How Successful Are Students in Learning English as a 2nd Language

Discussion in 'ESL/ELL' started by Obadiah, Sep 15, 2016.

  1. Obadiah

    Obadiah Cohort

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    Sep 15, 2016

    I've been researching media propaganda that unjustly criticizes U.S. education. Recently, I heard a person comment on what he heard from the media, that in NYC non-English speaking students are placed in a regular classroom according to their age and are therefore unsuccessful in achieving academically, and that this is probably a nationwide practice. So I'm wondering if ESL/ELL teachers could give me some insight on what is positively/negatively occurring. Another twist to my question, could difficult living situations (growing up in a rough neighborhood, lack of sleep or nutrition, dealing with emotional stress such as from a neighborhood's prejudice) be current factors in depressing achievement? Could a lack of languaging experience in their native tongue while still in another country also be a factor?
     
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  3. bella84

    bella84 Enthusiast

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    Sep 15, 2016

    As opposed to what?
     
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  4. vickilyn

    vickilyn Maven

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    Sep 15, 2016

    First realize that over half of the ELLs in this country were born here. The earlier they get into an ESL program, the younger they are, the more literate they are in the L1, the better the outcome. It takes at least 7 years for a non-English speaker to achieve the proficiency of a native speaker. Do the math - if we get them at middle school or later, we can get them started, but if they lack literacy in the L1, and have no frame of reference to build on, you are not going to make it in 7 years. Shoot, you won't even have them for 7 years. Furthermore, the district's goal is to get them out of the program ASAP, so many of these students, in inner city or impoverished districts, will have the goal of getting them out of the ESL program in two years, if at all possible.

    On the other hand, if they come from a country/have parents who are highly literate and well educated in the L1, these ELLs are simply transferring the content knowledge they already possess, and they may do very well. They have the map to learning, they just need to have enough instruction to learn how to use the resources at their disposal. These are likely students who have parents who read to them, helped them with their homework, and may themselves be at least bilingual. The students who come from families where the parents can not read in their L1 have a long, difficult journey, and they will have to be highly motivated to achieve. It's not that they can't, it's just that it is hard work. Many of these students stop with the basic interpersonal communications (BICs) that allows them to speak like they know the language, but often the proficiency is strictly in spoken L2, and does not include the academic language necessary for success. I had a student who basically was not in school until the age of 9, spoke Spanish, but couldn't read it, born in this country, sounded like a normal US teen when talking with friends, but with a reading skill level of a third grader the year she "graduated". She was very bright and orally bilingual, but neither of her parents could read or write. At the end of HS, she had made strong gains, but obviously not caught up. She wanted to attend college, but after finding out that she would need to take the remedial classes to get to the courses with credit, she dropped out after the first semester.

    Now as for the poverty that many of the students live in, well, that isn't unique to ELLs. I deal with native speakers who read no better than the ELL I was talking about, products of poverty, need, abuse, neglect, and who are students with significant interruption of formal education (SIFEs). Typically associated with ELLs, they can be found in many areas where poverty is rampant. I currently have an "8th grade" student who hasn't attended any school regularly for almost two years. There are learning disabilities, family dysfunction, poverty, single parent, abuse, gang related activities, drugs, and the list goes on. Although this student is bright enough according to IQ, that doesn't truly paint the real picture of a student who has potential but lacks the working tools to achieve and succeed in school. Every time this student acts out and is expelled, a new district inherits the problems, moves the student along based on age, so I have an 8th grader with no more education than a sixth grader, at best. Although a native English speaker, this student has the same kinds of deficits and disabilities, making progress difficult. Students who have been bounced through as many districts as this student (5), in a two year period, do you think that the outlook is much better than an ELL who is at least attending school and receiving help?

    Project Head Start was created to address the problems of students who came to school without proper early stimulation, hungry, in need of meals, and lacking role models to show the way learning should look like. Many of these same children have now been blended into the SPED programs, because their deficits are severe enough to qualify them for services. Many of the ED/BD/ADHD/ODD classifications are identified in students from poor, underserved locations, in need of services across the board. Many of their parents are savvy enough to lobby for services, knowing that without them, these students are destined to fail. Think Title I schools, Charters in poor neighborhoods, alternative schools for "difficult" children, and districts where virtually every child receives free breakfast and lunch. It is a chicken and the egg situation - can they not learn because their hunger and deficits prevent them from successfully competing with students who have maybe more stable home lives, more annual income, and better living conditions or have they acquired deficits and LD because their environments have failed them in a most basic of ways?

    I would hesitate to call it propaganda because of the connotations associated with that word, but if you read the reports, you can easily see that the nature vs nurture battle rages in a lot of locations. The bottom line is that when deprived of the creature comforts, deprived of an effective teaching environment, neglected by adults who are, themselves, trying to make ends meet, influenced by gang violence, drug/alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and often children being raised by other family members because the parent is "away" (code for incarcerated), the wonder is not that these comprise many of our failing students, but how some of them overcome these obstacles to survive, thrive, and even excel.

    ESL instruction is not the perfect answer, but it is better than doing nothing, don't you think? I had a student, native speaker, born is this country, a teen parent, and he was the first in his family to even graduate HS. While many parents are worried about Ivy League, this young man wanted to create an example for his daughter, something for her to aspire to.

    We don't have special classes where a HS age student can work on first grade skills with others his own age, so yes, these students will be in classes with students who are more or less at grade level academically for their age. You do have to be concerned that these students will shut down if you treat them like babies. Especially the males may be supporting the family by working, so you can't disrespect their responsibility and innate maturity, or they will walk away and you lose them forever. Don't know if this is the way it is in other parts of the country, but suspect it is pretty standard.

    Hope this helps.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2016
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  5. Obadiah

    Obadiah Cohort

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    Sep 16, 2016

    Good point. When I referred to "propaganda" in my original post, the media I encounter tends to define "academic achievement" in order to support their points.

    Vickilyn, thank you for all the information. I wanted to address one question; by "propaganda" I'm referring to generalized news reports, possibly based on facts that support the editorial and ignoring facts that do not support, and news articles that are purposefully crafted to "shape" the thinking of the readers. The person whom I was referring to in my OP was influenced by media defaming the public education system and this was one supposed example of a failing system. Personally, I agree with you, there's only so much an education system can do and for the most part, I think our teachers are working the miraculous, not just with ESL/ELL but with all student situations we encounter.
     
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  6. vickilyn

    vickilyn Maven

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    Sep 16, 2016

    If I didn't think public schools were worth every penny we spend, with employees who do, in fact, work miracles, I would never have become a teacher or allowed my son to do the same.
     
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