Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Modifying the mainstream classroom to fit the needs of English Language Learners

Too often, good teachers forget that just because a student has language difficulties does not mean that s/he has learning difficulties. A language barrier is something that, with proper instruction and time, can be overcome- unlike dyslexia or other learning disabilities (which can be managed, but not cured).

Making modifications for English language learners (ELLs) does not mean "dumbing down" the material. The material can still be complex, but the language needs to be simplified to a level where the student can understand it (this goes back to Krashen's comprehenisible input theory). Surprisingly, making modifications to your everyday assignments is not as hard or as time comsuming as you may think. That's not to say it doesn't take some time, because it does. However, once you've modified something, you have that modified version for life!

What are some simple ways that you can modify your classroom and materials to make them more ELL-friendly? Here are some tips:

  • Make it easier for the ELL to express his or her content knowledge- provide word and sentence walls to help students find the language to express their knowledge of the content. Often students know and understand the content, but are unable to express their knowledge due to their limited English proficiency.Allow them alternative methods to express their knowledge without language, such as drawing or acting something out.
  • Make the content comprehensible- There are a few ways that you can adapt a text to make it comprehensible for an ELL. The easiest is to simplify the language in the text (but not the content!) so that students can access the content without working too hard for the language. Again, you are not "dumbing it down"! You want to keep the content rigorous while making the language accessible to the student. Another way is to expound the text, which means to include additional information that might be helpful to the ELL in understanding the text.Again, the language must be on the student's level for this to work.
  • Provide explicit vocabulary instruction- English language learners need explicit instruction on the specific vocabulary that is related to your content. This means instructing them not only on the meaning of the word, but the contexts in which it is used. By the way, if you do this as a whole-class activity, then your other students will benefit as well!
  • Don't forget the Multiple Intelligences- Remember that not every student learns the same way, and this means that not every ESL student learns content or language in the same way. Provide multiple options to help students learn the material and express the knowledge they possess. This means lots of visuals, manipulatives, hands-on activities and repetition, repetition, repetition.
  • Repetition, repetiton, repetition- You may feel rediciulous repeating everything, but English language learners usually need to hear things more than once. This goes for directions and the content you are teaching. Also consider providing directions and notes in a written format for your ESL students.
  • Provide Cloze notes- Note taking can take forever, especially for someone learning English as a second language. Consider creating "cloze notes" that cover the content you are teaching, but omit important words. Students can fill in the important words as you teach. This eliminates the frustration of trying to keep up notes in a fast paced classroom as well as the propensity to miss important information because they are rushing.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips, but I hope these tips are useful to you in making modifications for your English language learners. Feel free to leave questions or comments!!

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