Teaching English Language Learners: Strategies for Overcoming Barriers

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Tufts University]On: 10 October 2014, At: 10:08Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    The Educational ForumPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/utef20

    Teaching English Language Learners:Strategies for Overcoming BarriersSara R. Helfrich b & Amy J. Bosh ba Department of School Psychology,Literacy, and Special Education ,Idaho State University , Pocatello, Idaho, USAb Department of Educational Foundations , Idaho State University ,Twin Falls, Idaho, USAPublished online: 17 Jun 2011.

    To cite this article: Sara R. Helfrich & Amy J. Bosh (2011) Teaching English LanguageLearners: Strategies for Overcoming Barriers, The Educational Forum, 75:3, 260-270, DOI:10.1080/00131725.2011.578459

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  • The Educational Forum, 75: 26070, 2011Copyright Kappa Delta PiISSN: 0013-1725 print/1938-8098 onlineDOI: 10.1080/00131725.2011.578459

    Address correspondence to Sara R. Helfrich, The Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education and Human Services, Teacher Education Department, Ohio University, McCracken Hall 321D, Athens, OH 457012979, USA. E-mail: helfrich@ohio.edu

    AbstractThe number of English language learners (ELLs) in todays classrooms is increasing. In this article, the authors identify four perceived barriers be-ginning and veteran teachers face in teaching literacy to ELLs: the lack of understanding of the role of literacy in other cultures, the teachers inability to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all learners, the devaluation of peer interactions and collaborations in the process of learning a language, and a lack of knowledge about using assessment measures with diverse stu-dent populations. Through the review of research and the authors experienc-es in the fi eld, strategies are offered to help teachers overcome these barriers and become more effective teachers of ELLs.

    Key words: diversity, emerging literacy, English as a second language, inclusive education, reading.

    The number of English language learners (ELLs) in todays classrooms is rapidly increasing. The percentage of students whose fi rst language is not English, and the percentage of nonnative English speakers that teachers instruct on a daily basis, will continue to increase over time. Several researchers have gathered data regarding student populations and ELLs:

    According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (Klein et al. 2004), between 1979 and 1999, the number of school-aged students speaking a lan-guage other than English at home increased by 118 percent, from six million in 1979 to nearly 14 million in 1999. Spanish is the most frequently spoken

    Teaching English Language Learners: Strategies for Overcoming BarriersSara R. HelfrichDepartment of School Psychology, Literacy, and Special Education, Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho, USA

    Amy J. BoshDepartment of Educational Foundations, Idaho State University, Twin Falls, Idaho, USA

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  • Teaching English Language Learners: Strategies for Overcoming Barriers

    The Educational Forum Volume 75 2011 261

    language (71 percent), followed by Asian languages (11 percent), other non-European languages (10 percent), and other European languages (7 percent).

    A record 55 million students were enrolled in public and private elementary and secondary schools across the nation in Fall 2006; an 8 percent increase in this number is expected by the year 2018 (Hussar and Bailey 2009).

    According to Orfi eld and Yun (as cited in Cohen and Lotan 2004), the majority of kindergarten through Grade 12 (K12) public school students in fi ve states, including California and Texas, are from minority backgrounds.

    Based on information obtained by Development Associates (see August, 2006), during the 2001 through 2002 school year, roughly 43 percent of all K12 teach-ers in the United States reported working with ELLsan increase of nearly 28 percent from just ten years earlier

    Effort is made on many levels to educate diverse learners in the English language so that these students can achieve success in a manner that will afford them the same op-portunities as those students for whom English is their primary language. It is important for teachers to remember that a need for instruction in the English language is not an indicator that a student is incapable of acquiring the literacy skills that will allow him or her to succeed academically, or to achieve a level of educational success comparable to his or her native English-speaking peers. The role of the teacher in language acquisition for ELLs is an integral one. For new teachers, the task may seem intimidating; research conducted by Sara R. Helfrich (Helfrich and Bean 2011) indicates that beginning teachers do not perceive themselves as being adequately prepared to instruct ELLs in the area of literacy. Diverse learners may require somewhat differentiated methods of instruction and assessment; being able to meet this challenge without taking time from other learners or singling out ELLs is both a diffi cult task and a delicate balance. Regardless of the formal training teachers receive in the areas of literacy and multicultural education, there is no magic answer to the question of how to educate students as fully as possible, despite the initial diffi culties they may have in terms of English language acquisition. Effective, eq-uitable, and enthusiastic teachers seek to integrate ELLs as fully as possible (Banks 2004; Cohen and Lotan 2004). According to Banks (2004, 5), an equity pedagogy exists when teachers use techniques and methods that facilitate the academic achievement of students from diverse racial, ethnic, and social-class groups.

    It is important to look at the concept of language learning from a whole-child perspec-tive; one that not only respects the expectations placed on educators, but also accounts for the needs and developmental levels of the individual student. Effective English lan-guage instruction should not remake the ELL into one of his or her native-language peers, linguistically or otherwise; rather, teachers should allow for ELLs to learn the English language while respecting and preserving their native language and attitude toward literacythat is, teachers should strive for acculturation, rather than assimilation (Banks 1988). Phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fl uency, comprehension, oral and written expression, and the structure of reading and writing can be taught using methods that allow students to learn and demonstrate knowledge in a way that teachers can monitor and understand. This article addresses some of the perceived barriers faced by teachers of

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  • 262 The Educational Forum Volume 75 2011

    Helfrich and Bosh

    ELLs by highlighting key factors and differences and by providing valuable and relevant strategies to help guide and educate teachers of these students.

    The authors have derived, from work as teachers and from work with beginning teach-ers, four perceived barriers beginning teachers face when focusing their attention and instruc-tional energy on teaching ELLs in the area of literacy. Through the review of research and experiences in the fi eld, strategies to help beginning teachersand, hopefully, all teachersovercome these barriers and become more effective teachers of ELLs are offered.

    Barrier #1Teachers may not understand the role of literacy development or the importance of

    literacy and education in diverse cultures.

    StrategiesTeachers should work to understand the role of literacy development in diverse cul-

    tures and work toward the preservation of cultural values. Teachers should determine cultural priorities and acqui

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