English language learners

Dr. Wayne E. WrightDr. Wayne E. Wright is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Texas at San Antonio. His research areas and expertise encompass issues pertaining to language, literacy, and the unique challenges faced by English language learners. He was recently nominated for the Achievement Award for New Scholars by the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools, and currently holds several editorial positions in scholarly journals.

One of the greatest strengths ELL students bring to the classroom is their primary language (L1). Richard Ruiz (1984) reminds us that effective programs for ELLs view the primary language as a resource, rather than as a problem to be overcome. Even in non-bilingual classrooms teachers can utilize their students’ L1 in a manner which will make content-area instruction in English much more comprehensible (Wright, 2008). As Krashen (1985) has pointed out in his Comprehensible Input Hypothesis, students acquire English when they can understand messages in that language. Thus, proper use of the L1 makes English language instruction much more comprehensible, and thus students will acquire English much more quickly and effectively while at the same time mastering grade-level content. The use of students’ L1 in this manner is called Primary Language Support (PLS). Even in states such as Arizona which restrict bilingual education and require sheltered English immersion (SEI), the law makes it clear that teachers may use PLS as needed. Indeed, PLS is a critical component of sheltered English instruction, as evidenced by its inclusion in the Sheltered English Observation Protocol (SIOP) (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2004).

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Maria Adelaida Restrepo Ph,D, CCC-SLP, is an associate professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science at Arizona State University. She currently heads three funded projects on intervention for English Language Learners through Tier 2 interventions or professional training of preschool teachers, and one funded project in assessment of Spanish-speaking children. She is a bilingual Speech-Language Pathologist who has worked in schools and a variety of settings with Latin-American children and families. Her research and writing focus on best practices in speech and language assessment and intervention with bilingual populations and prevention of academic failure in children at risk due to language or environmental issues.

What is a bilingual speech and language assessment? Children who speak a language other than English and children who are bilingual need to be evaluated in their native language or the languages that they speak. When children are evaluated only in one of the languages, or in the language in which they are least proficient, such as English for English Language Learners (ELLs), they are often misdiagnosed with speech and language problems when they do not exist, or the nature of the child’s difficulty is not determined accurately (Artiles, Rueda, Salazar, & Higareda, 2005). Some times, however, we find that the monolingual speech-language pathologist (SLP) evaluating a child who is learning English overcorrects for the lack of knowledge of the child’s native language and culture, and misses that the child has a disability by attributing low performance to cultural and linguistic difference.

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Sonia NietoSonia Nieto is Professor Emerita of Language, Literacy, and Culture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she taught for 25 years. Before that, she was a junior high and elementary school teacher. She has written widely on issues of multicultural education and on the education of students of diverse backgrounds, and she has written numerous books, journal articles, and book chapters on these topics.

Sometimes as soon as I step foot in a school, I can tell of its commitment, or lack of commitment, to affirming the diversity of their students. Some things are obvious, of course: posters, bulletin boards, the nature of the books in the library, the diversity of the staff, and the language or languages displayed in the school – not only whether the home language or languages of your students are visible, but also the tone of signs in the building such as “Visitors must go to Principal’s Office,” versus “Welcome to our school! Please stop by the Principal’s Office to let us know you’re here.” Other things are less obvious: whether there is a consistent and committed outreach to all families; the curriculum and how it actually unfolds in the classroom; and whether or not students’ identities are truly accepted and honored.

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Dr. Julio CammarotaDr. Julio Cammarota is an assistant professor in the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology and the Mexican-American Studies and Research Center at the University of Arizona, who also co–directs the Social Justice Education Project (SJEP), a youth participatory action research program.

Throughout the 1990’s, I documented the education, work and family experiences of Latino youth in California (see my book, Suenos Americanos). My intention was to understand how young Latinos might achieve some success (i.e. educational achievement or decent employment) in a hostile political and economic environment. The most surprising finding of my research was that Latina females fared much better than Latino males, sometimes within the same family.

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