Understanding Long-term English Language Learners

In California, long-term English learners are identified as such if they are in our schools for six or more years and have not been re-designated.  Los Angeles has approximately 200,000 English learners and about 80 percent of all the ELLs in secondary are long-term. If all those students came from another country and didn’t speak English we would be ready, but that’s not the case. We have students that have been here and speak English quite well however, they don’t have academic English or reading comprehension.  Imagine being in school for three or four years and not knowing what the teacher is saying. You might understand some things but there are large amounts of information that would be missed because you did not have enough key words to be able to understand the lesson.  As mentioned in “Californian’s Together Reparable Harm” report*, those who don’t drop out, hide in the classroom. They are very quiet, well behaved and may be classified as not too bright, which is not true.   Some of them lack academic knowledge they missed and some do not have good reading comprehension, but they can read words and decode.  Putting those students into an ESL class where they are learning to decode and other very these very basic things, is what is holding them down. We do not have specific programs for these students, so we place them in the ESL class where the other students are learning English and they already know English. They need something more specific to their needs. One of the suggestions I recently read was putting secondary students into the Spanish language class where they could demonstrate all their literacy skills and could respond and have that very positive experience of succeeding, but also acclimatizing them to the school and the country. They would have grade level in history, for example, and be able to demonstrate they have grade-level skills.

*Thank you to Shelly Spiegel-Colman Executive Director of Californian’s Together for giving CE Credits Online permission to provide you access to the report, “Reparable Harm”.  Janet Davis , our expert this month, refers to in her  information.

Janet Davis is a professional development advisor with the Los Angeles Unified School District. Janet has also worked as a Spanish Bilingual Teacher, a Bilingual Program Coordinator and an instructor for the District Bilingual Master Plan Teacher Training Program. In addition, Janet is a member of the American Federation of Teachers’ ELL Cadre and a former professional musician.

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