Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas
By Judie Haynes and Debbie Zacarian
Reviewed by Julie Dermody, NBCT
Elementary ESL Teacher (NC)
Teacher Leaders Network
As an English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher, I felt like I was attending church services while reading this book as I wanted to shout out, “Amen” to the suggestions the authors make in supporting K-12 English Language Learners (ELLs) in the content areas. This is a book I want to put into the hands of teachers in my district as they work to ensure their lessons are comprehensible for the growing number of ELLs within our classrooms.
As they share real-life examples from elementary, middle and high school classrooms, readers get a sense of modifications (some small and some more extensive) that can make a big impact on ELLs’ learning and success. While the elementary teacher in me wanted this book to focus more on elementary classroom examples, it is easy to understand how the middle and high school scenarios would apply to elementary situations (and vice versa).
This book is organized around strategies for working with ELLs in the content areas. The strategies support teachers as they are: developing classroom learning environments, writing lesson plans, planning small group instruction, teaching vocabulary, designing reading and writing instruction, assigning homework and developing assessments, and communicating with the parents of our ELL students.
The authors start by sharing the stages of second-language acquisition. This is critical knowledge to have of ELLs since classroom lessons need to complement the stage of a student’s English.
Throughout the book, the authors remind readers that while some teachers may feel an ELL is competent in English because their listening and speaking skills are strong, the capacity to do ordinary classroom work in English includes the ability to “communicate appropriately in social and academic situations by listening, speaking, reading, and writing.”
The authors address these four abilities across content areas. For example, through a middle school math lesson we see how teachers can help ELLs develop all four skills by writing and reviewing lesson objectives; writing and exploring key vocabulary; modeling expectations; providing practice opportunities; using pairs of students to support each other; drawing from students’ lives to create activities; making sure to ask questions that match levels of English proficiency; observing students during each task; having the students provide feedback as a way to check for understanding; and assigning homework that relates directly to the day’s lesson, engages family members, and includes sentence frames for academic vocabulary support.
Communicating with parents of ELLs is often difficult when translators need to be contacted for every note and newsletter teachers want to send — or for notes received from parents. The chapter in this book dealing with parent communication offers many excellent suggestions, especially when working with a translator. For example, they suggest doubling the length of the conference time to account for the extra time translation takes, speaking in uncomplicated sentences, and speaking directly to the parents, not the translator.
A home language survey is included at the end of this book. I do wish the authors provided this form in Spanish also.
Recently, USA Today published some revealing facts about the American kindergarten class of 2010-11. They report that about 25% of 5-year-olds are Hispanic, a big jump from 19% in 2000. They also report that schools face “linguistic challenges” as the number of 5-year-olds who speak English at home slipped from 81% in 2000 to about 78%, and the share of Spanish speakers in the U.S. grew from 14% to 16%.
Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative at the non-profit New American Foundation, told USAToday that, “we really have a long way to go before we understand what the best methods are” for supporting second language learners. One place to start would be to provide a copy of this book to educators across the country.
Julie Dermody teaches English Language Learners at McDougle Elementary in the Chapel Hill (NC) Public Schools. She recently renewed her National Board Certification (Middle Childhood/Generalist). She reviewed an earlier book by Judie Haynes here.