English-language learners are the subject of the first entries on a Web site, Doing What Works, launched by the U.S. Department of Education today. I’ve been browsing the site to see what the Education Department, in this case, relying on research from the Institute of Education Sciences, considers to be best practices for teaching ELLs. The entries focus on how to teach ELLs to read, a subject that I learned a bit more about recently in writing about how the Reading First program of the No Child Left Behind Act is working for this group of students.
I didn’t, by the way, find any direct mention of Reading First or the No Child Left Behind Act in the text of the Web site that I read, though the federal education law’s goal of having all students reach proficiency by 2014 is mentioned.
A number of the entries are spin-offs of the “practice guide” for teaching ELLs released this year by IES, which is available on the site. The guide, you may remember, didn’t address the debate about whether it’s better to teach ELLs to read with English-only methods or with bilingual education. Instead, it described strategies, such as providing intensive small-group reading interventions, that could be used in any reading classroom.
The section of the Doing What Works Web site on ELLs focuses on examples of teachers working only in English, but it does acknowledge that some schools also use students’ native languages in teaching reading to ELLs. The text of a very elaborate visual on recommended reading practices says: “English-learners can learn to read in English at a rate comparable to native English-speakers when they are taught to read in English from their first day of school (with or without reading instruction in their native language).”
The site uses various kinds of multimedia, such as slide shows of teachers in action and audio, to get information about best practices out to teachers and administrators.
What do you think? Is such a Web site a good use of federal education dollars?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.