Saturday, November 24, 2012

What Language Should ELLs Speak at Home?

By Judie Haynes

School administrators and classroom teachers should encourage parents to speak their native language at home. It is much more beneficial for children to hear fluent native language with a rich vocabulary than it is to hear imperfect, halting English. When students learn academic concepts in their primary language, this knowledge will transfer to English. Let's look at the case of one ELL, Isobel, and her family as they try to integrate English into their home life.

Isobel's family is from Costa Rica. Her parents speak some English and are literate in Spanish. When Isabel's teacher told them that they should speak English at home, her parents became distressed. They tried to speak English with her at the dinner table, but their conversations were stilted. Isobel's parents no longer felt comfortable asking her about her school, classes, and homework in Spanish. They stopped discussing books and the television news with her. Although the family reverted to their native language at the dinner table after a week of hesitant English, Isobel felt ashamed of her native language. She wished her parents spoke English.

What Isobel's teacher and parents did not know was that by reading and discussing stories with her and by encouraging Isobel to share her school experiences in Spanish, they were giving her experiences in their native language. Informal conversations like these are critical for Isobel because they will help her establish values and discuss ideas that she is not ready to learn in English. Eventually, what she learns in Spanish will help promote her English proficiency. The concepts and skills that students learn in one language will transfer to the second language when the learner is ready.

Students who are literate in their native language have many skills to draw on when they learn academic English, even when the writing system is different. It is much easier to teach a concept if the student already has some background with it in native language. Once students grasp the underlying literacy skills of one language, they can use these same skills to learn to read in another language. For example, 6th graders who are literate in Spanish will understand the underlying process of reading in English. Older students will be able to transfer skills such as scanning, selecting important information, predicting what comes next, and visualizing to enhance comprehension. Younger children who are literate in one language will know that printed words carry meaning, that words can be combined into sentences and paragraphs, and that certain letters stand for certain sounds.

We want to be sure that the parents of our English language learners are encouraged to speak their first language at home.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Essential Guide for Educating Beginning English Learners

Over the years people come up to me at conferences to tell me about their dream of writing a book and ask how I got started. Here is the information on a workshop I will be presenting on this topic that was distributed by the Bergen-Passaic Chapter of NJTESOL/NJBE.

Have you ever dreamed of writing a book? Don't know where to start?

Spend an intimate afternoon on November 27 from 4:00-5:30 pm as we welcome our distinguished speaker and acclaimed author, Judie Haynes. She will present her new book The Essential Guide for Educating Beginning English Learners (co-written with Debbie Zacarian). Judie will share the process of how to get started: finding an editor, preparing a proposal, and selling an idea to a publisher. She will also talk about the benefits of self-publishing. A free copy of Judie's book will be given to one of the participants. Bring your own copy of the book if you'd like it to be autographed.

Judie Haynes is a founding member of the Bergen/Passaic Chapter, Past President of NJTESOL/NJBE and the author of seven books.

Looking forward to seeing you all there!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Comparing Educaton in Finland and in the U.S.

In Diane Ravitch's blog she talks about her recent trip to Finland where she visited schools and spoke to educators. Ravitch discovered how horrified educators in Finland are that the U.S. schools are increasing the use of standardized tests, basing teacher evaluations on how well students score on the tests, and will receive merit pay if students do well. Ravitch reports that there is no standardized testing in Finland and teachers are responsible for the curriculum taught in their schools.

There are several reasons that I think it is difficult to compare U.S. education to Finnish education. First of all, the student population in the U.S. is much more diverse.
Twenty percent of U.S. students speak a language other than English at home. Over 400 different language are spoken by students in U.S. schools.
Most English language learners(ELLs) go to the poorest schools and live in abject poverty. Lawmakers are ignoring poverty as one of the reasons for the achievement gap.

U.S. lawmakers are ready to reauthorize ESEA without addressing the unique needs of ELLs. The companies working on the new assessments barely address how ELLs are tested. No one is paying attention to the fact that beginning and intermediate ELLs can not be held to the same standards as the native speakers when being tested in content areas in English. They simply do not have enough language to demonstrate what they know.

Tests in native language do not resolve this problem. The companies designing new standardized tests plan to translate them into 10 languages. Translated tests are not reliable measures for ELLs. Also, if students are learning content material in English, it makes no sense to test then in native language.

ESL and bilingual teachers need to become aware of national educational debates. Our students will be affected. Perhaps more than native English speakers. I encourage you to read Diane Ravitch's blog and to write comments. She has been asking to hear other voices.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Matthew Lynch published an article today in Education News entitled Supporting English Language Learners I applaud his recognition of the need for supporting English language learners in the classroom. I think his intentions were good. From the list of publications at the bottom of the article, it is apparent that Lynch is knowledgeable in many areas of education but there is much he does not know about teaching ELLs. I left a short comment on his blog but I could have written a book. Wait! I did write several books on this topic.
The topic of teaching English language learners has become very hot over the last year. Many educators who are known in other fields of education are jumping on the bandwagon and publishing information that is dated or not in line with current research.
Lynch seems to assume that ELLs can learn English using technology out of the classroom but that they shouldn't use translators in the class because "There is some debate however as to whether or not these forms of assistive technology actually defeat the purpose of English language learning."
Language is not "soaked up.” English language learners must be able to understand the communication that is conveyed by the teacher. They need comprehensible input. We need to use every tool that we have to provide comprehensible input to ELLs including translators.
Lynch ignores the role of literacy in native language in second language acquisition.(Thomas & Collier, 1997) ELLs who become literate in native language first learn to read and write in English more quickly. Lynch's article implies that ELLs should not use their native language in learning English.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Using Music to Teach Language to ELLS

On the April 11th #ELLCHAT, a Twitter discussion group for teachers of English language learners, we discussed the benefits of using music and drama in to teach English to ELLs. One of our participants asked the groups’ thoughts about bilingual songs that switch between languages.
My reaction to this question was that it would be fun to have songs that switch between languages - especially for ESL. It’s normal for bilingual children to switch from one language to the other. I was looking at the question from an affective point of view, not a linguistic one. I was thinking of the ELL who is bombarded by information in English all day long. He may be new to the country and suffering from culture shock. He may be a young preschooler or kindergarten student who feels homesick. By including bilingual songs in the curriculum, I believed that teachers are demonstrating an appreciation of other languages and establishing a welcoming environment for ELLs in our classroom.

My friend and active #ELLchat participant @Karen Nemeth. Preschool expert and author of Many Languages, One Classroom: Teaching Dual and English Language Learners convinced me that I can not ignore the linguistic ramifications. Thank you Karen for your input.
Here is Karen’s answer to me.
Language experts are always in favor of using songs and music to support language learning because of the rhythms, focus on sounds like rhymes, the repetition and the familiarity and the kinesthetic learning associated with movement and dancing - as well as the fun! Early literacy experts focus heavily on the value of music for supporting language and literacy learning for ALL young children - and we also know that plenty of music education is linked to better math skills later on also.

What I object to is the notion of having two languages in the same song. We know from research about young children's language processing that their brains will focus on the familiar language and tune out the new language when they are presented simultaneously. I recommend singing lots of songs - but singing in one language or the other. Songs sung completely in one language or the other help the children to focus on whole phrases and sentences and get used to pronouncing strings of words.

So, by all means, I would expect that every early childhood teacher that has children from other languages in her class should be singing songs in their language right from the start. Even if the class were called "ESL" I would never condone a class for preschool or kindergarten that has nothing in the child's home language. So even if the teacher knows no words in Polish, for example, she can play Polish music and learn with the kids - and all the kids can learn some of their friend's language too.

I believe it is essential that teachers of young children in diverse classrooms MUST learn at least a few words of every language in their class and they MUST have materials to support every language they have. Every teacher MUST show respect for each child's language because it is part of his or her identity - and the teacher does this by making the effort to learn those few words and songs and stories. And the teacher must actively demonstrate this respect because she is a critical role model for respecting differences and valuing each student equally regardless of majority or minority status. When the teacher brings in Polish music and learns with her student, this forms the bridge that supports the Polish child getting used to school and learning in English as well. And - sometimes the whole class should also be singing songs in English because the repetition, movement, sounds etc will help with the transition to English, while nicely supporting literacy learning in the monolingual English speakers at the same time.

Thank you Karen for this outstanding answer. From now on, I will advocate that teachers make children feel welcome in their classrooms through the use of songs in the native languages of her students.

To Karen and me, this conversation is an example of the collegiality and collaboration that grows via Twitter, Facebook and our other social media.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Do children really learn languages more easily than teenagers or adults?

I recently received an e-mail from a colleague who stated “There seems to be some conflict with the statement you make in your book (Getting Started with English Language Learners) about adults learning language faster than children."
I do say this in my book. I present this as a myth of second language acquisition in order to give classroom teachers realistic expectations for the English language learners in their class. When I say that teenagers and adults learn a second language faster than children, I am talking about academic language. (Mc Laughlin, 1992) The purpose of presenting this myth to teachers is to emphasize that they should not expect miraculous results, assume that children have few inhibitions than adults or expect that learning a new language is easier for children than it is for adults.

I think we all recognize that young children easily acquire the language required for social interaction in an elementary school. Children outperform adults in the area of pronunciation, Children might also be more motivated to interact socially with their classmates and to acquire social language. They do not have to learn as much to achieve communicative competence in a second language. A child's constructions are shorter and simpler, and vocabulary is smaller.

Older students and adults, however, have access to the memory techniques and other strategies that more experienced learners use in acquiring vocabulary and in learning grammatical rules. These findings may reflect the mode of language instruction used in Europe, where emphasis has traditionally been placed on formal grammatical analysis. Older children are more skilled in dealing with this approach and hence might do better.

This same colleague told me that Patricia Kuhl’s findings prove that children learn languages faster. However, Patricia Kuhl's research does not negate the myth. She maintains that babies' brains have the ability to retain sounds from different languages There are many more factors involved in language acquisition than retaining sounds. .

New studies are being done all the time. New studies are exciting and do spark a lot of interesting conversations.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Reading Comprehension Strategies for ELLs: Inferring

Good readers make predictions and inferences while they read. Inferring is how readers “read between the lines.” Much of what an author conveys in English is not directly stated. It is implied. English language learners (ELLs) need to learn strategies to infer meaning. The goal is to help readers get deeper meaning from the text by making connections to prior knowledge, visualizing, and predicting. Inference is a very difficult task for English language learners. In addition to struggling with decoding, grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary and a myriad of other language and reading skills, ELLs are also trying to understand what the inferences mean. We want English language learners to develop critical thinking skills, interpret the text that they read and draw conclusions. These skills must be explicitly taught. Teachers need to give their English language learners a model in a frame to help them to express their ideas. Teach students phrases such as *I predict . . ., My guess is . . .I think that….., My conclusion is… I infer that……”

Let’s visit Mrs. Schnee’s 1st grade ESL class. Her students are on the rug on a cold winter day. They can see the field covered in snow from the window. Mrs.Schnee is holding up the book, The Snowy Day (Keats,1976) and tells students, "When I look at the cover, I can infer that this story takes place in the winter. I infer that because I see snow, just like outside my window." She then asks students to infer from the picture what happens in the story. One student, Karim, said, I infer that boy can’t play outside for a long time. ” He used the language that he had been taught to describe what he believed had occurred in the story. When Mrs. Schnee asked him why he thought that, he replied, “My schema tells me that it is winter and the snow is cold.” Then, Mrs. Schnee asked Karim to point out what in the picture helped him think it was winter and Karim pointed to the snowsuit that the boy is wearing and the snow, Thus, she checked for Karim’s understanding by asking him for a rationale for his answer. All students need strategies and language to infer meaning from pictures and text. English language learners especially need this modeling from the teacher and peers with a clear demonstration of how the inferences are made.