The influx of English Language Learners into our nation’s schools is catching quite a few districts flat-footed. States that haven’t seen mass migration in decades find themselves having to make accommodations for language learners.
Make no mistake: this is vital work. This crop of ELL students represents the future of America and the promise of skills native English speakers strive to acquire. To help everyone experience success in these challenging times, we’ve collected six steps to consider in our new eBook, Six Steps Toward ELL Success.
Who are the American ELLs?
ELLs make up 10 percent of today’s public school enrollment, with that number projected to increase to 25 percent within a decade. Project even further and the ELL population may make up close to one half of our public schools. Some states are feeling the effects more acutely, but every state in the union is seeing their ELL numbers grow at unprecedented rates. Not surprisingly, Spanish-speakers make up more than three-quarters of the ELL population – but other, more unexpected languages such as French are also present.
This represents opportunity and districts should treat these students as such.
But you have noticed that ELL students statistically struggle academically, especially at first. The language barrier is a contributing factor, but so too is home life, parent engagement, and pressures outside of the school. Gaining a better understanding of these factors can go a long way toward connecting with ELL students.
What can be done?
ELL students come in a variety of situations and skill sets. Our eBook advocates for more representation of Long Term English Learners (LTELs). These are students who have been in the US most or all of their lives, yet still fall into ELL identification. These students should be able to progress quickly to proficiency.
Technology has made great strides in language learning. The ability to differentiate instruction for all skill levels, to inform in-person instruction, and to provide students with opportunities to practice speaking that occur rarely during an in-person class are all valuable benefits. Because ELL students tend to have busy lives outside of school, the fact that online learning is always on and not location-based helps engagement.
29 states currently find themselves in a state of crisis when it comes to finding and hiring qualified ELL teachers. Some creative practices, such as tuition reimbursement programs, have been shown to attract language teachers.
As mentioned before, once ELL students reach proficiency, they become a bilingual asset to our society, one in which too few are bilingual and yet the world’s economy is getting flatter and more reliant on people of different cultures working together. America’s “ace in the hole” in this multinational economy is our growing ELL population – if only they receive the support they need.