The LA times recently posted a story, How do you teach English to Americans?, about a new program for English learners that had stalled on their path to proficiency. It is common for ELs to plateau around middle proficiency levels on tests of English proficiency, which discourages both the students themselves, and their parents, who may wonder why their American-born, English-speaking children struggle to succeed academically. Enter a new program in Moreno Valley, CA: the English Learner Families for College grant proposal aimed to exit one-third of its students from English services, and in fact, has been so successful, that over two-thirds had been reclassified.
As I read the story, I realized that this program includes three components that seem to feature in varying degrees among many successful programs. And arguably, each component aims to cultivate a particular quality within students that will aid in their future success.
Parents as advocates. One component of the grant proposal was structured parental involvement. Parents committed to bilingual workshops to learn how to move beyond support and into advocacy for their children’s education. EL students are often Americanized, with “a sense of entitlement,” and don’t always have positive attitudes toward their education. But that seems to shift with greater parent engagement. We spend a lot of time talking about parent involvement at Lingual Learning. (See: 7 Ways for Parents to Support Their Kids with Their Native Language, The Top Tip for Parents to Engage in Their Child’s Education, 6 Ways to Keep Bilingual Kids Talking, 6 Things You Need to Know about Raising a Bilingual Child, When You Don’t Speak the Same Language as Your Kid, and What Does Parent Involvement Mean to You?) Parent involvement is powerful, because it build students up, making them feel confident and motivated.
Rigorous expectations. The program took students on college visitations and seemed to get students excited about a variety of career paths. Because of their low academic performance, it may be easy for mainstream teachers to pigeon-hole ELs into jobs and careers that don’t allow for much growth. But encouraging students to set goals for themselves, then providing the tools or information to achieve those goals, brings schooling into focus for ELs, and gives them motivation to press on.
Students as agents. The program used a curriculum that sounded very similar to the structure of our ELD Links and Enlaces programs. “Part of this approach uses almost formulaic classroom routines in which two students grapple with grammar or vocabulary as partners and then in front of the class.” A paragraph later, it says “There is constant student interaction.” Around our website, you’ll see the tagline around our website, “Let your students do the talking,” because a student-centered approach is repeatedly proving to be the surest way for students to find success. (Read more in our white paper, then check out these 7 apps for Oral Language). Granted, it’s hard to talk less as teachers, but the outcomes are so positive, it’s worth it. Student talk is the only way to ensure that they internalize the skills needed for success.
Although it may seem daunting to bring that vast number of mid-level students up to speed enough to succeed academically and exit English programs, these repeated components that seem to work, and work well, are taking our field in promising directions.
Can you think of any other critical components of a highly successful EL program?