Preparing for ELLs

For Module 2 the most helpful items are the ones that are most immediately applied to situations I expect to find myself in.  Of course at this point having not been a classroom ESL teacher I think sometimes that I won’t really know what’s most useful until the actual point at which I’m teaching my own ESL class.  All of that said, I found the following two items to be very helpful learning artifacts.

Observable Language Behaviours as shared on the Edugains website feature very concise and easy to follow charts that outline students’ levels at 6 steps. They break each behaviour–oral, reading, and writing–into smaller sub-components to help the teacher to assess students.  For example, in the oral category teachers can look at listening and speaking and how students are able to use those skills to communicate effectively.  

For me as an international language teacher I’m fond of simple rubrics that make it easy for me to give students constructive feedback and place them on a continuum of achievement.  Students want to know how they’re doing and when we can show them where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re headed it’s easier for them to focus on goals and progress.

Working with ELLs it’s just as important to be able to show students where they’re at currently and where they should be trying to get to.  Rubrics are one way in which we can give students quick and clear feedback.

The second item that I really liked was the Identity Texts.  These are stories (or play, song, webpage, etc.) written by students that are often autobiographical and are written in their first language and English.  They give students a chance to showcase their first language while building their English and ultimately create something that can be shared with their families and cultural communities as well as their new school communities.  Jim Cummins talks about how these artifacts are often things that bring the students great pride and they love to share them.  Cummins says that “once produced, these texts hold a mirror up to the student in which his or her identity is reflected back.  The text becomes an ambassador for the students’ identities.”

Identity texts appeal to me because I see both the emotional and social benefits of this project (students are given something that boosts their self esteem and sense of identity) as well as the language learning benefits.  Put more simply though I just like this activity!  From what we’ve read and what I feel like I instinctively know, acquisition of a new language is strongly rooted in a person’s first language knowledge and experience.  Prior knowledge shapes how we learn new things.  This is why a project like Identity Texts seems like such a great fit for ELLs.  

“Prior knowledge, skills, beliefs, and concepts significantly influence what learners notice about their environment and how they organize and interpret their observations. Prior knowledge refers not just to information or skills previously acquired in a transmission-oriented instructional sequence but to the totality of the experiences that have shaped the learner’s identity and cognitive functioning.”  (Cummins, et. al, 2006).  

In the quote above Cummins is drawing on the work of other language researchers but applying it more specifically to the context of working with ELLs.  The point is that our ELLs are going to best learn English when their learning is building on what they already know.  Since what they already know is most likely rooted in their first language, then we have to make sure that we are encouraging the students to draw on that first language knowledge, as well as all of their experiences up to this point.  Identity Texts are just one example of how a project or activity can draw on the “totality of experiences” of our students but it would seem that almost all of our lessons should make room for this.


Theoretical Foundations

Developing Social and Academic Skills

Literacy Development and Engagement

Building Competence and Confidence