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Who Are English Language Learners? [WLOs: 1, 2, 3] [CLOs: 1, 2, 3, 4]

Using the information below and based on the context of working with children and adults, read and answer the following questions. Respond to either the K-12 or adult learning questions, but not both.

To structure your writing,

· Your audience will be a group of colleagues or community members who are unfamiliar with these ideas. Be sure to explain in a way that shows that you understand and can explain the information.

· Your role is that of someone who has just learned this information and has chosen to share it with your colleagues.

· The format will be a three- to five-paragraph written piece.

· The purpose is to explain ELLs, the four domains, and challenges to acquiring a second language.

· You are writing using an academic information style in your discussion (see 

The Informative Essay (Links to an external site.)

 for assistance). 

Children or Students in a K-12 Learning Context

Adult Learning Context

Read from your primary text:

· Chapter 1: The Faces of Diversity

· Chapter 2: Language, Learning, and Culture


Read from your primary text:

· Chapter 2: Language, Learning, and Culture; 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, and 2.4

Read Deng and Zou’s 2016 article 
A Study on Whether Adults’ Second Language Acquisition Is Easy or Not: From the Perspective of Children’s Native Language Acquisition (Links to an external site.).


Answer the following questions in your original post.

· Who are English language learners?

· Explain the four domains of language and what we might expect from students in each proficiency.

· How can culture shock and other factors impede learning?

Answer the following questions in your original post.
· Who are English language learners?
· Explain the four domains of language and what we might expect from students in each proficiency.
· How can culture shock and other factors impede learning?

Submitting Discussion Post: Indicate if you are answering questions from the K-12 or adult perspective by using the following format for your file upload: LastNameDiscussionTitleLevel (e.g., RobinsonWhoAreELLsAdult or RobinsonWhoAreELLsK12).

Language Construction [WLOs: 2, 3] [CLOs: 1, 2, 3, 4]

Learning English as a second language and teaching English are not as simple as one might think. There are many processes, grammatical structures, and situations to think of before teaching the use of language. For this discussion, you are going to watch a TED Talk by a renowned author of language construction in social contexts and read a chapter from the course text. The questions you answer will be informed by these two resources. You are encouraged to reply to this discussion using Canvas’ video recording feature. 

How Do I Record a Video Using the Rich Content Editor as a Student? (Links to an external site.)

 provides instructions for using the Rich Content Editor in Canvas to record a video response. If you do not have a webcam, you may write your response. Respond to either the K-12 or adult learning questions, but not both.

To structure your video:

· Your audience will be a group of colleagues, community members, or friends who are unfamiliar with these ideas. Be sure to explain in a way that shows that you understand and can explain the information.

· Your role is that of someone who understands the information from a research perspective.

· The format will be a three-paragraph written piece or a video explanation.

· The purpose is to explain challenges and issues involved with learning English.


Children or Students in a K-12 Learning Context

Adult Learning Context

Address the following items by creating a video post in the discussion forum.
· You might have heard colleagues, friends, or acquaintances proclaim that “they just need to learn English” when referring to those who do not speak English as a first language. Propose some of the complications with this statement. What are some challenges and issues involved with learning English? How might you use the information above to explain these complications?
· Explain culture shock and how this might impact learning English. You might need to refer to last week’s reading.
· Compare your ideas about learning English as a second language now to what they were when you started in Week 1. Have your ideas changed? Describe some ideas you did not previously consider for those who need to learn English as an additional language?


Pinker’s 2005 video 
What Our Language Habits Reveal (Links to an external site.)

Read from your primary text:

· Chapter 3: The English Language Learner


Pinker’s 2005 video 
What Our Language Habits Reveal (Links to an external site.)
Read from your primary text:
· Chapter 3: The English Language Learner

Address the following items by creating a video post in the discussion forum.

· You might have heard colleagues, friends, or acquaintances proclaim that “they just need to learn English” when referring to those who do not speak English as a first language. Propose some of the complications with this statement. What are some challenges and issues involved with learning English? How might you use the information above to explain these complications?

· Explain culture shock and how this might impact learning English. You might need to refer to last week’s reading.

· Compare your ideas about learning English as a second language now to what they were when you started in Week 1. Have your ideas changed? Describe some ideas you did not previously consider for those who need to learn English as an additional language?


Submitting Discussion Post: Indicate if you are answering questions from the K-12 or adult perspective by using the following format for your file upload: LastNameDiscussionTitleLevel (e.g., RobinsonLanguageConstructionAdult or RobinsonLanguageConstructionK12).

Comprehensible Input and Sheltered Instruction [WLOs: 1, 2, 4] [CLOs: 1, 2, 3]

For this discussion, you are going to examine those items that make learning English more comprehensible for students. After reading the resources below, answer the questions that are appropriate for the context in which you are interested. Respond to either the K-12 or adult learning questions, but not both.

To structure your writing,

· Your audience will be you. This post will require reflection on your content.

· Your role is that of someone who understands the information from a research perspective.

· The format will be a two to three paragraph written post.

· The purpose is to explain themes that are arising out of the content and how affective filter impacts language learning.


Children or Students in a K-12 Learning Context

Adult Learning Context

Read from your primary text:

· Chapter 5: Teaching English Language Learners



Read from your primary text:

· Chapter 5: Teaching English Language Learners, 5.2, 5.4

· Rymniak’s 2011 article 
Adult ESL Classroom Strategies and Lesson Ideas (Links to an external site.) pages 1-9

Address the following items in your original post.

· For working with ELLs, summarize two to three themes/common ideas that you are seeing in the resources and why these are important to understand?

· Examine how the affective filter can impact language learning.

· Explain how affective filter and culture shock are related.

Address the following items in your original post.

· For working with ELLs, summarize some themes/common ideas that you are seeing in the resources and why these are important to understand?

· Describe the competencies adult ESL students need to learn.

· Explain why contextualized learning and communicative competence are important when teaching English to adults.


Submitting Discussion Post: Indicate if you are answering questions from the K-12 or adult perspective by using the following format for your file upload: LastNameDiscussionTitleLevel (e.g., RobinsonComprehensibleInputAdult or RobinsonComprehensibleInputK12).


Piper, T. (2015). 

Language, learning, and culture: English language learning in today’s schools

. Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/

· This text is a Constellation™ course digital material (CDM) title.


Deng, F., & Zou, Q. (2016). 

A study on whether adults’ second language acquisition is easy or not: From the perspective of children’s native language acquisition. (Links to an external site.)

 Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 6(4), 776-780. doi:10.17507/tpls.0604.15

Himmel, J. (n.d.). 

Language objectives: The key to effective content area instruction for English learners.  (Links to an external site.)

Retrieved from http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/language-objectives-key-effective-content-area-instruction-english-learners

Lieshoff, S. C., Aguilar, N., McShane, S., Burt, M., Peyton, J. K., Terrill, L., & Van Duzer, C. (2008, March). 

Practitioner toolkit: Working with adult English language learners.  (Links to an external site.)

Retrieved from http://www.cal.org/caela/tools/program_development/CombinedFiles1

Mahmoud, S. S., & Oraby, K. K. (2015). 

Let them toil to learn: Implicit feedback, self-correction and performance in EFL writing. (Links to an external site.)

 Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 5(8), 1672-1681. doi:10.17507/tpls.0508.18

Robertson, K. (n.d.). 

Improving writing skills: ELLs and the joy of writing. (Links to an external site.)

 Retrieved from http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/improving-writing-skills-ells-and-joy-writing

Rymniak, M. (2011). 

Adult ESL classroom strategies and lesson ideas. In A toolkit for ESL practitioners: Supporting skilled immigrants. (Links to an external site.)

 Retrieved from http://www.globaltalentbridge.org/toolkit/pdf/CH3_ESLStrategies

TESOL (n.d.). 

Pre-K-12 English Language Proficiency Standards Framework (Links to an external site.)

. Retrieved from https://www.tesol.org/docs/books/bk_prek-12elpstandards_framework_318 ?sfvrsn=2


Acacia University (2017). 

Writing strategies for ESL students (Links to an external site.)

 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gd3ezbUBbLo

ALISwebsite. (2012, March 8). 

Occupational video—English as a second language teacher: Adults (Links to an external site.)

 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/eofvMAB8Dqg

Allen, T. [Taylor Allen]. (2014, February 4). 

Interview with ELL teacher (Links to an external site.)

 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/OBL5orPLxyk

Ashford University. (2018). ELL240 vocabulary quiz. [Media file]. Retrieved from https://ashford.instructure.com

colorincolorado. (2015, June 5). 

Assessment for ELLs (Links to an external site.)

 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/q6fG4FmibEQ

colorincolorado (2012, February 7). 

Writing a paragraph with high school ELLs (Links to an external site.)

[Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/wbZ2k5j8MFk

Films Media Group (Producer). (2004). 

Differentiated instruction and the English language learner

[Video file]. Differentiated instruction and the English Language. https://digital.films.com/PortalPlaylists.aspx?wID=100753&xtid=60329

International TEFL Academy. (2011, September 22). 

How to assess listening in your ESL classroom (Links to an external site.)

 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/A-Ag69w1Hjg

International TEFL Academy (2011, July 28). 

Teaching writing skills in the ESL classroom (Links to an external site.)

 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbZUKAamXDU

International TEFL Academy. (2011, September 22). 

Teaching reading in an ESL classroom (Links to an external site.)

 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/8wfH99DeKfY

PCG. (2012, October 12). 

Teaching reading and comprehension to English learners, grades K-5 (Links to an external site.)

. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/s4A85oOjZW0

Pinker, S. (2005, July). 

What our language habits reveal (Links to an external site.)

 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_language_and_thought

SMACE videos. (2015, June 9). 

San Mateo Adult School (Links to an external site.)

 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/n1YoUwGaOGg

Westergaard, C. [Chris Westergaard]. (2015, March 14). 

ESL beginner lesson demo (Chris Westergaard) (Links to an external site.)

 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/2_38JfVFQoU

Learning Outcomes
By the end of this chapter you will be able to accomplish the following objectives:

1. Define and differentiate among the four domains of language.

2. Analyze why meaning might be considered the “fifth dimension” of language.

3. Explain the relationship between language and culture.

4. Define culture shock and describe how culture interacts with learning.

5. Analyze the intersection of language, culture, and content, and assess their influence on ELL
curriculum and teaching.

Language, Learning,
and Culture 2


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Section 2.1 Basic Competencies: The Four Domains

How do we know when a learner has truly mastered a language? Colloquially, we speak of
fluency, proficiency, and competency as though they are interchangeable. In fact, there are
slight differences, depending on the purposes for which the terms are used. For ours, they are

• Fluency refers to the smoothness or flow of speech, oral reading, and writing. It is
the ease with which sounds, words, and phrases, are put together. Although the term
has particular significance in language pathology, for our purposes it refers to one’s
ability to be understood.

• Proficiency refers to an individual’s ability to speak, read, and write, with both
accuracy and fluency, in an acquired language. The term also has operational defini-
tions in standardized tests and measurements.

• Competency refers to the system of linguistic knowledge possessed by speakers of
a language. It is what the learner understands of the structure and vocabulary of a

Mastery of a language occurs when a learner is proficient in speaking, reading, and writing
it—listening being a necessary prerequisite to speaking. It can be difficult for English lan-
guage learners to achieve equal competence in these four domains. Central to proficiency in
each domain is meaning; if learners do not understand the meaning of what they hear, they
will not remember it—they will not learn. Their understanding is embedded, at least in the
early stages, in their own experience of language and learning, that is, what they have expe-
rienced in their own culture. Some understanding of the cultural influences on language and
on learning is, thus, very useful for teachers. For ELLs, language and content are necessarily
taught simultaneously. Ideally, teaching language and content simultaneously, or language
through content, usually without translation, reinforces the learning of both. We begin with
a description of the four domains of language that must be acquired in order for a learner to
achieve fluency, proficiency, and ultimately, competency.

2.1 Basic Competencies: The Four Domains
To succeed in school and to become fully competent in English, learners must acquire both
conversational and literacy skills. Doing so depends on their developing skills in listening,
speaking, reading, and writing. It is tempting to think about the oral and literacy skills as
related opposites—listening and reading involve decoding and speaking, and writing involves
encoding. But to characterize the four domains as related in these ways runs the risk of over-
simplifying what cognitive, linguistic, and psychological, processes are involved in each and
how they differ. In general, the productive skills (speaking and writing) are more difficult to
acquire than the receptive skills (listening comprehension and reading). Whether productive
or receptive, however, all four domains must be learned and they each present challenges for
the learner and the teacher.

Even though we can describe, and to some degree assess, each of the four domains indepen-
dently, they are in fact interlinked, particularly in the classroom. As Ellen Rodriguez learned

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Section 2.1 Basic Competencies: The Four Domains

in A Lesson for the Teacher, proficiency in one or more domains does not imply proficiency in
the others.

The question for Ellen Rodriguez was how Mai’s strong oral language skills could be used in
teaching her to read and write. The first step in assisting Mai, as well as Quy and the Korean
twins, Ye-jun and Ji-woo, was to get an accurate assessment of English language proficiency.
Ellen Rodriguez had made assumptions about each child’s proficiency based on what she
had observed, but what she was observing was something different, more akin to acquisi-
tion level. Language proficiency levels refer to what a learner is able to demonstrate on
a formal language assessment, whereas acquisition level refers to a stage that a learner
achieves in the process of acquiring language proficiency. The former is the result of a mea-
surement, whereas the latter has been determined by researchers on the basis of obser-
vation of many children. Because the ability to function effectively in a language involves
competency in all four domains, describing the five levels of acquisition considers develop-
ment in each (see Table 2.1).

As Table 2.1 shows, four of the five levels of language acquisition could last longer than a
school year. To assess the progress students make in language learning, it would thus be nec-
essary to conduct proficiency assessments in each of the four domains. In 1985, there were
some such measures available to Ellen, but today there would be more, most of them used
statewide (Chapter 1). As we examine each domain, we also look at how to measure profi-
ciency in each.

A Teacher’s Story: A Lesson for the Teacher

Ellen Rodriguez was feeling a little overwhelmed that first week of school in 1985. She had
several ELLs in her class, with what appeared to be varying abilities. Quy, a boy from Viet-
nam, didn’t speak at all but appeared to understand her directions, which she was careful to
word simply and articulate slowly. The twins from Korea had a little more oral language than
Quy, knew the English alphabet, and could print their names, but neither the boy nor the
girl could identify more than a few printed words. These three children were going to need
a lot of individualized planning and teaching in her class of 23 fourth graders, and so she
was relieved when she first met Mai, also from Vietnam. Mai was a happy little chatterbox.
There were some slightly odd word choices in some of her descriptions, and occasionally the
question she answered was not exactly the one she’d been asked, but Ellen was confident
that Mai would need a lot less attention than the other three ELLs in her class. A month later,
she wondered how she had been so wrong. Mai’s oral language skills were impressive, but
she was struggling to learn the alphabet and could identify only a half dozen printed words,
one of them her name. Ellen Rodriguez had learned, first-hand, that proficiency in one or
two domains of language or the apparent ease of learning them do not predict proficiency
or success in learning the others.

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Section 2.1 Basic Competencies: The Four Domains

Table 2.1: Recognizing the levels of second language acquisition


Time Frame

Learner Behaviors Teacher Prompts

Pre-production 0–6 months • Exhibits minimal comprehension.
• Verbalizes in single or two-word

utterances or not at all.
• Nods “yes” and “no.”
• Points and gestures.
• May communicate through

• Has very limited vocabulary having

to do with basic interpersonal skills
(e.g., name, age).

• May communicate in home

• Show me . . . .
• Where is . . . .
• Point to . . . .
• Circle the . . . .
• Who has . . . .


6–12 months • Has limited comprehension.
• Speaks in fragments.
• Speaks in one- or two-word

• Uses familiar phrases (e.g.,

greetings, leave-takings, language
for classroom routines).

• Uses mostly present-tense verbs.
• Can usually be comprehended,

but errors may hinder intended

• Has a basic, but limited, vocabulary.

• All of the above,

• Yes/no questions.
• Either/or

• Who?
• What?
• When?
• How many?


1–3 years • Demonstrates good

• Produces simple sentences, usually
with correct word order.

• Grammatical errors.
• May have pronunciation errors.
• Uses predominantly past or present

• Demonstrates understanding of

content-area knowledge.
• Misunderstands jokes or irony.

• Why?
• How?
• Explain . . . .
• Describe . . . .
• Questions

requiring only
short answers.


3–5 years • Very good to excellent

• Few grammatical errors.
• Errors rarely interfere with

• May have to read passage more

than once for meaning.
• Has acquired academic vocabulary.
• Able to use detail when telling or

retelling story.
• Improved narrative writing but

with some errors.
• Has sufficient vocabulary to

express ideas.
• Uses variety of sentence structures.

• Why do you think
. . . ?

• What would
happen if . . . ?

• Questions
requiring longer
responses (more
than a sentence).

• What do you
think will happen

• What’s the
between . . . ?


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Section 2.1 Basic Competencies: The Four Domains

Listening comprehension is the most foundational of all language domains. It precedes and is
necessary to the development of speech in normally hearing children, and research indicates
that it even plays a role in reading. Researchers have shown that readers often call on phono-
logical information when reading silently, even when such a strategy negatively affects their
comprehension (Treiman et al., 2003). When readers in one study were asked to make rapid
decisions about whether a word belonged to a specific category—such as food or animal—
they were more likely to misclassify a homophone (e.g., meet/meat, right/write) than words
that were visually as similar (e.g., meet/melt, write/white). The same study also revealed that
the confusion was greater with hearing than nonhearing readers—hearing readers had more
difficulty processing He doesn’t like to eat meet than with He doesn’t like to eat melt, whereas
deaf readers showed no difference (Treiman & Hirsh-Pasek, 1983). The ability to process
spoken language accurately is, thus, at the heart of all language learning and use.

Although linguists and educators sometimes characterize listening as a “passive” skill, it is pas-
sive only in the sense that it is not observable. Listening is hard work for ELLs. Indeed, for every-
one listening comprehension entails a complex network of cognitive processes. These processes
involve the listener calling upon both linguistic and nonlinguistic knowledge. Linguistic knowl-
edge includes information about the relevant sounds in a language (the phonemes), how they
go together to form words, word identification and meaning, sentence structure, and discourse
structure. Nonlinguistic knowledge refers to the real-world information and experience the lis-
tener has and includes content information about the topic and the speaker’s intent, that is, why
it is being communicated. Of course, the two kinds of knowledge must interact—listeners can’t
identify the topic much less bring relevant prior knowledge to bear if they don’t first under-
stand at least the major nouns and verbs and the sentence structure that carry the meaning.

While we have a good grasp of what kinds of knowledge must be processed to understand
spoken language, we know less about how the processes fit together. What we do know is that
they differ depending on the listener’s language ability, knowledge of the content, relationship
with the speaker, and the context of the situation. We know, in brief, that the process is not a
linear, predictable one in which the listener processes first the sounds and then figures out

Time Frame
Learner Behaviors Teacher Prompts


5–7 years • Near-native fluency.
• Writes narratives.
• Uses a variety of sentence

• Has extensive social and academic

• Has grade-level or better language

• Reads for meaning.
• Few, if any, errors in speaking;

occasional errors in writing, but
none interfere with meaning.

• Retell . . . (can be
lengthy story).

• Explain why . . .
• Decide if . . . .
• What is the

argument for (or
against) . . . ?

• Why do some
people believe
that . . . ?

Sources: Syrja (2011); Hill & Bjork (2008)

Table 2.1: Recognizing the levels of second language acquisition (continued)

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Section 2.1 Basic Competencies: The Four Domains

It’s Fun to Recognize Speech
Anyone who has used voice recognition software, such as the kinds used on visual voice mail,
knows that the software sometimes gets it badly wrong. Such software would find it difficult
to distinguish these two sentences:

It is fun to recognize speech.

It is fun to wreck a nice beach.

Builders of speech recognition software build language prediction models based on millions
of language discourse samples in their databases. Native speakers of a language have similar
stores of information, so if a sentence is uttered in any kind of context—conversation, lec-
ture, television show—the human listener can usually get it right. How? What kinds of specific
knowledge might be brought to bear? Why are ELLs at a disadvantage?

What information would you need to distinguish the following two utterances?

Recognize speech using common sense.

Recognize speech using calm incense.

Describe what linguistic knowledge is needed and what particular challenges an ELL might face
in distinguishing between He showed her the baby pictures and He showed her baby the pictures.
Source: Lieberman et al., 2005


Active listening is an essential skill to develop
in elementary school children because it is a
precursor to comprehension.

where the word boundaries are (there
is no “space” between spoken words),
what they mean, and how the order
in which they are uttered creates the
meaning. It is more a matter of simulta-
neously processing all levels of linguistic
and nonlinguistic information, revising
as new information is received, check-
ing against prior knowledge and the
context, and then, possibly, starting all
over again. Scientists who develop and
work to perfect speech recognition soft-
ware have to think about how to make
a machine comprehend, as we see in It’s
Fun to Recognize Speech.

The centrality of listening comprehension to ELLs eventually achieving competence is under-
scored in language acquisition theory in Krashen’s input hypothesis (1981). We will return
to this hypothesis later in this chapter in our discussion of meaning, and again in Chapter 5
when we examine theories of second language acquisition. According to the input hypothesis,
a learner’s ability to understand language is the only mechanism that leads to an increase
in linguistic competence. Output—or speaking and writing—are important skills, but they
do not, in Krashen’s view, advance the learner’s underlying competence. In educating ELLs,
however, the other three domains are equally essential to achieving academic success.

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Section 2.1 Basic Competencies: The Four Domains

Even if Krashen is correct that listen-
ing comprehension (input) is the only
skill that actually advances underly-
ing proficiency in the language, it is
nonetheless true that to be able to
communicate in the language, learn-
ers have to be able to speak. Unless
learners are able to communicate
orally, they will not succeed academi-
cally or function well in an English
language environment. Speaking is
the skill that we are most likely to use
in judging someone’s overall profi-
ciency with language. With children
who are learning their first language,
we judge their progress on the num-
ber of words they produce. With ELLs,
if their pronunciation is good and
they speak fluently with appropriate vocabulary, we usually judge them to be proficient
even when we may have no evidence about proficiency in the other domains except for
listening. What constitutes speaking ability? According to Kayi (2006) and Nunan (2003),
it entails the ability to

• Produce English speech sounds and replicate sound patterns correctly.
• Use word and sentence stress appropriately.
• Reproduce the intonation patterns and rhythm of the language being learned.
• Make vocabulary choices and organize words into sentences appropriate to the con-

text—social situation, audience situation, and subject matter.
• Organize spoken thoughts in meaningful and logical sequence.
• Use language to express values and judgments.
• Use the language fluently—confidently, quickly, and with few unnatural pauses.

(Kayi, 2006)

How? As might be expected, there are a number of different models that attempt to explain
how the mind and articulators work together to form spoken utterances. There are two basic
types of explanations: holistic and componential. Holistic models assume that an entire
phrase is processed at once, while componential models assume that the components of a
phrase are processed separately. None of the models of either type can provide a complete or
certain account of the process, but in attempting to answer the same question—how speak-
ers retrieve language information and assemble it during continuous speech—they also share
certain other characteristics:

1. They agree that linguistic information is organized in a hierarchy of distinctive fea-
tures—phonemes, morphemes, syllables, words, and phrases.

2. They agree that speakers need to have access to both semantics (meaning) and
syntax prior to the sounds of an utterance. In other words, the speaker has to know
the meaning she wishes to convey before searching for the words and the sounds to
produce them.

3. They agree that the process is sequential.

A child’s piece of art provides stimulus for oral
language development. The artist can explain the
picture, other children can ask questions, and the
teacher can use the opportunity to introduce or
reinforce new vocabulary.

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Section 2.1 Basic Competencies: The Four Domains

4. The order of the process must be

a. Deciding on the message to be conveyed (i.e., conceptualization).
b. Sentence formation, which involves selecting the appropriate words for the mes-

sage and the appropriate order in which to place them, as well as other gram-
matical information (e.g., verb tense, plural or possessive morpheme).

c. Articulating the phrase by executing the motor movements necessary to produce
the sounds of the phrase. (Fromkin, 1973; Clark, E. & Clark, H., 1977)

Important as it is to ELLs’ academic success, speaking is one of the hardest skills to teach. One
reason has to do with how classrooms are organized. Speaking, unlike reading, writing, and
even listening, requires an immediate co-communicator. In other words, while a teacher can
work with a group on listening skills or use listening stations or other media for learners to
work on their own, and while reading and writing can, to some degree, be taught as group
activities or be done by ELLs on their own, meaningful activities to develop speaking skills
require active participants to engage and react. Much oral language will be learned in interac-
tion with other children on the playground at recess. But ELLs also need academic language,
as Ellen Rodriguez learned in There’s Talk and Then There’s TALK.

A Teacher’s Story: There’s Talk and Then There’s TALK

After a year of teaching, Ellen was feeling more comfortable and more confident in Septem-
ber of her second year in Chicago, even though she once again had a very diverse group of
children in her third grade class. Then she met Juan. When she first saw him, he was arriving
with a group of friends who were chattering away in Spanish as they came into the class-
room. Juan appeared to understand Ellen’s directions in English and responded appropri-
ately, but after a week he had uttered hardly a word in English. She wasn’t too concerned.
Then another week went by, and although he answered simple yes/no questions, he said
almost nothing else. Okay, Ellen thought, so he is in the stage of early production and would
speak when he had acquired more language. Then, in the third week, she was on playground
duty and witnessed Juan playing with Spanish and English speakers, and he was talking
in English. And talking a lot! Ellen didn’t know what was going on, and so she went to the
library that night and started doing research. That’s when she figured it out. He had basic
interpersonal skills in English, and his use of the language with his peers was excellent.
What he was lacking was academic language. But she knew that he’d get it because his com-
prehension was so good. She just had to give him unthreatening opportunities to practice. At
least now she knew what her job was!

There was a great deal that Ellen could do for Juan and that all ELL teachers can do to assist
learners, and we will examine some approaches in Chapter 5. Some of them involve using
reading activities to introduce and reinforce academic language.

Learning to read well in the early years of elementary school is a key to all childrens’
academic success. ELLs who enter public school in kindergarten or first grade have to
acquire reading skills simultaneously with listening and speaking. However, reading is

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Section 2.1 Basic Competencies: The Four Domains

fundamentally different from listening and speaking. Whereas humans are “hardwired” to
learn oral language (Piper, 2012; Daggett & Hasselbring, 2007), reading and writing have to
be taught, which puts pressure on teachers and schools to focus on reading from the very
beginning of schooling.

“Reading is the key enabler of learning for academic proficiency across all subject areas and
over all grades” (Daggett & Hasselbring, 2007, p. 1). ELLs who begin schooling in English in
later years will also have to learn the three domains simultaneously, but some will benefit
from having the foundation of literacy in another language. As we see in A Bilingual Child
Learns to Read, Isabelle was such a child.

A Bilingual Child Learns to Read (Part 1)
Isabelle, age seven, is able to read in both English and French. With a Francophone mother
and Anglophone father, Isabelle has spoken both languages since birth. When she was five,
she announced that she wanted to learn to read, and so her grandmother, a teacher, taught
her. The approach that worked for Isabelle was using flashcards, at first with pictures of the
accompanying word and then later without pictures. At the beginning, Isabelle appeared to be
following a holistic approach, identifying a word by its shape—she would occasionally con-
fuse lake with take, for example, or mice and nice. But when she became frustrated by these
errors, her grandmother switched strategies, helping Isabelle to associate letters with sounds.
After a week, using a combined holistic sight-word and phonics approach, Isabelle was able to
identify 55 words, and at the end of a month she had learned more than 100. Throughout, her
grandmother also read to her and Isabelle would try to follow along. By the time her grand-
mother left to return to her own home after a month, Isabelle was well on her way to becoming
a proficient reader. In English. But Isabelle attended a French language school, and her mother
worried that her English reading would interfere with learning French. Did it? (We will find
out in Chapter 6.)

What is involved in learning to read and how is it taught? Hundreds of thousands of studies
have been done on the reading process, and yet there is still a reading crisis in U.S. schools.
Researchers have reached broad consensus on a few points:

• One of the things that researchers learned very early is that the model of the profi-
cient reader—or how an able reader processes written text—does not tell us a great
deal about how that reader became proficient. In Good Readers . . . we identify some
of the behaviors that good readers use. But what do they tell us about how to teach
reading, especially to beginners?

• Not every child learns to read in the same way. Failure to appreciate this reality is
one of the reasons that an estimated one-third of children designated as special edu-
cation students have been so categorized because of the lack of reading proficiency.
(President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002)

• There remains “a persistent gap . . . in reading abilities along the racial and pov-
erty divide” (Daggett & Hasselbring, 2007, p. 5). Reading is also a skill that is most
often measured as an indication of ELLs’ progress and readiness to move up a
grade level.

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Section 2.1 Basic Competencies: The Four Domains

Knowing how proficient readers behave helps teachers develop strategies to improve reading
comprehension, but what do we know about the process of actually learning to read? In part,
the answer depends on the writing system of the language they are learning to read. Writing
systems range from alphabetic to logographic, as shown in Table 2.2.

The first task of the beginning reader is to figure out how the written language relates to the
spoken language. Chinese children must learn to associate each symbol, or character, with a
meaning. Considering that a literate adult knows somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 char-
acters, children need to learn at least 500 per year, and they do so after first spending a year
learning to read an alphabetic system called pin yin (Rayner et al., 2001, p. 32). Pin yin uses
letters of the Roman alphabet to spell Chinese words, adding diacritic markings to indicate
tones and pitch variations. Most Chinese learners will, therefore, have some understanding of
an alphabetic writing system to bring to the task of learning English.

Table 2.2: Writing systems and their characteristics

Writing System Characteristic Description Languages

Alphabetic Graphic units, called letters, are asso-
ciated with sounds, called phonemes.

English, Italian, French, German, Rus-
sian, Korean

Modified alphabetic Essentially alphabetic, but vowels
are predictable (i.e., can be omitted).

Hebrew, Persian

Syllabic Graphic units, or syllabaries, cor-
respond to syllables rather than
individual sounds.

Japanese Kana

Logographic Units (characters) correspond to
specific words or morphemes.

Chinese (although modern Chinese
has evolved into a morphosyllabic
system in which the characters are
mapped onto syllabic units that are
usually morphemes)

Good Readers . . .
Good readers are active, and will

• Identify a purpose for their reading—for pleasure (e.g., letters, stories, novels), to gather
specific information (e.g., where a gathering will take place and when), for general
knowledge (e.g., the news account of a local robbery), and to learn (e.g., textbooks).

• Preview the text before reading. Good readers will scan through a text quickly to look
for clues about whether the information they seek is there or what might be coming up
next in the text.

• Predict, strategize, visualize, and do whatever they can while reading to help them make
sense of and to remember what they are reading.

• Develop and use strategies for figuring out unfamiliar words.
• Think about what they have read after finishing it. Some will make a few notes or talk to

other people about what they have read.

Source: Center for Distance and Independent Study, http://muhigh.missouri.edu/exec/data/courses/

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Section 2.1 Basic Competencies: The Four Domains

It might seem that an alphabetic system is more efficient—it is, in theory at least, easier to
learn a small number of sound-symbol correspondences and use them to map written words
onto meanings—assuming that the learner knows the meaning of the word once it is decoded.
But learning to read English is not easy for two reasons:

1. The notion of phoneme is abstract. We think of phonemes as our smallest units of
sounds, but in fact a phoneme actually represents a number of different versions of a
sound, all of which native speakers tend to recognize as the same sound. How many
distinct sounds in the word toasts? Native speakers will say three:
/t/ x2
/o/ (represented by digraph, oa)
/s/ x 2

In fact, there are five. The phoneme /t/ has two separate pronunciations, depend-
ing on where it is in the word. Native speakers, however, do not hear this distinction
because the differences are “predictable”: The one at the beginning of the word is aspi-
rated, meaning it has a little puff of air preceding the vowel, while the one between the
/s/ sounds is not. Even the two /s/ sounds are slightly different in length. Which one
do you think is longer?

2. There is no one-to-one correspondence between sound and symbol. The sound /o/
can be represented in writing in several ways:
a. both
b. boat
c. owe
d. mow
e. aloe
f. oh
g. dough

Conversely, if we think we have cracked the code by learning these spellings for the
/o/ sound, we will likely not recognize:

a. sloth
b. gown
c. shoe
d. tough
e. bough

Word identification is only the first stage in learning to read, and probably not the hardest.
Emphasizing the importance of children developing early reading skills through “Reading
First,” NCLB identifies five essential components of reading programs:

1. Phonemic awareness
2. Phonics
3. Fluency
4. Vocabulary
5. Reading comprehension strategies

The Common Core State Standards also recognize the critical foundation that these skills
provide by requiring demonstrated growth in the reading foundational standards from kin-
dergarten through fifth grade. Whether or not there is a reading crisis in the United States,

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The prewrite phase

Step 1. Is for brainstorming
and getting ideas down on
a piece of paper.

The draft phase

Step 2. Is for organizing ideas
in a logical format for the
speci�ed purpose, topic,
and audience.

The edit phase

Step 4. Is for �xing the little
errors that detract from the

The revision phase

Step 3. Is for revising the
text to improve the order,
examples, style, tone, etc.

The publish phase

Step 5. Is for �nalizing and
sharing the �nished product.

Section 2.1 Basic Competencies: The Four Domains

there is no arguing the fact that a high level of reading competence is necessary, not only for
academic success, but for citizens to function fully and productively in society. In Chapter 5,
we will return to the topic of reading for ELLs.

Writing is a means of communication and, thus, a social process. It is not just reading in reverse.
It is often the last of the four language levels to be learned, and proficiency in the other four does
not ensure success in writing. Nevertheless, we do know that both reading and writing need to
be built on a firm foundation of oral skills. Reading and
writing can be taught simultaneously, although writing
skills will always lag behind reading skills. Writing, like
speaking, is an encoding skill, but this does not mean
that articulate, orally fluent speakers are necessarily
able to convey the same meanings in print.

Writing involves several different stages, as shown in
Figure 2.1. It is a difficult and onerous process for many
learners; many native speakers with excellent reading
ability become frustrated when trying to express them-
selves in writing. ELLs can begin to learn to write at the
same time they are acquiring vocabulary and learning
to read—they don’t have to achieve a certain level of
language proficiency first. For ELLs, writing is easier
and more purposeful if it is fully integrated into other
language activities and with the broader curriculum.
Because writing is a social skill, and to make classroom
writing more like “real” (purposeful) writing, it is use-
ful to make writing an integrated classroom activity.

It is not only possible, but helpful, to engage ELLs
and other children in the classroom throughout most
of the writing process. At the prewriting stage, learn-
ers can brainstorm together with the teacher about
whatever they are preparing to write about. Or more
advanced learners can make notes on what they
know or what information they may need to seek.
Even for beginners, this cooperative activity can be
made to work. For beginners the writing task may
be writing a few descriptive words or a sentence or
two about one or more of the ideas captured. The ini-
tial drafting of a piece is a solitary activity, but other
learners can work together in revising and editing
a first draft. And, of course, they provide a valu-
able audience for the final product, whether it is a
sentence or a paragraph, a description, or an entire
story. Reading a draft aloud helps writers to discover
errors or awkward expressions, and reading to an
audience—of one or several—makes the activity
more purposeful. The teacher’s role is to guide and

The prewrite phase
Step 1. Is for brainstorming
and getting ideas down on
a piece of paper.
The draft phase
Step 2. Is for organizing ideas
in a logical format for the
speci�ed purpose, topic,
and audience.
The edit phase
Step 4. Is for �xing the little
errors that detract from the
The revision phase
Step 3. Is for revising the
text to improve the order,
examples, style, tone, etc.
The publish phase
Step 5. Is for �nalizing and
sharing the �nished product.

Figure 2.1: The writing process

ELLs can simultaneously learn to read
and write in their new language.

Adapted from http://261095.medialib.glogster.com/

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Section 2.2 The Fifth Dimension: Meaning

support students throughout the process and to provide specific instruction in the mechanics
and conventions of writing in English.

The most important thing for teachers of ELLs to remember about teaching writing is that it
should not stand alone as an end in itself; it has to be linked with or integrated into the other
language domains that the children are learning. Not to do so misses an important opportu-
nity to improve ELLs’ writing and overall language proficiency simultaneously.

It is inconceivable that anyone could write without being able to read, and, significantly, com-
petence in both literacy skills are best built on a foundation of oral language—and when the
learners are children, this is always the case. And yet, there are instances when the primary
focus of a lesson needs to be on one domain or the other. Especially for beginners, it is impor-
tant to focus on oral language first, but for all learners it is sometimes necessary to concen-
trate on helping them develop comprehension and speaking ability before embarking on the
journey to literacy. Whatever language skill or ability is being fostered, whether the focus of
the activity or lesson is specifically targeted or integrated, central to all language learning—
and, thus, teaching—is the ability to understand and create meaning.

2.2 The Fifth Dimension: Meaning
Before language begins to emerge, from the time an infant cries to signal hunger, thirst, or dis-
comfort, the intention is to communicate meaning. Although we are, arguably, hard-wired to
learn language, and although it is inextricably entwined with cognitive processing, the moti-
vation to acquire language is to communicate with the people around us. Some older read-
ers may remember the experience of foreign language classes in which they were forced to
memorize Paul Adams est un jeune étudiant américain vivant à Parisan (Paul Adams is a young
American student living in Paris) or La brosse à cheveux de ma tante est sur le bureau le matin
(My aunt’s hairbrush is on the bureau in the morning). Lessons were memorized and trans-
lated, and although they were sometimes constructed around narratives that were memorized
through sentence-by-sentence buildup (i.e., beginning with two words, “Paul Adams,” and then
adding a word or phrase at a time until the sentence was complete), there was little that was
meaningful to the learner in the passages or the lessons. When people report that they didn’t
learn a language until they spent time in the country where it was spoken, it is because that was
when it became necessary to understand and create meaning. Chances are that Paul Adams, if
he existed, did not learn his French by studying with this text or this method!

Comprehensible Input
Making meaning the focus of lesson planning, teaching, and all interactions with ELLs, makes
the experience of learning more natural and thus easier. In fact, as noted earlier, if what learners
hear or see in print is not comprehensible, there is no learning. Nobody can learn Mandarin by
only listening to Radio Beijing, because the information, while meaningful to the broadcasters,
has no meaning to English speakers. And, more importantly, listeners have no way of discerning
meaning absent a translation. Television news programs from the same sources might be mod-
erately more successful when photographs or video footage accompany the stories. But even so,
the listener usually needs more help. Input, whether oral or written, needs to be at or just beyond
the learner’s level of understanding for it to have an impact on learning. Just beyond means that
the learner understands enough words or enough about the context to make inferences about

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Field trips

How to make







Section 2.2 The Fifth Dimension: Meaning

the meaning. The quality of the
input is therefore very impor-
tant from a practical and a
theoretical perspective. In fact,
comprehensible input is one of
the five pillars of Krashen’s com-
prehension hypothesis model
(Krashen, 1981). Even theorists
who object to Krashen’s theo-
retical model of second language
acquisition cannot credibly fault
the relevance of comprehensible
input from a practical perspective.

What comprehensible input
implies for teachers is the need
to find just the right level of
language for each learner—too
easy and language learning does
not progress, but if the input is
not at all comprehensible, learn-

ing does not occur either. How do we ensure that linguistic input is comprehensible or poten-
tially comprehensible? By providing familiar context, using visuals and gestures, using probes
to guide the learner to understanding, linking new language structures to prior knowledge,
and even slowing and repeating or paraphrasing their own speech, teachers strive to make
language comprehensible. Figure 2.2 shows a few of the many tools available to teachers.

Finding ways to make input comprehensible takes us right to the heart of language teaching
methods, particularly those linked to content-area teaching. The question faced by every ELL
teacher across the country is the same: How do I make content comprehensible, foster cogni-
tive development, and nurture and grow language competency simultaneously for learners
who are likely diverse in language background and English language proficiency? The answer
is simple, although its implementation may not be: Use every possible opportunity to create
and reinforce meaning. In brief, make meaning everywhere.

Making Meaning Everywhere
It may seem obvious that everything that happens in the ELL classroom should be centered
on meaning—even when a teacher is working on a particular distinction in pronunciation,
such as the difference between /b/ and /v/, which creates an opportunity to introduce new
vocabulary, expand definitions of existing vocabulary, and even to work on sentence struc-
ture. For example, Spanish speakers often have trouble distinguishing long and short vowels
in word pairs such as ship/sheep, blip/bleep, fit/feet/, sit/seat, and so on. One way of working
on this problem is to drill, making students point to the correct word when it is spoken, or
to speak the word shown on a flashcard. But the exercise might be even more effective if it is
contextualized as the response to a question: If we want to sail to Bermuda, should we take a
sheep? Or Can we get wool by shaving a ship?

In the context of the entire curriculum, meaning is the basis for planning all content and skills
instruction. One of the most basic ways of giving learners the tools they need to understand
what they hear and read is to build vocabulary skills. Learning the names of objects and actions

Field trips
How to make

Figure 2.2: Some strategies for making language
comprehensible for ELLs

Teachers need to find the best language balance for each ELL to
help ensure the language input is comprehensible.

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Section 2.2 The Fifth Dimension: Meaning

is the first language behavior we observe in infants. Starting with one word, then two, three,
and onward, they are able to make themselves understood long before they are able to form
sentences. So it is with ELLs; if they have a good store of words to draw from, the context or
situation will often help them to figure out what is being said (whether orally or in writing), and
that in turn advances their knowledge of sentence structure. Moreover, the more English words
an ELL has learned, the easier it is to use the context of a situation to figure out the meaning. For
example, suppose two ELLs hear this sentence:

Fainting can be caused by factors ranging from dehydration to low blood pres-
sure and even serious illness.

Neither has learned enough about English sentence structure to identify the subject, verb
tense, or much of anything else. One ELL hears only three familiar words, can, blood, illness,
and so the sentence is totally incomprehensible—the speaker could be talking about some-
body named Fainting who has leukemia. The second ELL, however, knows fainting, cause,
hydration, blood pressure, serious, and illness. This learner will make a far more accurate guess
at the meaning of the sentence.

Having Common Core standards in place for language and content means that ELL teach-
ers necessarily teach content and language simultaneously. One of the most successful
approaches to doing so is immersion (Genesee, 2004). Immersion teachers begin with simpli-
fied language—controlled vocabulary with few or no idioms, high-frequency words, simple
sentence structures, and frequent paraphrasing. Another tactic used by immersion teachers
is to model tasks as they talk their way through them—whether something as simple as put-
ting on a coat and mittens for beginners, or as complex as locating places on a map and giving
directions. The success of these tactics depends on teachers doing regular and frequent com-
prehension checks. “Do you understand what I’m saying?” or “Now, show me,” for example,
are ways of establishing that an ELL has understood before moving on. In Chapter 4, we will
see how some immersion practices can be used in another program option for ELLs.

Meaning and Accuracy
Teachers also have to find a way of dealing with developmental errors. When the focus is on
content and meaning, learners will make errors, and excessive correction may discourage
ELLs from speaking (or writing). Very
young children will eventually figure out
the correct forms without correction,
but for older learners it is sometimes
just more efficient to provide correction.
There is no formula for when to correct
and when not to, but as a rule teachers
do not interrupt a speaker or the flow of
a lesson to make corrections. It is usu-
ally more effective to make a note and
address the matter later. For example, if
a child uses be for is or are while speak-
ing in class, the wise teacher does not
correct on the spot, but plans a mini-les-
son on the forms of to be to be presented
later. How learners respond to correc-
tion is partly a matter of culture.


Arts and crafts activities provide excellent
opportunities for expanding vocabulary and
making meaning.

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Section 2.3 Learning Language and Culture Simultaneously

2.3 Learning Language and Culture Simultaneously
“At the intersection of multiple native and target cultures, the major task of language learners is
to define for themselves what this ‘third place’ that they have engaged in seeking will look like,
whether they are conscious of it or not” (Kramsch, 1993, p. 9). M. J. Bennett frames this notion
of adaptation as a question: “How is it possible to perceive in culturally different ways and still
‘be yourself ’?’’ (2004, p. 8). In a sense, when ELLs come to the English language classroom, they
are caught between cultures: their home culture and the dominant one of the school. They have
to negotiate a kind of subculture that has elements of both and is likely unique to each learner,
and they have to do so as they learn language and content in a new language.

The Relationship Between Language and Culture
Language exists to meet the needs of the people who speak it. Those needs are social, edu-
cational, vocational, and even spiritual. When we say that language is culturally determined,
we refer to the fact that “different cultures have different perceptions, different beliefs, and
different communicative needs that their languages must serve” (Piper, 2012, p. 15). Because
we are all human, there are similarities between cultures, but because the world’s languages
evolved in different locations and under different conditions, there are also differences among
cultures and, thus, languages. Some of these differences have an impact on how ELLs react to
classroom settings and on how they are treated when they get there. To understand why
learners may have difficulty comprehending intended meaning, it is helpful to understand the
three-way relationship between language, learning, and culture.

Culture in the Classroom
. . . traditional methods of uniform instruction seem to be ineffective with a
student group that is very diverse, with students from different backgrounds
and with different approaches to learning (De Vita, 2005, p. 165).

One important reason that it is so important for teachers to become more culturally aware
is to avoid succumbing to a view that equates cultural diversity with deficit. ELLs are over-
represented in special education (Rhodes et al., 2005), in part because schools sometimes do
not know what else to do with them, but also because culturally determined differences are
mistakenly identified as learning or cognitive deficiencies.

Even when ELLs are not misidentified as needing special education, they are made to take the
same standardized tests and are part of the school’s accountability data. The pressure is on ELLs
and their teachers to negotiate that “third place” as quickly as possible. So how do teachers learn
everything they need to know about the different cultures represented in their classrooms?

The simple answer is that they don’t. Just as it is impossible for teachers to speak the lan-
guages of every ELL student in their classrooms, so it is impossible for them to have detailed
knowledge or understanding of the culture. What teachers can develop, however, are certain
sensitivities that allow them to avoid communication conflicts or misunderstandings.

Individuals employ different learning styles and strategies; some need to see print in order
to understand and remember, while others prefer “listen and learn.” There are many other
kinds of individual differences, but there are also more general differences based on culture.
Older children who have attended school in another country may have particular experiences
of learning that differ from the expectations of teachers in this country. In fact, even young

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You prefer to learn in groups

or with other people.

You prefer to work

alone and use self-study.

You prefer using sound

and music.

You prefer using words,
both in speech and writing.

You prefer using your body,
hands and sense of touch.

You prefer logic, reasoning

and systems.

You prefer using pictures,

images, and spatial

What is your


Section 2.3 Learning Language and Culture Simultaneously

ELLs who have not attended school in another country may bring a different view of learning,
and how to learn, than other children in the classroom.

Individual Learning Styles and Strategies
People have different ways of learning. Actually, individuals usually employ more than one
learning technique, although many people will have a dominant or preferred style. Some differ-
ences are gender-based, but many others are simply individual preferences. For example, some
learners are more tolerant of ambiguity than others. They understand that some problems have
multiple answers and can tolerate not knowing while a teacher develops an idea. Other learners
see the world in more absolute terms and want to know “which one is true?” when faced with
multiple possibilities. As Figure 2.3 illustrates, some learners are able to recall material after

Figure 2.3: Learning styles

People learn in different ways; individuals may use different techniques depending on what they are
trying to learn. Which of these styles would you likely employ to learn to play saxophone? To learn
20 new words in Mandarin? Teachers should be aware of their students’ different learning styles and
adopt strategies to help meet unique needs.

Musical/Auditory – Fuse/Thinkstock; Verbal – Fuse/Thinkstock; Physical/Kinesthetic – ZoiaKostina/iStock/Thinkstock;
Logical/Mathematical – Hongqi Zhang/iStock/Thinkstock; Social – Minerva Studio/iStock/Thinkstock;
Solitary – AmmentorpDK/iStock/Thinkstock; Visual – Fuse/Thinkstock

You prefer to learn in groups
or with other people.
You prefer to work
alone and use self-study.

You prefer using sound
and music.
You prefer using words,
both in speech and writing.
You prefer using your body,
hands and sense of touch.
You prefer logic, reasoning
and systems.
You prefer using pictures,
images, and spatial
What is your

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Section 2.3 Learning Language and Culture Simultaneously

hearing it and, perhaps, repeating it orally, whereas others need to see it in print and, perhaps,
write it down. Some people learn more readily on their own, but others learn more effectively
in groups. Teachers need to be aware of these variations and respectful of them, while assist-
ing learners to add to their repertoire of styles and strategies. Layered onto this complexity are
those attitudes and approaches to learning that are culturally determined.

Cultural Influences on Classroom Behavior
Even in very young children, the way they learn may be partly culturally determined. With
older children who have experienced formal education in another country, this is may appear
to be more significant because of differences in how countries approach formal education.
Chinese children, for example, are accustomed to memorization, a technique rarely employed
in U.S. schools. Because memorization is a solitary activity, these children may be less accus-
tomed to group work. Asian children may, for cultural reasons, be quiet in class and be reluc-
tant to make eye contact with teachers, whereas U.S. children are usually expected to be active
participants in class and to make contact with the teacher as a sign of respect (Bennett, J. M.
et al., 2003). In some Hispanic cultures, parents may view teachers as expert and defer to
them on major decisions about their children’s education (Valdés, 1996, cited in Rosenberg et
al, 2010). As Ellen Rodriguez learned in Ellen Learns about Comprehension and Culture, such
differences in cultural expectations about education may have an impact on judgments and
decisions teachers make about ELLs. Cultural differences might play a role in a child’s claim-
ing to understand when he doesn’t.

A Teacher’s Story: Ellen Learns about Comprehension and Culture

Just before Ellen went back to full-time teaching, she was substituting in a third grade class. She
had been instructed to review certain concepts in arithmetic for half an hour before adminis-
tering a quiz. She did so, and she was careful to check to see that the children understood one
step before moving on to the next—it was a very orderly lesson. She repeatedly asked, “Do you
understand?” and occasionally some of the children would indicate they didn’t. One little boy
always smiled and nodded eagerly, and Ellen assumed he was following the review lesson well
and had mastered the material. Imagine her surprise when she looked at his quiz at the end of
the day and saw that he had scored a bare 25%! His name was Tahn, he was East Asian, and his
English had appeared to be good. He said he understood, and yet he clearly hadn’t. On reflec-
tion, Ellen learned three significant things from this experience:

1. Asking children if they understand is not always the best way of finding out whether
they do, which . . .

2. . . . is true of language and content!
3. Cultural differences might play a role in a child’s claiming to understand when he doesn’t.

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Section 2.3 Learning Language and Culture Simultaneously

Although there are many dimensions along which cultural attitudes can be measured, one of
the more revealing is the individualist-to-collectivist continuum. Table 2.3 shows the major
differences between the two extremes. Countries that are representative of the more indi-
vidualistic end of the spectrum are the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New
Zealand, Hungary, and the Netherlands, while countries representative of the other end of
the continuum include most Asian countries, Brazil, Portugal, Greece, and Mexico.

Table 2.3: Two broad cultural perspectives on education

Individualist Perspective Collectivist Perspective

Students work independently; helping others may
be construed as cheating.

Students work with peers and help each other.

Students actively participate in discussion and
argument and are encouraged to think critically.

Students consider being quiet and respectful a
more efficient way to learn.

Emphasis is placed on deadlines and schedules. Relationships are more important than tasks.

Personal opinions are expected and encouraged. Individuals will speak in class when called upon to
do so but are not likely to volunteer opinions.

Property belongs to individuals, and others must
ask permission to borrow it.

Property is communal.

The teacher manages the environment indirectly
but encourages students to develop self-control.

The teacher is the primary authority, but children
may guide each other’s behavior.

Parents are considered important to children’s
academic success and are encouraged to be active

Parents defer to teachers’ expertise both for
instruction and for academic guidance and advice.

Confrontation is allowed and may be considered
opportunity for learning.

Harmony should be maintained; disagreement
should be avoided.

“New and trendy” are generally viewed positively. Greater emphasis on tradition.

Self-improvement and education considered life-
long undertaking (“permanent education”).

Education is for the young; it is harder for adults to
accept student role.

Competence and the acquisition of skills are more
important than acquiring certificates.

Certificates and diplomas are valued in themselves.

Sources: Adapted from Collectivist vs. individualist perspectives, Very Informed Parents Newsletter, February 21, 2012,
http://veryinformedparents.blogspot.com/2012/02/collectivist-vs-individualistic.html. Based on Gouveia & Ros, 2000.

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Section 2.4 Culture Shock

Keep in mind, however, that no country or cultural community is purely one or the other. Simi-
larly, there is as much variability in learning style within cultural groups as between them. While
it may be true that children from different cultural backgrounds may exhibit distinctive patterns
of intellectual abilities, not every child from the culture will have that ability. Moreover, research
provides little support for the effectiveness of tailoring instruction according to generalized
assumptions about any particular cultural group. Nevertheless, as Perkins states, “Building on
students’ prior knowledge, which is built on their (cultural) backgrounds and experiences, is a
foundation of effective and efficient learning and teaching” (2011, p. 33). Perkins’ reminder is
appropriate for all teachers and all children, regardless of language ability or culture.

What is especially important for teachers is cultural sensitivity and understanding:
knowing about the history, shared experiences, traditions, and valued practices of dif-
ferent cultures. What is not as important is to design instructional techniques for a
particular group. Rather, it is better to understand the needs and struggles of individual
students. Developing cultural sensitivity also helps teachers recognize and deal with the
reality of culture shock.

2.4 Culture Shock
Culture shock refers to the stress that people experience when they are immersed in a new
and unfamiliar environment. Normally, we think of it as applying to people moving to a new
country, but it can also occur within a country when people move from one region to another,
such as from New England to the deep South. However, when people move from one region of
a country to another, it’s often the case that the language is not different, although the dialect
may be, and so there is a substantial commonality from which to learn. Also, when a child
moves from Boston to Savannah, the school will be new but the basic configuration of the
school and the underlying assumptions about teaching and learning will be fundamentally
the same.

For ELLs, however, especially those who are newly arrived, the situation is very different.
They do not share a language with others in their new homeland, and they are also facing
cultural adaptation at two levels—the society or country and the school. Depending on how
long they have lived in the community and a number of other factors, including the degree to
which their parents have integrated into the community, ELLs will experience different levels
of culture shock and school shock, or they will be at different phases.

Phases of Culture Shock
Researchers commonly agree on four phases of culture shock (Figure 2.4), but some also add
an initial stage, called preliminary or awareness. This initial phase includes the preparatory
activity that occurs before the move to the new culture and is more applicable to culture
shock than to school shock. The other four phases shown in Figure 2.4 are considered univer-
sal and would apply to both culture and school shock.

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Section 2.4 Culture Shock

1. Euphoria or
This begins with
arrival in the
new place. It is a
period of excite-
ment mixed
with anticipa-
tion. There is no
timeline on any
of the phases,
but this phase
can vary accord-
ing to a number
of factors, including the proximity of the new culture to the old.

2. Shock. Once the euphoria wears off, a period of irritability occurs as the newcomer
begins to acclimate to the new environment. Typically, this phase is character-
ized by a focus on the differences between the host culture and home. Sometimes,
because of the stress, even minor differences will take on major significance—not
being able to find a familiar brand of tea or a home language newscast can be a
major cause of irritability. During this phase, it is not uncommon for members of
the home culture to cluster together, clinging to the familiar and complaining about
the new.

3. Integration. This is a period of gradual adjustment to the new culture. Often, people
are not even aware that this is happening, but they find themselves increasingly
comfortable with the new ways.

4. Acceptance. The ultimate goal is biculturalism, which occurs when a newcomer is
fully able to function in the new culture and feels less “foreign” than before. This stage
in no way implies that the home culture is abandoned, but rather that newcomers
begin to feel that they have a second home. It is the phase at which the newcomers
are comfortable enough to begin to negotiate that “third place” described earlier.

Although the length of time individuals spend in each phase varies according to environment and
circumstances, the phenomenon of culture shock itself is universal for everyone except for very
young preschool children—which means that ELLs will be affected both at home and at school.

Classroom Implications
Children are usually more resilient and adaptable than adults; nevertheless, it would be a
mistake to underestimate the effects of culture shock and school shock on any learner. Just as
there is diversity in terms of language and language ability, there will also be a great deal of
variation in the degree to which ELL children have adapted to the new culture and the new
school. In terms of cultural adaptation, the task in school is to facilitate learners’ acceptance
of and into the new culture while respecting their first culture. Doing so requires that we be
able to recognize that certain behaviors may occur because of cultural differences.

ELL children who act out in class may well be suffering from culture or school shock. Many
of the differences between the home and host cultures that lead to culture shock in the broad
sense may be realized in particular in the classroom. For example

Figure 2.4: Stages of culture shock

Notice that in these stages of culture shock the “road” has a few bumps.


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Section 2.5 Language, Content, and Culture in the ELL Classroom

1. The emphasis in U.S. schools
on thinking and analyzing
over memorization may take
some time for an ELL to adapt
to, and may result in apparent
nonparticipation in class. In
a sense, they have to relearn
how to learn.

2. The tendency of teachers to
call out or chastise students
publically rather than pri-
vately will be alien to some
learners from cultures where
“face” is valued, and may also
result in lack of participation
in class.

3. The relative informality that
teachers exhibit may seem

4. The punctuality and maintain-
ing of schedules that teachers and schools demand will be strange to some ELLs and
their families from cultures where time is considered more fluid.

5. The stress on individual rather than cooperative effort, especially on tasks that are
evaluated, may be unusual.

6. The fact that it is permissible to ask questions of teachers that appear to challenge
their authority will seem disrespectful to some ELLs.

7. ELLs may expect teachers to “know everything” and reach faulty conclusions when
they do not.

Creating an environment in which all ELLs and, indeed, all children are comfortable requires
sensitivity to these cultural elements. It is very difficult to help anyone learn without first
understanding how that person learns or the barriers that may exist to impede learning. The
role of the teacher is clear, if not easy: Planning for and teaching the diverse range of stu-
dents in today’s classroom requires the integration of curricular content with language and
culture teaching objectives, tailored to the need of each student, and assisting the learner to
adapt to the new culture.

2.5  Language, Content, and Culture in the ELL Classroom
Educators do not believe that all learners are the same. Yet visits to schools
throughout the world might convince us otherwise. Too often, educators
continue to treat all learners alike while paying lip service to the principle of
diversity (Burke Guild, 2001, p. 1).

It is understandable that with the emphasis on common standards and the increased pressure
of accountability as measured by standardized tests, schools might opt for “consistency” in
curriculum and instructional methods. Particularly since such measures are interpreted with
only scant regard for cultural and language differences, teachers can be forgiven for seeking


Holding up the hand to signal willingness to
participate is a custom in U.S. schools that children
beyond kindergarten do not usually need to be
taught. Should a third grade teacher assume
that all his pupils will understand and meet this
classroom expectation?

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Section 2.5 Language, Content, and Culture in the ELL Classroom

ways to have the greatest impact on the greatest number of learners. And yet, the job is to
realize the potential in all children. To do so, educators must find ways to respect and even
take advantage of the language and language skills that learners bring with them along with
their learning styles and experiences. In broad terms, educators have to find ways of realizing
a common mission while respecting diversity. How?

1. Accept that there is no single best way to teach or learn anything, and that this is
truly independent of culture or language. If a method or technique is not working,
it doesn’t help to do it more often. As an example, if children are struggling with
phonics, doing more phonics isn’t necessarily the best approach to remediation. The
goal is not skill at phonics but skill in reading, and so trying another approach might
be called for. Teachers should be open to alternatives.

2. When possible, connect with the families of ELLs. Family members can be a
valuable source of information not only about the child’s educational background,
skills, interests, and even language ability, but also about the home culture. This
kind of information helps teachers evaluate children’s needs and understand
and deal with problems they may be having. Enlisting and involving parents in
the education of their children helps to ease culture shock for the entire

3. Become culturally competent. Cultural competence, or proficiency, is the goal of
a process that begins with cultural knowledge and progresses through cultural
awareness and cultural sensitivity to the ability to operate effectively in new or dif-
ferent cultural settings. Cultural knowledge is what we know about the characteris-
tics of a culture, cultural awareness refers to the development of sensitivity to and
understanding of another ethnic group, and cultural sensitivity means that cultural
similarities and differences can be recognized without value judgment.
Progressing from cultural knowledge, awareness, and sensitivity, leads to
cultural competence. Although cultural competence has many definitions,
the one that is most useful for educators is “ . . . a set of academic and
interpersonal skills that allow individuals to increase their understanding and
appreciation of cultural differences and similarities within, among, and between
groups” (Mizrahi & Davis, 2008, p. 64).

Acquiring cultural knowledge, the most basic phase in becoming culturally com-
petent, involves acquiring information about aspects of the culture’s history, values,
beliefs, customs, and behaviors. It is a kind of overview of the new culture. Cultural
awareness entails developing some understanding of, and sensitivity to, members
of a cultural group, progressing beyond information to some kind of internal adjust-
ment—or transformation—of attitudes and values. Building on knowledge and
awareness, cultural sensitivity entails understanding that cultural similarities and
differences exist without making value judgments about the rightness or wrong-
ness of one over the other. Educators who can lay claim to cultural competence have
progressed through these three phases (Figure 2.5) to the point at which they are
able to integrate and transform the knowledge, sensitivities, and awareness, into
their curricula and teaching practice in ways that help all their students realize their
learning potential.

4. Implement culturally responsive teaching. Culturally responsive teaching is defined
as “a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and
politically, by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes”
(Ladson-Billings, 1994, p. 382). Educators such as Sam Perkins argue that the best

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Cultural Awareness
Integrating knowledge
and changing attitudes

Cultural Sensitivity

differences but making
no value judgments

Cultural Knowledge
Facts and �gures,

what we think we know

Cultural Competence
System of knowledge,
attitudes, and feelings
that allow us to work in
a new cultural setting

Section 2.5 Language, Content, and Culture in the ELL Classroom

approach to curricular development that respects cultural diversity is transforma-
tive in nature:

With the “transformation approach” to curricular development in mul-
ticultural education, the structure of existing curricula is fundamentally
changed to enable your students to view concepts, content, events, issues,
and themes from the perspectives of diverse cultural groups. The infor-
mation is brought from the margins to the center of curricula, which no
longer focus just on the dominant cultures. The goal is to assist your stu-
dents to understand that knowledge is socially constructed and that it
reflects the attitudes, beliefs, biases, experiences, and/or values of its cre-
ators. Finally, there is a focus on teaching your students to think critically
and to justify their own interpretations of events and situations. (Perkins,
2011, pp. 38–39)

Through reading, study, reflection, and practice, teachers come to view the diversity in their
classroom as beneficial and find therein opportunities for everyone in the class to reach
higher understanding of, and respect for, each other. They create a safe environment for chil-
dren to progress toward common goals while learning in different ways. Culturally proficient

Figure 2.5: Stages of becoming culturally competent

Cultural competence is the result of having cultural knowledge, awareness, and sensitivity.

Cultural Awareness
Integrating knowledge
and changing attitudes
Cultural Sensitivity
differences but making
no value judgments
Cultural Knowledge
Facts and �gures,
what we think we know
Cultural Competence
System of knowledge,
attitudes, and feelings
that allow us to work in
a new cultural setting

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Summary & Resources

Summary & Resources

In this chapter we have examined the broad intersection of language, learning, and culture
as it impacts ELL teachers and their classrooms. We began with a description of the four
domains or levels of language that learners must master: listening, speaking, reading, and
writing. We went on to analyze the effect that previous learning and expectations of school-
ing might have on how diverse learners acquire skills in each area. Diverse classrooms
require teachers to be sensitive to culture and to develop their own cultural awareness so
that they are able to think about curriculum not as a set of directives or prescriptions for all
learners, but as a general set of goals that may be achieved differently by each learner. The
goal of teaching is not to replace the experiences that ELLs bring to school, but to find ways
of helping them to build upon those foundations.

In Chapter 3, we will attempt to deepen our understanding of diversity, and what it means for
the classroom, by looking at the differences between first and second language acquisition,
and the stages that second language learners pass through in acquiring a new language.

teachers do not know everything there is to know about every child or every culture repre-
sented in the classroom, but they do take advantage of teachable moments to advance their
students’ awareness and their own. It’s just good teaching.

We will end this chapter with a word from Marissa, who tells us what the experiences of cul-
turally diverse learners mean to her.

Why I Teach: Every Day Is a New Day
Marissa teaches kindergarten in a small elementary school near Miami, Florida. It was in the
middle of her fourth year of teaching that she explained why she chose to teach and why she
chooses to remain in the profession.

I had other jobs before I got my teaching degree. Some of them I liked well enough, but noth-
ing compares to this one. Of course I like the fact that I feel useful, like I’m really contributing,
but what really keeps me here is that there is no possibility of ever being bored. Every year
is different. Actually, every day is different, and it’s because of the kids. This year especially
I have a really diverse group. There are 12 in the class, but those 12 represent four different
languages and backgrounds, and only five of them are English speakers. One of the English
language learners is really advanced—she knew the alphabet and could count in English at
the start of the year. But I have one student who could barely speak English when she started
the year. Most of the kids didn’t know each other and they didn’t know me. About the only
thing they had in common was that they were born outside this country. And me! I love the
fact that out of this diverse class of strangers I was able to help us to forge a unit—a kind of
family, really—and while we’re doing that, they are also learning so fast. They amaze me, they
exhaust me, but they never, never bore me.

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Summary & Resources

acquisition level  A stage that an ELL
achieves in the process of acquiring lan-
guage proficiency. Based on observation.

competency What the ELL understands of
the structure and vocabulary of a language.

comprehensible input Language that lis-
teners can understand despite being unable
to understand all the words and structures
in it.

cultural awareness The ability to under-
stand and be sensitive to members of a
cultural group, progressing beyond informa-
tion to some kind of internal adjustment—or
transformation—of attitudes and values.

cultural competence “A set of academic
and interpersonal skills that allow individu-
als to increase their understanding and
appreciation of cultural differences and simi-
larities within, among, and between, groups.”

cultural knowledge The ability to acquire
information about aspects of a culture’s his-
tory, values, beliefs, customs, and behaviors.

cultural sensitivity Understanding that
cultural similarities and differences exist
without making value judgments about
the rightness or wrongness of one over the

Key Ideas

1. To be considered fully proficient, learners must master all four domains of language:
listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

2. The purpose of learning language is to communicate, and thus the ability to under-
stand and create meaning is at the heart of language learning and teaching.

3. Language exists to meet the social, educational, vocational, and spiritual needs of the
people who speak it.

4. There are similarities between cultures, but because the world’s languages evolved
in different locations and under different conditions, there are also differences
among cultures and languages.

5. Teachers should have some knowledge, awareness of, sensitivity to, and respect for
the cultures their ELLs represent.

6. While an important part of teaching is to help ELLs adapt and accept the new cul-
ture, it is important to remember that they are not replacing a culture but adding
and integrating one.

7. Culture shock has four stages: euphoria, shock, integration, and acceptance. ELLs
may experience school shock simultaneously.

8. Language, culture, and content intersect to shape curriculum and instruction for

9. To be effective in planning for and teaching ELLs, teachers need to

• Understand that different children have different learning styles, no matter their
language background or the language being taught.

• Be willing to change tactics if one isn’t working.
• Strive toward becoming culturally competent.
• Implement culturally responsive teaching that allows learners to view concepts,

content, events, and issues from different cultural perspectives.
10. The goal of English language teaching is not to replace a language and culture, but to

build upon them while helping learners to acquire a new language and culture.

Key Terms

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Summary & Resources

culture shock The stress that people expe-
rience when they are immersed in a new and
unfamiliar environment. The four stages of
culture shock are euphoria, shock, integra-
tion, and acceptance.

fluency The smoothness or flow of speech,
oral reading, and writing, reflecting an ease
with putting together sounds, words, and

homophone A word that sounds identical
to another word but has a different meaning
and spelling.

input hypothesis  An assumption under-
lying Krashen’s theory of second language
acquisition, holding that a learner’s ability
to understand language is the only mecha-
nism that leads to an increase in linguistic

language proficiency levels What a
learner is able to demonstrate on a for-
mal language assessment. Based on

learning styles The usual or habitual tac-
tics, patterns, or approaches an individual
uses to learn or acquire new information or

proficiency An individual’s ability to speak,
read, and write with both accuracy and flu-
ency in an acquired language.

school shock A specific kind of culture
shock that ELLs may experience when they
begin schooling in a culture different from
their home culture.

Critical Thinking Questions

1. Based on the limited information you have about Quy, Mai, Ye-jun, and Ji-woo, at
what level of acquisition would you place each?

2. If a learner can read a passage flawlessly, pronouncing all words correctly and with
an appropriate intonation pattern, can you say confidently that the person can read?

3. How does the notion of fluency apply to reading comprehension (as opposed to oral

4. Why is meaning central to all language learning?
5. Why is it important to do frequent comprehension checks with ELLs?
6. Some human societies have a “future” orientation, whereas others place greater

value on the past and present. Which do you think best describes mainstream U.S.
culture? What are some of the issues that children from the opposite orientation
might face in U.S. schools?

7. How might the euphoria or honeymoon stage of culture shock be manifested in
school shock? That is, how might ELLs at this stage behave?

8. How might an ELL teacher involve children’s families to reduce or minimize the
effects of school shock?

9. How does their teacher’s cultural competency affect ELLs’ language and content

Additional Resources
For an insightful but highly technical description of the factors involved in language process-
ing (i.e., listening comprehension), see

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Summary & Resources

For concise notes on Krashen’s theory of second language acquisition, see

For assistance in teaching standards-based writing to ELLs, see

For an excellent list of resources for teaching content and language simultaneously, see

For a useful definition of cultural competency, see Advocacy Unlimited, 2013,
http://www.mindlink.org/online_courses/cultural_competency_1.html and

For a discussion of the “third place” as a component of acculturation, see
http://lrc.cornell.edu/events/past/2008-2009/papers08/third .

For definitions of culture and mini-lessons on the role of culture in teaching, see

For useful tips for creating an ELL-friendly classroom, see

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1The Faces of Diversity


Learning Outcomes
By the end of this chapter you will be able to accomplish the following objectives:

1. Explain how historical patterns of immigration to the United States have shaped the current
English language learner demographic.

2. Explain how the changing demographic of English language learners in the United States
affects the education system.

3. Analyze the impact of the changing demographic of English language learners on classroom

4. Explain why cultural sensitivity and understanding are important.

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Section 1.1 The ELL Population: A Nation of Immigrants

The United States is and has always been a land of immigrants. Some of us whose parents, or
even grandparents, were born here tend to forget, but the truth is that unless our ancestors
were indigenous peoples, we are descended from immigrants. This chapter begins with a
brief history of cultural diversity in the United States from the European founders to the pres-
ent day. Emphasizing that the linguistic and cultural makeup of the population continues to
change, the chapter goes on to examine how the changing demographic of English language
learners (ELLs) in the United States affects the educational system as a whole and how it
impacts individual classroom teachers.

There is no doubt that our country and our schools are richer for the fact of our demography.
More diversity means more options. Whether in ideology, customs, foods, sports, or almost
everything that touches our lives, we are enriched by a multitude of perspectives. Over the
past few decades, as schools have seen their numbers of non-English speakers increased,
they have learned that the educational experience of all learners, whatever their language,
benefits when every learner has equal opportunity to learn. Because ELLs face the dual tasks
of learning academic content and a new language, schools have learned, and will continue to
learn, how to organize programs and curricula and to prepare teachers for the reality of the
diverse 21st-century classroom.

In recent years, additional pressure has been put on schools by an increased demand for
reporting and “accountability” as defined and mandated by government or school districts.
Already faced with declining resources and larger numbers of students identified as ELLs,
schools have scrambled to adapt not only for the sake of ELLs, but so that the benefits of hav-
ing a diverse school population can be fully realized. Their goal, ultimately, is that ELLs not
become long-term English language learners (LTELLs) for whom, too often, the academic
prognosis is grim. The purpose of this chapter is to begin the conversation about how educa-
tors can help to improve the chances of success for all English language learners.

1.1 The ELL Population: A Nation of Immigrants
We learned in elementary school social studies that the first European settlers to the North
American continent arrived in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565. Forty-two years later, the Eng-
lish settled Jamestown, Virgina, and immigration had begun to fuel the population growth
and geographical expansion that created the country we occupy today.

A Brief History of U.S. Immigration
People move from the land of their birth to other countries for a number of reasons. Politics,
climate change, natural resources, economic conditions, and personal opportunity all play a
role—and certainly have done so among those who have chosen the United States as home
for the past four centuries. Indigenous peoples would likely view immigration as beginning
with the arrival of the Spanish to St. Augustine, but historians generally consider those who
crossed the Atlantic before 1790 to have been settlers and not true immigrants. There were
approximately 1 million of these settlers, overwhelmingly from Great Britain, but the French,
Dutch, and Spanish were also represented. We cannot, however, neglect to acknowledge that

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Section 1.1 The ELL Population: A Nation of Immigrants

much of early settlement and immigration were involuntary when African citizens were
imported against their will to work, primarily on farms and plantations in the southern part
of the country. Although Congress passed the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves in 1807 to
take effect in 1808, and further strengthened the law in 1819, the practice continued illegally
for many years afterward. At the time the U.S. Senate passed the 13th Amendment, abolishing
slavery in 1864 (final ratification in 1865), there were approximately 4 million slaves held in
a total population of approximately 31 million people.

Population Growth in the 19th and 20th Centuries
There was little immigration to the United States between 1780 and 1830, and in fact, there
was a great deal of emigration from the United States to Canada by those seeking better farm-
land and a closer alliance with the British crown. Nevertheless, the 19th century was a time
of immense population growth fueled by immigration. The factors that led people to cross-
migrate to the United States can be considered in terms of “push” and “pull” conditions. The
types of things that push people toward migration to another country include famine, war,
religious or political persecution, unemployment, and poverty. The types of things that pull
people toward another country are increased economic opportunity, religious freedom, fam-
ily unity, or cultural preferences.

Courtesy Everett Collection
Large numbers of European immigrants arrived in the United States in the years following
the First World War.

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Section 1.1 The ELL Population: A Nation of Immigrants

Crop failures in Germany, the Irish potato famine, and general political unrest in Europe lead-
ing thousands to seek a different life in the New World were some of the push factors that led
people to move to the New World. Some of the pull factors included the California Gold Rush,
the promise of new and cheap farmlands, and late in the 19th century, the Industrial Revolu-
tion. Moreover, when the invention of the steam engine led to steam-powered ships, crossing
the ocean became faster and cheaper. Improvements in farming techniques in the Russian
Empire and in Southern Europe in the late 19th century created larger, underemployed popu-
lations eager for a fresh start in North America, resulting in a migratory wave of Italians,
Greeks, Hungarians and Poles, and other Slavic-language peoples.

Where We Came From
In the latter half of the 19th century and up to about 1930, approximately 5 million Germans
arrived in the United States, most of whom settled in the Midwest. The Irish arrived in large
numbers between 1820 and the end of the century, mostly Protestant before 1845 and mostly
Catholic thereafter (Dolan, 2010). What push or pull factors might have influenced these two

In 1819, Congress passed an act that required the secretary of state to report annually on the
number of immigrants admitted. The pattern of immigration during subsequent decades is
illustrated in Table 1.1.

Immigration patterns were determined not just by the push and pull factors, but also by poli-
cies of the U.S. government. Notice that in 1880, there were 104,000 Chinese immigrants
reported by the Census Bureau, but after that, it is not until 2000 that we see the Chinese
represented in significant numbers. The dramatic drop after 1880 was the direct result of a
law passed by Congress in 1882, which specifically restricted the number of Chinese entering
the United States for ten years. Congress renewed the Act in 1892, and made it permanent in
1902. What motivated Congress to pass such a law? There is no definitive answer, but most
historians concur that it was in reaction to the perception, primarily in California, that the
presence of Chinese workers was driving down wages. This was the first federal law that
restricted immigration of a particular ethnic group, and the Chinese Exclusion Act was not
repealed until 1943 (Kanazawa, 2005; Cole, 1978).

Congress further acted to restrict immigration in 1917, when they voted to require all immi-
grants to pass a literacy test and banned all immigrants from Asian countries except Japan
and the Philippines. Four years later, Congress put a temporary quota on immigration, which
they made more restrictive and permanent in 1924. The later quota restricted the number
of immigrants to 164,000 per year and “fixed quotas on immigration from each country, bas-
ing the quota on percentage of people from that country who lived in the United States in
1890” (Constitutional Rights Foundation, 2013). Note that the 1924 law neither replaced nor
repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Eventually, these restrictive acts were repealed and replaced with more permissive legisla-
tion. In 1965, Congress set the country on course toward the more diverse population we
have today with the passage of the 1965 Nationality and Immigration Act. That act abolished
the quotas set in the 1920s with a new system that was only slightly more permissive. It did
abolish the earlier quota system but replaced it with a preference system that focused on
needed employment skills and family relationships in the United States. The 1965 act also
set the total number of visas to be awarded in any one year at 170,000, excluding immediate

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Section 1.1 The ELL Population: A Nation of Immigrants

Table 1.1: Top source countries for U.S. immigration, 1850–2000
(in thousands)*

Year/country 1850 1880 1900 1930 1960 1990 2000

Austria 717 305

Bohemia 85

Canada 148 717 1,180 1,310 953 745 678

China 104 1,391

Cuba 737 952

Czechoslovakia 492



El Salvador 765

France 54 107

Germany 584 1,967 2,663 1,609 990 712

Hungary 245

India 2,000

Ireland 962 1,885 1,615 745 339

Italy 484 1,790 1,257 581

Mexico 13 641 576 4,298 7,641

Netherlands 10

Norway 13 182 336

Pakistan 724

Philippines 913 1,222

Poland 1,269 748


424 1,154 691

Sweden 194 582 595

Switzerland 13 89

United Kingdom 379 918 1,168 1,403 833 640

Vietnam 543 863

Total foreign born 2,176 6,965 8,452 11,008 6,937 8,588 18,817

*Countries without numbers did not make the top ten for that census year.

Sources: US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey; Decennial Census 2000 (see www.census.gov); Gibson, Campbell and
Emily Lennon, US Census Bureau, Working Paper No. 29, Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United
States: 1850 to 1990, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1999 and the 2001 Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration
and Naturalization Service.

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Section 1.1 The ELL Population: A Nation of Immigrants

family members of legal U.S. residents. Without nationally based quotas and with the empha-
sis on family unification and employability, the 1965 act became the foundation for policy
that remains in place today. In 1990, Congress raised the total number of immigrants allowed,
revised the grounds for exclusion and deportation, and allowed temporary protected status
for residents of certain countries. The impact of the 1965 and 1990 acts has been profound:
The number of arriving immigrants doubled between 1965 and 1970, and then doubled
again between 1970 and 1990. In the last three decades, the foreign-born population of the
United States has tripled. During the latter half of the 20th century, immigrants began arriving
from many different countries than in the past, and the percentage of foreign-born residents
of European descent dropped from just under 60% of immigrants in 1970 to 15% in 2000
(Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2003). Moreover, over one-third
of the foreign-born population of this country arrived since 2000 (U.S. Census, Bureau, 2012).

Who We Are Today
We have seen how world events, as well as government action, have had a profound impact
on the demographics of this country. We are, today, a very different nation than we were 100
or even 50 years ago, and we are almost certainly different from what we will be 50 years
from now. According to the 2010 census, which provides data on reported ethnicity and lan-
guage, 41 million residents, or 13% of the population, were born outside the United States,
and approximately 44% of these people were naturalized U.S. citizens (Grieco, Acosta, de la
Cruz, Gambino, Gryn, Larsen, Trevelyan & Walters, 2012). See Table 1.2.

The census did not specifically ask about immigration status, but cross-referencing of data
from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship on naturalization reveals that approx-
imately 44% of the total foreign-born residents are naturalized citizens. Since the Census
Bureau does not ask questions about immigration status, there is no way of knowing how
many of the remaining immigrant population are authorized to be in the United States, but
for education purposes it does not matter. Public schools require evidence of residence, not
immigration status, and are required to provide education to all residents of their districts.

Country-of-origin data provide some indication of the languages spoken by the immigrant
population. Spanish remains the dominant minority language spoken in this country, although
it isn’t the only non-English language spoken in the United States today. Of the approximately
281 million residents (over the age of five) living in the United States in 2010, more than 55
million spoke a language other than English at home. Spanish and Spanish Creole accounted
for 34.2 million of these (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010), meaning that almost 21 million spoke
other languages. Table 1.3 shows how these languages are distributed in the population along
with the self-reported data of census respondents on their proficiency in English.

Looking closely at the data in Tables 1.2 and 1.3 reveals a very important fact: The num-
ber of immigrants is much smaller than the number who reportedly speak another language
at home. The number of the latter population reporting that they speak English “not very
well” is the more relevant number, and it may well underrepresent the actual number who
need English support. In recent decades, to accommodate students who need English sup-
port schools have changed and teachers have had to make adaptations. A good illustration of
this phenomenon is the story of a teacher named Ellen Rodriguez, who recently retired after
40 years. Her account begins in A Teacher’s Story: Meet Ellen, and continues throughout the
remainder of this book as a personal description of and reflection on change.

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Section 1.1 The ELL Population: A Nation of Immigrants

Table 1.2: Birthplace of immigrants to the United States, 2010

Country of birth Number (in millions)

Mexico 11.7

India 1.9

Philippines 1.8

China 1.7

Vietnam 1.3

El Salvador 1.2

Korea 1.0

Cuba 1.0

Dominican Republic 0.9

Guatemala 0.8

Canada 0.8

Jamaica 0.7

Colombia 0.7

Germany 0.6

Haiti 0.6

Honduras 0.5

Poland 0.5

Ecuador 0.4

Peru 0.4

Russia 0.4

Italy 0.4

Taiwan 0.4

Iran 0.4

United Kingdom 0.4

Ukraine 0.3

Brazil 0.3

Japan 0.3

Pakistan 0.3

All others (26 countries) 9.3


Source: 2010 U.S. Census

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Section 1.1 The ELL Population: A Nation of Immigrants

Table 1.3: Self-reported language proficiency level according to home language

Language spoken at home
Number of

Number who self-
rated their English
ability as less than
“Very Well”

Percentage who self-
rated their ability to
speak English as less
than “Very Well”

Spanish and Spanish Creole 34,183,747 16,120,772 47

French (including Patois & Cajun) 1,358,816 292,422 22

Italian 807,010 231,736 29

Portuguese 678,334 289,899 43

German 1,112,670 196,957 18

Yiddish 162,511 50,957 31

Other West Germanic languages 269,600 62,711 23

Scandinavian languages 132,956 17,474 13

Greek 340,028 90,360 27

Russian 846,233 430,850 51

Polish 632,362 274,693 43

Serbo-Croatian languages 273,729 115,165 45

Other Slavic languages 318,051 122,058 38

Armenian 220,922 98,041 44

Persian 359,176 137,765 38

Hindi 531,313 114,070 32

Gujarati 301,658 108,352 36

Urdu 335,213 102,364 31

Other Indic Languages 619,954 238,583 38

Other Indo-European Languages 417,706 157,533 38

Chinese, Mandarin 381,121 199,507 52

Chinese, Cantonese 437,301 273,402 63

Chinese, other 1,637,161 NA NA

(continued )

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Section 1.1 The ELL Population: A Nation of Immigrants
Language spoken at home
Number of
Number who self-
rated their English
ability as less than
“Very Well”
Percentage who self-
rated their ability to
speak English as less
than “Very Well”

Japanese 457,033 211,017 46

Korean 1,048,173 610,340 58

Mon-Khmer, Cambodian 182,387 98,764 54

Hmong 185,401 88,556 48

Thai 139,845 72,998 52

Laotian 147,865 74,772 51

Vietnamese 1,204,454 731,555 61

Other Asian languages 644,363 192,046 30

U.S. Census Bureau

Table 1.3: Self-reported language proficiency level according to home language
(continued )

A Teacher’s Story: Meet Ellen

Recently graduated from college, Ellen had learned about teaching English as a second lan-
guage and had taught many Spanish-speaking children as a student teacher. She found her
bilingualism very helpful and was certain that the education and experience she had had in
Los Angeles would serve her well. Shortly after graduation in 1971, however, she married a
classmate and traveled with him to New Hampshire, where he was to study medicine. Ellen
was excited to find a job teaching third grade in a school near Hanover, New Hampshire.
What surprised her was that except for the French teacher in junior high, she was the only
bilingual in the school where everyone spoke English—even the French teacher, most of
the time.

Ellen’s grandparents escaped a war-torn Spain, arriving in the United States with their young
son, Ellen’s father, in 1936. Later, he met and married Ellen’s mother, and the young couple
moved to southern California where Ellen was born and where she grew up speaking Span-
ish and English with equal fluency. “New Hampshire was a foreign country,” she said. “The
weather was cold, there were no palm trees, and the food was strange to me. The only thing
that was the same was the language, and then only half the same,” she said. Ellen enjoyed
teaching and cried the day she turned in her resignation. Her husband had finished medical
school, and they were moving to Boston for his residency. It was 1975.

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Section 1.2 The Impact of ELLs on Schools

1.2 The Impact of ELLs on Schools
For the purposes of our discussion here and throughout the book, we use the definition of the
ELL used by the Educational Testing Service, who considers the ELL as one who

• Is between the ages of 3 and 21;
• Is enrolled or preparing to enroll in an elementary or secondary school;
• Has one of three profiles:

• Was not born in the United States or speaks a native language other than English;
• Is a Native American, an Alaska Native, or a native resident of the outlying areas,

and comes from an environment where a language other than English has had a
significant impact on his or her level of English language proficiency; or

• Is migratory, has a native language other than English, and comes from an envi-
ronment where a language other than English is dominant.

• Has difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language
that are so severe as to deny the individual one of the following:

• The ability to meet the state’s proficient level of achievement on state

• The ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of
instruction is English; or

• The opportunity to participate fully in society (Educational Testing Service,

In the last three decades of the 20th century, the population of ELLs in U.S. schools grew by
84% at a time when the overall student population increased by only 12%. In the first decade
of this century, the number of Latino children under the age of 17 grew by 39% (Pew Hispanic
Center, 2011). Today, in some school districts, Hispanic youth comprise a quarter or more of
the school population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010) and are the fastest growing segment of the
school population (Pew Hispanic Center, 2011).

The number of English language learners (ELLs) increased by 65% between
1993 and 2004, while the total U.S. school age population grew by less than
7% (National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, 2006). The
more than 5.1 million ELL students comprise more than 10% of the coun-
try’s student population. Overall, Hispanics were much more likely to speak
a language other than English at home (76%) compared with non-Hispanics.
(Fenner, 2012)

Figure 1.1 illustrates how Spanish speakers are distributed in 48 states, and Table 1.4 pro-
vides more detailed information in numerical form.

The growth in the ELL population is a trend that can be expected to continue, although pos-
sibly not at the same rate. If it does continue at the same rate, the population of the United
States will rise to nearly 440 million by 2050, and more than 80% of that increase will be due
to immigrants and their U.S.-born children. Moreover, census data reveal that over 75% of
ELLs in elementary school and 50% in high school were born in the United States, many to
parents who had also been born here (Syrja, 2011); since English was not the language of the
home, they did not learn it as a first language.

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Section 1.2 The Impact of ELLs on Schools

Figure 1.1: Geographic distribution of Spanish speakers by county

This Modern Language Association language map shows where Spanish is spoken in the United States.
The darker colors indicate highest density of Spanish speakers. The interactive website map (http://
arcgis.mla.org/mla/default.aspx) shows where more than 30 languages are spoken in the United
States and where they are taught.

Source: Reprinted with permisson from Modern Language Association (MLA). Retrieved from http://arcgis.mla.org/mla/default

The demographic trend in this country means that our schools are and will continue to be
places of ethnic and linguistic diversity. Helping teachers and schools to meet that challenge
is, in a very tangible sense, the purpose of this text. In Ellen, Ten Years Later, we see how the
challenge began for one teacher in 1985.

Although it is easily demonstrated that, on the whole, schools have not been optimally effec-
tive in teaching English to non-English speakers, it would be a mistake to assume that they
have failed entirely or that their shortcomings are the result of lack of care or effort. As we
shall see, schools have struggled to cope with a more diverse student population at a time
when curricular and accountability demands have been growing and resources have been

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Section 1.2 The Impact of ELLs on Schools

Table 1.4: U.S. States ranked by number/percentage of population who only
speak Spanish

State # Spanish only % Spanish only

 1. California 4,303,949 13.70%

 2. Texas 2,369,036 12.31%

 3. New Mexico 158,629 9.39%

 4. Arizona 435,186 9.16%

 5. Nevada 162,301 8.76%

 6. Florida 1,187,335 7.89%

 7. New York 1,182,068 6.66%

 8. New Jersey 483,069 6.15%

 9. Illinois 665,995 5.77%

10. Colorado 202,883 5.06%

11. District of Columbia 25,355 4.70%

12. Rhode Island 40,403 4.10%

13. Connecticut 116,538 3.66%

14. Oregon 116,557 3.64%

15. Utah 71,405 3.53%

16. Georgia 246,269 3.24%

17. Idaho 36,459 3.05%

18. North Carolina 218,792 2.91%

19. Washington 155,374 2.82%

20. Massachusetts 162,908 2.74%

21. Kansas 67,973 2.72%

22. Nebraska 39,825 2.50%

23. Delaware 17,116 2.34%

24. Virginia 151,938 2.30%

25. Maryland 108,578 2.20%

26. Oklahoma 65,280 2.03%

27. Arkansas 43,535 1.75%

28. Wisconsin 76,697 1.53%

29. Indiana 84,355 1.49%

30. South Carolina 53,604 1.43%

31. Minnesota 61,817 1.35%

32. Wyoming 6,223 1.34%

33. Iowa 36,606 1.34%

(continued )

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Section 1.2 The Impact of ELLs on Schools

Table 1.4: U.S. States ranked by number/percentage of population who only
speak Spanish (continued )

State # Spanish only % Spanish only

34. Pennsylvania 140,502 1.22%

35. Tennessee 64,378 1.21%

36. Michigan 100,689 1.09%

37. Alaska 5,801 1.00%

38. Alabama 40,299 0.97%

39. Louisiana 38,609 0.93%

40. Missouri 45,990 0.88%

41. Kentucky 30,842 0.82%

42. Mississippi 20,856 0.79%

43. Ohio 77,394 0.73%

44. New Hampshire 6,907 0.60%

45. South Dakota 3,999 0.57%

46. North Dakota 2,762 0.46%

47. Hawaii 4,960 0.44%

48. Montana 3,411 0.40%

49. West Virginia 5,728 0.34%

50. Vermont 1,407 0.24%

51. Maine 2,664 0.22%

Source: Statistic Brain Research Institute, 2012, Spanish speaking state statistics.

The growing numbers of ELLs put pressure on schools because they have to be taught English
and curricular content simultaneously, and they are an extremely heterogeneous population.
According to recent research, 57% of adolescent ELLs were born in the United States and the
remainder elsewhere (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010; Abedi, 2004, 2009). They all have different
levels of language proficiency, content knowledge, schooling, and citizenship status, not to
mention the socioeconomic variability that characterizes the entire school population. This
diversity can put pressure on school resources, but there are many other factors that increase
that pressure. Some of these include

1. Political pressure to dictate or change curriculum. Schools are sometimes forced to
add subject matter and change curricular materials without the benefits of more
time or money.

2. English-only legislation. California, Massachusetts, and Arizona have all passed laws
requiring that public schools teach entirely or “overwhelmingly” in English, thus ending
many bilingual programs and effectively mandating sheltered English immersion in
some instances (National Council of Teachers of English [NCTE], 2008, p. 4).

3. The emphasis on testing mandated by government and the punitive measures attached
to low performance. Many educators feel that standardized testing and preparing

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Section 1.2 The Impact of ELLs on Schools

for those tests constrain teachers in what, how, and how much they teach, and also
threatens their job security by holding them accountable for their students’ perfor-
mance on the tests. Moreover, at the school level, many schools with substantial ELL
populations feel the threat of sanctions if their ELLs do not learn “enough” English
within a prescribed period of time.

4. Implementation of the government-mandated standards as well as Common Core State
Standards (CCSS). While no teacher opposes high standards for their pupils, the
speed with which some states have adopted and implemented the CCSS has been
stressful for many. They feel that they do not have adequate professional develop-
ment to prepare them either for the curricular changes or for explaining them to
parents. They also fear that with the emphasis on the CCSS subjects, there is a risk
that noncore subjects such as art, music, and physical education will be given even
less attention, especially if a school needs to direct its resources to specialists in
reading and math to assist struggling students in these core areas.

5. The global downturn in the economy and employment. Fewer people paying taxes
means less money is available for public schools, and much that is available is
diverted to cope with the demands of pressures 1–3, above. Schools are closed, and
so classes grow with children being bused to more distant schools, changing both
the size and the sense of community in the receiving school.

6. Poverty, in general. Approximately 25% of U.S. children live in poverty, and the impact
of poverty on children’s ability to learn is undeniable. It is also more difficult for
schools to compensate, with school meal programs, for example, when their budgets
are consistently slashed.

Each of these factors has a profound impact on schools’ ability to educate effectively, but taken
together they can have a devastating impact, particularly on the schools’ resources. And yet,
creative school leaders find ways of reducing anxiety by engaging teachers and the commu-
nity in the process and the challenges of change. Teachers find creative ways to teach their
multi-level, diverse classes so that they are prepared not only for the formal assessments they
face, but also for school success.

A Teacher’s Story: Ellen, Ten Years Later

Shortly after they moved to Massachusetts, Ellen gave birth to her first child and took a break
from teaching. After taking off a few years to be at home with her children, she resumed her
teaching career in Chicago, where the family had settled when her husband began his new medi-
cal practice. It was 1985, and the world had changed. “I had had very little chance to speak Span-
ish for many years,” Ellen recalled. “My parents had died and there were no family gatherings
where English wasn’t spoken. I spoke Spanish at home with my children, or tried to, but once
they started school they were resistant, and I didn’t push them. Then I went to work in Chi-
cago.” There, she found more opportunities to speak Spanish, but when she met her fourth grade
class for the first time, she discovered that knowing Vietnamese or Korean might be more useful.
“What I learned very quickly,” she said, “was that I couldn’t rely on being able to communicate in
the children’s home languages. I had to communicate with them and teach them English without
knowing more than ‘hello’ and ‘good-bye’ and the words for a few food items in Vietnamese and
Korean. I was almost mad at the two Spanish-speaking children in my class because their English
was so good they didn’t need extra help! Two of the children in my first fourth grade class didn’t
speak any English and had never been to school. They had so much to learn. And so did I.”

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Section 1.2 The Impact of ELLs on Schools

Diversity and Resources
As noted earlier, even among ELLs of the same age and grade level, including those who speak
the same home language, there will be variations in language ability in one or more domains.
Some will come to school with excellent oral English but with little or no reading ability. Some
will come to school with good colloquial English but without the vocabulary needed for aca-
demic success, while others will be the opposite, possessing “book” English but with limited
communicative ability. This variability means that as classroom teachers work hard to diver-
sify instruction, they will need different, and thus more, resources because ELLs and their
families have the right to expect the same quality of education as every other child. Schools
may need smaller classes and more teachers, they may need more teacher assistants, and
they will certainly need a larger variety of teaching materials.

Unfortunately, there are severe constraints on the budgets of nearly every public school in
the country, constraints imposed by factors often beyond the school or district control. For
example, the implementation of the CCSS is expected to have an impact:

Given the current economic climate, funding new initiatives such as the
CCSS—that will require schools and states to develop and implement new
measures—may seem impossible. State and local leaders will need to strat-
egize to creatively maximize their current federal and state funding streams.

Federal funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) may
be directed to support CCSS implementation. For example, Title I funds may be
used to purchase instructional materials, such as curricula and textbooks; to hire
new teachers; and provide professional development on CCSS academic sub-
jects, such as math and reading. Title II, the main funding stream for teacher and
principal preparation and training, can be used to provide professional devel-
opment to teachers. Additionally, Title III may be used to provide professional
development for ELL teachers. (National Council of La Raza [NCLR], 2012, p. 11)

Fortunately, many of the costs of implementing CCSS are one-time expenses, and in addition
to the federal funds that can be directed to Common Core Implementation, some states, such
as California, have also made additional monies available.

Diversity and Accountability
The standards movement had its beginnings in 1983, with the report of the Commission on
Excellence in Education titled A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. With
support from the federal government, reform bills were intended to provide coherent policies
to bring consistency to educational policy and practice and higher achievement for students.
The first major piece of legislation with these aims came with the reauthorization of the Ele-
mentary and Secondary Education Act in 1994. Then in 2001, Congress passed the No Child
Left Behind Act, which was intended to raise proficiency levels for all children.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
The most sweeping government-mandated reform of public education of the 20th century,
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) introduced standards-based education reform and required
states to develop and administer assessment measures for basic skills at select grade levels.

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Section 1.2 The Impact of ELLs on Schools

Significantly, the legislation specified punitive measures for schools that failed to meet their
Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets. A school that failed to meet its AYP target for three
consecutive years would be required, for example, to offer free tutoring and other assistance
to struggling students. If a school did not meet AYP goals for a fourth year, then the school was
required to take “corrective action,” which might involve the introduction of a new curricu-
lum, extending instructional time, and the replacement of staff. Five years of failure to meet
AYP targets could result in a plan to restructure the entire school, and this plan would be put
into place if the school failed to meet its targets for six consecutive years. Another provision
of the law required districts to offer parents of children in schools that do not meet their AYPs
the option of sending their children to a non-failing school in the district.

The legislation also required states to provide “highly qualified” teachers to all children in public
schools, which was, no doubt, already the goal of every state and school district in the country.
What NCLB did not do was to specify a national set of standards or testing instrument for either
measuring teacher quality or students’ progress, leaving states on their own to figure it out. Some-
times what the states “figured out” did not assist the schools so much as to place additional bur-
dens on already-strained resources. The state of Wisconsin conducted a careful study of the costs
associated with mandated assessments and found that they added $34 to the annual cost of edu-
cating an individual student. While that may not seem a large sum, it represented approximately
$15 million annually for all students in Wisconsin. But that figure only represents the direct fis-
cal costs and does not account for opportunities lost, such as instructional time. The same study
made the point that when teachers are testing, they are not teaching, and that as a result, ELLs
lost an average of 7.4 hours of instructional time during the year (Zellmer et al., 2006).

A number of states had already embarked on an overhaul of education, and layering on addi-
tional federal requirements caused confusion, duplication, and sometimes produced contra-
dictory results. In Florida, for example, the state had already implemented an assessment
system, one that could be utilized under the terms of NCLB. The problem was that under
federal law, “schools were judged on the percentage of students who met specific goals each
year” while the state “took into account the progress of individual students from one grade to
the next when determining a school’s success” (Postal, 2012).

Since NCLB went into effect, states
have been required to implement
statewide assessment instruments
to establish the acquisition levels
of their ELLs. These assessments
are used to judge the effectiveness
of schools and, often, to determine
funding levels. While on the face of
it aspects of the NCLB legislation
appeared to direct needed atten-
tion to ELLs, in fact, the legislation
put increased pressure on schools
and teachers to achieve rapid lan-
guage acquisition. “Do it faster, do
it better” was the implied message.
Many districts, beginning in Califor-
nia, began to place ELLs in English

Tim Sloan/Getty Images
No Child Left Behind was the most influential
government reform of public education during the
20th century.

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Section 1.2 The Impact of ELLs on Schools

immersion or mainstream classrooms. Research indicates, however, that while immersion may
have an immediate impact and be effective in the elementary school, the gains disappear dur-
ing the middle and high school years (Jost, 2001). If schools do not have the resources to
continue language support, students whose language learning is subjected to such rushed
treatment are at greater risk of becoming long-term English language learners, and their like-
lihood of graduating high school diminishes. The effect is thus felt by the school district when
their schools’ test scores decline and they fail to achieve target graduation rates.

Although NCLB did provide some additional federal funding for implementing the required
assessments as well as funds for implementing particular reading and technology enhance-
ment programs, for many schools and school districts the money was inadequate to meet
the new requirements. As the late Senator Edward Kennedy, a sponsor of the original NCLB
legislation, stated: “The tragedy is that these long overdue reforms are finally in place, but the
funds are not” (Antle, 2005).

Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
According to the website of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the mission of the
CCSS is to

. . . provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to
learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The
standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting
the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college
and careers. (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Coun-
cil of Chief School Officers, 2010)

In broad terms, the standards define core conceptual understandings and procedures (e.g.,
for mathematical computation or scientific inquiry) that children need at each grade level. As
of this writing, all but a few states as well as the District of Columbia, four territories, and the
Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the Common Core standards.

If they are implemented thoughtfully and in consultation with teachers and community stake-
holders, the Common Core standards could be a vehicle for achieving educational equality for
ELLs. The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) agrees:

Setting common academic standards benefits everyone by raising standards
and helping all students achieve them. Specifically, the CCSS initiative holds
the potential to:

• Ensure that all students, regardless of ZIP code, income, race, or ethnicity, will be
taught to and held to the same, high standards that are aligned to college and work

• Ensure that all students have access to high-quality educational content, supports, and
opportunities that research has demonstrated are essential to postsecondary success;

• Allow parents and caregivers to more effectively assess their child’s progress and
compare their child’s education with the education of children in other communi-
ties, states, and nations; and

• Free up resources to create high-quality and rich assessments that can accurately
and reliably measure the progress of every student.

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Section 1.3 The Impact of Increased Numbers of ELLs on Teachers

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) believes that the CCSS Initiative is
crucial to improving education for Hispanic students (NCLR, 2012, p. 6).

The developers of the CCSS acknowledged the importance of taking the ELL population into
account, but they did not provide specific directions for implementation except to provide some
very general guidelines and suggestions for implementing the standards with ELLs. The states
were left to figure it out on their own, but Stanford University stepped up to provide leadership:

Recognizing the need for guidance and resources in this area, Stanford Uni-
versity launched a privately funded initiative . . . called the Understanding
Language Project . . . to heighten educator awareness of the critical role that
language plays in the CCSS and the NGSS [Next Generation Science Standards].
(TESOL International Association, 2013)

The project emphasized the necessity to teach content and language simultaneously

. . . by focusing on such language constructs as discourse, complex text expla-
nation, argumentation, purpose. . . . According to the experts at the Under-
standing Language Project, ELLs’ success in terms of the CCSS requires a
different kind of collaboration at all levels, including students, teachers, site
and district leaders. . . . (TESOL International Association, 2013)

What was also left to the states when CCSS was introduced was a common set of English Lan-
guage Proficiency Development (ELPD) standards, but it soon became apparent that states
would need help in linking their existing ELPD to the CCSS. In September 2012, the Council
of Chief State School Officers released a framework to assist states in revising their standards
to comply with CCSS and NGSS. The Framework for English Language Proficiency Development
Standards provides guidance for schools and teachers as they modify curriculum and instruc-
tion to comply with the standards. How successful schools are in implementing and in winning
the support of the community and, particularly, teachers will depend on a number of factors:

• Schools’ ability to align Common Core standards with effective instructional

• Their ability to provide any needed professional development,
• The accuracy of tools used for assessing progress,
• Strategies to engage families and communities in the process, and
• Above all, effective teaching!

1.3 The Impact of Increased Numbers of ELLs on Teachers
Teachers are the heart of the school, and so it is impossible to think about or discuss the impact
of demographics and accountability movements without particular reference to teachers.
A teacher who began teaching in 1997 and was still teaching at the beginning of the school
year in September 2007, would have witnessed a 51% growth in the ELL population. During
the same period, the general population of students grew by only 7% (TESOL International
Association, 2013). Today, there are approximately 6 million ELLs in the nation’s schools,
which represents a 100% increase since 1991. The rising numbers, along with the diverse
languages and cultures these learners bring, place additional pressures on teachers, particu-
larly within the context of the squeeze on public funding to education and standards-based

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Section 1.3 The Impact of Increased Numbers of ELLs on Teachers

A Teacher’s Story: Ellen and NCLB

“I should have been an art teacher,” Ellen recalls thinking a few years into the implementa-
tion of NCLB. “They don’t have a standardized test for color or clay, and so nobody would
be judging me on how well my class did on state exams.” Ellen said that there were weeks
when she spent more time on teaching children to “bubble up,” referring to filling in the
circles on the test answer sheets and how to interpret and eliminate some of the answers
for multiple-choice tests, than she spent on vocabulary and reading. “And I had to forget
all about individualizing instruction—this NCLB thing is one size fits all,” she added. “I feel
like a cookie-cutter teacher—like I’m on an assembly line, and I don’t mean the queue wait-
ing to get into the auditorium.” When asked to explain, she said, “Part of it is the testing and
the test prep, but you know what the hardest part is? For years, I loved figuring out how to
reach each child—I like to think I wasn’t leaving any child behind. I loved to discover the
gifts each child brings and celebrate the progress they’d make. Now, they are all expected to
learn the same amount of the same things in the same time, and kids just don’t work that way,
especially the kids in this school.” Only about half of the children in Ellen’s school speak English
at home, and she assessed the reading level of her third-grade class as well below grade level.
“Some are barely reading at first-grade level,” she said. “But they all have to take the same tests
and be scored with everyone else. It’s not fair, and it’s got to be demoralizing for the kids, too.”

A Teacher’s Story: Ellen and CCSS

George, a recent graduate of a university teacher education program, completed his final
semester as an intern with Ellen Rodriguez. Their experience working together in her third-
grade class affected how each of them viewed teaching. One of their first conversations was
about the CCSS.

Third grade is the first year in which students write the state-mandated achievement test, and
George quickly observed that preparing her class for the test was occupying much of Ellen’s
time. He understood the importance of the test, but he didn’t understand her anxiety. She
pointed out that nine of her students, one-third, were second-language learners. “Are you wor-
ried that you’ll lose your job if your students don’t do well?” he asked. She laughed at that.

“I suppose that’s possible, but that’s not what worries me. I just hate the thought that they are
judged on the basis of a single test when I know that they have learned so much more than the


reform. A few years into the implementation of NCLB, Ellen Rodriguez felt its impact, as we
see in Ellen and NCLB.

Given her experience with NCLB, it is not surprising that Ellen was skeptical about the state’s
adoption of the CCSS. Gradually, however, she began to change her views, in part because of
the influence of her teaching intern, as we will see in Ellen and CCSS.

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Section 1.3 The Impact of Increased Numbers of ELLs on Teachers

ELL Teachers and CCSS
There is no doubt that both NCLB and CCSS have had a profound effect on teachers of ELLs.
In order to bring assessment of ELLs into compliance with CCSS, many teachers will need to
refocus their approach to teaching. While they have traditionally focused on building vocabu-
lary and an understanding of English grammar (i.e., how sentences are structured), the CCSS
demand that they teach language and content simultaneously, focusing on language con-
structs such as discourse structure, text structure, explanation, and argumentation, as well
as sentence structure and vocabulary practice (TESOL International Association, 2013). In
order to implement this shift effectively, teachers will have to work collaboratively at a variety
of levels— with students and their parents, other teachers, school and districts, state officials,
and possibly publishers and funders. From teachers’ perspective, CCSS have wrought a whole
new way of viewing and doing the business of education:

Gaining a realistic understanding of students’ performance levels, meeting
students where they currently are, and raising them to new heights are the
tasks at hand and will require more intensive and time-consuming teaching
and learning than schools commonly provide now. Disadvantaged students—
often low-income students, students of color, English language learners, and
students with disabilities—were frequently held to a lower set of standards
in the past and will need the greatest focus. They are also the students who

A Teacher’s Story: Ellen and CCSS (continued)

test can show.” As they worked through the roles each would take over the upcoming weeks,
their conversation turned to the Common Core State Standards. “What do you think about
them?” Ellen asked.

George shrugged. “I think they’re a good thing,” he said. “It makes sense to have standards that
are the same from district to district and state to state.”

Ellen was skeptical. “You think so? That didn’t work so well with NCLB!”

“But that’s because NCLB just mandated ‘progress.’”

“Why do you think Common Core will be different?”

“Because it focuses on what is to be learned—content—and not just on measuring it. There’s
a difference.”

Throughout the term, George learned from Ellen many of the practical teaching techniques
she had learned over the years. She learned from him that past experience does not always
predict future experience, and that the Common Core might be useful in helping her to clar-
ify and measure learning objectives for all her students, particularly the English language

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Section 1.3 The Impact of Increased Numbers of ELLs on Teachers

benefit the most from well-designed schools that use significantly more and
better learning time for both students and teachers. (Farbman, Goldberg, &
Miller, 2014, p. 1)

Following the implementation of NCLB, some states adopted the policy of using standard-
ized test results to rate teacher effectiveness. Knowing that a standardized test cannot cap-
ture the totality of their impact on students’ learning, some teachers felt that they were
being judged unfairly. Predictably, the implementation of the CCSS raised the same fears,
but it is possible that the CCSS can be the impetus for improvements in teacher evalua-
tion. If school leaders and teachers cooperate in the curriculum revisions, setting of goals,
and overall planning needed for implementing and assessing the effectiveness of CCSS, then
there are opportunities to “build in” a teacher evaluation system that provides useful infor-
mation and tools that teachers need to grow in their profession. Several states are already
examining alternatives.

In light of less-than-successful past reform efforts the question is: How are
current reforms in teacher evaluation likely to affect the implementation of
the Common Core standards and assessments? The medical profession and its
notion of “standard of care” can be useful in considering this question. In med-
icine, the standard of care is a treatment guideline, be it general or specific,
which defines appropriate medical treatment based on scientific evidence
and collaboration between medical professionals involved in the treatment
of a given condition. A key aspect of this definition of standard of care is that
appropriate medical practice is based on scientific evidence.

When the notion of standard of
care is applied to education and
K–12 teaching, it points to the
need for all teachers to regularly
acquire new knowledge of con-
tent, pedagogy, learning theory,
and technology by participating
in comprehensive professional
development with the goal of
enacting appropriate and effec-
tive instructional practices that
will promote student learning.
(Youngs, 2013)

However they are evaluated, teachers
are critical to the success of the CCSS
and, more significantly, to their pupils’
success. For teachers of ELLs, the defin-
ing task is to locate the intersection of
their district or state standards for ELLs
with those set by the CCSS and then to
seek ways of helping their ELLs to reach

Olivier Morin/Getty Images
Finnish school children, pictured with their
teacher on the second day of school, score
highest globally on tests of science, reading,
and math. Teachers are highly valued in Finland
where admission to teacher education programs
is very competitive.

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Section 1.3 The Impact of Increased Numbers of ELLs on Teachers

Identifying ELLs
Because both NCLB and CCSS set standards and timelines for ELLs to attain proficiency,
school personnel have had to develop procedures for identifying ELLs. They have had some
leeway in how they define the ELL population—some categorize as ELL only those students
receiving daily direct instruction in English, while others may include those who have moved
on to mainstream classrooms but whose academic progress the school continues to monitor.
Table 1.5 describes the variety of ways in which selected states designate English language

What all these tests have in common is an attempt to assess the degree to which a student
fits the definition of ELL given in this chapter and to provide some guidelines for grade-level
placement. Most are preceded by a Home Language Survey (HLS), which provides information
about the child’s home language as well as a rough indicator of English language exposure and
experience. Experience has taught educators in some states, however, to view the HLS with cau-
tion if not outright skepticism. California researcher Jamal Abedi discovered that parents may
provide incomplete or erroneous information because they do not understand the questions
on the survey, because they fear citizenship issues, or because they are concerned that their
children will not receive an equitable education (Abedi, 2008). Typically, the formal placement
tests attempt to measure proficiency in each of the four language domains: listening, speak-
ing, reading, and writing. Speaking proficiency in the Colorado English Language Assessment
(CELA), for example, is measured along a continuum from “speaks in words” to “tells stories.”
These tests are repeated annually in order to demonstrate progress from one year to the next.

While statewide tests are useful for teachers, the results of the assessments are frequently not
available before November, or even January, which means classroom teachers may have to find
another way to make an initial identification and make placement decisions. Many schools have

Table 1.5: Tests that states use to identify ELL students

Test States Other information


CELLA (Comprehensive English
Language Learning Assessment)

FL State test scores (grade four and up)

IPT AK, NC Observation (AK)





(MODEL is the alternative in ME)

AL, ND, ME, SD Prior school records (AL)
Observation (ND)

LAS Links CT, HI, IN, MD Interview (CT, MD)
Prior school records (CT, MD)
Parental input (HI)

State-developed test ID, WA

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Section 1.4 Cultural and Linguistic Diversity

developed such instruments in order to monitor their students’ progress in each of the four
language domains and to guide teachers in their planning for instruction. It is important to
remember, when assessing ELLs for purposes of placement, that language proficiency alone
is an insufficient basis for placing students in the correct class or planning for their instruc-
tion. According to the National Council of Teachers of English, “ELLs will perform much better
if placed according to academic achievement rather than language proficiency” (NCTE, 2008,
p. 4). One of the reasons for this is that children are generally motivated when high expecta-
tions are established for them and when the curricular material is challenging and authentic.
In elementary and secondary students, the most effective teaching pairs language and content;
it makes sense, therefore, that placements be made and progress assessed on the same basis.
In Chapter 4, we will take up the matter of identification and initial placement in greater detail.

1.4 Cultural and Linguistic Diversity
Identification and placement of ELLs is only the first step. Creating instructional plans that take
into account their cultural norms, beliefs and values about education, and home language com-
petence is the larger challenge. A third-grade teacher in Miami with 22 children in her class might
have ten Spanish speakers, three speakers of Haitian Creole, and a Russian speaker, along with
eight who speak English. Further adding to the diversity, the English and non-English speakers
range in reading level from pre-beginner to grade three, two of the Spanish speakers are liter-
ate in Spanish but not English, and the
Russian child is fully literate in Russian,
a language with a completely different
alphabet and writing system. Planning
for this class is a challenge, one that
begins with establishing common goals
and a common approach. The overarch-
ing goals will be for the children to learn
the concepts and procedures appropri-
ate for third grade, and so the teaching
approach will be to teach language via
content. Still, it is obviously necessary to
modify the methods and materials, indi-
vidualizing them for each child’s needs.

Diversity and Differentiated
Educating ELLs effectively “requires diagnosing each student instructionally, adjusting
instruction accordingly, and closely monitoring student progress” (Fenner, 2012). Teachers
use the results of their own as well as statewide assessments along with their knowledge of
each learner’s culture to develop a plan for differentiated instruction for their ELLs. Dif-
ferentiated instruction means that teachers adapt lesson plans and instructional materials
to meet the more limited language abilities of their ELLs in mainstream classes. These plans
include strategies for helping them develop listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills as
well as critical thinking skills. Throughout this book, particularly in Chapters 2–7, individual-
ized instruction in a variety of contexts will be discussed, with guidelines and examples.

Classrooms today are more culturally and
linguistically diverse than they were 50 years ago.

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Section 1.4 Cultural and Linguistic Diversity

Among the school population, both ELLs and children with English as their home language,
will be children with special needs. These children add more dimensions to the need for and
response to differentiated instruction as well as to assessment, as we will see in Chapters 8
and 9. Guidelines for developing and examples of such plans are included.

Cultural Awareness
One of the effects of the changing demographic described earlier is that teachers’ classrooms
are often filled with children with a variety of home languages representing a variety of cul-
tures. Understanding the children in their classes and helping them to be successful in learning
English and in school requires more than evaluation, placement, and lesson planning; it involves
at least some degree of cultural understanding. It is not necessary, and likely impossible, for a
teacher to understand all the nuances of all the cultures represented by the ELLs in a class, but it
is possible to be aware—aware of aspects of different cultures that might influence ELLs’ adjust-
ment to school and ability to learn. For schools to be harmonious and effective, school policies
and the teaching that occurs in schools must be culturally responsive. Culturally responsive
teachers play to the strengths of their students, using their cultural knowledge, prior experi-
ence, and performance styles to make learning more effective” (Gay, 2000).

The starting place for a discussion of culturally responsive teachers and schools is necessar-
ily with a definition of culture. Before continuing to read, take a few minutes now to write
down your definition or understanding of the term culture. Now, look at the box Definitions
of Culture to see which is closest to your own definition. Chances are good that your defi-
nition will resemble one or more of these because most cultural anthropologists and other
academics agree that culture is defined by a set of shared, learned knowledge, beliefs, and
values. What they do not always agree on is precisely which knowledge, beliefs, or values are
part of the definition. For our purposes it does not matter. More useful is the distinction that
Perkins (2011) draws between surface elements of culture and deep elements of culture.
Surface elements are those aspects of culture that we perceive with one or more of our five
senses. Such elements as food, holidays, or famous personalities are surface elements. In con-
trast, deep elements are those which require us to go beyond the observable and explore
the why of behaviors or values. Deep elements of culture involve modes of communication,
courtship and marriage beliefs and practices, gender roles, roles in the family and in society,
concepts of time, and ethics, to name but a few.

Definitions of Culture
Culture is the characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by . . . language, reli-
gion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. Culture is communication, communication is
culture. (Zimmerman, 2012)

Culture. . . is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, cus-
tom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. (Tylor,
1871, p. 1)

Culture is the shared knowledge and schemes created by a set of people for perceiving, inter-
preting, expressing, and responding to the social realities around them. (Lederach, 1995, p. 9)


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Section 1.4 Cultural and Linguistic Diversity

The transformation of schools into effective places for all children to realize their potential
is the challenge faced by nearly every school district in the country. In Chapter 2 and, indeed,
throughout the book, we will continue to explore the role that culture and cultural respon-
siveness play in helping ELLs to reach their academic and linguistic potential.

There is no doubt that teaching is a difficult job, with layer upon layer of responsibility, com-
plexity, and frustration. But it is also a profession that can be enormously fulfilling, and per-
haps even more so for teachers who are privileged to teach English language learners. We
conclude this chapter, as we will conclude most of the remaining ones, with the first of several
responses that teachers have given to the question “Why do you teach?” The first response is
from Gregory, and his story might well be titled The Navigator.

Why I Teach: The Navigator
Gregory has been teaching for six years in the same rural school. He taught fourth grade for
four years before being moved to second grade. He was asked the questions, “Have you ever
considered leaving the profession?” and “Why do you teach?” His response:

Sure, I’ve thought about it from time to time. When I first started teaching second grade,
it was a little overwhelming. I had three kids with special needs and a half dozen second
language learners, and only about half the class was reading at grade level. I was spending
a lot of time after school working with kids one-on-one or talking to colleagues about what
I might try. And the whole school was stressed out about the new Common Core standards,
mostly because we didn’t know much about what it was going to mean. So, yeah, I thought
about getting into something less stressful—maybe air traffic controller. But I stayed. I’m
still learning how to teach—probably always will be—but I like it because when I close
that door, it’s just 22 kids and me. Scary, right? Seriously, I’ve heard that some teachers
complain about how they are losing their autonomy in the classroom—you know, with this
whole accountability and standards push. But I don’t see it that way. It’s still mostly up to
me to figure out what to do. I mean, there’s a Common Core standard that says children
should be able to ask and answer who/what/where/when/why questions to show that
they understand the important parts of a text. That’s not exactly a roadmap, is it? It’s a
destination, but it’s up to me how to get there.

Definitions of Culture (continued )

Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of
one category of people from another. (Hofstede, 1984, p. 51)

Culture is “an historically transmitted pattern of meaning embodied in symbols, a system
of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms.” (Geertz, 1973, p. 89)

Culture is to refer to the systems of knowledge used by relatively large numbers of peo-
ple.” (Gudykunst & Kim, 2003, p. 17)

Culture is “an integrated system of learned behavior patterns which are characteristic of
the members of a society and which are not a result of biological inheritance.” (Hoebel,
1972, p. 7)

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Summary & Resources

Summary & Resources

Historically we are a nation of immigrants. Our recent history, in particular, has been one
of steady growth in the immigrant population when the non-immigrant population has
remained stable or even shrunk. As a result, ELLs are the fastest growing segment of the stu-
dent population in this country, and this trend is likely to continue. Virtually every state is
affected, and while Spanish is still the dominant non-English language spoken, it is only one
of many. ELLs are not a homogenous population—only 43% were born outside the country,
and wherever they were born, they represent varied levels of language proficiency, socio-
economic status, and educational experience and values. This diversity among such large
numbers of ELLs places pressure on schools and on teachers, pressure that is increased by
government mandates to measure achievement on standardized measures within a limited
time period. This chapter has discussed the implications of NCLB and CCSS on ELLs. In the
next nine chapters, we will revisit these implications in greater detail, as they affect how we
teach and how ELLs and all children learn.

Key Ideas

1. Patterns of immigration to the United States are a result of social, economic, politi-
cal, and personal factors both in the homeland and in the United States, but have
also been affected by U.S. law and policy.

2. Both numbers and countries of origin for immigrants have changed dramatically
over the last two centuries.

3. Approximately 13% of U.S. residents were born outside the United States.
4. Fifty-five million residents (over the age of five) speak a language other than English

at home.
5. Spanish is the dominant minority language spoken in this country, but less than half

consider themselves to be proficient.
6. The number of school-aged ELLs grew by 65% between 1993 and 2004, at a time

when the total U.S. school population increased by less than 7%.
7. The demographic trend indicates that our schools will continue to be a tapestry of

cultural and linguistic diversity.
8. A diverse population places additional pressure on school resources, but also pro-

vides a richness of community.
9. Although the CCSS may put additional pressure on schools, thoughtful implementa-

tion can help to ensure equal educational opportunity for ELLs.
10. Teaching ELLs requires a great deal of cultural understanding and respect.

Key Terms

English language learners (ELLs) Stu-
dents for whom English is not the home lan-
guage. Formerly referred to as ESL (English
as a second language) learners.

long-term English language learners
(LTELLs) Learners who have been enrolled
for more than six years and are not making
substantial academic progress.

English immersion (or structured English
immersion) Programs in which a signifi-
cant portion of the school day is devoted to
the explicit teaching of the English language
and in which academic content takes a sec-
ondary role.

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Summary & Resources

Critical Thinking Questions

1. What impact did the 1917 law requiring potential immigrants to pass a literacy test
have on the makeup of subsequent immigrant populations? Does the United States
currently have such a law?

2. Look at the data in Table 1.3 paying particular attention to the fourth column. Note
that a higher percentage of Spanish speakers report a higher level of proficiency in
English than reported by either French or Italian speakers. What factors might help
to explain this difference?

3. In Section 1.2, the author states, “Another provision of the law required districts to
offer parents of children in schools that do not meet their AYPs the option of sending
their children to a non-failing school in the district.” What additional pressure does
this place on schools?

4. How do the punitive aspects of NCLB affect the ability of schools to retain their best

5. What are the arguments in favor of requiring that Common Core State Standards be
met by all learners?

6. What current world events might serve as “push” factors for future patterns of

7. How does a teacher become culturally aware?

Additional Resources
The U.S. Census Bureau is an excellent source of data about demographic trends and lan-
guages spoken in the United States. See

For a practical perspective on the Common Core State Standards, see the Center for Ameri-
can Progress site at

English language proficiency develop-
ment (ELPD) standards Standards for
ELLs developed for and articulated in the
Common Core State Standards.

differentiated instruction The adaptations
regarding readiness level, language ability,
school experience, and learning style that
teachers make for individual students, provid-
ing different students with different ways to
learn language or content or to solve problems.

culturally responsive teachers  Teachers
who “play to the strengths of their students,

using their cultural knowledge, prior experi-
ence, and performance styles to make learn-
ing more effective” (Gay, 2000).

surface elements of culture Aspects of
culture that are perceived with one or more
of our five senses, such as food, holidays, or
famous personalities.

deep elements of culture Aspects of cul-
ture that require individuals to go beyond
the observable and explore the why of
behaviors or values.

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Summary & Resources

For a detailed analysis of the benefits of and details for implementing CCSS for Latino stu-
dents, but applicable for all schools with ELLs, see the National Council of La Raza (NCLR)
guidelines at

For various opinions on school reform and measuring teacher effectiveness, see
and http://www.susanohanian.org/show_research.php?id=446

For an account of the impact of the 1965 Immigration Act, see the Center for Immigration
Studies at

For an overview and timeline of significant events affecting immigrants to the United States,
see Harvard University’s Open Collections Program site at

For an interesting take on school reform and teacher effectiveness, see

For an excellent guide to resource materials on the history of immigration to the United
States, available through the Library of Congress, including information about the Common
Core standards, see

Materials for teachers on the history of immigration can also be found at

For information on culturally sensitive teaching, see

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Research that Counts










Learning Outcomes
By the end of this chapter you will be able to accomplish the following objectives:

1. Explicate the differences between simultaneous and sequential second language acquisition
and explain the relevance to ELL teachers.

2. Summarize the major differences between first and second language acquisition in children.

3. Differentiate among the defining characteristics of each of the five stages of language learning.

4. Explain why the question “How long does it take to learn English?” is so difficult to answer.

The English Language
Learner 3


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Section 3.1 Becoming Bilingual

Lucy and Dinh are both in third grade, and they are both bilingual: Portuguese-English in
Lucy’s case and Vietnamese-English in Dinh’s. Their teachers would say that Lucy is a more
fluent speaker, although she didn’t start school in English until second grade, while Dinh
began in kindergarten, but they would also praise Dinh’s reading ability. At home, Dinh’s fam-
ily exposed him to English from the time he was three years old, but Lucy had no exposure
until she started school. Both children are in a mainstream classroom now, and they require
little additional language support. Yes, both children are bilingual and share the same class-
room, but they took different paths to get there, as did the other eight English language learn-
ers in the class.

In this chapter we explore different paths to bilingualism. By examining the similarities and
differences between first and second language acquisition, we see how, for example, young
learners might take a different path than older learners. We also see that whatever the route
to bilingualism, most second language learners go through the same five stages. However, the
time it takes to arrive at the final destination can vary widely, depending on a number of dif-
ferent factors. The ultimate goal in teaching ELLs is that they become functioning bilinguals,
so we begin with a brief discussion of bilingualism. “Bilingualism refers to the ability to speak
two languages, and bilinguals are those who do so” (Piper, 2012, p. 84). Not everyone who is
bilingual is equally so—most people feel more comfortable in one language or the other, and
will also rate their own proficiency higher in one or the other. Some are highly proficient in
speaking their second language but less confident in writing it, and there are numerous other
variations in skill sets among bilinguals. But fundamentally, some degree of functional ability
in two or more languages gives one the right to claim bilingualism.

3.1 Becoming Bilingual
Although the number of bilinguals is definitely increasing, monolingualism is still the norm
in this country. That trend is changing, however, as we saw in Chapter 1, and so it is impor-
tant that teachers understand that there may be significant differences in how their monolin-
gual and bilingual students learn. In part, this is because acquiring two languages affects the
brain differently than acquiring just one. In recent years, researchers have discovered that the
benefits of bilingualism have a basis in brain structure and function.

The benefits of bilingualism are well documented in the research literature. Researchers
have found, for example, that bilingual or multilingual children and adults are more toler-
ant of ambiguity. Tolerance of ambiguity is associated with personality traits and with learn-
ing style. Those with a higher tolerance for ambiguity tend to be more open-minded and
less rigid, authoritarian, or dogmatic than those with low levels of tolerance for ambiguity
(Dewaele & van Oudenhoven, 2009; Dewaele, 2013). People who know and use two or more
languages have also been found to have higher levels of cognitive empathy as well (Dewaele &
Wei, 2012; Dewaele & Wei, 2013).

In terms of learning, researchers have shown that those with a low tolerance for ambiguity
tend to find complex or unfamiliar tasks stressful, while bilinguals are more likely to react

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Section 3.1 Becoming Bilingual

more positively, viewing them as an interesting challenge (Furnham & Ribchester, 1995;
Dewaele & Wei, 2012). We also know that bilingual children are

. . . better able than their monolingual peers at focusing on a task while tun-
ing out distractions. A similar enhanced ability to concentrate—a sign of a
well-functioning working memory—has been found in bilingual adults, par-
ticularly those who became fluent in two languages at an early age. It may be
that managing two languages helps the brain sharpen—and retain—its ability
to focus while ignoring irrelevant information. (Perry, 2008, para. 5)

Furthermore, there is evidence that the benefits of bilingualism appear very early in life:

. . . researchers have shown bilingualism to positively influence attention
and conflict management in infants as young as seven months. In one study,
researchers taught babies growing up in monolingual or bilingual homes that
when they heard a tinkling sound, a puppet appeared on one side of a screen.
Halfway through the study, the puppet began appearing on the opposite side
of the screen. In order to get a reward, the infants had to adjust the rule they’d
learned; only the bilingual babies were able to successfully learn the new rule
(Kovacs & Mehler, 2009). This suggests that even for very young children, nav-
igating a multilingual environment imparts advantages that transfer beyond
language. (Marian & Shook, 2012, para. 11)

There is additional evidence that learning multiple languages in childhood will pay lifelong
benefits. In one study, monolingual and bilingual subjects in their 60s

. . . underwent brain scans while performing a cognitive task that required
them to switch back and forth among several different ideas. Both groups per-
formed the task accurately, but bilinguals were faster, as well as more meta-
bolically economical, in executing the cognitive mission, using less energy in
the frontal cortex than the monolinguals. (Kluger, 2013, para. 12)

Other scientists have found that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease appear later in bilinguals
than in monolinguals (Sohn, 2013). What is not known is whether the actual onset is later
or whether bilinguals are simply better at coping with it. In either case, the question is why?
It may be that because bilinguals are accustomed to switching back and forth between lan-
guages, suppressing one to speak the other, that their brains have formed enhanced brain
networks, making them better prepared to compensate when Alzheimer’s sets in (Rodriguez,
2014; Schweizer et al., 2011). Researchers speculate that the switching back and forth
amounts to a “workout” that increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, keeping the neural
connectors healthy (Bialystok, et al., 2004). Or it may be that the bilingual brain is structur-
ally different. Rodriguez and other researchers (Mechelli et al., 2004) affirm earlier evidence
suggesting that a number of different factors—age, manner of acquisition, level of proficiency
attained, and the linguistic learning environment—have an impact on the brain’s function
and structure.

Acquiring a second language increases the density of gray matter (brain tissue
that contains information-processing cells) in the left inferior parietal cortex,

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Section 3.1 Becoming Bilingual

and the degree of structural reorganization in this region is modulated by the
proficiency attained and the age of acquisition. (Rodriguez, 2014, p. 7)

The positive effects of bilingualism on the brain appear to be strongest in those who acquired
their two languages before the age of five, when the brain still exhibits its most robust neural
plasticity (Petitto, 2009; Rodriguez, 2014). Because children who are exposed to and learn two
languages from birth reach the same milestones as monolinguals at roughly the same time—age
of speech onset, age when 50 words have been attained, and so on—psychologists and educa-
tors have long believed that a single process or mechanism is used for both. In recent years, this
belief has been sustained by research findings. Specifically, the brains of early bilinguals “. . . uti-
lize overlapping classic language areas within the left hemisphere for each of their languages, and
crucially, the same language areas universally observed in monolinguals” (Petitto, 2009, p. 190).
Learning two languages before the age of five is considered to be simultaneous bilingualism,
but the benefits to bilingualism do not vanish if the learning occurs later than age five.

Later bilingualism changes “. . . the typical pattern of the brain’s neural organization for lan-
guage processing, but early bilingual exposure does not” (Petitto, 2009, p. 191). In general,
the changes are in the brain structure (youngest bilinguals) and in the organization of the
brain (older learners), and these changes impact all learning; bilinguals are generally more
flexible in their thinking, more focused, and better able to concentrate (Perry, 2008; Petitto,
2009). For educators, it is important to remember that there may be fundamental differences
among the learners in their schools—differences between bilinguals and monolinguals, and
differences among bilinguals. A bilingual is not just two monolinguals residing in one brain.

Educators refer to learning a second language before puberty as early second language
acquisition (SLA). Puberty does not end the possibility of learning a new language, of course,
but phonological processing, which affects accent as well as reading, is more difficult for post-
pubescent learners (Pettito, 2009). Early SLA is similar to simultaneous language acquisition,
the major difference being that learners quickly figure out that their first language doesn’t
work in an English environment and will often respond with a silent period when they pro-
duce little language but are actively processing the language they hear (Piper, 2012, Chapter
4). In general, the younger children are when they begin to learn an additional language, the
more the process will resemble first language acquisition.

Learning Two Languages at Once
Children who learn two languages before the age of five or six are essentially learning two
first languages, employing similar or identical strategies for both. One of the surprising facts
about early simultaneous language acquisition is that children generally keep the languages
distinct, although some code/language mixing, which entails the mixing of two languages in
the same utterance, will sometimes occur, as in these examples:

Jose, age four: Voy a run! (I’m going to run!)

This example is likely lexical, meaning that the child speaking Spanish doesn’t know the
appropriate word in that language and resorts to the equivalent in English. In the following
sentence, however, the mixing probably occurs for a different reason:

Sara, age four: It’s too hard pour moi. (It’s too hard for me.)

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Section 3.1 Becoming Bilingual

It is highly unlikely that she does not know the words “for” and “me” in English. It may be
that she has not yet mastered the prepositional phrase, but what is more likely is that she
considers pour moi to be a single word and does not know a single word equivalent in English
(because there is none). Language mixing is not uncommon and takes many forms. Formu-
laic expressions in one language, for example, are sometimes interspersed with the other
language, as in “Bonjour, Papa. Do you have to work today?” One aspect of language that is
rarely affected by code-switching, at least in young children, is the sound system. It is rare for
a bilingual child to mix up the sounds of the two languages or even to assign the wrong stress
pattern to a word or sentence.

Theorists ponder how to fit all these occurrences into a single explanation of the language
learning process in bilinguals; simply put, the question is, does the young bilingual child have
one language system or two? These kinds of data do not resolve the issue, but happily, for
teachers of ELLs, it doesn’t matter very much. Neither code-mixing nor code-switching is a
cause for concern. Code/language switching refers to the ability of proficient bilinguals to
select the correct language according to the situational context or topic of conversation. Bilin-
gual children as young as two or three routinely switch to the language that matches the
person with whom they are speaking, and the ability to switch easily between languages in
different situations is the ultimate goal of learning a second language.

Simultaneous language acquisition is no doubt the easiest because, as we saw earlier, these
children learn their two languages in essentially the same way as they would learn one. Chil-
dren who learn English as one of their two languages from birth or very early childhood,
therefore, rarely present as ELLs. Nevertheless, it is important to understand how these young
children acquire language in order to develop effective strategies for ELLs who have not had
substantial exposure to English by the time they are five or six. It also helps to understand
why it is rarely true that students need no special assistance to acquire English, that somehow
they will “just pick it up.”

Children become bilingual in a variety of ways. In much of the world, children acquire one
language in the home but pick up another in the wider community outside the home. In
Miami, for example, there are many children of Spanish-speaking parents who learn Eng-
lish at daycare, on the playground, and from English-speakers in the predominantly English-
speaking community. By the time they get to school, they are functioning bilinguals. Some
children are bilingual because they have a mother who speaks one language and a father
who speaks another, or grandparents or other caregivers who speak a language different
from their parents. Monique and Jacqueline are the daughters of a Francophone mother and
an Anglophone father. Both girls are fully functioning bilinguals, even though their patterns
of education differed—Monique attended English Montessori School from the time she was
two and a half, transferring to a French language school when she was in first grade. Jacque-
line attended only French school, beginning at age four in pre-kindergarten. Now nine and
seven respectively, the girls are reading at grade level in both French and English, although
the medium for instruction in their school is only French. They learned to read English at
home. Although each of these children took a slightly different path to bilingualism, there
was an important similarity: In each case, the child associated one language with one person
or group of people. In general, there was little mixing of the languages spoken to the child. In
cases such as these, the research evidence of the last hundred years or so strongly supports
the hypothesis that when children learn in this way, they will experience little, if any, confu-
sion between the two languages (Piper, 2012; Ronjat, 1913). Moreover, it appears to be the

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Section 3.1 Becoming Bilingual

case that these children learned their two languages the same way that monolinguals learn
their language—it would simply be inefficient of the human brain to do otherwise, and the
brain is normally very efficient.

As noted, ELL teachers will encounter rarely simultaneous bilinguals; learners who are add-
ing English to their home language or languages are much more common. These students
will, at some point, be sequential bilinguals.

Learning Two Languages in Sequence
Sequential language learners arrive at school with varying competencies in their home lan-
guage. Whatever their age and degree of linguistic attainment, they will be placed in school
where they have to learn both the content of the curriculum and the English language. Most
will have a good foundation in spoken language, although some children may appear to have

limited speaking ability for cultural rea-
sons (Chapter 2). Some ELLs, particularly
in the later grades, will be literate in the
home language as well, although some will
not. Among those who are, there will be
some variation in their reading and writing
abilities (Chapter 2).

With so much variability in what ELLs bring
to school, it is to be expected that they will
also vary in the length of time it takes them
to reach proficiency in English. The speed
and ease with which they acquire the lan-
guage will depend on a number of factors,
among them age, context or situation,
teaching method, and degree of literacy in
the home language.

Age When the Second Language Is Introduced
In general, the younger the learner, the faster she will learn a second language. There are a
number of reasons for this, including plasticity of the brain, the fact that younger learners
have less language to learn and fewer inhibitions about learning it, and the recent experi-
ence of acquiring the first language. For many decades, researchers in several disciplines—
neurolinguistics, psycholinguistics, education, medicine, and speech pathology, to name a
few—have been fascinated by the differences in the bilingual and monolingual brain, as well
as differences between sequential and simultaneous bilinguals. As research methods such as
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) become more sophisticated, we are beginning to under-
stand more about how the brain learns and stores language, but there is no consensus among
researchers yet, and possibly will never be for the simple reason that there are too many
variables involved in creating a bilingual. What we can conclude with some certainty is that
age does not in itself diminish the ability to learn a new language. Although younger learners
have a distinct advantage in learning the sound system, older learners have more reasoning
and problem-solving abilities.


All these children need is adequate exposure to
acquire two or more languages simultaneously.

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Section 3.1 Becoming Bilingual

ELLs who begin to learn English after the age of puberty are more likely to have a “foreign”
accent, but generally they will learn the structural properties and vocabulary of the language
faster because they are more experienced learners. The reason they struggle is the amount
of material to be learned—the tasks are unequal. If a 5-year-old and a 15-year-old are given
the task to learn 250 words of everyday English vocabulary, the 15-year-old will learn much
faster. The difference is that a 250 word vocabulary is woefully inadequate for a 15-year-old
but could serve the 5-year-old fairly well. Or to put it another way, if the task is to reach a
degree of proficiency appropriate for a 5-year-old child, the 15-year-old will get there much
faster, but, of course, no 15-year-old wants to sound like a 5-year-old. In short, although the
level of proficiency eventually achieved may vary, learners of any age can learn language.

The Contexts in Which the New Language Is Introduced
One of the apparent advantages that younger learners have over older learners is contextual:
What is the purpose for learning the new language, and where is it learned? In most cases,
younger preliterate children will learn in a social setting, whether in the community, place of
worship, playground, or even the home. Sometimes, for instance, a family will have a care-
giver who speaks English and “teaches” the language to the child in the context of normal
everyday activities. The caregiver may have even exposed the child to books in English. In
such a situation, the child is exposed to the same kind of language for the same kind of pur-
pose that the first language was learned. In other instances, young ELLs will have played with
English speaking children in the neighborhood and will have attained social English, but have
probably not acquired any academic language or literacy skills. The context and degree of
exposure will have an impact on the speed with which young ELLs progress in school.

How the Language Is Taught
Once they get to school, one of the major determinants of speed and success of learning is
the way the language is presented. The good news is that there are many techniques that are
highly effective. The bad news is that it is hard to predict what will work best with any one
learner. Absent a clearly perfect approach, however, there are certain principles, resulting
from many decades of research and practice, that can guide teachers as they make instruc-
tional and curricular decisions for their ELLs. In general

1. ELLs in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade will benefit from language situa-
tions that mirror their experience of first language learning—somewhat simplified
language used for social purposes, not overtly “taught.” Language used with these
young learners should be concrete and linked to observable actions and objects.

2. Repetition is good, but “drills” are not. Whether the goal is to learn the meaning or
meanings of a word, or to master its pronunciation, it is easy to find many opportu-
nities to re-use target vocabulary without resorting to mindless drills or rote repeti-
tion of forms for no apparent reason. Younger children expect language to be used
meaningfully and do not normally respond well to exercises that do not appear to
have a purpose. But remember: Sometimes the “purpose” is to have fun, and so sing-
ing or rhyming games might be helpful.

3. Meaning is central to all language learning, and so ELL teachers must constantly
ensure that their students understand what is being said or what they are reading.
Asking “Do you understand?” is seldom effective as a way of determining whether
students have understood.

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Section 3.1 Becoming Bilingual

4. Since content and language must be learned simultaneously, focus is on making
the content comprehensible. For example, a teacher might use a box of crayons in
an arithmetic lesson to teach color, object names, and basic mathematical concepts
simultaneously. It is then easy to test for comprehension of the content by changing
the objects—perhaps to colored drinking straws or building blocks—and repeating
the same lesson.

5. The same principle applies to older learners, but the objects will differ or be
replaced by pictures or graphics. The idea is to reduce the dependence on language,
initially, for understanding content. It then becomes easier for the learner to acquire
the language that goes with it.

6. No learner is a blank slate, but ELLs who begin in middle or high school will likely
have extensive experience and knowledge on which to build. Teachers need to get
to know their ELLs, using whatever resources may be available to them.

7. Use age-appropriate content. “Teaching basic language skills is essential, but it’s
important not to make students feel like they are doing elementary work” (Law-
rence, 2009).

8. Oral language first! “Oral language provides children with a sense of words and
sentences and builds sensitivity to the sound system so that children can acquire
phonological awareness and phonics” (Strickland & Riley-Ayers, 2006, p. 2). ELLs
must have some level of oral language proficiency before beginning to read, although
it is possible to teach word recognition from the time new vocabulary is introduced.

9. Learners who have begun to learn English
around the age of puberty or later may need addi-
tional assistance with decoding skills because
they have more limited phonological processing
10. Above all, ELLs of every age must be in an
environment in which “the first language and
literacy are not only valued, but enriched in a
planned and systematic manner” and in which
instruction is sensitive and responsive to the
student’s developmental level (Restrepo & Towle-
Harmon, 2008).

In Chapters 5 through 8 we will revisit these prin-
ciples in increasing depth and from different per-
spectives as we delve into approaches and methods
for teaching literacy and the content areas, and the
importance of using high-impact strategies within
the context of the Common Core State Standards.

Degree of Literacy in the Home Language
Whether learners are ELLs or not, the degree of
literacy in the home is an important determinant
of the speed with which they will learn to read
and their success in school. Simply put, students
who develop literacy skills early in life do better
in school than students who come to school with

TongRo Images/Thinkstock

Because they have just started to learn
English, these six-year-olds are sequential
language learners. Their teacher
understands the importance of doing
regular comprehension checks.

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Section 3.1 Becoming Bilingual

little or no literacy skills or awareness. Research has demonstrated repeatedly that chil-
dren from homes where literacy is valued become better readers and do better in school
than children from low-literacy homes (Stickland & Riley-Ayers, 2006; Roberts, Jurgens, &
Burchinal, 2005).

Emergent literacy skills develop in the preschool years and include print knowledge, pho-
nological awareness (the ability to differentiate speech from nonspeech sounds, and the
understanding that those sounds have meaning), and writing letters and words, all built on
a foundation of oral language. Reading to children is one of the best ways to instill an early
interest in reading and familiarity with the sounds and structures of stories. It is reasonable
to ask whether the language of literacy in the home should be English. The answer is easy: It’s
good if it is, but perfectly okay if it isn’t. What matters is familiarity with text and the kinds of
meaning that text conveys. Teachers, of course, have no control over the language and literacy
levels that children bring to school, but in making policy and curricular decisions, schools and
school districts need to be mindful that programs such as Head Start and the move toward
universal prekindergarten are particularly important for ELLs.

Even though schools have no control over children’s prior language and literacy experiences,
they do have a responsibility to communicate with parents. Not only do they need to gather
as much information as possible about their learners, they need to communicate the school’s
and the teacher’s expectations. As Restrepo & Towle-Harmon (2008) point out,

It is important to provide parents with training to help them understand
the role of native language in overall academic, language, and biliteracy
development, for cultural identity, and in English acquisition. . . . Many
parents may be satisfied with their child’s development but may not know
that their child is behind in emergent literacy skills in the native or sec-
ond language. For example, parents may think that at the end of preschool
their child is doing well because the child can communicate basic needs in
English, but they may not know that the kindergarten teacher expects the
child to know some letters, colors, and shapes. Explaining these expecta-
tions helps parents understand the system better and helps ensure that the
child is better prepared.

These authors, writing for the ASHA Leader, a publication of the American Speech-Language
Hearing Association, go on to advocate training for parents, which is a good idea for schools
that have the resources. In undertaking training or, indeed, less formal communication with
parents, school personnel need to be culturally sensitive. For example,

Retelling a story from a book . . . may not be a culturally appropriate task for
some families, although parents should be aware that this skill is important.
Additionally, asking parents to label objects may feel unnatural to them. Find-
ing alternative ways to build vocabulary through conversations and discus-
sions may be more appropriate.

The level of literacy in the home not only influences how quickly and how well children learn
to read; it has an impact on their early oral skills as well. As Ellen Rodriguez illustrates in her
Tale of Two Learners, children who have heard stories in their home language may be quicker
to respond to stories in the new language and thus learn it faster.

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Section 3.2 Comparing First and Second Language Acquisition

Ellen’s account comprises anecdotal evidence, but what does research say? Research agrees. Dick-
inson and colleagues point to the “bidirectional relationship” between phonological awareness
and literacy, building on the work of many previous researchers, including Wagner et al. (1994),
who demonstrated that phonological awareness—essential for oral language and for literacy—is
partly an outgrowth of children’s early literacy experiences (Wagner et al., 1994; Dickinson et al.,
2004). In their own study, Dickinson and colleagues “hypothesized that growth in phonological
awareness in Spanish would predict growth in phonological awareness in English . . .” (Dickinson
et al., 2004, p. 329). Studying four-year-old Spanish-speaking children enrolled in English lan-
guage Head Start, the researchers found that “the most potent predictor of . . . phonological
awareness in both languages is phonological awareness in the other language,” and suggested that
“stimulation of phonological awareness of bilingual children in either language is likely to transfer
to the other language” (p. 336). Since phonological awareness is associated with early literacy, the
experiences that ELLs have of literacy in any language cannot be underestimated.

3.2 Comparing First and Second Language Acquisition
Although there are differences, there are also similarities between first and second language
acquisition. When children simultaneously acquire two languages, they are essentially acquir-
ing two first languages. If the languages are learned sequentially, the younger the learner, the
greater the similarities. Even with older learners, however, the two processes share certain
characteristics. But if all ELLs were able to acquire English in the same way that they acquired
their first language, the ELL teacher would have little to do because the first language is
acquired in the course of development and without overt instruction. Assuming normal hear-
ing and health, all that is required is an environment in which people speak.

So we focus on the differences. A simple and obvious one is the older the child, the more there
is to learn—more language and more content. See Table 3.1 for a succinct comparison.

A Teacher’s Story: A Tale of Two Learners

I met the two first graders, Vien and Cara soon after I started teaching in Chicago. They had
arrived in the country a few months earlier and lived in the same apartment complex. Vien
immediately surprised me by shattering several stereotypes at once. First, I had thought that
he would be more reserved, as Asian children often are, and second, I thought that his lan-
guage learning would lag behind Cara’s because girls often appear to learn faster at that age.
But from the outset, Vien was the one who came eagerly to the story circle and who eagerly
raised his hand to ask a question or to retell the story in his limited but rapidly improving Eng-
lish. Cara, in contrast, spoke mainly in Vietnamese to Vien and to another Vietnamese girl in
the class. She responded to questions with a yes or no, behaving much more like a true begin-
ner than Vien, although as far as I knew, they had had similar exposure to English. Eventually,
I learned that there were differences that might be affecting the children’s progress. Vien’s
mother had been a teacher in Vietnam before he was born, and she had told him stories and
read to him regularly. She had also begun to study English before she got to the United States
and was continuing her studies at the local YMCA. I learned through an interpreter that Cara’s
mother had believed that reading to her child in Vietnamese would impede her English and
had stopped reading to her or telling her bedtime stories in Vietnamese. She was also afraid to
read or talk to her daughter in English because her own English was only rudimentary.

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Section 3.2 Comparing First and Second Language Acquisition

Table 3.1: Similarities and differences between first and second
language acquisition

Factor Importance

1st Language 2nd Language

Age of learner Very. Children begin to learn first
language at birth.

Moderate. Younger learners have an advan-
tage in acquiring English without an accent
and having less to learn. Older learners
bring greater cognitive powers to the task.

Structured input None. Children learn their first
language in the “chaos” of family
life and require only exposure to
normal language in use.

Moderate to very, depending on the age
and the prior language experience of the

Listening Very important. First language
learners hear language for many
months or years before they are
expected to produce it.

Very important, but second language
learners rarely have the luxury of a long
period of listening, although wise teachers
will recognize the importance of the silent

Comprehensible input Critical. No learning will take
place otherwise.

Critical. No learning will take place

Place Little. Children need a normal
environment, and one that is
verbally rich helps, but they
learn language even in environ-
ments with limited exposure to
conversation and text.

Moderate to very, depending on the age of
the learner and the environment. Young
children, for example, learn well with peers
in a play setting, whereas older learners
usually benefit from a more formal setting,
at least part of the time.

Reasons for learning None. Children learning their
first language are all learn-
ing it for the same reason: to

Moderate to very. The need to learn English
to succeed in school puts pressure on ELLs
to learn quickly. Older learners may resent
the fact that they cannot be educated in
their home language.

Use of contextual clues
and nonlinguistic
knowledge to figure
out meaning

Very important. Parents help
children make the connections
between words and meaning.

Invaluable, especially with older learn-
ers. Without contextual clues and extra-
linguistic knowledge, they would have only
translation to rely on. Older learners have
more life knowledge to draw upon.

Developmental errors
as a part of learning

Yes, but correction will not help. Yes, and measured, carefully delivered
correction will help to move learning for-
ward, especially in middle and high school

Method of instruction None required! Moderate to very. The older the learner, the
more receptive they are to teaching meth-
ods that align with their learning styles
and prior experience of learning.

Prior knowledge of

None required! Children come
“wired” to learn language.

None required, if learning simultaneously.
Older learners benefit from what they have
previously learned about language and
about language learning.

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Section 3.3 Stages of Second Language Acquisition

3.3 Stages of Second Language Acquisition
Children acquiring their first language go through predictable stages of learning. Similarly,
ELLs pass through predictable stages in learning English, although the speed with which they
do so depends on a great many factors, some instructional, some cultural, some individual.
Although most ELLs typically pass through these phases, or stages, the stages are not dis-
crete. That is, a learner does not tidily finish up one stage and move to the next. For example,
a learner may begin to use telegraphic English words very early when, for the most part, she
is still using her own language or is mostly nonverbal. Nor are they time-limited. Very young
learners may pass through the first two or three stages very quickly, while older learners may
take longer and get “stuck” at a stage for an extended period.

Stage 1: Preproduction
At this stage, ELLs have little or no understanding of English. Communication is often in the
language of the home, although ELLs may be able to respond nonverbally to simple requests
or questions and may mimic single words or short phrases they hear often. Their interac-
tion with text is mainly through illustrations, graphs, maps, or other graphic representations
requiring minimal text.

Some teachers adopt an “English only” rule for their classrooms, believing that they must
banish all other language in order to focus ELLs’ attention exclusively on English. While it
is certainly appropriate to insist that English be the primary means of communicating, it is
important to remember that the goal is to add a language, not to replace one. Research has
established that children are able to transfer language and literacy skills between languages,
and that a high level of proficiency in the home language facilitates learning the new one
(Lapp et al., 2001). It makes little sense not to use ELLs’ home languages when possible. In
fact, using children’s first languages can be very helpful, not only by fostering classroom com-
munication, but also for first language maintenance.

Bilingual teachers may communicate with ELLs in the home language for a short period
of time, or they may engage an interpreter, sometimes an older child in the school. But
even when it is impossible to speak the child’s language, ELL teachers can adopt a variety
of strategies for communicating with these early stage students even without an inter-
preter. Some of the most effective ones are described in Effective Strategies for Teaching

Effective Strategies for Teaching Pre-beginners
Before any specific strategy can be implemented, the ELL teacher must create a comfortable,
safe, and language-rich environment. The classroom should include a library with a listening
center that includes books, audio books, and headphones. It should also have easily acces-
sible manipulatives and white boards, or word walls with pictures, or drawings demonstrat-
ing the meanings. Once a good learning environment is established, the next most important


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Section 3.3 Stages of Second Language Acquisition

The goal at this stage is to motivate the learner to want to learn English, take away the fear,
and to make language comprehensible so that learners can progress quickly through the next
three stages toward full proficiency.

Stage 2: Early Production
Learners at this stage have a small general academic vocabulary and limited reading abil-
ity, and they write with many errors. Typically, stage 2 ELLs will have realized that they
cannot use the home language to communicate in school, and they enter a phase during
which they listen and work out the meanings of words and sentences. They will always
understand more than they are able to produce, and it is not necessary, nor useful, to push
them to speak before they are ready. It is especially important for ELLs at this stage to have
all the same support as outlined in Effective Strategies for Teaching Pre-beginners, but they
also need ample safe opportunities in which to practice the language they are beginning
to learn. Giving them directions that they can follow without speaking is a good way to
ensure that learners comprehend what they are hearing. These might be directions in art
to draw, color, or build something, or they might be directions involving physical activity.

During this stage, ELLs should begin to name objects, answer yes/no questions, and to count
and sort or group objects in response to requests such as “Please put all the red pieces in this
pile.” Some learners will be very silent during this period, and silence is not necessarily bad.
The most important thing for teachers to remember is that the silent, or nonverbal, period
has no set time limit and that it is erroneous to assume that the silence means that no learning
is taking place. Ellen Rodriguez learned this, as we see in The Importance of Silence.

Effective Strategies for Teaching Pre-beginners (continued)
thing is to establish predictable classroom routines. For ELLs, these routines provide valu-
able opportunities for learning social language and conventions, but they also provide security
through familiarity. Once this environment is established, the following strategies have been
used successfully with pre-beginners:

• Use visuals that illustrate and reinforce spoken and written vocabulary.
• Use gestures when appropriate, or ask more proficient speakers to demonstrate

• Speak a little more slowly using simple syntax, but do not engage in baby talk.
• Repeat but don’t overdo the repetition. If a child does not understand, simply repeating

will not be effective. Try a synonym or rephrasing instead.
• Spend additional time with commonly used (high-frequency) vocabulary.
• Avoid idioms. ELLs will try to interpret their meaning literally and not understand.
• Don’t try to correct all errors. Choose carefully, and when possible, simply repeat the

correct form in a response, rather than saying “No, that’s not right” or otherwise indicat-
ing the mistake.

• Do regular comprehension checks!

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Section 3.3 Stages of Second Language Acquisition

Typically, learners at this stage can communicate very limited information and often rely on
memorized phrases, or formulaic speech, especially for everyday routines, as well as tele-
graphic speech to convey simple meanings. Formulaic speech consists of phrases they hear
on a regular basis, including conversational routines such as “Hello, how are you?” or “Good
morning,” “I don’t know,” “Thank you,” and so on. Learners can produce these in similar situa-
tions without having to think about them. Telegraphic speech refers to the use of one or two
words to express the meaning of an entire sentence. “Out,” for instance, can mean “I am going
out,” or “I want to go out,” or “I’ve been out,” depending on the context.

Using formulaic and telegraphic language, ELLs are able to convey limited information and
can use a limited number of simple structures correctly. Their formulaic routine may be a
fragment such as “I need . . .” or “I would like . . . ,” to which several kinds of completers can be
added, as in “I need go home” or “I would like go home.” Or their routine may be an utterance
such as “No, thank you,” and it may not always be used correctly:

Teacher: Jose, would you please sit down now?

Jose: No, thank you.

In this case, Jose has not yet learned that what appears to be a question is not a question at all
but a polite directive, and thus his polite response is entirely inappropriate.

Some of the formulaic expressions that children learn early are associated with the structure
and telling of stories. It is not unusual, therefore, for learners at this stage to be able to retell
simple stories, although often with hesitancy and a limited vocabulary. Their storytelling may
be a result of memorized words and phrases—starting each story with “Once upon a time . . .”
or “A long time ago . . . ,” for example.

A Teacher’s Story: The Importance of Silence

I remember making some major mistakes with some of my first classes. Lani’s family came
from Brazil when she was five, and her first schooling was in English. She was one of five chil-
dren in my first grade class who didn’t speak English. I was nervous enough about teaching
first grade, and the fact that a quarter of my class were second language learners scared me,
almost into requesting a transfer. I was greatly relieved to learn that one of them was very
proficient already and that three had already learned a fair amount of the language. Then there
was Lani. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get one word out of that child. Two or three
times a day I patiently repeated the names for common objects in the classroom—board, book,
desk, flag—and encouraged her to repeat after me. Usually she would, but she never initiated
any language of her own. When I prompted her with “What is this?” she would sometimes
respond correctly with the name of the object, but no amount of prompting could get her to
expand the one word answer to a full sentence—for example, to say That’s a book instead of
book. Lani kept her silence for weeks, and I was beginning to think that I should refer her to
Special Ed for testing. Then one morning, just before Thanksgiving, the children were making
construction paper turkeys to decorate the classroom when a disagreement broke out at the
table where Lani was working with three other children. I arrived just in time to hear her say,
“That not turkey. Wrong color!”

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Section 3.3 Stages of Second Language Acquisition

Stage 3: Speech Emergence
ELLs at this stage are able to understand more complex language structures and will use Eng-
lish spontaneously, although they will still have a restricted vocabulary and limited knowl-
edge or use of language structure. Their listening abilities have improved to the point that
they can usually interpret sentence-level meanings in general academic contexts, although
they still rely on nonverbal context. Their speaking ability improves rapidly during this phase,
but it is still marked by the use of simple sentences, often with errors. Proficiency in reading
varies greatly at this stage, depending on what level of literacy they have in the home lan-
guage. Some learners are able to decode and understand fairly complex paragraphs, drawing
often on background knowledge and previous experience. They are able to write increasingly
complex sentences. Vocabulary for social situations has expanded considerably and academic
language has grown as well, primarily vocabulary associated with concrete objects and com-
mon concepts. ELLs at this stage are able to write using a broad social vocabulary and a some-
what more limited academic vocabulary, but they may make the kinds of errors that interfere
with meaning.

Toward the end of this period, ELLs, especially older learners (third grade or above), may be
able to explain, compare, describe, and summarize. Teachers help them to grow through and
past this stage by using games, simple problem-solving tasks, language from television, radio,
or movies familiar to the age group, and having ELLs follow along as the teacher or more pro-
ficient students read aloud.

Stage 4: Intermediate Fluency
Stage 4 ELLs have the language skills they need for most everyday communication needs. They
are able to use English in new or unfamiliar situations but still have trouble with complex
structures and abstract academic concepts and language. Many ELLs at this stage are able to
read with a great deal of fluency and can respond accurately to requests to locate and identify
particular facts within a text. They still tend to have difficulty with more abstract concepts,
decontextualized text, and vocabulary that has multiple meanings. ELLs at this stage typically
do not yet read at grade level although they are able to comprehend increasingly complex text.
Writing has improved, they are able to use increasingly complex grammar and better mechan-
ics (punctuation and spelling), and the errors they make do not usually obstruct meaning.

As the name of this level suggests, this might be a very lengthy phase. Learners are acquiring
language very quickly, especially academic language, but the curricular demands are growing
as well. The goal for ELL teachers is to get learners to this stage as quickly as possible, because
the more language they know and can use, the faster they will assimilate new language and
content. This stage may last for months or years, depending on the age of the learner.

Stage 5: Continued Language Development/Advanced Fluency
At the beginning of this stage, ELLs will have begun to produce their own sentences as they
work out the more complex rules of English grammar. Their comprehension is good, they have
begun to use complex sentences, and they are able to understand and produce, orally and in
writing, complex sentences in longer passages of language. They have begun to understand
idioms, and they are able to use language for a larger variety of functions—to analyze, create,
defend, debate, predict, evaluate, and to justify, for example. ELLs may experiment, and even

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Section 3.4 How Long Does It Take to Learn English?

more proficient learners will make mistakes because productive does not mean proficient.
They are better self-monitors, and will frequently know that word or structure is wrong and
ask for the correct one:

Isabelle: Nana, I want you to bend my hair.
Nana: You want me to what?
Isabelle: I don’t know en Anglaise. You know, bend it around.
Nana: How would I do that?
Isabelle: You use a, a, sort of like a brush but no—how you say?—stickers?
Nana: Bristles. A brush has bristles.
Isabelle: Right. Bristles.
Nana: So you want me to use a brush without bristles?
Isabelle: No, but sort of like that. But it’s hot.
Nana: Oh, you mean a flat iron?
Isabelle: Yes! A flat iron. It bends hair.
Nana: Yes, or it can even curl it. Do you want it curled?
Isabelle: No curls. Just bend it under.

Isabelle, at age six, is definitely in the productive stage of language learning. She is, by any
indicator, a fully functioning bilingual (French is her other language), and yet there are words
and expressions she has not yet learned in English (or en Anglaise, as Isabelle would say).

In a sense, this stage lasts forever. Even native speakers keep adding new words and expres-
sions to their language throughout their lifetimes. The goal for ELLs is to reach the stage in
which they can continue to grow their English independently, as native speakers do, both in
academic and social settings. If we could predict how long a learner would remain at this or
earlier stages of learning, we would be in a better position to answer the question “How long
does it take to learn a language?”

How learners pass through these five stages must be understood within the context of the
two broad kinds of language that learners acquire. When children learn their first language,
they begin with social language—the language needed for building and maintaining basic
interpersonal skills. Later, they develop cognitive/academic language proficiency, or the
ability to think, solve problems, read, and write in the new language. If they have acquired
those skills in one language, they are better placed to learn them in English. If they are lacking
content knowledge, and the vocabulary for dealing with it in any language, their road to suc-
cess will be rockier and probably longer.

3.4 How Long Does It Take to Learn English?
Those who wrote the standards of most accountability measures seem to believe that three
years is the time it takes to learn a second language, but research has shown otherwise. In an
older but carefully designed study, researchers Wayne Thomas and Virginia Collier found that

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Section 3.4 How Long Does It Take to Learn English?

children who began schooling exclusively in
English in kindergarten through third grade
fared very well in relation to their native
English–speaking peers. For those who began
in fourth grade or later, however, the out-
comes were less than stellar: Their academic
performance fell well below the 50th per-
centile (Haynes, 1998–2010). By this time,
the curricular demands are greater and the
language needed to cope, both academically
and socially, has increased. With each pass-
ing year, the learning deficit continues to
grow, because ELLs who have not met grade
level expectations during the year have more
catching up to do in the next year. Thus, it is
imperative that the learning deficit be reduced
as much as possible as early as possible.

One way of reducing this deficit would be to teach ELLs using their home language for a sig-
nificant portion of the time in the beginning and to reduce it as they became more proficient
in English.

Studies have shown that children who are taught in this manner outper-
form ELLs who are taught mostly in English from very early in their school-
ing. Children in this ideal bilingual learning situation do so well because they
understand what they are hearing and are thus able to build their underlying
conceptual-linguistic foundation. (McKibbin & Brice, 2014, para. 14)

Unfortunately, few school districts have the resources to offer bilingual programs. Neverthe-
less, there are several steps they can take to create an effective learning environment for all
their learners.

Alternatives to Bilingual Programs: What Schools Can Do
In Chapter 4 we will describe the program options that schools might adopt for their ELLs.
The suggestions given here are applicable whatever program option is adopted.

1. Ensure that teachers are well prepared. Teachers who understand what is involved
in second language learning, who are sensitive to the cultural and experiential dif-
ferences ELLs bring to the classroom, and who are able to develop differentiated
language instruction, are essential. Most states now require ELL training for initial

2. Use resources wisely. In particular, direct extra support to fourth grade and above.
Don’t ignore younger learners, but remember that they will gain more from less
structured language instruction than the older learners and that they have fewer
academic demands on them.

3. Encourage literacy in the home language. Any exposure to reading and writing counts.
Children who read and write in one language are able to transfer much of their ability to
a new language. Even preliterate learners benefit from the experience of being read to.


This teacher is teaching both art and English
simultaneously, helping her pupils to learn
both social and cognitive/academic language.

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Section 3.4 How Long Does It Take to Learn English?

Factors other than age, however, influence the time it takes:

1. Cognitive and academic abilities. Just as these vary in the English speaking popula-
tion, they will vary in the ELL population. Nonetheless, children who have acquired
one language are capable of acquiring two, but the ease and speed may differ.

2. Attitude toward learning a new language—the parents’ and the child’s. For example,
if parents are angry or resentful about the circumstances that brought them to this
country, those attitudes can affect the child’s willingness and readiness to learn.

3. Personality traits. Risk takers tend to learn the oral language a little faster. Some
children simply don’t like to make a mistake and will resist using English until they
think they are able to do so without error. A silent period is fine, but learners who
are willing to take risks will usually progress more quickly.

4. Prior experience of language learning. Children who have grown up speaking two
languages are able to add a third more easily.

Language Learning and Academic Learning
Many theorists contend, that “. . . school-based learning for students with interrupted or lim-
ited formal schooling is far different from that of their counterparts who have a strong and
consistent educational background” (Fairbain & Jones-Vo, 2010, p. 47). The reason is that
cognitive academic language proficiency differs from social language, primarily because it is
more abstract and must be learned in association with more demanding content. According
to Bailey, academic language proficiency involves the ability to use

. . . general and content-specific vocabulary, specialized or complex gram-
matical structures, and multifarious language functions and discourse struc-
tures—all for the purpose of acquiring new knowledge and skills, interacting
about a topic, or imparting information to others. (Bailey, 2007, pp. 10–11)

ELLs, of course, need both kinds of proficiency, and this recognition led theorists and expe-
rienced practitioners to develop five English language standards for assessing proficiency
levels. These standards, developed by the WIDA Consortium and adopted by TESOL Interna-
tional, include

Standard 1: ELLs communicate in English for social, intercultural, and instructional pur-
poses in the school setting.

Standard 2: ELLs communicate using academic language within the subject area of lan-
guage arts.

Standard 3: ELLs communicate using the appropriate academic language within the sub-
ject area of mathematics.

Standard 4: ELLs communicate using the appropriate academic language within the sub-
ject area of science.

Standard 5: ELLs communicate using the appropriate academic language within the sub-
ject area of social studies.

Source: Gottlieb et al., 2006

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Section 3.4 How Long Does It Take to Learn English?

These are not ordered standards, mean-
ing that they do not have to be acquired
in the order shown, with two exceptions.
The first standard must be at least mostly
fulfilled before any of the others is pos-
sible, and the second standard is criti-
cal to the development of the remaining
three, for reasons discussed throughout
this chapter. These standards are use-
ful as goals, but they do not provide any
kind of roadmap to achieving the levels
of proficiency described earlier in this
chapter. Rather, the standards provide a
general framework in which to develop
curriculum for realizing the proficiency
expectations that correspond to those
five stages.

Standards and Proficiency Levels
Table 3.2 summarizes the five stages of second language acquisition in terms of what is
expected of ELLs at each level of proficiency.

Standards and proficiency expectations are very different constructs, but one thing they
share is their greater compatibility with assessment than with instruction. Both the stan-
dards and the proficiency expectations are very general, and as noted, neither provides a
roadmap to achieving them. They provide some guidance for assessing whether a learner has


Math exercises such as these place little demand
on language, but how might language learning be

Table 3.2: What ELLs are expected to process, understand, and produce

Preproduction Graphic representations; words and phrases in simple one-step directions and
commands; yes/no and WH (who, what, when, where, why) questions, when
supported by visual cues and support.

Early Production Phrases and short sentences; general (i.e., social and routine) language contain-
ing errors that may interfere with meaning.

Speech Emergence General, and some specific, language in longer oral utterances and some writing;
language with errors that may interfere with meaning.

Intermediate Fluency Specific, and some technical, language; sentences of different lengths, both
in oral and written language; language with errors that do not interfere with

Continued Lan-
guage Development/
Advanced Fluency

Technical language necessary for all curricular areas; wide range of sentence
structures and lengths in speech and in longer written work on a greater diver-
sity of subjects. Some errors may remain, but generally learner is approaching
native speaker proficiency.

Source: Adapted from WIDA Standards and Pappamihiel & Florin, 2011

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Summary & Resources

Summary & Resources

In this chapter we examined the nature of bilingualism and the different paths that lead
there. Beginning with the broad distinction between simultaneous and sequential language
learning, we saw that there are different degrees, or proficiency levels, of bilingualism,
and that a great many variables influence the speed and level of proficiency that learners
acquire in a second language. We discovered that while there are similarities between first
and second language learning, there are also differences and that these differences increase
as the age of starting the second language increases. Second language learners go through
a predictable process, described in this chapter in terms of stages of language learning. The
goal of ELL teaching is to help learners become truly productive ELLs, as quickly as possible.
The length of time it takes, however, is dependent on a number of variables. Because ELLs
are also learning curricular content simultaneously with English, one of the most important
variables is their previous educational experience. We concluded our look at the expecta-
tions of ELLs in terms of national standards and proficiency levels.

achieved them. But as experienced teachers know, working backward from the assessment
to an instructional plan for getting there may lead to a poorly focused curriculum, commonly
referred to as “teaching to the test,” which does ELLs a grave disservice. The remainder of
this book deals with the decisions, planning, and instruction that help ELLs get to the levels
of proficiency needed to meet the standards imposed by government regulation or by school
districts themselves. From time to time, we will remind ourselves about those standards and
examine how particular activities or lessons can help us to achieve them, but the focus will
be, as it has been in this chapter, on helping each individual learner to achieve maximum pro-
ficiency in English and success in education. We conclude this chapter with Juanita’s story to
see how a teacher can help a student along the bumpy road to bilingualism.

Why I Teach: Inspiration
I was born in Mexico, but I have lived in this country since I was seven years old. I’m bilin-
gual now, but I won’t pretend that it was easy for me. The first two years we were here, my
parents went where there was work, and so my brother and I moved around a lot. I think we
went to seven different schools in those two years. In some of the schools I was put into a
segregated ESL class, and in others I was just left in the back of the classroom and ignored.
Somehow, though, my brother and I both learned some English, but we lived mostly among
other Mexican families and so we were hardly fluent. My mother taught me to read in Span-
ish, but her English wasn’t good, and so I only saw books in English at school. When I started
attending school regularly, I was put into fourth grade, but there was no way I was ready
for that. My English wasn’t where it needed to be, but I started picking it up pretty fast. An
even bigger problem was content—I hadn’t learned much. The school told my mother that I
barely had second grade math skills. I had a patient teacher, Mrs. Cobb, and she used to work
with me after school, and on Saturdays she would sometimes include me in activities with
her family. She is the reason that I’m a teacher today. I just hope that I can be someone else’s
Mrs. Cobb.

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Summary & Resources

bilingual The ability to function in more
than one language. Bilingualism, thus,
admits of degrees in that some bilinguals
are only minimally able to communicate in
one of their languages, some may be able to
communicate about certain topics, and still
others are equally comfortable with both

code/language mixing The interweaving
of languages within a short utterance, such
as one French word or phrase within an
English sentence.

code/language switching The practice of
alternating between two or more languages
during conversation.

cognitive/academic language profi-
ciency The competency needed to function
and to succeed in academic settings.

early second language acquisition Second
language acquisition that occurs before the
onset of puberty.

emergent literacy The knowledge and
skills about text that develop in the pre-
school years and include print knowledge,
phonological awareness, and writing letters
and words.

Building on the general guidelines and principles for each level suggested in this chapter,
the chapters that follow will help ELL teachers construct maps or goals, and plans for
achieving them, beginning with the matter of assessing and placing ELLs in the appropriate
instructional program.

Key Ideas

1. Children who learn two (or more) languages before age five or six are considered to
be simultaneously bilingual.

2. Learners who add a language after the first language is well established are consid-
ered to be sequentially bilingual.

3. In general, the younger the learner, the more likely he or she will have first language
learning strategies to draw upon in learning the second language.

4. The major differences between first and second language learning are the age of
the learner, the reasons for learning the language, the context, and the nature of the

5. Although there are many ways of becoming bilingual, most second language learners
progress through five predictable stages but at different speeds.

6. The length of time it takes to acquire English may vary greatly from learner to

7. The major factors affecting the speed with which ELLs learn are prior educational
experience, degree of literacy in any language, their attitude toward learning, and
how they are taught.

8. It is critical for ELLs to learn language and content simultaneously to avoid deficits
in academic achievement that will worsen each year as the gap widens.

Key Terms

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Summary & Resources

formulaic expressions Phrases acquired
as unanalyzed wholes by second language
learners. For example, an ELL may not know
for some time that “How do you do?” is not a
single word but four separate words.

neural plasticity The brain’s ability to
reorganize itself by forming new neural con-
nections throughout life. Also referred to as
neuro-plasticity or neuroplasticity.

phonological awareness An infant’s abil-
ity to differentiate speech from nonspeech
sounds and understand that those sounds
have meaning that correspond to some
object or action in his or her environment.

sequential bilingual A person who “adds”
a second language after the first is well

simultaneous bilingual A person who has
acquired two languages simultaneously.

telegraphic speech A form of communi-
cation consisting of simple sentences of
three or more words, usually comprising
at least one noun and verb that adhere to
the grammatical standards of a culture’s

Critical Thinking Questions

1. Why do teachers need to know anything about the language learning process? Do
they need any theoretical knowledge to inform teaching? Why?

2. Why do you think the author states with such certainty that children who have
acquired one language are capable of acquiring two? What is the evidence?

3. What similarities between first and second language acquisition are useful for ELL
teachers to know?

4. Why is comprehensible input so important to language learners? Why is “Do you
understand?” seldom effective for gauging whether a learner has understood what
was said?

5. Four-year-old Juanita moved to Boston from Puerto Rico and began preschool in
January. Her dominant language appears to be Spanish, but her parents insist that
she “knows English,” having been exposed to U.S. television and visitors while in San
Juan. Their own English is intelligible—their errors do not usually impede compre-
hension—but heavily accented. What further information about Juanita would you
like to learn from the family that would help you to plan for her first few days in

6. If an ELL third grader speaks English comfortably on the playground and inter-
acts effectively with teachers, can you conclude that she has acquired English?

7. Why is home literacy such an important factor for young ELLs?
8. Examine the TESOL/WIDA proficiency standards in Table 3.2, together with the

summary information in Table 3.1. Do you see any correspondence between the
proficiency standards and the proficiency expectations? For example, at what
stage of proficiency could you reasonably expect standard 4 to be achieved?

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Summary & Resources

Additional Resources
For a comprehensive review of the research on bilingualism and the brain, see
http://journals.tc-library.org/index.php/tesol/article/view/31 and follow the link to the
full article by Monika Ekiert.

For very readable discussion of the effects of bilingualism on the brain, see
http://healthland.time.com/2013/04/23/bilingualism/ as well as

For a practical discussion of emergent literacy and ELLs, see

For a description and discussion of effective general strategies for teaching ELLs, see

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Understanding How the Brain Speaks Two Languages

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Learning Outcomes
By the end of this chapter you will be able to accomplish the following objectives:

1. In the context of Krashen’s input hypothesis, analyze and interpret the importance of compre-
hensible language input.

2. Explain how affective factors can interfere with learning and how teachers can help to reduce
their impact.

3. Define the interaction hypothesis and assess its role in language teaching and learning.

4. Summarize the principle characteristics of communicative language teaching and explain its
relationship to communicative competence.

5. Identify and evaluate the factors that contribute to ELLs becoming long-term language

5Teaching English Language Learners






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Whatever their age and grade level, whatever their first language, ELLs have one goal in com-
mon: communicative competence—the ability to function effectively in English in both social
and academic settings. Helping them to reach that goal is the teacher’s main objective. We
ended the last chapter with a description of how the concept of communicative competence
contributed to the development of communicative teaching approaches. One of the more
prominent of these was developed by Stephen Krashen in the 1980s and was called the natu-
ral approach. This approach was based on five hypotheses about language acquisition (see
Krashen’s Five Hypotheses), and while theorists have taken issue with the scope and details
of some of them, two of the hypotheses have influenced second language teaching for the
past several decades and are widely accepted as pillars of communicative language teaching.
These are the input hypothesis (Chapter 2) and the affective filter hypothesis, which we will
examine along with the interaction hypothesis proposed by Michael Long (1996). To under-
stand how these three hypotheses are realized in classroom practice, we will examine the
four defining characteristics of communicative language teaching.

As we delve deeper into communicative teaching practices, we begin with a basic question:
What is the teacher’s main objective in teaching ELLs? Simply stated, it is to help ELLs acquire
all the English they need for social and academic purposes while simultaneously learning the
content knowledge appropriate to their grade level. With some young learners, and under
certain conditions, teachers can meet this objective fairly quickly, sometimes within the
school year. For others, especially those who begin later than kindergarten or first grade, it
takes longer, and although the authors of most accountability measures assume that it takes
three years (Chapter 3), that is not the case for all learners. The overarching goal in teaching
ELLs, then, is to keep them from becoming long-term English language learners (LTELLs),
meaning those who have been in school for more than six years but have not yet attained
adequate linguistic proficiency or the content knowledge appropriate to their grade level. But
the truth is that most teachers, especially those in the middle school and high school years,
will almost certainly encounter LTELLs, and so we conclude this chapter with a discussion
of the conditions under which ELLs become LTELLs, not only because early intervention can
make a difference, but to help to meet the needs of these higher-risk students.

Krashen’s Five Hypotheses
Prominent linguist and educator Stephen Krashen is professor emeritus at the University of
Southern California. He has received many awards for his publications, and has been greatly
influential in second language education. His theory of second language acquisition is based
on five interconnected beliefs or hypotheses:

1. The acquisition-learning hypothesis distinguishes between language learning and
acquisition. This hypothesis claims that acquisition is a subconscious process, akin to
first language learning, that requires meaningful interaction but does not involve for-
mal instruction. Language learning is a conscious process and the product of formal


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Section 5.1 Input Matters: The Comprehensible Input Hypothesis

5.1 Input Matters: The Comprehensible Input Hypothesis
When parents or other adults want to communicate with an infant or toddler, they make cer-
tain accommodations—they talk about concrete things (e.g., pointing to the family dog when
speaking its name), they simplify their language by using familiar words, and they repeat
and expand upon the child’s utterance. They make these accommodations to ensure that the
input is comprehensible, meaning that the child understands. It makes sense, then, that the
first rule of effective ELL teaching is this: Make language comprehensible. Whatever theoreti-
cal belief a teacher might hold about language learning, whatever the age and grade level of
the learner, the language used every day in every class has to be presented in such a way that
the learner understands the intended meaning—it has to be comprehensible. That may seem
obvious—to learn anything we have to be able to comprehend enough of what we hear or
read to, at the least, begin to construct meaning. Consider the following passage:


Do you understand it? Most likely not. Because the symbols mean nothing to us and because
we have no context for the sentence, most of us wouldn’t even know how to find out what the
symbols mean. Some of us wouldn’t even know what language this is and certainly not that it
is a perfectly grammatical sentence in Japanese. Now consider this passage:

Krashen’s Five Hypotheses (continued)
2. The monitor hypothesis, building on the postulated distinction between learning and

acquisition, defines the influence of learning on acquisition. Krashen’s view is that
learners have an “acquisition system” that serves to initiate, while the “learning system”
(resulting from overtly learned rules) serves as monitor or editor of the utterance. Over-
active monitors and underactive monitors can impede language production and prog-
ress, while optimal monitors somehow strike an appropriate balance between the two.

3. The natural order hypothesis is based on research evidence that in every language there
is a mostly predictable sequence in which children learn grammatical structures. Not
every child acquires structures such as the regular past tense form, the possessive, or
the regular plural in exactly the same order, but the similarities are significant. Because
there are differences in the order of acquisition—speakers of Mandarin may acquire
English grammatical morphemes in a different order from speakers of German, for
example—and because the most important factor is the content being taught, Krashen
makes it clear that the syllabus should not be structured according to a presumed order.

4. The input hypothesis is an effort to explain how learners acquire language. It is not con-
cerned with learning per se, but Krashen stresses that an environment can be created
for second language learners that makes learning more closely resemble acquisition.

5. The affective filter hypothesis. Affective factors, or variables, include motivation, self-
esteem, anxiety, and attitudes, and the hypothesis holds that these can facilitate or inter-
fere with language acquisition. He envisions them as a filter which, if raised, impedes
language learning but, if lowered, makes it possible for the learner to take advantage of
comprehensible input.

Krashen & Terrell, 1983; Krashen, 1985; Schutz, 2007, 2014.

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Section 5.1 Input Matters: The Comprehensible Input Hypothesis

The neural networks used for Synthetic ERP must include neuroanatomi-
cally realistic placement and orientation of the cortical pyramidal neurons.
(Barres, Simons, & Arbib, 2013)

Better? Yes, if only because most of us will recognize the language as English. Some of us will
know most of the words, and a few of us could work out the meanings of a few others. But
even with a medical dictionary at hand, chances are that most of us who do not happen to be
neurologists would not understand the intent, importance, or even the general subject the
sentence addresses. Why? Because the content is outside our experience, of little interest, and
a little too difficult—which brings us to Krashen’s input hypothesis.

According to Krashen, learners will acquire language when the language they hear is challenging
but easy enough to understand without making a conscious effort to learn it—in other words,
they can figure it out given the context. The hypothesis holds that the input learners receive
should be just beyond their level of competence (Krashen, 1985). It should be noted that Krashen
also stated that language acquisition differs from language learning in that acquisition is an
unconscious process and the product of normal interaction, whereas learning is the product of
formal instruction (Krashen & Terrell, 1983; Krashen, 1985). His view of comprehensible input
was that it was linked to acquisition but not to learning. However, he also believed that acquisi-
tion could happen in the classroom. What this means in practice is that teachers should strive to
make the classroom as authentic and communicative as possible: The experience in the class-
room needs to more closely mirror first language acquisition. The significance of this hypothesis
to communicative language teaching (CLT), as we saw in the example above, is this:

The goal of any language program is for learners to be able to communicate
effectively. By providing as much comprehensible input as possible, especially
in situations when learners are not exposed to the TL (target language) out-
side of the classroom, the teacher is able to create a more effective opportu-
nity for language acquisition. (Bilash, 2009)

Now consider this passage:

The three competing theories for economic contractions are (1) the Keynesian,
(2) the Friedmanite, and (3) the Fisherian. The Keynesian view is that normal
economic contractions are caused by an insufficiency of aggregate demand (or
total spending). This problem is to be solved by deficit spending. The Fried-
manite view, one shared by our current Federal Reserve chairman, is that
protracted economic slumps are also caused by an insufficiency of aggregate
demand, but are preventable or ameliorated by increasing the money stock.
(Hoisington & Hunt, 2011, p. 1)

The difference between this passage and the two previous, for most of us, is that although we
could not accurately paraphrase it because we don’t know all the word meanings in this context,
we can at least see the potential for understanding the meaning by drawing on what we do know
of the word meanings in other contexts and, perhaps, using a dictionary or asking for explanations.

The issue for teachers is how to find input that is challenging enough to motivate learners but
not so difficult that it frustrates and causes them to give up. In oral communication, there is
usually enough immediate feedback for the teacher to judge the appropriateness of the level

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Section 5.2 The Affective Filter

and to make adjustments. In reading, a quick way to gauge whether a text is too difficult or not
is to excerpt a short passage and do a Cloze test (Chapter 4).

5.2 The Affective Filter
Comprehensible input is not comprehensible if
the learner is not receptive to it. Certain attitudes
can impede receptivity and thus learning. Negative
attitudes or feelings about the language or having
to learn it, the people who speak it, or schooling
in general are the kinds of variables that can serve
as barriers to learning. Krashen envisions these
variables in terms of affective filters, which, when
raised, screen out much of the language input but,
when lowered, make the input available to the
learner for processing. Moreover, Krashen argues
that the strength or permeability of the filter can
vary from learner to learner:

Those whose attitudes are not optimal for second language acquisition will
not only tend to seek less input, but they will also have a high or strong Affec-
tive Filter. Even if they understand the message, the input will not reach that
part of the brain responsible for language acquisition, or the language acquisi-
tion device. Those with attitudes more conducive to second language acquisi-
tion will not only seek and obtain more input, they will also have a lower or
weaker filter. They will be more open to the input, and it will strike “deeper.”
(Krashen, 1987, p. 31)

The notion of an affective filter resonates with practitioners because experience has taught
them that children who are bored, angry, or frustrated are resistant to learning and thus
harder to teach. But when they are interested, contented, and engaged, they are more recep-
tive to learning and it is easier for teachers to design effective learning activities (Bilash, 2009;
Poole, 2011). The practical application of this hypothesis is obvious: to maximize language
learning and find ways to lower the affective filter. Although many different attitudes and feel-
ings can contribute to the existence and strength of the affective filter, they are all subsumed
under four factors: motivation, attitude, self-confidence, and anxiety level.

Every teacher knows the importance of motivation, and hundreds of books and thousands
of articles have been written on the subject. Definitions vary, but most educators concur
with Gardner that motivation is “the extent to which the individual works or strives to learn
the language because of a desire to do so and the satisfaction experienced in this activity”
( Gardner, 1985, p. 10).

In terms of second language acquisition, both Gardner (Gardner & Lambert, 1972; Gardner,
1982, 1985) and Krashen (1985, 1987) mark a distinction between integrative motivation and


Talking to her child about the family
dog, this mother adjusts her speech,
simplifying and repeating to make it
more comprehensible to an infant.

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Section 5.2 The Affective Filter

instrumental motivation. Integrative motivation results from a learner’s genuine interest in
or affection for the language, its culture, and its people. Children acquiring their first language
do so in order to become part of the family or group. People who love opera and Italian food
might be motivated to learn Italian as a way of integrating into that culture. Instrumental
motivation focuses on the practical advantages that will accrue to the learner as a result of
learning the language. People who need to learn a language in order to get a job with the State
Department or to pass a test for a graduate degree are motivated instrumentally. The two are
not mutually exclusive, and research on which is more likely to predict success in second lan-
guage learning is mixed. Although there is no definitive evidence that one form of motivation
is superior to the other—because the different ages of subjects, studies, and many other fac-
tors contribute to success—“. . . it is important to note that instrumental motivation has only
been acknowledged as a significant factor in some research, whereas integrative motivation is
continually linked to successful second language acquisition” (Norris-Holt, 2001).

Although there is no compelling research evidence either way, it is safe to assume integrative
motivation is a stronger force for children up through the elementary years than instrumen-
tal motivation for acquiring English. It is also clear that the strength of motivation affects the
receptiveness to a new language, but although it has an impact on learners’ success, it also
interacts with other factors including attitude, self-confidence, and anxiety levels.

We all understand what is meant by attitude—it is how we think or feel about something. As
a psychological construct, attitude refers to evaluative, emotional reactions to people, objects,
or events. There is strong evidence that affect influences cognition: “An extensive review of
the latest brain-based research (Jensen, 1995) has clearly shown the critical links between
emotions and cognition and has concluded that in a positive state of mind, the learner is able
to learn and recall better” (de Andres, 2002–2003).

Attitude is believed to influence language acquisition in three ways:

1. Learners with positive attitudes tend to learn the new language more easily and
faster, whereas those with negative attitudes are more resistant and make slower

2. Attitude helps determine learners’ commitment. Those who give up easily are more
likely to have a negative attitude.

3. Learners with positive attitudes are more likely to participate in class and thus take
advantage of interaction.

In terms of the affective filter, a positive attitude tends to make the filter more permeable (or
keep it lowered), while a negative attitude makes it denser (or keeps it raised). As noted, how-
ever, attitude interacts with the other three components of the affective filter.

Anxiety Level
Culture shock is a phenomenon that can affect ELLs’ ability to learn (Chapter 2). One of the
underlying causes of culture shock is the necessity to learn a new language, often very quickly,
and language anxiety or fear can make it harder for learners to acquire a new language. This,
in turn, creates more anxiety. For children who have attended school in another country,

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Section 5.3 The Importance of Interaction

school shock can induce anxiety with the same result. Other kinds of anxiety can also affect
children’s ability to learn—test anxiety (Chapter 4), fear of negative evaluation or judgment,
or performance anxiety (related to speaking or reading aloud) can contribute to high levels
of stress. The role of the teacher is to minimize anxiety by creating a nonthreatening, non-
judgmental environment. It is an important role: “The effective language teacher is someone
who can provide input and help make it comprehensible in a low-anxiety situation” (Krashen,
1987, p. 32). Another potential contributor to feelings of anxiety relates to self-confidence.

The level of confidence that learners have in their
own abilities to learn could have different sources.
It can originate in the family or be a result of pre-
vious experience in school. If the latter, then it
becomes a circular issue—a learner struggles or
fails to learn something, which leads to feelings of
inadequacy or low self-worth, which in turn affects
his ability to learn. It is very common for adults,
for example, who have failed to learn a foreign
language in school to conclude that the fault lies
within them rather than in the teaching approach.
Equally common is to carry that failure, in their lack
of self-confidence, into the next language learning
experience where it might well impact their abil-
ity to learn. Lack of confidence tends to go hand in hand with inhibition—learners who have no
confidence in their abilities are less likely to try anything that involves a risk of failure because
failure only serves to confirm their feelings of inadequacy. Language learning always involves
making mistakes, and learners who cannot tolerate making mistakes are less likely to engage in
the kinds of language activities that will help them learn. In contrast, learners who have fewer
inhibitions, as well as a higher tolerance for uncertainty, are more likely to engage in classroom
activities, conversations, and other kinds of interactions with native speakers. These kinds of
interactions, as we will see, are crucial to the acquisition process.

5.3 The Importance of Interaction
Children learn their first language without being taught (Chapter 3). But even though they are
innately wired to acquire language, they would not do so in the absence of human interaction.
It is interaction that is believed to “trigger” and facilitate the development of language. Jerome
Bruner, in discussing how the natural instinct of humans to acquire language is activated by
cultural factors that are necessary for the development of language, states:

. . . language acquisition “begins” before the child utters his first lexicogram-
matical speech. It begins when mother and infant create a predictable format
of interaction that can serve as a microcosm for communicating and for con-
stituting a shared reality. The transactions that occur in such formats consti-
tute the “input” from which the child then masters grammar, how to refer and
mean, and how to realize his intentions communicatively. (Bruner, 1983, p. 1)

Dejan Ristovski/iStock/Thinkstock

Creating a safe, welcoming classroom
environment is one way of helping to
lower the affective filter.

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Section 5.3 The Importance of Interaction

Communicative language teaching, then, in mirroring environmental factors believed to facili-
tate first language acquisition, emphasizes the importance of interaction.

The Interaction Hypothesis
The interaction hypothesis, while similar to the input hypothesis, focuses not so much on
the language that learners hear, but on the importance of the communicative environment.
In its strongest form, the hypothesis holds not only that interaction with native speakers
provides ELLs the opportunity to learn language, but also that the interaction itself con-
tributes to second language acquisition (Long, 1996; Gass & Selinker, 2008). The type of
interaction that appears to facilitate language acquisition best is the negotiation of mean-
ing—when partners in conversation have to work together to express what they intend
to express. Usually, this happens when there is a failure to communicate intended mean-
ing—one party in a conversation says something that the other does not understand or
misunderstands. The two then have to use various strategies to move the conversation
forward (Richards & Schmidt, 2002). These strategies are often accommodations made by
the native speaker—slowing down of speech or speaking more precisely or paraphrasing.
Second language learners may also attempt a paraphrase or a repair, but will more often
ask for clarification or simply fail to respond, which signals a communication breakdown.
Consider the following interaction:

Lara: How many car you have?

Teacher: How many cars do I have?

If Lara’s next response is “Yes. How many cars you have?” or even “How many cars do you
have?”, then the exchange has resulted in a repair, or two, and the conversation can proceed.
She has received feedback on grammar that she was able to use to correct her utterance.
But if Lara were to respond with “I don’t know”, then the repair has gone unheeded, which
might happen, especially with young children who are more likely to focus on meaning
than form.

The effectiveness of interaction is dependent to a large extent on the type and quality of inter-
action. If it is used as an opportunity for overt correction of errors, then it can become a nega-
tive experience. Young learners are often confused and don’t benefit from overt correction.
Young learners and older learners alike are likely to become frustrated if their attempts at
conversation are constantly interrupted by correction of grammar, pronunciation, or word
choice, especially when the correction does not help to clarify their meaning. Consider the
following dialogue between Cal, age six, and his teacher:

Cal: Give me other one, please.

Teacher: The other what?

Cal: (Points to the apple slices on the table.) Other one, please.

Teacher: You want another apple slice?

Cal: Yes, please. Other one.

Teacher: Apple, Cal. It’s an apple slice. Can you say apple slice?

Cal: Appo sice.

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Section 5.3 The Importance of Interaction

Teacher: No, apple slice. Try again.

Cal: Appo sice.

Teacher: Please give me another apple slice.

Cal: (Gets up and leans across table to reach for apple slice.)

Teacher: What are you doing, Cal?

Cal: You want appo?

In North America and, indeed, many classrooms in the world, the format (if not the content)
of this exchange is very common. It is referred to as the initiation-response-evaluation (IRE)
sequence (Mehan, 1979) or “recitation questioning” (Tharp and Gallimore, 1988). As we saw
in this exchange, however, the routine does little to support or assist Cal’s language devel-
opment. Teachers should instead try to avoid evaluating the form and concentrate on the
meaning and intent of the learner’s utterance. In other words, they need to think about and
respond to what the learner has said ahead of how it has been said. Effective feedback that
encourages rather than frustrates ELLs has at least some of the following characteristics:

1. Authenticity. In the dialogue between Cal and his teacher, the exchange stops being
authentic at the point she says: “Apple, Cal. It’s an apple slice. Can you say apple
slice?” She has hijacked the conversation, which began as a simple request for some-
thing Cal wanted, and turned it into an instructional event—and an ineffective one at

2. Clarity. Sometimes ELLs do not understand the teacher’s question or the reason
for asking it. That should have been clear to Cal’s teacher when he got up and tried
to get her an apple slice. Here, he understood the words perfectly; what he misun-
derstood was her reason for uttering them. He was still trying to participate in an
authentic conversation! Not only should the meaning of an exchange be clear, so
should its purpose.

3. Elaboration. There were many different ways this exchange could have gone. What
would have happened had the teacher said to Cal, after establishing that what he
wanted was another apple slice, “I don’t blame you for wanting another one. They’re
really good. What other fruit do you like?” That would have been an example of
elaboration, one of many possible, and it would have made more sense to Cal.

4. Connection. Connecting with the learner’s interest and experience is probably the
most critical characteristic of an effective interaction. By connecting each response
meaningfully to some aspect of the learner’s experience or interests, teachers can
gently push learners to participate in more oral exchanges and, in the process,
acquire new words and phrases and, quite possibly, new knowledge and higher level
thinking skills.

While very common, this kind of recitation questioning is not the only kind of interaction in
which teachers and learners can participate. The “instructional conversation” (Stipek, 2002;
Williams, 2001) is another discussion format, and it is one that shares the same four char-
acteristics but encourages a high level of participation by ELLs, constituting interaction that
has the potential for being highly effective. The discussion that happens in an instructional
conversation engages students because it is interesting and relevant. For learners with lim-
ited language proficiency, it may be difficult to engage in lengthy high-level discussions, but
there are a few prompts and responses that can help keep learners engaged, as we can see in
Feedback Matters: Twelve Useful Responses.

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Section 5.4 Communicative Language Teaching

Feedback Matters: Twelve Useful Responses
To keep learners engaged in discussions, try the following responses:

1. I think you’re right! Can you tell me more?
2. That’s right. How did you learn that?
3. That’s right. Why do you think it’s important?
4. I think you’re right about ____, but why do you think ____?
5. That’s close, but something’s missing. What about . . . ?
6. I think I understand what you mean, but in English we usually say____.
7. I’m not sure I understand. Can you say it another way?
8. That’s a good question to ask. That’s how we learn.
9. You are asking (teacher paraphrases the question). Right? Who can help me with an

answer to that?

Sometimes learners do not respond, either because they need more time or because they lack
the language to respond. Helpful responses are still possible:

10. Think about it and let me know when you’re ready.
11. Can you draw it or act it out?
12. Let’s ask the question this way and you can tell me “yes” or “no.”

The goal of responses in any kind of interaction is to elaborate, expand, and build learners’
language and content knowledge.

Positive, supportive, helpful responses help create a safe environment for interaction that
helps to grow language proficiency. As Mohr and Mohr point out, the teacher’s behavior can
yield other positive benefits for learners: “If teachers model the use of feedback that extends
student responses, students may likely follow the teacher’s example in their small group dis-
cussion with peers . . . . Thus, the patterns that are established during teacher-directed inter-
action may be used in conversations between students” (2007, para. 31).

Practical Applications
We have examined the role of comprehensible input, affect, and interaction, focusing primar-
ily on their impact on the learner’s acquisition of language. How do ELL teachers use this
information in practice? In other words, what does communicative teaching actually entail?
To answer this question, we must take a closer look at the defining characteristics of a com-
municative teaching approach, delving deeper into its defining characteristics.

5.4 Communicative Language Teaching
Communicative language teaching was developed during the 1980s, partly in response to
the immediate communicative needs of English learners in the United States and other English-
speaking countries. The approach was also a result of the growing awareness among linguists

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Section 5.4 Communicative Language Teaching

The Chomskyan View of Language Acquisition
Rejecting the “blank slate” view of the infant mind, Chomsky contended that children are born
with an innate capacity, or a language acquisition device, that makes language learning an
inevitability—all they need is exposure. His theory was based on several observations about
children learning language:

• There is an optimal age for language learning. Children are most likely to learn lan-
guages fully and fluently between the ages of three and ten. Learning after puberty is
possible, but it is more difficult.


that first and second language acquisition were very similar processes. Stephen Krashen and
Tracy Terrell took the goal of communicative competence even further and developed the
natural approach, which eschewed use of the first language and emphasized helping learn-
ers to develop vocabulary through meaningful interaction (Krashen & Terrell, 1983; Govoni,
2011). The natural approach has been adapted, modified, and tweaked by practitioners over
the years, but its tenets remain central to what we now refer to broadly as communicative
language teaching, or the interactive approach. Any effective teaching method begins with the
goal for the learner. For ELLs, the goal is clear—being a successful communicator. What does
that entail? It requires the learner to know

• How to use English for a variety of purposes and functions,
• How to adjust language according to the participants and the setting of the

• How to read and write different types of text, and
• Strategies to use to sustain communication even with limited linguistic ability.

The theoretical underpinnings of the communicative/interactive approach, consistent with
the Chomskyan View of Language Acquisition but refined and added to in recent decades,
assume that language learning is a result of processes such as

• Interaction between learners and other users of the language.
• The collaborative construction and negotiation of meaning (speaker and hearer

work together to reach understanding).
• Paying attention to language input and actively incorporating new forms.
• Paying attention to feedback.
• Trying out new forms of language, even if imperfect.
• Experimenting with different ways of saying things (adapted from Richards,

2006, p. 4).

These assumptions about what students need to learn and how they learn it are consistent
with the four characteristics that have come to define communicative language teaching
(Richards, 2006; Spada, 2006). We will examine each of these characteristics in the following

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Section 5.4 Communicative Language Teaching

Communicative Teaching Is Learner-centered
The first characteristic of communicative language teaching is that it is learner-centered. The
most important way to realize this characteristic is to make sure that the language used is at
the appropriate level for the learner, as we will see shortly in discussing the comprehensible
input theory. But student-centered learning has other implications as well:

• Learners are expected to assume greater responsibility for their own learning,
participate in cooperative learning activities, and work in pairs or small groups
on tasks.

• The teacher is a facilitator and monitor of learning and progress. Where teachers
were once seen as models of correct usage whose purpose was to structure exer-
cises to elicit only error-free utterances and to work toward eradicating any errors
that were made, student-centered learning requires teachers to plan and engage in
meaningful communicative activities.

• Teachers tailor classroom activities to the interest, age, and language levels of

• Teachers create environments that optimize opportunities for interaction and
learning. The first step in creating such an environment is establishing how the
classroom will be configured for optimal language learning. There are several
options, some of which are more conducive to language learning than others
(Figure 5.1).

The Chomskyan View of Language Acquisition (continued)
• Children do not need a “trigger” for the process to begin. Parents do not need to teach

or coach children to speak. If they are surrounded by language, they will pick it up on
their own.

• As they acquire their first language, there are certain kinds of errors children never
make—they do not get the basic constituent order wrong (subject-verb-object
in English).

• Developmental errors do occur as children figure out the rules of the language, but
these tend to be of a lesser magnitude—the wrong tense or the wrong plural—
indicating that children are in the process of working out just how the rules work.

• Correcting these developmental errors is not effective. For example, a four-year-old who
says “forgotted” might respond to a parent’s correction by saying “forgot,” but she will
not change her behavior until she eventually learns that the regular past tense does not
apply to this word and certain others.

• Children go through regular and predictable stages of language acquisition no matter
what language they are learning or where.

Source: Chomsky, 1968; Lemetyinen, 2012; Piper, 2007

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Section 5.4 Communicative Language Teaching

Communicative Teaching Does Not Focus on Errors
The second characteristic of communicative teaching is that it does not focus on errors. Errors
are seen as developmental, meaning that most will disappear as competence grows. Although
communicative teaching does not completely ignore errors, the focus in the classroom is nei-
ther on preventing nor correcting them. Error correction is rarely explicit, but when it occurs,


Figure 5.1: Arranging for language learning

How a classroom is configured can aid or impede language learning. Which of these configurations
would be least helpful for facilitating communicative language learning?

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Section 5.4 Communicative Language Teaching

it has to be followed by opportunities for learners to use the correct form in meaningful and
relevant contexts. It frustrates, discourages, and sometimes confuses a child who is trying to
communicate something to have the teacher interject to fix her verb form. Consider the fol-
lowing exchange between Maria, age seven, and her teacher:

Maria: I forgotted my lunch, so I buyed some.

Teacher: I forgot my lunch so I bought some.

Maria: Really? What did you get?

Maria was oblivious to her teacher’s attempt to correct her mistake and so the teacher

Teacher: Maria, the word is forgot. I forgot my lunch.

Maria: I know. Me too. I forgotted my lunch.

There are times when it is appropriate to correct errors. However, teachers who understand
that Maria’s “forgotted” and “buyed” are both positive indications that she is acquiring the
regular past tense form will realize that she will get it sorted out by herself in time. Correcting
her now serves no purpose and may even keep her from speaking. The error in Maria’s verb
forms did not interfere with her making herself understood, and so attempting to focus her
attention on a grammatical form is pointless. On the other hand, consider the following utter-
ances, both made by Spanish speakers:

I buy (this book) at library.
I like cheap chocolate cookie.

In Spanish, libreria means “bookstore,” In fact, many Latin languages have a similar root, and
this Spanish speaker assumed that English would behave like Spanish. This lexical (word mean-
ing) error is called a cognate, and in this case, it interferes with meaning. There are two errors
in the second sentence, one a phonological error and the other a word order error. Spanish does
not mark the distinction between long and short “i” in the way that English does, and so chip/
cheap is not an unusual error. The word order mistake could have several explanations, includ-
ing the fact that the learner will have heard “cheap” as an adjective occurring before a noun in
many different contexts. All three errors in these two sentences potentially interfere with the
meaning that a learner wants to create, and so the thoughtful teacher will listen carefully to the
learner. If the errors or similar errors are repeated, then correction may be needed. If so, it is
important to not make the learner feel uncomfortable and to make the exercise as meaningful
and relevant as possible. In the case of the distinction between chip and cheap, it is sometimes
helpful to illustrate how the written language distinguishes between the long and short “i.”

Communicative Teaching Emphasizes Listening and Speaking
The abilities to converse in social settings and to communicate effectively in school are essential
components of communicative competence, as we have seen. Literacy is also built on a firm foun-
dation of oral language. Teachers using communicative methods understand that it is impor-
tant to provide ample opportunity for listening and speaking in the classroom; this is the third
characteristic of communicative language teaching. ELLs need to hear the language of the school
and of the content area in a way that they can understand. Listening and speaking in meaning-
ful contexts, as opposed to repetition of “correct” but irrelevant utterances, help students learn
vocabulary and sentence structure that will help them when they begin to read and write.

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Section 5.4 Communicative Language Teaching

It can be a challenge for teachers to find opportunities for authentic oral language use with
beginning ELLs without resorting to the first language. This is where we find inspiration
from our knowledge of first language acquisition. Even though they don’t have to be taught
their first language, parents or other caregivers assist them by simplifying their speech and
by providing context: they point, they hold up objects as they name them, they talk their
way through familiar routines so that infants learn to associate words with what they repre-
sent. One method that some teachers have used to teach oral language to beginners is total
physical response (TPR). Using this method, teachers construct a series of short active sen-
tences that that correspond to activities that the learners can perform. For example, a TPR
routine might consist of the following:

I pick up the book.
I open the book.
I find page 3.
I close the book.

For beginners, this is considered an authentic language activity because it teaches them
words they will need in the classroom in the context of the classroom. Having the learners
perform the appropriate activity with each sentence is a way of engaging kinetic memory
to reinforce linguistic memory. Consider that this simple exercise has used only nine words
and two sentence structures. Students can learn it easily, and the teacher can build upon it to
teach both new vocabulary and classroom routines simultaneously:

I put the book in my bag .
I lift the bag.
I carry the bag to the door .
I open the door.

Notice that a new structural component has been introduced with the two prepositional
phrases (highlighted), as well as a new pronoun (my), two new nouns, and three new verbs.
Obviously, TPR will not work as the only method of instruction and would not be effective
with more advanced learners, but its principles are sound and useful for teaching basic vocab-
ulary and sentence structures that can be used immediately in the classroom setting without
need for translation.

Communicative Teaching Does Not Rely on Home Language
Translation does not play a role in the communicative approach to teaching; the home lan-
guage is not used. This is the fourth characteristic of communicative language teaching. The
goal is not to replace the home language but to add a new language, and the belief is that
learners will master English sooner if they focus entirely on learning it. More specifically,
requiring learners to communicate only in English is based on the assumption that first and
second language learning are very similar processes. Since very young children acquire their
first language without being taught or without translation, it follows that the older learner,
with more cognitive resources to call upon, can learn a new language with the appropriate
input—comprehensible input, as we saw above. To be most effective, input needs to be not
just comprehensible but compelling. It has to be of such interest that a learner is willing, in a
sense, to overlook the fact that it is in another language.

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Section 5.5 Identifying the Long-term Learner (LTELL)

With early-stage learners, compelling content will need more than language as a mode of
presentation. To state the obvious, early-stage learners are not going to be compelled by what
they cannot understand, and a teacher monologue absent any visual props will not motivate
them to learn.

As we have seen, communicative language teaching is a broad approach defined by four
principles and can embrace a variety of methods with the ultimate goal of preventing ELLs
from becoming long-term language learners, but providing guidance for teachers of those
who do.

The Long-term Language Learner
Most of the preceding discussion has focused on teaching elementary school learners, espe-
cially, but not exclusively, beginners. The goal for these learners is to keep them from becom-
ing long-term language learners, those who have been in school for more than six years
(although some standards specify an upper limit of three years) but have not yet attained
adequate linguistic proficiency or the content knowledge appropriate to their grade level. For
a number of reasons, some outside the control of the schools, a significant number will reach
middle school without the language or academic proficiency they need and with a great deal
less time to acquire them.

5.5 Identifying the Long-term Learner (LTELL)
Researchers in California have determined that an ELL child entering kindergarten has a 50%
chance of becoming a long-term language learner. A recent study of more than 175,000 learn-
ers in 40 California school districts revealed that 59% of secondary ELLs are long-term learn-
ers, a number that is likely to increase (Olsen, 2010). These learners are part of a national
population of ELLs, half of who were born in this country—some may be second- or even
third-generation immigrants—and have attended U.S. schools since kindergarten (Ferlazzo &
Sypnieski, 2012). These are the learners considered to be long-term language learners. Many
will have high levels of proficiency in social English but will lack the literacy skills they need
to succeed in the content areas. Arguably, the various accountability movements, by putting
pressure on schools to achieve rapid language acquisition, have increased the number, but
many other factors contribute.

How ELLs Become LTELLs
One of the reasons why half of ELLs who enter kindergarten in this country will become
LTELLs is that many spend long periods of time with little or no language learning support.
Unfortunately, many school districts in this country do not have, or have not had, a sufficient
number of teachers professionally trained to identify and appropriately place ELLs or to
teach them. Without specially trained teachers, and facing the kinds of pressures described
in Chapters 1 and 2, it is unlikely that these districts will have the kinds of curricular and
learning support materials that they need to provide for the needs of ELLs. Similarly, as the
demography of the country has changed, often quickly, schools that never had ELLs have
found themselves ill-prepared to provide effective program options.

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Section 5.5 Identifying the Long-term Learner (LTELL)

Another factor that contributes to the failure of some ELLs to achieve grade-level profi-
ciency in a timely manner is inappropriate placement. Studying high school LTELLs who had
attended U.S. schools for seven years or longer, New York researchers implemented and eval-
uated a bi-literacy program in two high schools. They began by examining the reasons for the
learners’ limited literacy in either language.

Our findings indicate that a principal cause for LTELL students’ limited liter-
acy skills in either language is that they have attended U.S. schools in the past
that primarily emphasized their English acquisition. Students have attended
English-only programs (such as English as a second language [ESL] and main-
stream) and/or “weak” forms of bilingual education, rather than consistently
attending programs that offer them the opportunity to develop native lan-
guage literacy skills. In addition, we have found that the students often move
in and out of bilingual education, ESL, and mainstream classrooms. (Menken,
Kleyn, & Chae, 2007, p. 1)

English language learners may also have been assigned to specialized intervention programs
for native speakers, often on the basis of achievement or proficiency test scores. Proficiency
and progress assessments designed for native speakers are often unfair, under representing
what ELLs know or the progress they have made (Chapter 4). The result is that too many ELLs
are assigned to programs for the learning disabled or to remedial reading or speech language
programs designed for native speakers (Chapter 9). These are generally not helpful and, in
fact, severely limit ELLs’ opportunity to learn at grade level. This is not the only practice that
exacerbates the problem. Other seemingly appropriate options can result in ELLs having lim-
ited access to the full curriculum. If, for example, ELLs are in “pull-out” programs (Chapter 4)
in which they are removed from the mainstream class for English lessons, without careful
scheduling they will routinely miss content instruction in the class. Learners who have had
these kinds of experiences along with those who represent a small proportion of school popu-
lation may come to experience social and linguistic isolation. Feelings of isolation and exclu-
sion greatly reduce the likelihood that they will engage in the kinds of interaction conducive
to learning English and succeeding in school (Olsen, 2010). This is a lesson that sixth grade
teacher Kara Crosby learned firsthand, as we see in A Teacher’s Story: Marta.

A Teacher’s Story: Marta

Marta was one of only three ELLs in my sixth grade class. From the first day, Marta appeared
to be a loner. She came from Slovakia and her English was as good as, or better than, the two
others ELLs, who spoke Spanish and English. I knew that Marta had been in the same class
with most of the other 23 students in our small town for two years, but she had apparently
made no friends and rarely joined in activities with the other children. After a couple of
weeks, I went to her fifth grade and fourth grade teachers and asked about her. They were
puzzled, too, about why she seemed so unhappy. They had both gotten to know Marta’s
family, and characterized them as loving, supportive, and as clueless as her teachers were
about Marta’s lack of adjustment. After another few weeks, I went to talk to Principal Hayes
about her.


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Section 5.5 Identifying the Long-term Learner (LTELL)

Some learners in middle and high school may appear to be LTELLs but are not. Between 9%
and 20% of ELLs in this age group are newcomers or refugees. “While some of these stu-
dents come with high literacy skills and content knowledge, the majority . . . are students with
interrupted formal education . . . who have had two or more years of interrupted schooling in
their home country” (Ferlazzo & Sypnieski, 2012, Adolescent ELLs & long-term ELLs, para. 1).
A Teacher’s Story: Life Interrupted is the story of one such child. With such limited formal
education and low levels of first language literacy, these learners have a great deal of catching
up to do and, because of their ages, not much time in which to do it. Long-term learners, then,
are a major challenge for schools and teachers. If we are to assist LTELLs across the academic
hurdles they face and avoid creating more LTELLs, we must first address some of the miscon-
ceptions about LTELLs.

A Teacher’s Story: Life Interrupted

Not long ago I ran into a former student of mine. Years before, Kam had arrived in my third
grade class a few weeks after the year began, speaking almost no English. From what I could
learn, I estimated that Kam had attended school very sporadically for the previous two years,
and it showed in his lack of preparation. He couldn’t read in Vietnamese, English, or any other
language. But by June, I thought that Kam was well on his way to becoming a success story.
I was assigned a 3-4 split for the following year, and I was hoping that Kam would be in the
class. It certainly made sense that he would be since he hadn’t reached fourth grade proficiency
in language or social studies, although he had made great strides. But Kam didn’t return to
school, and I never knew what happened to him until he came up to me in Baskin-Robbins and
introduced himself. A grown man now, Kam was well spoken and soft spoken. I asked about


A Teacher’s Story: Marta (continued)

Mrs. Hayes was new to the school, having arrived from a middle school outside Chicago. She
promised to investigate further. A few days later she came back with what she believed was
the answer. She explained that the program designed for Marta by Mrs. Hayes’ predecessor
had required that she spend a good part of each day in an ESL class, which she had done for
two years. She made excellent progress there, and even though she missed some important
content in fourth grade, she quickly caught up during fifth grade as her English got stronger
and stronger. The problem clearly wasn’t academic, but Mrs. Hayes strongly suspected it was
caused by social isolation. She believed that Marta had felt isolated and perhaps hadn’t even
been in the general classroom enough to make close friends, and, as I knew, she was at an age
when friendships had become especially important. She suggested that I refocus my attention
on using group activities in the class and monitor them to see which other students Marta was
best able to relate to. I did that, and as I identified first one, and then two, and then three others
that she worked well with, I included those students in the group with her most of the time.
Happily, by Christmas, there was a marked improvement, and by the end of the school year,
Marta seemed almost happy.

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Section 5.5 Identifying the Long-term Learner (LTELL)

Mistaken Beliefs About LTELLs
One of the major misconceptions is that time spent speaking or reading and writing the home
language is wasted because what these learners need is more time in English. Yes, as we have
seen, exposure to English is very important. But there is compelling research to demonstrate that
literacy in the home language helps the learner in acquiring literacy skills in another (August &
Shanahan, 2006; Genessee et. al., 2006). It also gives them confidence about their ability to learn.

Bilingual programs are beyond the means of many districts, but elementary school teachers
and leaders should encourage home literacy, whatever the language (Chapter 4). Dr. Deborah
Short points out that the majority of adolescent ELLs are second- or third-generation immi-
grants, meaning that it is likely that their families may still be struggling with literacy. On the
other hand, recently arrived ELLs with high levels of education and literacy in the home lan-
guage can frequently acquire both academic English and content and exit special programs
within two years or so (Short, 2011).

Another common misconception is that LTELLs cannot learn to read and write without being
proficient in oral language. For younger children, this is generally true, but for adolescent
learners, it is not necessarily the case. They need a variety of authentic language experiences,
oral and written, but with their greater cognitive and “puzzle solving” abilities, they can usu-
ally benefit from exposure to content text better than younger learners. Some adolescent
learners struggle with correct pronunciation and because of their age are less willing to speak
for fear of making errors. For these learners, especially, time spent on reading and writing
provides them with opportunities to expand their vocabulary, knowledge of sentence struc-
ture, and content-area knowledge in a nonthreatening way.

Is There Hope for LTELLs?
Undoubtedly, for learners who have been in school for more than six years, the prognosis is
grim if we rely on what the numbers tell us. But teachers don’t teach numbers: They teach
individuals, and for most of them there is hope. Often, it is a matter of finding the appropriate
approach to use with these learners. While some aspects of language learning are easier for
younger learners, adolescent learners may have an advantage in learning and applying the
rules of language. Whereas with younger learners, we might take a more natural approach,

A Teacher’s Story: Life Interrupted (continued)

what he’d been doing, and he looked down at the floor, embarrassed. “I work,” he told me. “Did
you finish school?” I asked. He told me that his family had taken him back to live in Cambodia,
waiting until it was safe to return to Vietnam. After a few years, they returned to the States and
he went back to school, this time in seventh grade. He said he hadn’t been to school much in
between and he was way behind. It was hard, he said, but he could do the math, he worked hard,
and he thought he was doing okay. Then, when his ninth grade teacher told his parents he was
only reading at a third grade level, they decided to take him out of school and put him to work.
“We own a business,” he said, proudly. “I cook and keep books.” But his demeanor told me that he
had regrets, and a moment later, he confirmed it: “I wish I stay in school,” he said. “I wish.”

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Section 5.5 Identifying the Long-term Learner (LTELL)

letting them figure out the rules of grammar by engaging in authentic language experiences,
with older learners it is sometimes more efficient either to explain a rule or to give them
enough instances of a structure for them to figure it out.

Adolescence is also a time of great creativity and the incipience of higher order thinking skills,
all of which make them faster learners than younger learners (Sparks, 2011). They have more
highly developed metacognitive ability, meaning that they are able to examine and reflect on
their own language learning processes and to make use of previous language learning experi-
ences. They can, in fact, be far more efficient in learning English—it’s just that they have so
much more to learn than five- or six-year-olds. Still, the potential is there to be tapped. If a
teacher can find out what interests and inspires the LTELL to want to learn—to find the com-
pelling material described earlier—then a great deal of progress is possible.

Meeting the Needs of Long-term Learners
If teachers are to help LTELLs make progress, they should begin by building relationships.
They should get to know their students and their families, if possible, to build trust, respect,
and a sense of partnership in the business of learning. Research supports the importance of
relationship building for LTELLs: A five-year study of over 400 immigrant children revealed
that “supportive school-based relationships strongly contribute to . . . the academic engage-
ment of the participants” (Suárez-Orozco, Pimentel, & Martin, 2009, p. 713). Creating an envi-
ronment of trust and safety is only the first step in assisting LTELLs. What comes next?

There is a genuine urgency to help LTELLs. Since they are a heterogeneous group, differenti-
ated instructional strategies will be necessary, and many of the techniques and strategies
suggested throughout the remainder of the book will be appropriate, with some modification.
One of the significant differences is that each LTELL will need an individualized instructional
plan that takes into account his or her particular ability or skill gaps. Even though a learner
may have an especially notable deficit in one domain, such as writing, every learner needs an
approach that includes attention to all four domains plus critical thinking skills. In particular,
it is important to concentrate on reading in the content area because all academic learning
is dependent on the ability to read and to close gaps in content knowledge. To help LTELLs,
especially those who appear to be “fossilized,” schools need to consider the following:

1. Focused reading, writing, and vocabulary across the curriculum (subject-specific).
Advance organizers can be of help! Graphic organizers can be helpful especially for
younger or beginning learners (one is illustrated in Chapter 6). Older learners can
benefit from text-based organizers that show them what to expect from the text, as
shown in Example of a Text-based Organizer.

2. Careful selection of texts to ensure rigorous content in comprehensible language.
3. Build background for students before they read (or listen or watch a film)

so that they know what to expect and look for. “This is a story of a gruesome
murder . . . .”

4. When teaching literature, stay near grade level to maintain interest (don’t use
second grade stories with fifth graders, or fifth grade stories with high school

5. Use available technologies!
6. Strategic creation of groups that integrate ELLs with content-proficient native

7. School-wide emphasis on study skills and self-awareness of learning processes.

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Section 5.5 Identifying the Long-term Learner (LTELL)

8. Accommodation for testing. Most states and districts have policies governing what
kinds of testing accommodation are allowed for certain assessments, some of which
are described in Assessment Accommodations for ELLs.

9. Use overt instruction for problematic structures but within authentic context (real
text). It’s okay to teach some sound-symbol correspondence—how sounds get
represented in letters—but always within a meaningful context. Point it out, provide
or elicit another example or two, and move on.

10. Link reading and writing and focus on reading comprehension rather than oral reading.
11. Keep portfolios of work to assist in determining progress (which should be carefully

12. Individual, group, or class projects focusing toward a common goal that they work

toward over time.
13. Finally, the fact that 70% of all ELLs speak Spanish (Short, 2011) means that

schools may be able to benefit from bilingual programs such as those described in
Chapter 4. Even if school leaders are unable to establish a bilingual program, they
may have the resources to assess and help ELLs develop the Spanish literacy skills
that can benefit them.

Example of a Text-based Organizer
Text-based organizers, sometimes in the form of outlines, can be used to help ELLs, particu-
larly older learners, anticipate what is to come in a text. The following is an example of one
such organizer:

The Organization of Chapter 4 (example)

Principles of Assessment
Categories of Assessment
Proficiency Testing
Identifying and Placing ELLs
Oral Language Assessment
Reading and Writing Assessment
Monitoring Progress
ELL Program Options
English Mainstream Classroom
ELL Classroom
Bilingual Programs
English Learning Center
Sheltered Classroom
On Choosing
Instructional Methods
Structural Approaches
Functional Approaches
Communicative/Interactive Approaches

Teaching English Language Learners (next chapter)

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Section 5.5 Identifying the Long-term Learner (LTELL)

ELLs become long-term language learners for a variety of reasons, and one or more of the affec-
tive variables discussed earlier will undoubtedly be a factor, whether cause or result. As teach-
ers, our goal is to offer the kinds of instruction and support that ELLs need to progress at an
appropriate pace. Nevertheless, for many reasons, some beyond the teachers’ control, some will
struggle through six or more years of schooling without reaching grade level in language and
content. They are at higher risk for dropping out, for unemployment or underemployment, or
for being channeled into low-paying jobs. They deserve and need the concentrated attention of
schools and teachers engaged in productive, and often individualized, instruction.

Before leaving this chapter, let’s hear again from a teacher who learned on his own how to
implement communicative language teaching as he struggled to make content meaningful for
his ELLs. In Why I Teach: A Year to Remember, we see how Jorge developed methods consistent
with the comprehensive achievement test approach and put them into practice.

Assessment Accommodations for ELLs
Although research results cannot determine which, if any, particular accommodation is
unequivocally reasonable, most states allow some accommodation for ELLs for taking tests,
particularly standardized tests measuring achievement in content areas. They typically fall
into four categories, and some of the more commonly used ones include


• Increased test time.
• Breaks during test period.
• Text schedule extended (ELLs have more time to prepare).


• Test administered individually or in small group.
• Test given in setting with minimal distraction.
• Test administered in ESL classroom.
• Additional individual support provided in mainstream classroom (e.g., ESL teacher or



• Directions repeated in English.
• Directions read aloud in English.
• Key words in directions highlighted.
• Directions simplified.
• Directions explained or clarified in home language.
• Test items read aloud in English.
• Simplified English version of test provided.


• Copying assistance provided between drafts (essays or essay answers).
• Spelling assistance/spelling dictionaries or spelling and grammar checker

• Test taker dictates or uses a scribe to respond in English.

Source: Educational Testing Service, Research report no. 2008-6, Testing accommodation for English
language learners: A review of state and district policies. Retrieved from http://www.ets.org/Media

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Summary & Resources

Summary & Resources

In this chapter we have looked at how a communicative theory of language acquisition is
supported by the three pillars of comprehensible input; the affective variables of motiva-
tion, attitude, anxiety, and self-confidence; and the quality of interaction. Understanding
how language is acquired is necessary, but this understanding alone is insufficient for
determining how to work within the framework of communicative language teaching, to
organize instruction, and to teach ELLs so that they do not become long-term language
learners, all while being consistent with the four defining characteristics of communica-
tive language teaching. We saw that communicative language teaching is learner- centered,
does not focus on errors, emphasizes listening and speaking, and does not rely on any
use of the home language. The goal of communicative language teaching is to keep ELLs
from becoming long-term language learners, those learners who are neither linguisti-
cally proficient nor able to meet grade-level content standards. Although LTELLs vary in
the skills they lack, almost all will lack adequate cognitive academic language proficiency
and therefore will not be able to meet grade-level content standards. Literacy skills are
at the heart of the problem, and they are also the solution. In Chapter 6 we will examine
in greater detail some of the approaches to teaching literacy that have been shown to be
effective and the importance of these approaches.

Key Ideas

1. The main goal of all ELL teachers is to help learners acquire all the English they need
for social and academic purposes while simultaneously learning the content knowl-
edge appropriate to their grade level.

Why I Teach: A Year to Remember
That was a very long year. When I got over my initial panic, I did a quick refresher on the
FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test) to see what my kids would be up against. I
started to devise strategies to teach them to take a test like this, but a it only took me about
two weeks to abandon that strategy. I decided instead to focus on the content of the math and
getting that across any way I could. I used all kinds of objects to make the lessons more inter-
esting, thinking that if they could touch and manipulate objects, the concepts would be more
tangible, more real. Reading worried me more. I knew that I could get an exemption for the
girl who was a true beginner, and when I looked at all the different kinds of text they’d have
to respond to, I wished I could exempt them all. But then I talked to a colleague. Her advice
was to make reading fun and interesting, help them to get the basics of vocabulary and word
identification in stories they wanted to read, and they’d get there. She was right. I told them
outlandish, fanciful stories about the adventures of two puppets we had in the room, Joe Bob
and Brutus, and then had them retell the stories while I typed them and they followed on
the smart board. A few weeks before the test, I started preparing them for the format and
doing practice tests with them. I was still worried, but not so much. When the results finally
came, I looked at their individual reports before I looked at the school’s. Of the 11 who had
written the tests, 10 scored at 2 or higher on a 5 point scale, which for ELLs was considered
adequate progress. Four of the kids scored above 3 in math. I was so proud! Of them. And that
is why I teach.

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Summary & Resources

affective factors The emotions and attitudes
that affect a learner’s state of mind and
willingness to learn. Also called variables.

affective filter An affective factor that,
when raised, screens out much of the lan-
guage input but, when lowered, make the
input available to the learner for processing.

communicative language teaching A
teaching approach that recognizes the simi-
larities between first and second language
acquisition, emphasizing interaction in
authentic settings as the way in which learn-
ers acquire a second language.

instrumental motivation Motivation to
learn that focuses on the practical advan-
tages that will accrue to the learner as a
result of learning the language.

integrative motivation Motivation to learn
that results from a learner’s genuine interest
in or affection for the language, its culture,
and its people.

interaction hypothesis A hypothesis
that focuses not so much on the language
that learners hear (the input hypothesis),
but on the importance of the communica-
tive environment. In its strongest form, the
hypothesis holds not only that interaction
with native speakers provides ELLs the
opportunity to learn language, but also that
the interaction itself contributes to second
language acquisition.

kinetic memory A form of procedural
memory that involves consolidating a spe-
cific motor task—such a dance movements,
bicycle riding, and steering a car—into
memory through repetition.

2. No matter what theoretical stance a teacher might take, the language used every day
in every class has to be presented in such a way that the learner understands the
intended meaning—it has to be comprehensible and at a level that is challenging but
not frustrating.

3. Affective factors can create barriers to language acquisition, but teachers can reduce
their impact by providing a safe, positive, and supportive environment.

4. The quality of interaction that occurs between ELLs and native speakers plays an
important role in the ELLs’ learning. In general, the more authentic, the better.

5. Authenticity does not mean that teachers should ignore grammar, pronunciation, or
vocabulary development or overt teaching. It means that instruction should always
expand upon the broader context of the lesson.

6. Teachers using communicative methods understand that it is important to provide
ample opportunity for listening and speaking in the classroom.

7. Error correction must be done judiciously, focusing on mistakes that cause or have
the potential to cause miscommunication. Especially with younger ELLs, it is helpful
to think of most oral language errors as “developmental.”

8. Early identification and correct placement of ELLs is critical because too many of
them spend long periods of time with little or no language learning support.

9. Focusing on reading is especially important for LTELLs because content learning is
heavily dependent on reading.

10. It is acceptable and often desirable to teach for LTELLs but always within a meaning-
ful context—point it out, provide or elicit another example or two, and move on.

Key Terms

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Summary & Resources

language acquisition Learning language
as an unconscious process and through the
product of normal interaction.

language learning Learning language
through formal instruction.

sound-symbol correspondence The rela-
tionship between the individual sounds in a

word and how those sounds are represented
in print.

total physical response (TPR) A teaching
approach based on the notion that learning
occurs with physical movement.

Critical Thinking Questions

1. Read the box Why I Teach: A Year to Remember again. How does Jorge’s experience
illustrate the importance of the comprehensible input hypothesis, the interaction
hypothesis, and the affective filter hypothesis?

2. Krashen states that despite his belief that learners acquire grammatical forms in a
mostly predictable order, this order should not be used for designing a syllabus or
course (see the box Krashen’s Five Hypotheses). Why? (Hint: Would it violate any of
the tenets of communicative language teaching?)

3. What are the theoretical and practical reasons for teaching all levels of ELLs using
only English?

4. Construct a short TPR (total physical response) routine appropriate for first-grade
beginners in English. Explain why you chose the topic you chose for them.

5. As stated in this chapter, “The goal is not to replace the home language but to add a
new language, and the belief is that learners will master English sooner if they focus
entirely on learning it.” How do you reconcile this statement with this book’s asser-
tion that first language literacy is important to the development of literacy in the
second language?

6. How do you think that affective variables might interfere with the comprehensibility
of input? Be specific.

7. Five-year-old Sofia is an ELL learner who produced the following sentences. Which
errors she makes are likely to be developmental? Which, if any, would you correct?
a. I no like mango.
b. My mama no like mango too.
c. I like banán.
d. No wants mango.

8. Review the box Assessment Accommodations for ELLs. For each accommodation, sug-
gest one kind of test or one category of ELL for which the accommodation might not
be appropriate.

9. What cultural factors should be taken into consideration when considering appro-
priate forms of interaction for ELLs?

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Summary & Resources

Additional Resources
For succinct guidelines for implementing communicative teaching techniques, see

For an exceptional discussion and examples of appropriate and effective teacher feedback,

Experts provide an excellent introduction to middle and high school ELLs at

Dr. Deborah Short (2011) provides an excellent overview of the middle and high school ELL
learner together with strategies for teaching ELLs, especially literacy, in a webcast at

For an overview of teaching academic English to ELLs, see

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