Facilitating Secondary English Language Learners' Transition Into the Mainstream

  • Published on

  • View

  • Download


  • egardless of the type of educa-tional program in which secondlanguage (L2) learners are enrolled

    (early-exit bilingual, late-exitbilingual, sheltered ESL, dual

    language), many of them eventually willtransition, or exit, from the program andreceive instruction in mainstream classes.This is surely good news because everyoneassociated with the education of English lan-guage learners (ELLs)the students them-selves, their parents, teachers, administrators,policy makers, interested community mem-berswant them to develop English skillsand move into mainstream classes, wherethey will be integrated with native-born stu-dents and where they can participate in theregular curriculum. In this article, we discussthe approach of educators in one school dis-trict, U-46, in Elgin, Illinois, in the UnitedStates, to developing criteria for makingdecisions about transitioning ELLs, and wepresent strategies for facilitating the transi-tioning process once the decision has beenmade. While different contexts call for par-ticular approaches, we believe that the expe-riences of educators in District U-46 and thesuggestions we make here can be useful inmany different contexts.

    Our interest in the transitioning of ELLsinto mainstream classes at the secondary levelstems from nearly three decades of combinedexperience as ESL educators and investiga-tors in this area. Much of the researchdescribed in this article draws particularly onour involvement with District U-46.

    TerminologyThe terms English language learners and

    second language learners are used here torefer to students who are native speakers oflanguages other than English and who are notyet fully proficient in both conversationaland academic English. Mainstream classesare those intended for native speakers ofEnglish and other students who are fully pro-ficient in English. The term transition(ing) isused here to refer to the process of graduallytransferring ELLs from a special program(i.e., the ESL classroom) to primarily Englishlanguage educational experiences (i.e., main-stream classrooms). The term exit refers tothe point at which students are officiallydeclared ready to move out of the specialprogram and spend their entire school day inmainstream classrooms.

    Challenges and Goals ofTransitioning

    Despite universal support for transitioningELLs, the transition process poses numerouschallenges for educators and students alike.Some students leave special classes too soonand are not able to keep up in mainstreamclasses (Faltis & Arias, 1993). Other studentsstay in special classes too long, becomebored and discouraged, and tune out ofschool (Mace-Matluck, Alexander-Kasparik,& Queen, 1998). The criteria for determiningwhen students should make the transitioninto the mainstream are not always designedand implemented with enough attention to

    the complex factors that influence studentsdegree of readiness for the transition. WhenELLs are exited from special programs,many of them are placed in unchallengingmainstream classes (e.g., remedial classes,special education classes, low-track classes)(Garca, 1999; Harklau, 1994a, 1994b).Being in these courses may actually be worsefor these students than staying in ESL andbilingual classes, where they generally haveaccess to teachers who are prepared to workwith them. They are likely to be foreverlocked into another kind of special programthat leads to nowhere after high school, andthey may not know enough about the systemto recognize that this is happening to them(Harklau, 1994a).

    Another difficulty is that secondaryschools are not designed to provide muchpersonal attention to any students (Goodlad,1984; McLaughlin & Talbert, 1990; Sizer,1985). The fragmented structures, large stu-dent-to-teacher ratios, short class periods,minimal communication across institutionalboundaries, and generally teacher-centeredinstruction often work against ELLs, whoneed more time and attention from teachersthan native English speakers (Lucas, 1993).All of these factors can be obstacles to thesuccessful movement of ELLs into main-stream classes.

    Our goal as educators is to facilitate asmooth transition for immigrant students intochallenging classes that will prepare them forhigher education or for desirable careers. Butwhat criteria should be used to determine

    6 TESOL Journal


    Facilitating Secondary EnglishLanguage Learners TransitionInto the MainstreamTamara Lucas and Suzanne Wagner

  • Winter 1999 7

    when ELLs are ready to learn academic, cog-nitively demanding content in the main-stream? Whose job is it to decide? Whatpractices and procedures should be in placeto ensure that the transition meets studentneeds and does not make impossibledemands on teachers? Whereas we haveaccess to a wealth of research and practicalknowledge about second language acquisi-tion (SLA), instructional strategies, assess-ment of ELLs, and social and cultural factorsin educating language minority students, weknow much less about the successful transi-tioning of ELLs into mainstream classrooms.

    Ensuring that the transition occurssmoothly takes careful thought and planning.In this article, we propose a framework thatcan be used as a planning guide for develop-ing and implementing the transition processat the local level. Part 1 of the frameworkincludes criteria that practitioners can con-sider in deciding whether to transition stu-dents. Part 2 lists strategies that will promotestudent success before, during, and after thetransition process.

    Part 1: DevelopingTransitioning Criteria

    There are no clearly agreed upon criteriafor determining when students are ready tobe mainstreamed. Test scores measure cer-tain skills and abilities, but what a particulartest measures may or may not bea relevant indicator of success inmainstream courses. The percep-tions of ESL and bilingual teach-ers capture some aspects ofstudents development and abili-ties, but their subjectivity andpossible lack of familiarity withmainstream course content,expectations, and teaching stylesmay limit the accuracy of theiropinions. A simple criterion thatsome districts use is the length oftime an ELL participates in a spe-cial programthe 3-years-and-theyre-out approach (or, inCalifornia after the passage ofProposition 227, 1-year-and-theyre-out). But L2 learning research showsthat immigrant and refugee children comefrom many different types of backgrounds,and preparing them academically to competewith their monolingual English-speakingpeers may take up to 7 years (Collier &Thomas, 1997; Cummins, 1989; Ramirez,Yuen, & Ramey, 1991).

    Educators need a better sense of appropri-ate criteria for determining when ELLs areready to be transitioned into mainstreamclasses. Without such criteria in place, thereis no defensible basis for making decisions

    about the appropriate time to place a studentin mainstream classes.

    Bilingual and ESL teachers in District U-46 have been studying and planning transi-tioning and exit procedures for several years.The geographically large, suburban district,which encompasses seven townships in threecounties, serves more than 4,300 ELLs, mostof whom are Mexican immigrants, in a tran-sitional bilingual education program. Theexperience of this district and the criteriaidentified by the staff serve as the basis forthe transitioning criteria proposed in theframework that follows. A group of bilingualand mainstream teachers initially met in thesummer of 1989 and developed a list of crite-ria that, based on their experiences, theybelieved predicted the success of bilingualstudents who were transitioned into main-stream classes. Since then, the criteria fordetermining student readiness for transition-ing and the procedures to measure these cri-teria have continued to be developed,revised, and refined.

    A federal Title VII grant permitted us tostudy the transitioning process over a 3-yearperiod, from 1992 to 1995. During thisperiod, teams of elementary bilingual andmonolingual English-speaking mainstreamteachers met weekly, collaborating on waysto transition bilingual students and integratethem with monolingual English-speaking stu-

    dents in mainstream classes in the intermedi-ate grades. As part of the grant evaluationactivities, bilingual staff members inter-viewed receiving mainstream teachers ofmore than 300 bilingual students 1 year afterthe students were exited. The data collectedshowed that students of the participating ele-mentary-teacher teams who had spent time inintegrated learning activities in mainstreamclassrooms with monolingual English-speak-ing children before they were officiallyexited fared significantly better in the main-stream than students of bilingual teachers

    who had not participated (OER Associates,1995). Other factors that predicted studentssuccess in the mainstream were literacy andachievement levels in the first language (L1),literacy and achievement in English, culturalidentity and learning strategies, and familysupport. From these findings, the bilingualand ESL teachers at the middle and highschools developed their own list of criteriathat they could use to determine ELLs readi-ness for transitioning. These criteria are pre-sented in the table for Part 1 of theframework (see p. 8) and each factor is dis-cussed below. As the table and the followingdiscussion indicate, one area of consensusamong those involved in this process wasthat multiple criteria and multiple perspec-tives (e.g., those of teachers, counselors, par-ents, students) must be used to determinewhen a student should make the transition.

    Before discussing the criteria, it is impor-tant to clarify that teachers are not expectedto gather detailed information about all ofthese criteria for each student. Given thedemands placed on teachers, that would beimpossible. This list simply represents crite-ria that can shed light on a students readi-ness for the transition into the mainstream.As such, the list serves as both a tool and areminder to educators in school districts,helping to ensure that some attention is givento these aspects of students learning and per-

    formance as they make decisionsabout program procedures aswell as about individual students.

    The teachers in District U-46developed a checklist of exit cri-teria and test score informationthat stays in a students cumula-tive folder and is consulted atvarious times. At the secondarylevel, most transition and exitdecisions are made in the earlyspring, when courses are selectedfor the following year, andsometimes at the beginning ofthe spring semester. ESL teach-ers, bilingual teachers, and mathteachers make recommendationsfor students courses in the fol-

    lowing year. At the middle school, the coun-selor and/or assistant principal use theteacher recommendations and the checklist tomake transitioning decisions. A transitionmeeting is held to discuss the students whowill be transitioning or exiting from the pro-gram the following year. The high schoolbilingual program uses a similar process forcourse selections. In addition, the highschools have an ESL/bilingual division chair-person and bilingual counselors with trainingin SLA, cross-cultural issues, and bilingualassessment procedures. They get to know the

    Whereas we have access to a

    wealth of research and practical knowledge

    about second language acquisition (SLA),

    instructional strategies, assessment of ELLs,

    and social and cultural factors in educating

    language minority students, we know

    much less about the successful transitioning of

    ELLs into mainstream classrooms.

  • 8 TESOL Journal

    students and meet with them periodically todiscuss their progress.

    Factor 1: Number of Years ofEducation and Type of EducationBefore Coming to the UnitedStates

    Teachers in Elgin noted that students whohad been to school regularly before immi-grating to the United States entered the main-stream sooner than their peers who had hadlong interruptions in their schooling.Research supports the teachers perceptions.Collier (1989) argues that the optimal time toimmigrate to a new country is at approxi-mately 11 or 12 years of age because chil-dren who have 6 or 7 years of schooling in

    their L1 (in the home country) have a strongcognitive base on which a new language canbe added. In addition, the type of educationthat students had previouslyfor example,whether in a college preparatory school or avocational schoolcan also help U.S. teach-ers determine the strength of their educa-tional preparation. School district personnelget information about students previous edu-cational experiences in interviews conductedwhen students enroll and through reportcards and transcripts that students bring withthem from their native countries. In inter-views, care is taken to put students and theirfamilies at ease.

    Factor 2: L1 Reading and WritingSkills

    Closely associated with the number ofyears and type of previous education thatimmigrant students have is their level of liter-acy skills in their native language. It wasobserved that students who have strong liter-acy skills in their L1, academic knowledge,and learning strategies tend to fare betterthrough the transition to mainstream classesand beyond. Again, research and theory sup-port this observation. Cummins (1981) hasdescribed a common underlying proficiencythat supports the transfer of cognitive andacademic language skills from the L1 to anL2. Students who have more opportunity todevelop literacy in their native language per-

    Criteria to Consider

    1. Number of years of education and type of education beforecoming to the U.S.

    2. Reading and writing skills in the first language

    3. Reading and writing skills in English

    4. Success in mainstream classes while enrolled in bilingual/ESL classes

    5. Standardized achievement test scores

    6. English language proficiency test scores

    7. Academic achievement

    8. Self concept and personal inclinations toward transitioning

    9. Counselor and/or teacher judgment

    10. Family support

    Indicators and Tools for Documenting the Criteria

    (a) Student background interview upon enrollment(b) Report cards and transcripts, when available

    (a) Portfolios and other forms of authentic assessment(b) Informal reading inventories(c) Observations of student reading (useful even if examiner

    does not know the language well)(d) Writing samples

    (a) Portfolios and other forms of authentic assessment(b) Informal reading inventories(c) Observations of student reading(d) Writing samples(e) ESL class level

    (a) Teacher questionnaire and/or interview(b) Reviewing student cumulative file and report card(c) Student interview

    (a) Instruments adopted by district and/or state(b) Standardized tests in the native language

    Instruments adopted by district and/or state

    (a) Current math placement(b) Grade point average(c) Student report card(d) Teacher questionnaire

    (a) Student interview(b) Teachers observations

    (a) Teacher questionnaire(b) Group transition team meetings

    (a) Student background interview(b) Counselor and/or teacher judgment

    Suggestions and Comments

    Through an interpreter, if necessary, make sure students arecomfortable with examiner as they are asked to talk aboutthemselves and their educational background.

    Literacy assessments should be ongoing throughout enrollmentin bilingual/ESL program.

    National TESOL standards can be used as a guide todevelop assessment instruments and procedures.

    Measures should articulate with measures for mainstreamstudents.

    Literacy assessments should be ongoing throughout enroll-ment in bilingual/ESL program.

    If students are placed in mainstream classrooms concurrentlywith bilingual/ESL enrollment, mainstream teachers should beadvised of their limited English proficient (LEP) status.

    State education agencies can identify standardized instrumentsfor some languages.

    Reading and writing measures as well as oral proficiency shouldbe included.

    Measures should articulate with measures for mainstream stu-dents.

    Interviewers should be adults with whom the students are com-fortable.

    Teacher and counselor observations of students learning strate-gies, attendance, and behavior should be included.

    Parents should be involved in, informed of, and approve of tran-sitioning decisions.

    A Framework for Facilitating the Transition of English Language Learners Into theMainstream in Secondary Schools

    Part 1: Establishing Transitioning Criteria

  • Winter 1999 9

    Strategies1. Place transitioning students in classes with teachers who are supportive, sensitive, knowledgeable, and experienced with cul-

    turally diverse ELLs.2. Place transitioning students in designated classes with other transitioning students or with students from their language

    groups so they can support each other. This will also allow counselors and bilingual and ESL teachers to follow up on them.3. Place transitioning students in smaller classes so they can get more personal attention.

    Strategies4. Provide professional development for all teachers in second language acquisition and development, cross-cultural issues and

    communication, and sheltered ESL instruction.5. Encourage ESL and bilingual teachers to visit mainstream classes to learn more about the content, expectations, and instruc-

    tional approaches.6. Encourage mainstream teachers to visit ESL and bilingual classes to learn more about the content, expectations, and instruc-

    tional approaches in those classes and to learn about the students before they are transitioned.

    Strategies7. Encourage, facilitate, and participate in interdisciplinary planning and teaching among mainstream, bilingual, and ESL teach-

    ers through (a) joint staff development, (b) joint meetings on issues of mutual concern, (c) team teaching with planningtime, and (d) joint planning of extracurricular activities.

    8. Establish mechanisms for maintaining regular communication between mainstream, bilingual, and ESL teachers and coun-selors so that the latter can monitor student progress and provide assistance to students and teachers as needed.

    Strategies9. Establish personal connections between students and adults to develop mentors and provide foundation for support that stu-

    dents will need in the transition.10. Offer as much extra intensive support as possible through, for example, (a) Saturday academies, (b) after-school tutoring,

    (c) an extra period during the day, (d) bilingual and ESL study halls or resource centers where students can go for extrahelp and native language support, and (e) summer school courses.

    11. Train language minority students in mainstream classes as peer tutors so that they can support newly transitioned ELLs.12. Ensure that transitioning students have access to counselors knowledgeable about the transition process.13. Encourage mainstream teachers to visit bilingual and ESL classes to talk to the students about what to expect in mainstream


    Strategies14. Offer cognitively demanding, required general education classes in formats that allow ELLs to be successful (e.g., bilingual

    [native language] content courses, sheltered ESL courses, or transitional courses with designated mainstream teacherstrained in ESL methodology).

    15. Design the curriculum to allow students to transition gradually. For example: (a) Allow students to move from native lan-guage content classes (e.g., bilingual math) to sheltered content classes (e.g., ESL biology) to regular content classes; (b)Offer content in bilingual/ESL courses specifically designed to teach concepts students will be expected to know in main-stream classes (e.g., events in U.S. history, how the government works, key authors in British and U.S. literature); and (c)Offer transitional classes reflecting mainstream content, structures, and processes.

    Strategies16. In order to better prepare students to succeed in mainstream classes, ensure that the bilingual and ESL classes emphasize

    reading and writing skills development and that bilingual and ESL teachers hold high expectations of ELLs.17. Encourage mainstream teachers to use cooperative learning and other student interaction strategies so that students can

    work and learn together.18. Ensure that instruction in content classes is sheltered and that explicit language instruction and support continue for transi-

    tioning students in mainstream classes.

    Strategies19. When possible, provide bilingual/bicultural instructional assistants in mainstream classes with transitioning students.20. Make increased efforts to hire language minority teachers as mainstream teachers in all content areas.

    Time FrameDuring the transition

    During the transition

    During the transition

    Time FrameOngoing



    Time FrameOngoing

    During and after the transition

    Time FrameOngoing


    OngoingDuring and after the transitionBefore the transition

    Time FrameBefore the transition

    Before and during the transition

    Time FrameBefore the transition

    After the transition

    After the transition

    Time FrameDuring the transitionOngoing

    Part 2: Strategies for Facilitating the Transition


    Student Placement

    TeacherCommunication andCollaboration

    Student SupportServices




  • 10 TESOL Journal

    form better academically in English(Cummins, 1984; Hakuta, 1987). To ascer-tain students L1 literacy skills, teachersexamine portfolios of student work, conductinformal inventories of students readingskills, observe students reading, and examinewriting samples. Ongoing literacy assess-ments are needed to capture progress.

    Factor 3: Reading and WritingSkills in English

    Students in mainstream classrooms areasked to read academically demanding textsand perform various writing tasks indepen-dently. Therefore, they must have sufficientlystrong reading and writing skills in English tosucceed. Students ESL class level (e.g.,beginning, intermediate, or advanced) indi-cates information about their literacy skills.Literacy assessments in English, like those instudents native languages, should be ongo-ing so as to determine progress. Assessmentsof English reading and writing abilitiesshould be consistent with those used in main-stream classes. The international organizationfor Teachers of English to Speakers of OtherLanguages (TESOL) has developed stan-dards for assessing ELLs literacy skills thatcan be used by school districts.

    Factor 4: Success in MainstreamClasses While Enrolledin Bilingual/ESL Classes

    In District U-46, secondarybilingual and ESL students oftentake one or two art, vocational,physical education, or other elec-tive courses while enrolled inbilingual and ESL classes. Inthese elective classes, the stu-dents have opportunities to usetheir English in mainstream aca-demic contexts. Success in theseless cognitively demandingcourses helps build scaffolds forsuccess in the more demandingcourses after transition. Evaluating studentssuccess in such mainstream classes providesvaluable insights into their potential for suc-cess in other mainstream classes. Such evalu-ation can be conducted through teacherquestionnaires, interviews, report cards, andstudent interviews.

    Factor 5: StandardizedAchievement Test Scores

    The secondary teachers involved in devel-oping the criteria in District U-46 stronglybelieved that scores on tests should not be thesole criterion for transitioning, especiallyscores on standardized tests in English. It isquestionable whether academic achievementcan be accurately measured when the stu-

    dents taking a timed test cannot understandthe nuances of the questions in their L2. Toaddress this problem, some standardized testsare given in students native languages.However, these scores must be weighedaccording to the level of academic profi-ciency students have in their native lan-guages. Those who have had little schoolingin their native language cannot be expectedto perform well on such tests. Thus, standard-ized achievement tests are not given toomuch weight in decision making (see Durn,1989), although they are one of many criteriaconsidered in transitioning students in Elgin.

    Factor 6: English LanguageProficiency Test Scores

    As with academic knowledge and cogni-tive skills, knowledge of academic English isdifficult to measure through a timed test.However, students performance on Englishlanguage proficiency teststhose that assessoral as well as written proficiencyis usedas one indicator of fluency in writtenEnglish. In Illinois, state rules and regula-tions require that language proficiency testsbe given annually but do not prescribe partic-ular tests or scores as determiners for theELLs readiness to exit. In District U-46, theIllinois Measure of Annual Growth inEnglish (IMAGE) and the oral and

    reading/writing components of the LanguageAssessment Scale are the two standardizedEnglish language proficiency tests used tomonitor English fluency and literacy progressat the secondary level.

    Factor 7: Academic AchievementSeveral indicators of students academic

    achievement are used to support decisionsabout transitioning ELLs. Achievement inacademic subject areas is one such indicator.The U-46 secondary bilingual program offersseveral different levels of math courses, somein Spanish as well as some in a shelteredEnglish format. The teachers agreed that thelevel of math that students are enrolled in andhow well students perform in math are poten-

    tial indicators of how they will perform inmainstream classrooms. The teachers alsosupported the use of the students grade pointaverages (GPAs) to help with the exit deci-sion. Obviously, students who completetasks, turn in assignments, and attend schoolregularly get better grades than those who donot. The students with the stronger GPAsmay be ready to exit sooner than test scoresmight indicate. Other indicators of academicachievement are student report cards andteachers judgments about students achieve-ments.

    Factor 8: Self-Concept andPersonal Inclinations TowardTransitioning

    The learners opinions of their own readi-ness to transition are considered among thetransitioning criteria. Some students seemanxious to get out of special classes andtackle mainstream coursework. Others tendto be shy and fear entering more culturallydiverse mainstream classrooms. At ElginHigh School, bilingual/ESL students aresometimes given passes by the bilingualcounselor to visit a specific class for a weekor two during a study hall period, and thenthe teacher and student decide if the place-ment is appropriate. When interviewing stu-dents about their self-perceptions, it is

    important that they are comfort-able with the person interviewingthem so that they will respondhonestly rather than saying whatthey think the interviewer wantsthem to say.

    Factor 9: Counselorand/or TeacherJudgment

    Counselors and teachers whoknow students best have impor-tant information from observa-tions and interactions withstudents. Bilingual and ESL

    teachers have opportunities to observe stu-dent learning and behavior over a long periodof time. In District U-46, bilingual coun-selors meet periodically with each bilin-gual/ESL student and help the student selectcourses for the following year. The coun-selors have a unique opportunity to identifylearning patterns, talk with mainstream andbilingual/ESL teachers, monitor studentrecords, and converse with the students on aone-to-one basis. Teachers and counselorsjudgments of their students readiness tomove from special programs into the main-stream are an integral component of the crite-ria for decisions about transitioning. One wayto determine teachers and counselors per-ceptions is to have them fill out brief ques-

    The perceptions of ESL and bilingual teachers

    capture some aspects of students development

    and abilities, but their subjectivity and possible

    lack of familiarity with mainstream course

    content, expectations, and teaching styles may

    limit the accuracy of their opinions.

  • Winter 1999 11

    tionnaires about students. Another way to gettheir input is to hold group transition teammeetings in which a group of teachers andcounselors discuss whether individual stu-dents are ready for the transition. This pro-cess works best when ELLs have access tocounselors who are knowledgeable of andsensitive to the complex factorsinfluencing their educational suc-cess (Lucas, Henze, & Donato,1990).

    Factor 10: FamilySupport

    Family support was also iden-tified by teachers in U-46 as afactor that may be used to indi-cate transitioning readiness.ELLs whose parents have highlevels of education may be readyfor mainstream coursework eventhough test scores and other factors might notindicate readiness. These students will haveactive parent support when they encounterdifficulties. Students without this type offamily support may need more time in thenurturing specialized program and closermonitoring when exited.

    As with the other criteria discussed here,family support should never be the sole crite-rion for determining whether to transition anELL into mainstream classes. With regard tojudgments about family support, special caremust be taken not to base perceptions onstereotypes of the ways different groups vieweducation or on misunderstandings of theways in which parents show their support.Economically disadvantaged parents whowork several jobs may not havetime to participate in school activ-ities, and parents who speak littleor no English and are not highlyeducated may feel uncomfortablein the school. These parents may,nevertheless, value educationhighly and be willing to do what-ever they can to support their chil-drens education. Parents fromsome cultures may not realize thatthey are expected to becomedirectly involved in schoolbecause, in their cultures, it is the role of theschool to make all decisions about their chil-drens education. Therefore, although familysupport is an important criterion, it is one thatshould not be used without sensitivity to cul-tural and socioeconomic factors.

    The criteria listed in the table for Part 1represent the factors that educators in Elginhave determined can shed light on whether itis appropriate for an ELL to begin the pro-cess of transitioning into mainstream classesin secondary schools. School districts can

    incorporate these criteria into the develop-ment of local procedures to determine thereadiness of ELLs for transition and/or exitinto the mainstream program at the sec-ondary school level. However, which criteriawill be most appropriate and useful will varydepending on the cultural and educational

    backgrounds of the L2 learners. We encour-age the formation of planning teams com-prised of mainstream, bilingual, and ESLteachers; program directors; school adminis-trators; and counselors to select criteria,instruments, and measures, guided by districtand school philosophies, goals, andresources.

    Strategies for Facilitatingthe Transition

    The director of bilingual education inSchool District U-46 has pointed out that,unfortunately, transitioning is often seen as aone-time exit from a special program ratherthan a gradual process. He adds that, in someschools, the perception of transitioning is

    typically, We healed them, theyre cured,theyre out (personal communication,November 26, 1997). The framework pre-sented here is based on our conviction thatthe transition from specialized programs tothe mainstream should be a gradual processrather than a passage based on rigid criteria.Gradual mainstreaming, which allows stu-dents to take fewer ESL/bilingual classes andmore mainstream classes over a period oftime rather than moving abruptly into themainstream, can help soften the blow of the

    change. Ongoing support for ELLs in main-stream classes through strategies such astutoring, bilingual and bicultural instructionfrom classroom assistants, and mentoring canalso help them meet these challenges(Shannon, 1990).

    Whereas Part 1 of our frame-work presents criteria for decid-ing whether a student is ready tobe transitioned, Part 2 presentsstrategies that can facilitate thetransition once the decision hasbeen made. These strategies arepresented in the table for Part 2(see p. 9). They are organizedaccording to the educationaldomain they impact, specificallythe domains of student place-ment, professional development,teacher communication and col-laboration, student support ser-

    vices, curriculum, instruction, and staffing.Because the timeframe for implementing thestrategies can be critical to their success, weindicate when they should be applied. Somestrategies should be applied in an ongoingway regardless of student transitioning; oth-ers should be applied only while students arein the transition process; some are relevantbefore or after the process of transition; andsome should be applied before, during,and/or after the transition process.

    These strategies are derived from our ownexperience, from observations and conversa-tions with others, and from a synthesis of theliterature on transitional processes for immi-grant students in secondary schools (Lucas,1997). Many of these strategies have been

    applied successfully in Elgin.For example, a student in thetransitioning process may be tak-ing geometry in his or her nativelanguage with a bilingualteacher, U.S. history in a shel-tered ESL format with a main-stream teacher, and an advancedESL class with an ESL teacher(Strategies 14 and 15). Bilingualcounselors also try to place tran-sitioning students in classestaught by teachers who are expe-

    rienced working with ELLs (Strategy 1) andto assign two or more transitioning studentsto the same mainstream class so they cansupport each other (Strategy 2). ShelteredESL instruction has been an ongoing staffdevelopment focus for all teachers (Strategy4), and language minority teachers have beenrecruited and hired as mainstream teachers(Strategy 20).

    While many of these strategies have beenimplemented in Elgin, we present them here,not so much as a description of what has

    Educators need a better sense of appropriate

    criteria for determining when ELLs are ready to

    be transitioned into mainstream classes. Without

    such criteria in place, there is no defensible basis

    for making decisions about the appropriate time

    to place a student in mainstream classes.

    Gradual mainstreaming, which allows students to

    take fewer ESL/bilingual classes and more

    mainstream classes over a period of time rather

    than moving abruptly into the mainstream, can

    help soften the blow of the change.

  • 12 TESOL Journal

    been done, but as suggestions for whatschool districts can do. As with the criteriapresented earlier, the extent to which aschool district can carry out the strategieswill depend on a variety of factors, includingthe number of ELLs, backgrounds and train-ing of personnel, and financial and humanresources available.

    Of course, considering multiple criteriaand implementing these strategies poses achallenge. All teachers, including bilingualand ESL teachers, carry full teaching loadsand take on many other responsibilities. Bydesignating someone, such as abilingual/ESL coordinator or a bilingual/ESLcounselor, to keep track of the various facetsof the transition process and to monitor stu-dent progress, ELLs can be assured of a coor-dinated and articulated process leading to asuccessful transition into the mainstream.

    ConclusionWe have suggested a systematic way to

    identify criteria to initiate the transitioningprocess for ELLs, determine when and howstudents should be mainstreamed, designappropriate curricula to support ELLsthrough the transition, and develop purpose-ful strategies to ensure successful pathwaysinto the mainstream. Because of the diversity

    among ELLs in educational backgrounds,academic development, and literacy levels,we suggest that districts use multiple criteriafor determining when to mainstream stu-dents. However, deciding how to weigh thecriteria and which ones to use requires seri-ous thought and planning. Just as there is noone-size-fits-all approach to instruction forELLs, there is no one-size-fits-all set of tran-sitioning criteria that will be effective for allschool districts. These decisions must bemade locally, matching students academic,cultural, and social needs with district goalsand resources.

    We recommend that transitioning studentsbe carefully placed in classes where they aremost likely to succeed and where they can bemonitored afterwards. Bilingual, ESL, andmainstream teachers need to communicateregularly with counselors and colleagues out-side their specialties, discussing progress anddifficulties and providing support services asneeded for students in the transition process.Furthermore, all teachers and administratorsneed to learn more about the education ofimmigrants and ELLs. Most ELLs candevelop academic English skills strongenough to participate fully in the academiccurriculum. These successful transitions aremost likely to occur when all teachers,administrators, and ancillary personnel

    increase their knowledge of and sensitivityabout teaching linguistically diverse learners.

    ReferencesCollier, V. P. (1989). How long? A syn-

    thesis of research on academic achievementin a second language. TESOL Quarterly, 23,509-531.

    Collier, V. P., & Thomas, W. P. (1997).School effectiveness for language minoritystudents. Washington, DC: NationalClearinghouse for Bilingual Education.

    Cummins, J. (1981). The role of primarylanguage development in promoting educa-tional success for language minority students.In California Department of Education (Ed.),Schooling and language minority students: Atheoretical framework (pp. 3-49). LosAngeles: California State University;Evaluation, Dissemination, and AssessmentCenter.

    Cummins, J. (1984). Bilingualism andspecial education. San Diego, CA: CollegeHill Press.

    Cummins, J. (1989). Empowering minor-ity students. Sacramento, CA: Association forBilingual Education.

    Durn, R. P. (1989). Assessment andinstruction of at-risk Hispanic students.Exceptional Children, 56(2), 50-54.

  • Winter 1999 13

    Faltis, C. J., & Arias, M. B. (1993).Speakers of languages other than English inthe secondary school: Accomplishments andstruggles. Peabody Journal of Education,69(1), 6-29.

    Garca, E. (1999). Student cultural diver-sity: Understanding and meeting the chal-lenge. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

    Goodlad, J. (1984). A place called school.New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Hakuta, K. (1987). Degree of bilingualismand cognitive ability in mainland PuertoRican children. Child Development, 58(5),1372-1388.

    Harklau, L. (1994a). Jumping tracks:How language minority students negotiateevaluations of ability. Anthropology andEducation Quarterly, 25, 347-363.

    Harklau, L. (1994b). Tracking and lin-guistic minority students: Consequences ofability grouping for second language learn-ers. Linguistics and Education, 6, 217-244.

    Lucas, T. (1993). Secondary schooling forstudents becoming bilingual: Issues and prac-tices. In B. Arias & U. Casanova (Eds.),Bilingual education: Politics, research, andpractice. Annual yearbook of the NationalSociety for the Study of Education (pp. 113-143). Chicago: National Society for theStudy of Education.

    Lucas, T. (1997). Into, through, andbeyond secondary school: Critical transi-tions for immigrant youths. Washington, DC:Center for Applied Linguistics.

    Lucas, T., Henze, R., & Donato, R.(1990). Promoting the success of Latino lan-guage minority students: An exploratorystudy of six high schools. HarvardEducational Review, 60(3), 315-340.

    Mace-Matluck, B. J., Alexander-Kasparik,R., & Queen, R. M. (1998). Through thegolden door: Educational approaches forimmigrant adolescents with limitedschooling. Washington, DC: Center forApplied Linguistics.

    McLaughlin, M. W., & Talbert, J. E.(1990). The contexts in question: The sec-ondary school workplace. In M. W.McLaughlin, J. E. Talbert, & N. Bascia(Eds.), The contexts of teaching in secondaryschools: Teachers realities (pp. 1-14). NewYork: Teachers College Press.

    OER Associates. (1995). Year 3 evalua-tion. Project B-4: Building bridges bilin-gually and biculturally. Willowbrook, IL:Author.

    Ramirez, J. D., Yuen, S. D., & Ramey, D.R. (1991). Longitudinal study of structuredEnglish immersion strategy, early-exit andlate-exit transitional bilingual education pro-

    grams for language minority children. SanMateo, CA: Aguirre International.

    Shannon, S. M. (1990). Transition frombilingual programs to all-English programs:Issues about and beyond language.Linguistics and Education, 2, 323-343.

    Sizer, T. (1985). Horaces compromise:The dilemma of the American high school.Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

    AuthorsTamara Lucas is associate professor in

    the College of Education and HumanServices at Montclair State University, in theUnited States. She has taught ESL and con-ducted research on the education of ELLs.Her publications include Into, Through, andBeyond Secondary School: CriticalTransitions for Immigrant Youths (Center forApplied Linguistics, 1997).

    Suzanne Wagner is a consultant at theIllinois Resource Center, in the UnitedStates. She has been a bilingual educator forthe past 20 years, serving as an ESL teacher,a high school bilingual department chair,and a district Title VII director. She is cur-rently pursuing a PhD in the College ofEducation at the University of Illinois atChicago.


View more >