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School and classroom support for English language learners

Hi everyone, 

 Welcome to Term 1, 2014, I hope everyone has had a wonderful break full of family and friends, sun and laughter and lots of relaxation.  It is great to be back and sharing with you all. 

 I always enjoy the start of a new school year and the fresh possibilities that lie ahead. It is a time for getting to know your new students. For ESOL teachers this is often a time of assessing the English language level of any new students that have arrived in your school. This often means forming new groups and creating a weekly timetable to fit in all the students you need to teach. 

There are two main approaches used in New Zealand primary schools for teaching English language learners (ELLs), either supporting the student within their own classroom or small group withdrawal by language level or class level etc. There are pros and cons to each approach and both can be very effective. 

What is important is that the content of the English language programme is closely linked to what is being taught in the student’s classroom and that the students are scaffolded to succeed. No matter whether you are a classroom teacher or an ESOL teacher you should both be teaching both curriculum content and language. To do this you will need to have specific learning objectives for each evident in your planning documents. You also need to “know you learner” and understand where they are at in their language learning and what their next language learning step is. This is why using the English Language Learning Progressions (ELLP) are an essential tool for teachers. 

I also think it is important to consider the frequency and length of the lessons offered each week. We need accelerated progress for these students if they are to catch up to their cohort peers. What is offered will differ from school-to-school and is largely determined by school budgets and Ministry Guidelines. If the lesson time is too short then a lot of time can be wasted getting to and from classrooms. It can also be difficult to get real depth in the lessons and to maintain a balance between reading, writing, speaking and listening and have time to practice fluency. If students are only seen once or twice a week it can also be difficult to maintain the flow of lessons as more time is needed on revising what has been taught due to retention loss. The English for Speakers of Other Languages Information for Schools handbooks (The Green folder) under Resourcing Information in section D Guidelines for Using this Funding, it says that you should provide a sustained learning time 3 times a week as a minimum. The number of students seen at any one time in a group is also something to consider. In the same guidelines it states that in primary schools the optimum group size is 4-8 studentsgrouped according to similar language competency. 

 This may be a good time-of-year for the school leader responsible for ESOL to reread the guidelines and reflect on what your school does to support ELLs. Please remember that the ESOL funding provided to your school is in addition to your operational grant. Both are intended to be used to provide support for your ELLs.

 Questions to reflect upon

 If you are a classroom teacher:

1.     Do I consistently have language learning objectives/intentions in all my panning documents?

2.     Do I understand what language needs to be taught? (See page 16 of the New Zealand Curriculum document).

3.     How can I grow my knowledge of the structure of English language and English grammar in 2014?

4.     Do I know the reading, writing speaking and listening ELLP levels for every ELL in my class this year? If not, how could I find out? What information does using these provide and how will this better inform my teaching practice?

 If you are an ESOL Teacher of School leader:

1. Do all teachers in my school set language learning objectives in all curriculum plans? If not how can I support them to do this? What PLD needs to take place?

2.   Are all teachers familiar with the ELLP and using them to inform their teaching practice? If not then what actions need to take place?

3.  What changes are needed in the way we provide language and learning support for our  ELLs? Does what we provide meet the MOE Guidelines? (see English for Speakers of Other Languages, Information for Schools Folder) 

4.     Should our school employ a specialist ESOL teacher (a fully trained primary teacher who also has an appropriate TESOL qualification) to better support our ELLs? Do we need ESOL trained teacher aides or first language support teacher aides to work alongside classroom teachers?

5.     Do we have an ESOL policy document in our school to guide the provision of ESOL and for the care of these students?

 Office of Ethnic Affairs

To start the term I thought I would share a link to the Office of Ethnic Affairs. Take a look at the dates for conferences in Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton and Christchurch. The theme for the 2014 conferences is encouraging civic participation by ethnic people, and the programme will feature a range of inspiring and motivating speakers. This page also links to the Language Line interpretation service which can often be useful at the start of year.