Children who speak little or no English don’t automatically get a chance to improve their language skills just because their teachers put them in pairs or small groups with native speakers of English, according to a review of research on instruction for English-language learners.
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That is one of several research findings examined in the book Educating English Language Learners: A Synthesis of Research Evidence, which was published in January by Cambridge University Press.
In one study, for example, a classroom of English-language learners and native speakers of English cut short their interactions to get their assignment done quickly. “Just write that down. Who cares? Let’s finish up,” one student is quoted as saying.
Assignments have to be carefully structured if the teacher intends to give English-language learners meaningful opportunities to use English with native speakers, one author of a study concludes.
The review was conducted by four researchers who are prominent in the field of education of English-larners, including Donna Christian, the president of the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics and the author of the book’s introduction.
The reviewers also point out gaps in research. By far, most studies focus on English-language learners with Hispanic backgrounds, for instance. The reviewers call for studies on other language-minority groups, such as students of Vietnamese, Hmong, Cantonese, and Korean backgrounds.
But the reviewers imply that some findings can be applied to the classroom.
Studies show that English-language learners do better in school if they don’t just attend regular classes, but participate in programs designed to help them learn English. Almost all evaluations of K-12 students show that students who have been educated in bilingual classrooms, particularly in long-term programs that aim for a high level of bilingualism, do as well as or better on standardized tests than students in comparison groups of English-learners in English-only programs or native speakers of English in mainstream classes.
One study showed that English-learners who are in a hodgepodge of programs perform poorly in school.