Well-Known ELL Expert Says Simplified Texts Are a Problem

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 30, 2010 1 min read
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A respected researcher on English-language learners, Lily Wong Fillmore, gave an impassioned plea at a conference here in the Washington area this week for schools not to dumb down texts for English-language learners.

Fillmore, a professor emerita at the University of California and a pioneer in studying ELLs, said she is concerned about “a gradual erosion of complexity of texts” used for ELLs. She was a speaker at a conference hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers and several other education organizations, which focused on how to implement the common core standards with ELLs.

She said it might be necessary for educators to give ELLs altered texts for the first year or so they are learning English, but not after that.

Most English-language learners can handle texts with complex language if the texts are clear, she said. She asked educators to steer away from giving ELLs “materials so simplified they don’t provide exposure to the complex structures students need to be learning.”

Fillmore said one reason for the trend toward simplification of materials for ELLs may be that educators think the students will be turned off by tasks that are hard. She called this kind of thinking “niceness run amok.”

During her talk, she provided an example of a reading passage about new technologies used in supermarkets that contained difficult vocabulary and grammatical structures, such as a very long noun phrase, but was clear and would likely be interesting for students. In pointing out the phrase, she quipped that “bloated noun phrases are the hallmark of academic discourse,” and thus ELLs need to learn to deal with them.

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