“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” - Ignacio Estrada
One of the greatest challenges for teachers is to be able to address the wide range of learning needs of all students and at the same time move them toward high levels of achievement. It can be challenging to educators to ensure that all students, including English Language Learners, have equal access to grade-level academic content. Accommodations provided during instruction and assessment promotes equal access to grade-level content for these students.
Who are English Language Learners or English as an Additional Language students?
English Language Learners (ELL) or English as an Additional Language (EAL) students are students whose first language is other than English. Even though these students are classified as a general group, it does not mean that each student can be understood in the same way. Each ELL student is different and requires different accommodations and cultural awareness. Therefore it is important as a teacher to discover these backgrounds as best as possible in order to better understand each learner.
What are accommodations?
Accommodations are practices and procedures that provide equitable access to grade-level content. Accommodations are intended to reduce or eliminate the effects of a student’s disability or a student’s limited English proficiency. They do not reduce learning expectations. They do not change the content or the required skill level of an activity, lesson, or test.
English language learners must receive accommodations:
1. to help them understand the content
2. to help them complete assignments
3. to help them improve their English
4. to help them feel included and comfortable
The key to helping the student understand the content and engage is by using teaching strategies and learning resources that make content comprehensible.
What types of accommodations should I use for ELL students in my classroom?
Generally speaking, accommodations that are helpful for ELL students are usually helpful for all students. With this in mind it is important to remember that many of the accommodations that can be made for ELL students can be applied when differentiating for student needs on a regular basis. Below are just a few examples of classroom accommodations for ELL students.
General classroom accommodations
Use a variety of instruction and assessment strategies
Use cooperative group learning- reciprocal teaching, learning circles
Use visuals during instruction and accompany print material with visuals for clarification and explanation
Allow partner work
Explicitly instruct different types of learning strategies
Follow predictable routines in order to create an environment of security and stability especially for students new to the language and culture
Involve students’ culture and family in school events and projects
Create a sense of belonging for EVERY student in the class
Specific classroom accommodations
- Find alternate ways for students to respond. To demonstrate knowledge, students can draw pictures with captions or speak their responses instead of writing.
- Prepare and distribute advance notes. This gives students opportunity to preview what will be taught and, in turn, aids in comprehension of the material.
- Give extended time. Students may require more time to process and communicate information. Giving them extra time will help lessen anxiety, which often has a significant impact on performance.
- Provide a model or demonstration of required/expected written or oral responses. Modelling and using gestures to aid in understanding can be a very effective accommodation for students.
- Simplify written and verbal instructions. This can be easily done by taking out extra words or turning complex sentences into simple ones. Consider these directions:
Carefully read each sentence below and determine its subject and predicate. Then, underline the subject once and the predicate twice.
These directions can be easily changed to this simpler version:
Read each sentence. Put one line under the subject. Put two lines under the predicate.
These simple changes require minimal effort and time, but actually do make a huge difference for students.
- Provide frequent breaks. Learning can be hard work for students learning a new language. They need more frequent breaks than others so that they can perform at their best.
Are there any specific management strategies I should consider for ELL students?
There is no “one-size-fits all” magic formula for classroom management—every classroom situation is different, just as each student is relatively unique. Teachers really need to become aware and sensitive to cultural differences. The following is a short list of strategies toward better classroom management processes when teaching ELL students:
Strategy #1: Learn your students’ names as fast as possible.
Not only will students quickly respond to hearing their names, but they will also recognize that you acknowledge them. In some cases it may be very difficult to quickly get to know all your students’ names. You need to familiarize yourself with the subtlety of pronunciation and intonation sometimes. You need to make some effort to increase your effectiveness as a classroom teacher and manager.
Strategy #2: Get to know your students as individuals
Build rapport with your students by making a brief, personal conversation every now and then in and out of the class. Generally, if students like you, they may be more inclined to follow directions, participate and behave.
Strategy #3: Gauge your language according to a student’s level.
It is really important that teachers learn to communicate with a level of English their students can understand. You will need to constantly simplify the vocabulary, avoid complex sentences, cut out idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs (replacing them with more direct forms of expression) and, most importantly, speak clearly and slowly.
Students will quickly lose interest in classes when they don’t understand what the teacher is talking about. They will lose focus and become a distraction; which makes it so vital to maintain a comprehensible level of language and to develop a sense for when others don’t understand you. Don’t assume they understand something just because it seems simple to you. Simplify it.
Strategy #4: Provide clear directions and transparent assessment criteria
Students should always comprehend directions, explanations, or assessments. It’s always best to keep things as clear and simple as possible when relaying important information about grade criteria, directions, rules, and so forth. Problems may later stem from confusion—which is difficult to anticipate or control—but can be avoided.
Strategy #5: Construct lessons plans that are active, diverse, engaging and relatable.
When students aren’t engaged and interested in the lessons or don’t understand the relevance of a task, they will become restless. Aim to create lesson plans that have clear learning objectives but that are fun, fresh and dynamic. Students prefer active rather than passive learning, where students are up on their feet and talking with each other.
Strategy #6: Be consistent with rules and processes
Students do appreciate routine and structure to classes. Students like to know what is expected of them and they respond well to activities and lines of questioning and inquiry that they’ve had some familiarity with in the past. It’s really essential to create an environment where students have a clear path to success.
Learning a language is to understand others, to form connections.” - Anonymous
Many classroom teachers have little or no experience in teaching English as an Additional Language (EAL). At first, the task these EAL learners face in learning English may be overwhelming to the students and their teachers. However there are some guides for helping newly arrived EAL students to settle in. There are also many practical strategies and ideas for use during their first few weeks in mainstream classroom settings.
For this post, our target group is EY/ES EAL students. But there are some strategies that would be appropriate for secondary students, too.
Welcoming the new student
Try to put your students at ease by providing a warm welcome.
It is really important that classroom teachers know about the language and learning background of new students. They should find out how much schooling a new student has had in the country of origin and the literacy level in their first language and in any other language in which the student may have been taught. Competency in English is not the same as cognitive ability or development.
New students are eligible to attend an English language program if they speak a home language that is not English and require intensive instruction in EAL. For this reason, they require additional services in order to develop their individual potential to be successful with the school curriculum.
New students may not immediately start to use the English language. There is likely to be a period in which new students prefer to watch and listen. This is a natural and understandable response to a new situation and new language. Never force oral communication.
It is important, however, to get some form of communication going. Don’t be concerned if it’s non-verbal. The important thing is that both the teacher and the student are communicating. To get the message across, you can use:
- Value and accept all attempts by your student to communicate. Respond to the content of the communication, not the form.
- By responding in this way, you will provide positive and encouraging feedback and correction, and value your student’s attempts to communicate.
- In any communicative interaction, your student will need thinking time to comprehend and then formulate a response.
- Remember, your student will understand more English than can be produced.
- Part of the process in both first and second language leaning involves hypothesizing the rules and structures of a language. Second language learners formulate rules for themselves in a way that makes sense to them. Any errors should be supported and not labelled as incorrect. They indicate that learning is taking place. Provide positive and encouraging feedback and modelling. For example:
- Learning a new language is a long-term developmental process, and it is likely to take from five to seven years for a student to become fully proficient in English. The rate of learning will vary depending on student’s age, educational background, self-confidence, and previous teaching and learning styles.
- Try to avoid cultural misunderstandings by familiarizing yourself with possible areas of misinterpretation. For example, in some cultures it is disrespectful to make eye contact with teachers, or speak unless spoken to.
- Don’t assume a student is at the same stage of conceptual development as the other students in the class. Variations may occur due to different school starting age and differences in the curriculum at their former school.
- Some parents/guardians may also be learning English, so may be able to assist their child as they learn English together. Encourage them to continue language development at home and assist their child with English when they are able to do so.
You can help your new EAL student by observing the following points when speaking to them and the class as a whole:
- Speak at a normal pace. Don’t speak too quickly or loudly.
- Use clear, common, consistent instructions and repeat if necessary.
- Don’t use jargon and colloquialisms.
- Use verbal cues and gestures to support talk.
- Don’t overwhelm student with too much talk. Speeches and long-winded explanations with no non-verbal clues can confuse and discourage students who are struggling to understand, causing them to ‘tune out.’
- Reinforce your oral instructions in writing where appropriate. This helps your student to see as well as hear the new language.
- Ask real questions and expect real answers.
Involve Other Students
Most of the activities that your EAL student is involved in should be shared with other students. This will promote English language learning and help friendships to develop. By doing some of the following activities, you will acknowledge your new student’s language and culture while helping the rest of the class react positively to the new student’s situation and culture:
- Teach some simple greetings in your new student’s first language to the other students.
- Establish a buddy system within the class to help settle in the new student.
- Encourage all students to share the responsibility of helping the new student settle in.
A new student will be desperate to communicate. If language learners can’t express themselves as well as they would in their native language, teachers should not mistake a lack of language for a lack of intelligence or maturity. Instead, they should make a conscious effort to see past the accent and mispronunciations and treat every interaction – every student – with the respect they deserve. English language learners are brilliant kids; they just can’t tell us in English yet.