Teaching Grammar to Oregon ELLs

By Mary Ann Zehr — March 19, 2008 1 min read
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Over at the ELL Advocates blog, Stephen Krashen tried to poke a hole in claims reported in an article in the Oregonian that new methods for teaching English-language learners in Oregon resulted in higher test scores on the state’s English-language-proficiency test last school year than in the previous school year. Mr. Krashen is a professor emeritus of education at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, who frequently comments publicly on shortcomings he perceives in journalists’ reporting on ELLs.

Mr. Krashen read on the Oregon department of education Web site that the state had recently standardized its testing of English proficiency, so he suspected that ELLs’ test scores had improved because the school districts had changed their tests. But Betsy Hammond, the author of the March 6 Oregonian article, wrote him back that the claims had been based on a randomly selected group of ELLs who took the same test both years in a row.

Then Mr. Krashen responded by pointing out other reasons that he contends the claims are “unscientific.”

Ms. Hammond’s article explained that Oregon’s schools have started to teach ELLs grammar in an orderly way to ensure they don’t miss learning how verbs are conjugated, words are ordered, and sentences are constructed.

After reading the article, I wanted to know more about how instruction was delivered in the past and how any changes had been implemented (teachers don’t change their methods overnight). The Oregon educators’ explanation that a more deliberate focus on grammar raised test scores didn’t seem adequate.

The comments to Mr. Krashen’s blog entry further pique my interest about what’s going on with ELLs in Oregon. Doug Shivers, an ESL teacher in Oregon and a blogger, notes that many ESL teachers in Oregon are frustrated with ready-made lesson plans for teaching grammar.

Here’s another story idea to put on my list for exploration. Is something working in Oregon with ELLs that other educators in the country should learn about, or do educators there just hope that what they are doing is working?

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