Is a Charter School Helping Solve English Language Acquisition Challenge for ELL Students?

Actually, the title of the post could have been "Are Charter Schools Helping Solve…" as this story is not limited to just a single school, but I digress... It's fairly common knowledge that California is the state with the highest population of kids in grades K-12 who are classified as ELL, over 1.2 million - a whopping 22.3% of all students! This size of a challenge requires an open mind and a multi-prong approach to address, let alone solve. That's why it's important for teachers, administrators and parents from all types of schools take a look at what's working for the Charter schools of California who have seen rapid improvement of language acquisition for their ELL students. From the Orange County Register, a study sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association found that ELL students in some of California's charter schools see a 19% advantage in their skill acquisition versus those same students at traditional public schools. Now, I know there are strong feelings about Charter schools in the US so it would be crazy to just depend on a stat from a charter school association. But, a Stanford sponsored study on the same topic found that ELL students in California charter schools did indeed see an acquisition gap in ELL kids in charter schools versus traditional public. This is worth investigating. 

It appears that the approach used in the charter schools that were studied included "differentiated instruction to tailor lessons to students learning English, intervention strategies that focus on the early identification of students with learning needs, break outs for small group instruction and extended English language development courses". It's a mix of methods and tools that are showing success in these schools, which is considerably better than a 'one size fits all' type of approach that never seems to "fit" enough students. It should also be noted that the schools in the study have missions that focused on "inclusiveness, language mastery and college readiness for their students" - though I would say any school of any stripe would have the same goals for their students regardless of their language challenges.

Anyway, it's an interesting read about approaches that are working for some schools. Please don't take this as an endorsement of Charter schools, as I personally have no experience working with these, but I know for some it's a 'third rail' topic. Just view it through the lens of a different school system trying things that are working for their ELL kids. It's worth the time to take a look, here's the direct link to the article in the OC Register:  http://www.ocregister.com/articles/schools-675215-charter-english.html.

 

Growth in Spanish Immersion Programs in Maryland Public Schools

Prince George's county in Maryland has a really interesting (and IMO forward thinking) approach to introducing and facilitating world language acquisition for their incoming kindergarteners - immersion. Currently the county is offering Spanish immersion in three of their elementary schools. Why? The district and the American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages believes that 1. young kids are perfectly capable of learning and acquiring (two different things to be sure) second languages, 2. it gives them an opportunity to gain a better cultural understanding through foreign language; and, 3. it also gives kids an opportunity to gain a skill that will serve them well in a competitive global economy. That's an example of giving kids tools to succeed! 

Lingo Jingo firmly stands behind - and encourages - all three of these beliefs and we're excited for the kids in the Prince George school system. We applaud the work done for these kids and hope this philosophy spreads to other schools across the country. 

To learn more about this endeavor, you can read the article titled "Maryland county adds Spanish immersion programs at three elementary schools

 

How Long Does It Take to Learn English?

According to a recent study conducted with elementary school students in Washington, D.C. who speak English as a second language, it takes an average of three years and eight months for young children to become proficient in the language. However, this statistic only speaks to oral efficiency. This level of language is simply not enough to perform academically at age level. In fact, more than 20 percent of English Language Learners do not score high enough on state exams to achieve re-classification status.

The same study suggests that it takes four to seven years for English Language Learners to reach the same level as their peers in reading and writing as well as the ability to perform well on tests. Parents, educators, and the students themselves need to understand the difference between oral and academic efficiency when they ponder the question "How long does it take to learn English?" This question really has two different answers.

English Language Learners Require Stronger Academic Support

Because of the way the brain develops, children who must learn a new language do best when they are exposed to that language before the age of nine. While an admirable goal, this doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. Many students come to the United States during their teenage years having had no previous exposure to the English language. For this reason, it’s crucial for educators to invest time and resources in helping these students reach proficiency as soon as possible.

English Language Acquisition Specialists Help Non-Native Speakers Remain in Mainstream Classrooms

The common practice in school districts across the United States is to pull students out of mainstream classes such as math, science, and social studies to focus on learning the English language instead. Rather than remain with their peers, English Language Learners spend time in the small groups with the same instructor trying to improve their social and academic language skills. Unfortunately, this approach can backfire when English Language Learners fall further behind their peers due to having been pulled from class.

A More Inclusive Approach

At the Cherry Creek School District in Colorado, students who are in the process of learning English are no longer singled out for specialized instruction. The district has hired English Language Acquisition Specialists who travel from one classroom to the next teaching a variety of different subjects. These specialists work with classroom teachers to create lesson plans that will engage both native English speakers and those learning the language in a positive way.

Early Feedback on Keeping ELL Students in Mainstream Classrooms

While the program is still new, early reports indicate that it is a success. English Language Learners no longer feel isolated from their peers, which in turn helps them foster friendships and keep up with the material taught in class. Parents, who are also happier with the new approach, are keeping their children enrolled in the district because of it. School districts looking to close the gap in performance between native and non-native English speakers would be wise to follow Cherry Hill’s example.

Learning English from soap operas - one Syrian refugee's story

With so much terrible information in the news about the Syrian refugee crisis that is overwhelming those fleeing Syria as well as the European countries who are trying to get a grip on this humanitarian catastrophe, it's hard to find something uplifting from it all. I accidentally came across the following story about a girl who fled Syria and was interviewed by reporters covering the plight of these refugees who asked her about her strong English speaking skills. Her answer? She learned from watching 'Days of our Lives'! This is one story from this mess that not only puts a much needed - and amazing - human face on what is happening half a world away. It has been covered in the following article: 

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/02/world/europe/young-refugee-who-fled-syria-in-wheelchair-thanks-days-of-our-lives-stars-who-reunited-for-her.html?_r=0

This story was also covered by John Oliver, who has his own 'Daily Show'-like show where he describes the situation of this girl (her name is Noujain Mustaffa) AND sends her a message from the people she loves so much from her favorite show. It's really cool, I invite you to check it out, there's a video of the John Oliver clip in the link.