievement gap: how to reach limited formal schooling and long-term English Learners (pp. 100-119), Portsmouth, NH; Heinemann


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