School Leader's Guide to English Learners, The

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English learners face not only the challenge of learning English, but also learning in English. How, then, do you set reasonable expectations for developing proficiency? School leaders will find the answers inside, including how to assess the individual needs of ELs, how to create a quality instructional program, and how to evaluate performance. Each chapter offers reliable, research-based ways to implement solutions you can count on.

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1 Learning About English Learners

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Juan Rodriguez has just moved into your area and wants to enroll his son Antonio in your middle school. Of course, you’re excited to meet this new student, and you recognize the trust this family has placed in your hands. You know it is an honor to provide educational services for students and to watch them grow into contributing members of society. You thank the parents for their confidence in your school and remind them of dismissal times and the after-school programs offered on your campus. Understanding that every new student is a bit uncomfortable with a new school, you walk Antonio to his classroom and introduce him to a gregarious peer, Eric.

English learners are a diverse group with individual needs that can be addressed by understanding proficiency levels and holding reasonable expectations.

• What tools are used to determine if a student is an English learner?

• What are the different types or classifications of English learners?

• How does English proficiency change?

 

2 Developing a Quality Program for English Learners

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The students who arrive at our schools bring with them a host of experiences, learning profiles, and family supports. English learners aren’t uniformly the same, even when they share a heritage language, any more than monolingual English students are. Some students enter the kindergarten classroom with years of preschool education. For others, this may be their first contact with a school, regardless of chronological age. Students with extensive development in their first language are likely to use it to leverage learning a second, while those who have limited vocabulary will take longer to reach proficiency in English. In all cases, English learners have unique family and life experiences that influence their learning. This presents a host of challenges for schools as they attempt to tailor curricular, instructional, and programmatic approaches to better serve individual students.

English learners are doubly chalenged, as they must learn English while learning in English. They benefit from quality instructional programs that emphasize student talk in order to give them lots of experiences using academic language.

 

3 Assessing the Performance of English Learners

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Issues of accountability and assessment have become part of the daily discourse of principals. In fact, you may have turned to this chapter first, because you believed it unthinkable to separate the discussion of English learner issues from the measurement of their progress. For much of the history of education in the United States, however, that was not the case. Despite the fact that the United States consists of immigrants and their descendants, English language acquisition was viewed as an imperative for the child but not necessarily for the school. However, a series of court cases and statutes have shifted the responsibility to give assessment a prominent role.

Assessment for English learners requires attention to the whole child. A multidimensional approach is necessary in order for a true picture to emerge. This requires balancing large-scale assessments with individualized informal ones that highlight strengths, rather than simply catalog deficits.

• Haven’t English learners always been assessed?

 

4 Intervening for English Learner Performance

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The debate about the effects of accountability systems has produced one wide area of agreement—it has drawn overdue attention to the progress of students with learning and language differences. The shorthand of accountability-speak is that these groups comprise “significant subgroups”—that is, students whose socioeconomic, ethnic, language, and disability differences warrant our attention. However, any principal knows that the broad categories of significant subgroups can obscure the uniqueness of their members.

Response to instruction and intervention (RTI2) with English learners is complex because of the many factors that influence second language development. English learners deserve supplemental and intensive interventions, especially when their performance pales in compares with that of true peers, not just chronological ones.

• What are true peers?

• What is RTI2?

• What elements are necessary in quality core instruction?

• Is English language development (ELD) the same as Tier 2?

 

5 Fostering a Quality Program for English Learners

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Education in general is fraught with controversy: How should children be taught? Toward what end? By whom, and for how long? Discussion about the education of students learning to speak English can be especially heated. The debate can drift from effective classroom practice to rhetoric about national identity, culture and tradition, and even what the founders of this country intended over two hundred years ago. Caught in the middle of this swirl are children who possess widely different skills, strengths, and areas of need. As educators, we are charged with shepherding them into a future that, given the rapid pace of change we have witnessed in the last fifty years, will be quite different from the world we live in now.

A quality program for English learners is developed and improved only with the participation of stakeholders. These include educators and personnel at the school, students and their families, and middle schools that your students will attend in the future. There is much to be learned from these stakeholders as research continues to shape policy and practice.

 



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