Getting to Know English Language Learners is an Essential Step to Supporting Them

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Research shows that more than 4 % of Kentucky’s public-school population consists of English Language Learners (ELL) and that number increases every year. ELLs are considered a linguistically diverse population because they are exposed to a language other than English on a daily basis. However, their level of proficiency in that language might vary substantially. Due to the increasing number of ELLs in public schools it has become more essential than ever for teachers to better understand their ELL students so that they can design instruction and assessments that support student success.

How can we get to know ELLs better?

It is important to know ELLs’ English language proficiency, literacy in other language(s), and educational background. By speaking to the ELL specialist in your school, teachers can learn about ELLs’ levels of English language proficiency based on standardized assessment. Here are some suggested methods of learning more about your ELLs:  

  • Interviewing an ELL:

Teachers can design a brief interview with an ELL at the beginning of the school year and learn about their country of origin, literacy in the first language, family background, and past educational experiences. Knowing ELLs’ strengths will help avoid any deficit perspectives of their students.

  • Scheduling home visits:

A visit from a teacher may become an enjoyable experience for ELLs and their families. ESL teachers in the school may already be visiting the ELLs, so consider partnering up with another colleague. A home visit might be especially effective at the beginning of the academic year.

  • Attending international food and culture nights:

Schools often organize international food or culture nights. These events provide opportunities to start the first encounters with your students’ families. Families enjoy talking about their culture, country, food, and areas of expertise or strength. Knowing an ELL’s family is also an act of support.

Learning about the linguistically and culturally diverse learners is an essential step to supporting them! ELLs might have some challenges that other students might not experience, so a deliberate effort to get to know ELLs will help teachers connect their instruction to their students’ lived experiences and engage them more effectively.

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About the Author Dr. Ali Yaylali is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning, & Educational Leadership at Eastern Kentucky University. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Literacy and ELL. Originally from Turkey, Dr. Yaylali is past president of AZTESOL and conducts research on middle-high school ELL writing, mentoring graduate students, and teachers’ transformative learning in ESL endorsement classes

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