Investigating Critical & Contemporary Issues in Education/English as a Second Language

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Jessica Phelps-Ch.17 English as a Second Language

During 1986, Congress passed The Bilingual Education Act. This act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. This means when needed, schools must provide equal education opportunities for language- minority students. Under this act, students who speak English as a second language must be kept in an adequate program until they can read, write, and comprehend English well enough to participate in all aspects of a school’s curriculum. 46% of all schools in the United States have students who speak English as a second language. However, only 43% of schools have programs for students who speak English as a second language. 27% of schools find it difficult or impossible to fill these teaching positions with qualified instructors. In this article I am going to discuss the following: what is a student who speaks English as a second language and what programs have been provided for them, the pros and cons of these programs, and how teachers can take extra steps to help these students.

Students who speak English as a second language, also called an ESOL student, are defined as those students whose native language is not English. These students have difficulty speaking, reading, writing, and understanding the English language. The ESOL program is a state funded program for eligible English language learners in grades K-12. According to Dr. Ken Shore, The ESOL program is a standard based curriculum emphasizing social and academic language proficiency. This program will allow English language learners to communicate and demonstrate academic, social, and cultural knowledge. The ESOL program is for students that speak any first language other than English. Some examples of other languages would include the following: Vietnamese, French, German, and Spanish. However, the most common first language is Spanish. The programs are different for each school district. According to author Denise McKeon, there are a few variables that influence the kind of programs offered in a given district. These factors include the following: the student population that is being served, individual student characteristics, and the district’s resources. Characteristics of student populations include the numbers of students per language group, the size of a particular language group, and the geographic and grade distribution of students influence the type of ESOL program designed for a given district. Some districts have large, stable populations of ESOL students from single language or cultural backgrounds. On the other hand, some districts have large groups of ESOL students representing several language backgrounds. This makes it difficult to find qualified instructors fluent in all languages. The overall goal of the ESOL program is to teach the student until they are at a level where they can continue their education in classes with their English speaking peers.

There are many positive aspects of the ESOL program, as well as many negative aspects. Since extremely high dropout rates have been reported for English as second language students, the ESOL program will give these students the confidence they need to be successful all the way through grade 12 and for the rest of their lives. It will give them the abilities to connect with their peers and other members of the community. It will be useful as they get older and start looking for a job. And once in the job market, they will be able to communicate with potential employers. Most of the time, these students are the only members of their households able to speak English. Because of this their parents are limited in their involvement as compared to English speaking parents. As ESOL students master the language, they can help other family members learn the language. Also, when they grow up and have children of their own they will be able to speak English to them. This means that these future students will enter the school system knowing the English Language. There also are many downfalls to the ESOL program. The main downfall is the challenges the teachers face while teaching these students the academic skills they need to succeed, helping them adjust to a new school setting, and helping these students adapt to the American culture. There are also issues with finding qualified instructors with the ability to speak English and the other foreign languages. This is needed because in the ESOL program instruction is provided in both English and the student’s dominant language. Some people say that the program is actually hindering the students’ ability to learn the curriculum because teachers are cradling the students by using their native languages too long. In my opinion, the native languages have to be used a little at the beginning to communicate with the student as they first enter the ESOL program.

There are some useful strategies teachers can use to help ESOL student learn faster and adjust to the new setting. Here are some useful tips that can help teachers. They can help the student feel a sense of belonging by making ways to make him or her feel comfortable. For example, having all of the students make sure they pronounce their name correctly. Another tip is to find someone else that speaks their native language in the school system or in the community that they can talk to in their native language and feel comfortable around. This way they will not feel so isolated. You can also teach the student key words such as: student, teacher, principal, nurse, book, reading, math, homework, clock, lunch, playground, bathroom, backpack, and bell. It will also help in teaching these words if the teacher writes the word on one side of an index card and have a picture on the opposite side. Teachers can also write important information on the board since an ESOL student might not catch the teacher saying it out loud such as homework, seat work, and important dates. Teachers can also assign the ESOL student a buddy to help the ESOL student find their way around the school, understand the rules, and understand directions. Teachers can also keep track of student’s language progress by recording conversations throughout the year and then show them how they have progressed in their learning of the English language.

It is very important for all teachers and all students to understand that language is acquired, not learned. Students of an average intelligence will take 5-7 years to become fully proficient in the English Language. Until then, everyone needs to be patient and remember that EVERY teacher is an English teacher. A warm smile will go a long way when everyone is starting to get frustrated and wants to give up. It is also important to remember that a new language is best learned when the student is participating in activities they are interested it. After researching this topic, I have become very aware of all of the cultural diversities there are in schools. Hopefully students will be able to accept each other for their differences and become more intelligent and caring because of these differences. My mom is a Pre-K teacher and she has ESOL children in her class. To help her ESOL students, she has students from the local high schools in higher level foreign language classes come to the classroom once a week and buddy up with an ESOL student. This helps because sometimes something explained in a different set of words can make a world of a difference to a student trying to learn the English language. I also think schools could have ESOL programs afterschool for the parents so they will be able to be more involved in their children’s school life. They would be able to help with homework, attend and understand school activities, and be able to communicate with the teachers.