School & District Management

Researchers: How to Design Secondary Courses for ELLs

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 18, 2010 2 min read
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English-language learners in secondary school need a separate, dedicated class for English-language development in addition to a class to learn the regular English-language-arts standards for their grade level, argue two experts on such students in a guide published by the California Department of Education for improving schooling for ELLs. The researchers frown on the common practice of school districts to stop giving English-language learners in middle or high school a set-aside class or dedicated time within another class for formal language instruction once the students have reached the high-intermediate or advanced levels of English proficiency. “This is precisely when skilled language instruction is critical to help propel them out of intermediate limbo into the advanced levels of English proficiency,” they write.

Susana Dutro, the founding partner and CEO of E.L. Achieve, an education consulting organization, and Kate Kinsella, a faculty member for the Center for Teacher Efficacy at San Francisco State University, describe how schools can design courses for ELLs in grades 6-12 in a chapter in the book, Improving Education for English Learners: Research-Based Approaches, which I’ve already previewed on this blog. A kind soul has sent me a copy and I’ve had a chance to skim it.

So much of the research I see about instruction for ELLs focuses on elementary students, not secondary students, so I carefully read the chapter on research-based approaches for teaching adolescent ELLs. Dutro and Kinsella describe what a dedicated English-language-development course looks like. Most importantly, it is aligned to English-language-development standards that take into consideration how students move from one English-proficiency level to another, they say.

The ELD course teaches students according to their current English-proficiency level. It emphasizes listening and speaking through carefully planned interactions, according to Dutro and Kinsella. It integrates reading and writing into authentic experiences. It lays out a scope and sequence for grammatical forms. It teaches vocabulary.

A reading-intervention class is no substitute for an ELD class, Dutro and Kinsella say. The ELD class is important particularly because ELLs need the chance to practice oral language, they argue.

In regular secondary English classes, Kinsella explained to me in an e-mail message sent yesterday, “The focus on literacy analysis is often devoid of focused language development that would help students capably engage in literate discourse.”

Typically, schools transition students out of a dedicated ELD class when the reach intermediate proficiency in English, she observed. “I could easily fill every work day with assisting a secondary school that is desperately seeking assistance with an evidence-based approach to accelerating the English achievement and literacy of students who have plateaued at intermediate proficiency.”

This guide has much to offer from some of the most accomplished ELL researchers in the country. The chapter on secondary ELLs seemed particular useful in my view since so many high schools seem at a loss about how to create a comprehensive program for their ELLs.

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