Options for English Language Learners

I read Options for English Language Learners by Liliana Minaya-Rowe (School Administrator, v65 n10 p16-17 Nov 2008. 2pp ISSN 0036-6439).

The American-centred article highlights gaps in the English language academic proficiency in the USA and outlines different school programs for English Language Learners:

  • Two-Way Bilingual Programs: These programs give equal status to two languages and begin in the primary grades and have a long continuum aimed at long term participation until the completion of high school.
  • Transitional Bilingual Education Programs: The language of instruction begins in the home language and then the amount of English language instruction increases gradually over the primary school years, shifting towards all-English classes in later schooling.
  • Monolingual Programs: This is an English-only instructional program and is prevalent in schools where the ELL population is highly diverse.
  • Sheltered English/Content-based English as a Second Language: Students are grouped away from native English speakers to focus on academic content and vocabulary aimed at providing a more solid understanding of homeroom concepts.
  • ESL pull-out/push-in programs: The goal of these programs it English language fluency, not content mastery. There is reduced access to the full content of the curriculum.
  • Newcomer programs: These types of programs address short-term needs for recent immigrants who essentially need to expedite their English language learning.

Minaya-Rowe finishes the article by stating that school districts need to choose the most effective program to meet the needs of their own student population.

After reading this article, I have had difficulty deciding what method my school in Guangzhou, China uses. The different programs seem to overlap. We have a monolingual program that is based on an English-only instructional model. However we have four streamed Chinese classes for all of primary. We have an ESL beginner pull-out program that focuses on language fluency and students miss out on aspects of the main curriculum. We also have some collaboration between EAL teachers and homeroom teachers (in my grade because I push for it). So there is a small version of a sheltered program for the ‘intermediate’ language learners. I hope that my school can move towards a more integrated language program that focuses on content-based instruction. I think this is the best way to go for my school because we are heavily focused on content in our every-day instruction with our Primary Years Program (PYP) curriculum. Students really miss out if they don’t understand the 20 buzz-words for that unit. Our central ideas for units are quite elaborate sometimes and go in-depth with explicit description with words like perspective, point of view, survive, responsibility, communication, etc. I feel this will better assist them to master academic proficiency.

My questions are:

What types of language programs do you have at your school?

Which program listed here do you think would be best for your school?

Have you seen a bilingual program work well – and what aspect of it do you think made it functional?

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