English Language Learners (ELLs)

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English Language Learners (ELLs)

Second Language Learners

The number of second language learners entering the United States is steadily increasing. While teachers across the nation try to keep up with this influx and create equitable and inclusive learning environments, many feel inadequate when it comes to meeting the needs of English language learners (ELLs), many of whom enter the country with a limited ability to communicate. At the forefront of this limitation is the lack of vocabulary and background knowledge, which are essential components of comprehension. Hence, there is a need for ongoing teacher training regarding how to meet the needs of ELLs in content learning in order to promote engagement and enhance vocabulary knowledge. Consequently, professional development is critical to the academic success of diverse learners, as well as the improvement of teachers’ instructional practices.

The ability to decode words is the foundation to word knowledge; thus increasing one’s vocabulary. Effective and successful reading, however, involves more than decoding print; teaching reading depends on word development, comprehension skills, and the linguistic and cultural strengths and needs of ELLs. Thus, when coupled with background knowledge, comprehension is facilitated. The more teachers are able to differentiate instruction and present vocabulary learning through multimodal contexts, the more apt ELLs are to increasing their word knowledge and overall academic success in the classroom.

Teacher Vocabulary

Teachers’ vocabulary instruction should not occur in isolation but rather be incorporated throughout content areas and literacy lessons. Learning vocabulary occurs through spoken and written text; therefore, key components to vocabulary instruction lies in the approach, the provision of text, and the ability to instruct using appropriate contexts. As long as ELLs continue to struggle with oral language, they will have difficulties with written language. In no way does this mean they cannot successfully build their vocabulary. Even though students’ receptive language may exceed their expressive language, it does not mean they are able to keep up with native English speakers. On the contrary, it does mean additional strategies must be used in order for this area to improve.  “Students need regular opportunities to talk and use academic vocabulary and discourse to make the concepts their own and to internalize the new ways of expressing ideas”. These activities can build from the students’ word knowledge in their first language, such as using cognates. With effective techniques, students’ vocabulary knowledge can improve.

Instructional Practices

For teachers, successful instructional practices can be implemented through what they have 2 learned through professional development, which can increase their competency and knowledge regarding the teaching of English language learners. Presenting professional development through online learning is one way of accomplishing this goal. The change in instructional practices reflects the classroom research theory of providing meaningful and effective instruction for second language acquisition.


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