ESL in a Social Studies Context

I chose to summarize a chapter of the book titled, Passport to Learning: Teaching Social Studies to ESL Students, by Barbara C. Cruz, Joyce W. Nutta, Jason O’Brien, Carine M. Feyten, and Jane M. Govoni. I chose this book because I thought it would be interesting to learn a little more about ESL students in the classroom and what it is like to accommodate their needs. I also thought it would be a realistic image of what teaching ESL will be like.

The first section of the book is entitled “Getting to Know the ELL Student.” It looks at the issue of what to expect from ESL students. This is also told from the perspective of teachers who have not been trained in ESOL. The book pointed out that according to the Federal law, regardless off students’ English proficiency they are entitled to ” a meaningful opportunity to participate in the public educational program.” It also gave the most common ESOL approach used today which includes: mainstreamed content instruction, taught by ESOL-trained content area teachers who use ESOL approaches to promote comprehension and achievement; sheltered ESOL instruction focusing on language development taught by educators with specialized ESOL credentials; and bilingual support, when feasible, provided by a paraprofessional or other interpreter. The book pointed out that it is the teacher’s responsibility to make instruction comprehensible by using various approaches such as modified input and interaction. It is also important to have a strong partnership between the ESOL specialists.

The chapter went on to point out the importance of having knowledge of the educational practices used in the English learning student’s former country. The book also contained a table, which listed the teaching styles and learning styles for several countries. It was also emphasized that teachers need to know what kind of prior knowledge the student’s are bringing with them as well as the nature of their first language and how it relates to English. It was suggested that teacher’s of classrooms containing ELL students should make sure to revisit background knowledge so that everyone will be on the same page, as well as for a review for the rest of the class.

The second chapter looked at strategies for helping ELL students comprehend the content while developing their use of English. Content-based instruction includes providing comprehensible instruction as well as promoting the development of the English language. The chapter went on to explain what to expect from ELL students. It pointed out that learners go through a fairly similar sequence, or developmental sequence which was discussed in class.

According to the text, it is important to understand the stages of second language acquisition. The Natural approach has been used to explain the process of second language acquisition by breaking it down into four basic steps. The steps include preproduction, early production, speech emergence, and intermediate fluency. The preproduction stage includes students who have almost no exposure to English. This period is also sometimes referred to as the “silent period” in which it is very important for these students to have time to absorb the language and not be pressured to speak it. At this level, it is suggested that students do 90% of the speaking. Although students in the preproduction period have a vocabulary of about 500 words, they are words that they understand, but may not necessarily be comfortable using. It is also important that teachers model the tasks they want their students to perform rather than just verbally explain.

The early production period includes students who have had between 3 months and 1 year of exposure to English. They are now capable of producing some language involving one-to to-word responses. There are about 1000 words in their receptive vocabulary. Teachers must be careful to ask questions that are appropriate for their level and use simplified language. It is also important for teachers to provide small group opportunities for students in this level because they will be more confident and willing to ask questions in small groups. It is also important for ELL students to participate in conversation and research has shown that two-way negotiation is of extreme importance for learning a language.

Speech Emergence occurs somewhere between one and three years. Students in this stage are capable of producing phrases and sentences and have a receptive vocabulary of up to 7,000 words. The classroom teacher must provide additional support such as providing non-verbal cues.

The final stage called intermediate fluency occurs after about three to four years of being exposed to English. This stage involves a receptive vocabulary of 12,000 words and students are capable of writing essays and critiquing and analyzing literature. These students continue to need special support to cover background knowledge as well as additional language support when necessary.

The chapter went on to explain why it is more difficult for ELL students to participate in class work than it is for them to converse with their classmates in English. The book described two types of language use, Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). It was noted that BICS is developed through social interaction and is a simpler form of communication which is sometimes easier to acquire than CALP. This helps to explain why it is difficult for students to explain things in English academically. It was also noted that CALP may take up to eight years to be fully developed.

The chapter also looked at how second language learning can affect basic cognitive skills. It was pointed out that the lack of proficiency in English may hold students back for a short time, however there are several cognitive benefits involved in learning a language. Some of these benefits include; academic benefits, higher scores on standardized measures of English, math, and social studies, metacognitive and metalinguistic development, a strong competency in two languages also leads to stronger reading skills. The chapter also gave advice on whether or not parents of ELL students should use English in the home. It was noted that children can develop skills in both languages and become bilingual adults, also communication between parents and children is critical and using English only may impede communication.

I thought this book provided a lot of insight on how to manage ELL students and helped me understand the different stages involved in learning a second language. It also gave good advice for teachers and answered common questions that teachers of ELL students are likely to have. Although the focus was on social studies, the same advice could apply to any subject area.

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