By Ed Lamprich – Vice President, English Language Learner Strategy, McGraw-Hill Education
A diverse and growing group of students, English learners continue to have a strong influence on the ever-changing K-12 landscape. Their unique needs and assets often sit at the heart of many districts’ equity plans, offering opportunities for administrators to rethink strategies for culturally responsive teaching, community and family engagement, social and emotional learning, technology integration, and instruction across disciplines.
The environment in which today’s English learners are growing up is complex and presents a variety of obstacles. These students take on all the responsibilities of a K-12 learner while simultaneously learning a new language and often a new culture. To chart the changes and trends in EL education, McGraw-Hill recently released its second English Learner Report. In the report, which surveyed both teachers and administrators, we learned that teachers are struggling to help their students navigate the outside world as it influences life inside the classroom: 69% of administrators and 65% of teachers report that conversations about immigration impact their school’s environment.
To ensure we are empowering English learners to thrive in such a challenging space, it is critical that we carefully and continually examine the academic, social, and emotional needs of ELs. Our recent survey provides us with some valuable insights into how educators are meeting this challenge and what gaps persist.
ELs are Taught Primarily in Mainstream Programs
According to the report, educators are currently using a variety of classroom instructional models to serve English learners. A mainstream program with specialized EL instruction is the most common approach, particularly among teachers. The surveyed educators are also using Newcomer programs, dual language immersion programs, and developmental bilingual instruction.
Collaboration and Group Work Are Key to Langauge Development
When asked the open-ended question, “What programs, solutions, or activities have had the MOST positive impact on EL student achievement/success in your school/district?”, teachers’ answers centered around collaboration and games. They see value in collaborative oral and writing group work for English learners, specifically through idea sharing, communication with peers, and vocabulary practice. Teachers also cite games as particularly productive for English learners, in creating the opportunity for collaboration and engaging vocabulary practice.
Video and Audio Tools Are Effective
Among a variety of resources, both teachers and administrators report using video and audio tools the most to support English learners. They are also inclined to use adaptive learning technologies, free online educational resources, and traditional textbooks. Teachers and administrators differ in their outlook on effectiveness, however – teachers cite video and audio resources as most effective, whereas administrators believe adaptive learning technologies to be most effective.
Social and Emotional Supports Present Challenges
Teachers and administrators say that social and emotional learning (SEL) challenges are among the greatest obstacles in effectively serving English learners.
We’ve taken a closer look at the social and emotional supports beneficial for English learners before. Trauma-sensitive teaching practices, such as a strengths-based approach, can be powerful for students who have experienced trauma as a result of migration or other major life changes. SEL supports are also crucial for students who may be navigating the cultural challenges of participating in group work with peers who differ from them in home language and language proficiency. Perhaps in response to English learners’ needs, the heightened attention to SEL, and the overall diversity of today’s classrooms, research on culturally responsive social and emotional learning instructional practices continues to expand – and when nearly half of the teachers in our survey report that they do not have the same cultural background as the English learners they support, it will likely continue to be prioritized.
The environment in which English learners learn and grow will continue to improve, as long as educators, educational leaders, and other stakeholders continue to invest time and efforts into these areas that teachers have identified as effective for ELs. With the support of talented, passionate educators, today’s English learners will undoubtedly have a bright future, ready to leverage their skills and experiences throughout their academic and professional careers.
To review the full survey results, visit www.mheducation.com/elreport
Ed Lamprich is the Vice President of English Language Learner Strategy and the Director of World Languages for McGraw-Hill Education. Since entering the publishing industry more than 25 years ago, his work has always focused on language acquisition, both domestically and internationally. Ed is a former high school and college French teacher. In Ed’s role, he works closely with the Product Management and the Academic Design teams in all curriculum areas to build consistent and appropriate instructional strategies to support English Language Learners as they simultaneously develop language and acquire grade-level disciplinary content.