||This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (June 2011)|
An English language learner (often capitalized as English Language Learner or abbreviated to ELL) is a person who is learning the English language in addition to their native language. The instruction and assessment of students, their cultural background, and the attitudes of classroom teachers towards ELLs have all been found to be factors in ELL student achievement. Some ways that have been suggested to assist ELLs include bringing their home cultures into the classroom, involving them in language-appropriate content-area instruction from the beginning, and by integrating literature into the learning program. Some educational advocates, especially in the United States, prefer for a student learning any second language the term emergent bilingual.
Issues in the classroom
There are a considerable number of ESL students (English as a Second Language) in classrooms today, causing a strong need for additional programs and services. Unfortunately, there are many critical issues that relate to culturally and linguistically diverse students. Four critical issues that are found in today’s classrooms when teaching diverse learners are instruction, assessment, the role of culture, and the teacher’s attitudes. It has become vital to integrate culture, literature, and other disciplines into content and language.
The first critical issue is focused on instruction of the ESL students within the classroom and how it is related to Standards-based content and ESL instruction. Some teachers may feel that ESL instruction may be a separate entity from standard-based instruction. On the contrary, we need to acknowledge the fact that they are intertwined with each other. or the English TESOL Standard 3a states that teachers should “know, understand, and use evidence‐based practices and strategies related to planning, implementing, and managing standards‐based ESL and content instruction”. In a five week study by Huang, researched showed that “classroom instruction appeared to play an important role in integrating language skills development and academic content learning.” This study showed that the “students acquire linguistic/literacy skills and scientific knowledge hand in hand as they assume various communicative and social roles within carefully planned language activities”. By tying in written texts with the science content the students were able to improve their language development between drafts and build on their science content knowledge.
The second critical issue is focused on fair and balanced assessment within the ESL classroom. Some teachers may come across being biased without even recognizing it. “All too often, though, these students are either asked to participate in tests that make unfair assumptions about their English-language proficiency in order to assess their content knowledge or conversely, are totally excluded from any testing until their English-language proficiency has reached a certain level,”. TESOL standard 4a states that’s teachers need to “demonstrate understanding of various assessment issues as they affect ELLs, such as accountability, bias, special education testing, language proficiency, and accommodations in formal testing situations”. When the teachers are capable of understanding the various assessment issues they will be able to execute reasonable, consistent, and balanced assessments. “When visual tactile, kinesthetic, intrapersonal, and interpersonal skills are equally recognized avenues of learning and intellect, CLD students have increased access to the curriculum and opportunities to demonstrate authentically internalized knowledge,”. By having a variety of assessments students will be able to perform to the best of their knowledge. Therefore, it is vital to have alternative methods of assessing ESL students.
Culture is the third issue that may not always be recognized in a mainstream classroom. Many teachers overlook culture and try to jump right into English and content knowledge without knowing their students backgrounds. Teachers need to be open to learning new cultures and having their student embrace all cultures in the classroom. By taking great strives to learn about each other’s values and beliefs the teacher and student would not only maximize the effectiveness of ESL but make it a successful learning experience for all involved. A student who is shy or reluctant to answer questions may be more outspoken when talking about their own values that tie in with their home life. An ESL teacher, in a study called Losing Strangeness to Mediate ESL Teaching, “connects culture to religious celebrations and holidays and the fusion invites students to share their knowledge”. This will encourage students to open up and talk about their cultural backgrounds and traditions within their family. “Teachers who encourage CLD students to maintain their cultural or ethnic ties promote their personal and academic success”. Students should not lose their identity but gain knowledge from their culture and the world around them. Therefore it is beneficial to bring culture into the ESL classroom in order for the students to feel a sense of worth in school and in their lives.
The fourth critical issue is the attitudes of the teachers which plays a major role in the ESL classroom. Some teachers may have a negative, unwelcoming attitude. Research shows that teachers negative attitudes may stem from “chronic lack of time to address ELLs’ unique classroom needs", "intensification of teachers workloads when ELLs are enrolled in mainstream classes", and "feels of profession inadequacy to work with ELLS”. Also, the lack of training will have a huge impact on their teaching practices and professional development. The teachers will then be stressed and nervous to go about a lesson. Their anxiety will roll over into the classroom and have a negative impact on the ESL students’ performances. “Teachers’ language-acquisition misconceptions may color their attitudes towards ELLs and ELL inclusion, leading educators to misdiagnose learning difficulties or misattribute student failure to lack of intelligence or effort”. By providing a good learning environment, it will have a positive effect on the students overall success in terms of linguistic, social, cognitive, and academic developments. Systematic Integration of Culture, Literature and other Disciplines
Enriching the Classroom Environment
In order to have an environment that is beneficial for the teacher and the student culture, literature, and other disciplines should be integrated systematically into the instruction. “Postponing content-area instruction until CLD students gain academic language skills widens the achievement gap between the learners and their native-English speaking peers”. Relating to culture, teachers need to integrate it into the lesson, in order for the students to feel a sense of appreciation and a feeling of self-worth.
By integrating literature into the instruction students will benefit substantially. “Reading texts that match learner interests and English proficiency provide learners with comprehensible language input--a chance to learn new vocabulary in context and to see the syntax of the language”. Students will be motivated and will make learning more enjoyable. Lastly, by integrating other disciplines into the lesson it will make the content more significant to the learners and will create higher order thinking skills across the areas. By integrating language into other contents, it focuses not only on learning a second language, but using that language as a medium to learn mathematics, science, social studies, or other academic subjects”. When language and content areas are integrated ESL students become aware “that English is not just an object of academic interest nor merely a key to passing an examination; instead, English becomes a real means of interaction and sharing among people”. Therefore, students will be able to communicate across the curriculum, acquire higher level skills, and be successful in their daily lives.
Strategies for supporting English language learners in the classroom
- Incorporating technology
The internet makes it possible for students to view videos of activities, events and places around the world. Viewing these activities can help English language learners to develop an understanding of new concepts while at the same time building topic related schema (background knowledge). 
- Experiential learning
Teacher can provide opportunities for English language learners to acquire vocabulary and build knowledge through hands-on learning. 
- Connecting learning to prior knowledge
In order to make learning more meaningful, connect a new topic to an experience or event from the English language learners background. This can support the English language learner in making connections between vocabulary in their L1 (first language) and English. 
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