Education

First Year as an ELL: English and Math and More English and Math

By Mary Ann Zehr — November 05, 2008 1 min read

Blogger the Angry Fish raises a valid concern in contending that some English-language learners may be turned off to school if their curriculum consists only of English and math—and the required physical education class.

So here is this child's day: English class, History/Social Studies/Gov't, then Math class, then Math helper Class, then English helper class, then P.E. Now mind you the only reason this child has PE is because it is mandatory within the curriculum. So this child has no choice in his schedule, he has no shop class, no music, no drama, no art, nothing outside of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Then we wonder why this child drops out of school as soon as he can.

I have visited two high schools already this school year where the curricula for first-year English-language learners were much as the Angry Fish describes—primarily English and math classes all day long. And I also visited a high school this year where new arrivals received math, social studies, English, and science from the get-go, regardless of their English proficiency. I met motivated ELLs at all three high schools, and one of the students who was taking only English and math and physical education classes told me he wasn’t bored.

But I do wonder if students who are taking primarily English and math classes all day long are getting the chance to acquire academic English, the language of school, as quickly as possible.

What do you think? What should a curriculum look like for an ELL who first enrolls in U.S. schools as a teenager? I welcome you to weigh in on this, because I generally visit a school for only one or two school days and sizing up a curriculum in that amount of time has lots of limitations.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.