Every teacher wants students to actively participate in lively academically oriented discussions. After all, the more they argue or state their points of view, the more proficient they will become in using academic English.
The problem which surfaces here is that often times English language learners only possess conversational skills and that leaves them ill-prepared to tackle academic discussions. Since development of reading and writing skills hinge on oral language development, teachers need to incorporate a variety of meaningful class activities where ELLs have multiple meaningful opportunities to use the content vocabulary in interacting with peers, text, writing, and teachers.
Why aren’t many ELLs more engaged in class routines?
Some students have limited proficiency in speaking. There is an embarrassment factor in place here. These same students don’t want their weaknesses revealed to all so they stay quiet and hope that they are not called on by the teacher.
Other students might not understand a teacher or English speaking classmate completely. After all, they are still trying to learn English. If an English speaker speaks too quickly, the ELL loses the content of the conversation.
Then there are ELLs who resent being asked low level questions when they feel that they are knowledgeable enough in the content to be asked challenging questions.
Further, in some cultures, students do not ask questions of a teacher since that is disrespectful. Here, by asking questions, students are saying that the teacher does not know the content.
So what is a teacher to do?
This article offers several practical and easy-to-implement solutions to the problem. One highly effective approach is taking the student’s comment and scaffolding it to include a more academic tone. Here the teacher asks probing questions to guide the ELL in transforming his/her response from a limited one to a more developed academic one.
Teachers should also set up many opportunities for think-pair-share talking opportunities with students who are more proficient in the use of English than the ELL who is struggling.
Structured cooperative learning opportunities are also highly effective. In such settings, groups are built with more proficient speakers of English, and the activities are structured where everyone has an assigned task. Of course, members of the group can support each other in tackling the assignment, but each one will be held accountable for the work. Once the time is up for the assignment, the teacher does random call-ons of students. If the ELL doesn’t have the answer, the teacher notes it and then returns to that student who by the second call-on, may have heard the answer from another student.
Many more ideas are in the article. It offers a good opportunity for teacher self-reflection on how effective s/he is in challenging the ELL to grow in academic language proficiency. BUILDING AN ELL’S ABILITY TO PARTICIPATE EFFECTIVELY IN CLASSROOM DISCUSSIONS
If you have a very effective routine that you would like to share here, please do:)
ELL TEACHER PROS