English Language Learners

My Experiences with English Language Learners

     My experiences with English Language Learners have been the highlight of both my working career and my educational experiences. Through my work with Shaw Industries, I have had the opportunity to work with employees who spoke limited English. The majority of these employees were attempting to learn English through social settings with native speakers but many were taking outside class to help them learn English. Through my position as a Human Resource Trainer, I worked individually with many ELLs as they transitioned into their work positions within Shaw. My main priority was to ensure these employees were receiving the necessary and adequate training, usually via a trained bilingual coach. I also assisted the employees with other work concerns that were Human Resources related such as health benefits and vacation. As a result of this experience, I have extensive practice in regards to making myself comprehensible. I have also absorbed conversational and work related Spanish terms and phrases that assisted during my position as a trainer. In addition to this more personal experience, I have also had many experiences conversing with ELLs through my current part time Customer Service position with Shaw Industries. Through this position, I am tasked on a regular basis to ensure I am making myself comprehensible over the phone as well as practicing active listening.

     In addition to the work experience that has afforded me opportunities to work with ELLs, I have been fortunate enough to have been placed in a school where I taught several lessons to students who were being monitored by the ESOL department. Through this experience, I was able to practice the methods that I had learned throughout my course work. Additionally, I was able to first hand see the importance of understanding the cultural barriers that exist throughout this area. In particular, I learned the importance of ensuring that background knowledge was adequately built prior to lessons being taught. Many of the ELLs also lacked vocabulary terms that native speakers would have working knowledge of. This observation instilled in me the importance of making vocabulary instruction an integral part of all lessons.

     I have also had the unique opportunity to volunteer with an organization known as Bridge Organization in the capacity of an English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL teacher). This organization, based out of Chattanooga, assists refugees from Africa and other countries resettle in America. Over the summer, I worked with two adult refugees from Africa whose native language is Arabic. One of the students was minimally proficient in the English language and was literate in his native language. The other student was a true beginning learner, knowing only her ABCs from rote memorization. She was also not literate in her native language. This experience was very beneficial as it allowed me to practice instructional planning for two students at varying levels of English proficiency and with different needs.

      Throughout my work career, educational career and through volunteer opportunities, I have had the opportunity to work with many ELLs at varying levels of proficiency, varying age levels, and variance within languages spoken. Throughout all these experiences, I have been cognizant of cultural implications that affect language leaning. Overall, these experiences have benefited my developing knowledge of ELLs and how to provide effective instruction to them.

Philosophy of Teaching English Language Learners

     Depending on the person asked, one could receive a multitude of responses when asking the most effective way to teach English Language Learners (ELLs) the English language as well as the needed curriculum. Despite the multitude of theories and research available, a teacher must create their own unique philosophy regarding teaching ELLs based on the research available. Many teachers choose to select from a variety of theories and create their own eclectic philosophy. For my philosophy of teaching ELLs, I have chosen to focus on the areas of creating a positive classroom environment, using effective instructional strategies, and providing culturally sensitive and culturally relevant curriculum in the classroom.

     The creation of a classroom environment conducive to effective learning is crucial to the success of ELLs as well as native speakers of the language. A positive classroom environment would involve the students showing support and respect for one another. Also, each member in the classroom would feel like a valued member of the classroom. In order to create this type of classroom environment, the teacher needs to teach the students how to work cooperatively with each other as well as respect and value one another. The key to the success in creating a positive classroom environment lies in the teacher and his or her modeling of the behaviors that he or she wishes the students to emulate. The teacher needs to also provide ample encouragement and support as well as teach the students to provide the same to their peers. 

     According to Stephen Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition, a child learns a second language most effectively when the affective filter is lowered. When this occurs the students is comfortable and at ease with their learning environment. One can easily see the connection between creating a positive classroom environment and the lowering of a child’s affective filter. 

     Another theory which correlates with the importance of a positive classroom environment is John Schumann’s Acculturation Theory. In this theory, Schumman discusses the importance of social and psychological factors in regards to language acquisition.  The creation of a positive classroom environment will enhance a child’s feelings of belonging within the social context of the classroom and thus increase the child’s acquisition of the language. With the research available supporting the need for a positive classroom environment, the connection between this environment and a child’s language acquisition as well as content learning is evident.

     In addition to creating a positive classroom environment to support ELLs’ learning of the language and content, a teacher must also employ effective instructional strategies. Research in the area of second language acquisition is crucial in the area of instructional strategies in a similar manner as it is in the creation of a positive classroom environment. Relating back to Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition, Krashen also supports the notion that teachers must provide comprehensible input to the students. Comprehensible input is defined as input that the student is able to understand. This input is effective when the input is both challenging and comprehensible at the same time. The teacher can employ comprehensible input strategies by using a variety of instructional strategies to promote learning. The strategies include, but are not limited to the following; use of realia and manipulatives, use of students’ experiences as a basis for instruction, and the use of pictures and videos to enhance understanding and learning. The use of comprehensible input is especially beneficial in the area of content instruction. Other effective instructional strategies include promoting the use of the second language for real, meaningful purposes. These can include allowing the students free choice in writing assignments and topics, promoting the publishing of students’ work, encouraging communication among peers during lessons and free time. The benefits of using sound instructional strategies include increased learning and enhanced achievement and motivation and are a must when teaching students who are learning English as a second language. 

     In addition to the before mentioned instructional strategies, teachers should implement the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) method of instruction when teaching content. This method of instruction allows the teacher to clearly plan instruction that supports both the content learning and language learning of ELLs. This method, with its eight components and thirty features, encompasses all the instructional practices and strategies to ensure the success of all students, regardless of language proficiency.

     An equally important instructional strategy that needs to be included in every philosophy of teaching ELLs is that of scaffolding language. This scaffolding of language needs to be planned and implemented throughout every lesson. The scaffolding of language is also not limited to speaking, instead encompassing speaking, reading, and writing. Such a strategy will support a students learning of the language and provide them with the necessary support to enhance their proficiency with the English language.

     Curriculum is another key aspect of any classroom instruction and especially that of ELLs. It is critical that the teacher provide curriculum that is both culturally sensitive as well as culturally relevant. Some may argue that the Georgia Performance Standards inhibit the ability to bring culturally sensitive and relevant material into the curriculum, however this is inaccurate. Though the content is prescribed by the standards, many teachers have the ability to integrate their own resources into the curriculum. For the language arts standards, the teacher can include trade books, songs, and poetry that reflect the values and traditions of various cultures. The use of such items will promote the acquisition of both language as well as the language art content standards by actively involving the students and their culture into the curriculum. For the science and social studies standards, teachers should also integrate other cultures into the studies. In science, a study of scientists from different cultures could be an example of providing culturally relative curriculum. Social studies lends itself to providing opportunities to promote other cultures in the classroom. The culturally relevant and sensitive aspect of the curriculum is especially essential in the area of social studies as this is perhaps the area that provides the largest opportunity to integrate other cultures into the curriculum. The importance of using curriculum that is culturally sensitive and relevant can provide unlimited advantages in a classroom with ELLs and should be incorporated into any teacher’s philosophy of teaching ELLs.

     The above aspects of education specifically catered towards ELLs are not inclusive. There are many more aspects that have not been explored by the preceding philosophy of teaching ELLs. However, I have chosen to explore the above topics because of their importance in the acquisition of a second language and the learning of content knowledge concurrently with the acquisition of the second language. Even though other aspects carry a significant amount of distribution in the classroom, the creation of a positive classroom environment combined with effective instructional strategies and culturally relevant and sensitive curriculum is crucial to the success of English Language Learners.