Teaching Profession News in Brief

Teachers Urged to Listen to ELL Students

By Lesli A. Maxwell — November 15, 2011 1 min read
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Students say teachers who want to improve their instructional skills for English-language learners should try listening to them.

Betty Smallwood, a former ESL teacher, presented a video at the annual conference of the Education Trust this month that featured ELLs from Arlington County, Va., talking about what teachers can do better. The video is part of a professional-development program devised by the Center for Applied Linguistics, in Washington, where Ms. Smallwood is a researcher.

Four middle school students, all of them beginners in learning English, said that when their teachers talk too fast, they struggle to learn. Distractions in the classroom—such as noisy classmates—are also a hindrance, they said.

They found that working with peers in small groups, or with one partner, was very helpful, a strategy that Ms. Smallwood said is supported by research.

Aeydis, a middle school student from Mexico, said teachers need to be more patient and not give up on her if she doesn’t understand the first time. Hababo, an Ethiopia native, said teachers sometimes give her too much information and confuse her about what is most important. The video only identified the students by their first names.

Elementary students also had advice. From Beza, who is also from Ethiopia: Give us more time to read what we want. And David from El Salvador said encouragement from fellow ELLs was important for his success.

They all stressed the importance of being able to talk to their teachers individually or in small groups. And teachers who take the time to define words for them during instruction are the most helpful.

Renee Bostick, the principal of Randolph Elementary in Arlington, Va., whose school has a large number of ELLs, said what helps ELLs most in her experience is having teachers who learned English as a second language themselves. She also said working with parents to help them learn English, read with their children (in any language), and use the Internet has been key to the success of ELLs.

A version of this article appeared in the November 16, 2011 edition of Education Week as Teachers Urged to Listen to ELL Students


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