A Case for Training All Teachers to Meet Needs of ELLs

By Lesli A. Maxwell — April 30, 2012 2 min read
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Some 25 percent of public school students live in homes where English is not the primary language. That statistic alone seems sufficient reason to expect that all teachers will at some point have students who need support in learning English.

So it is reasonable to ask—and propose answers—to the question of whether every single teacher, regardless of grade level or discipline, needs to know how to meet the particular needs of ELLs. I hear it all the time from folks in the field—that until ALL teachers are trained in how to work with English-learners, these students, as a subgroup, will always trail far behind their native English-speaking peers. And that sentiment has grown especially strong since all but four states are moving ahead with putting the more rigorous common standards into practice.

Today, the Center for American Progress has put out a new paper which makes the argument that general education teachers need to be steeped in the same instructional strategies as bilingual education and English-as-a-second language teachers are, in order to support their ELL students.

Authors Jennifer F. Samson and Brian A. Collins combed through the research to outline the standards, knowledge, and skills that bilingual and ESL teachers need for teaching ELLs effectively and argue that general education teachers need the same. Things like oral language development, helping students acquire academic language, and understanding the unique cultural attributes of students whose first language is not English. Those areas, say the authors, must be woven into every layer of education policy and practice from top to bottom: the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a revision of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher standards, state regulations, teacher preparation programs, state certification exams, and performance evaluations.

The paper takes a particularly close look at state policies specific to English-learners and highlights some of the wild variations in requirements for all teachers. A few states, all of which happen to have a long history with English-learners (Arizona, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New York), require all teachers to take specific coursework related to ELLs as a condition for certification, but 15 states have no such requirement.

There’s a whole lot more to mull in this report. Take a look and discuss your thoughts in the comments.

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