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Teaching English Language Learners in the Content Areas

Research paper on Language Teaching and English Learning.

Mar 26, 2016 / EssayNews
According to Janzen the numbers of children of immigrants account for substantially increasing numbers of children in American school systems over the last 30 years. Over 10 percent of the students in US public schools today have been identified as English Language Learners (ELL). This increasing population of students who are non-native English speakers has resulted in necessary changes to educational approaches. In history, math, English, and science, the linguistic, cognitive, and sociocultural elements of academic literacy are different for ELL learners than native English speakers. Teachers have to approach teacher education and professional development in a different fashion when they are working with ELL populations (Janzen. One of the most critical issues is that existing programs are no succeeding in bringing these ELL students up to required educational levels. The problem is only to increase as the population of ELL students increases over the coming years. In the past, the teaching of immigrant children has been handled by teachers who specialized in being Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Today, however, the population of ELL students is growing so rapidly that limiting the teaching of ELL students to TESOL teachers is impractical, particularly in math and sciences.

After a significant introduction, Janzen's article breaks down into linguistic, cognitive, sociocultural and pedagogical concerns. Although the article is well organized, it appears to be somewhat redundant; much of the information revealed in each section might just as easily refer to information in the other teaching subject areas. One example of this occurs in the statement "teachers need to fully understand the linguistic characteristics of classroom language and also must have mastery of techniques that will assist students in connecting everyday language with the language of math" (Janzen). In this sentence, the word math might just as accurately have been history, English, or science.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the entire article was the revelation that cognitive issues were linked to cultural or meaning deficits, regardless of the subject matter. It had not been obvious until reading this article that some students would not be able to understand what we consider simple contexts simply because of their cultural context. As an example, in reading, the student might read about mountain climbing or riding a catamaran. In this subject, instructors are accustomed to having to provide a cultural context to all students because expanding cultural context would be considered part of the normal subject matter. In mathematics and science, however, it is not as inherently obvious that this would be needed to occur. This was a very important lesson.

The question that arose after reading this article was how many teachers still do not grasp the concept that there is a cultural context to the hard sciences? Further, given that training time and money is precious and tight, will it be possible to retrain instructors or will we continue to lose ELL students to the system? As the numbers of ELL students increase, these questions will become even more critical.

Defining the Student

Jedwab questioned how we should define who was an English-speaking resident of Quebec, and how their demographic vitality can be determined. While the article was written concentrating on the English speaking communities of Quebec, the questions discussed in the article would be equally appropriate for any multi-cultural communities. Jedwab makes an interesting point, however. He pointed out that "Within democracies, demographic factors constitute a fundamental asset for language groups as "strength in numbers" can be used as a legitimizing tool to grant language communities with the institutional support they need to foster their development in the present and future within multilingual societies" (Jedwab, p. 1). In essence, the author pointed out a very basic concept: the bigger the language group, the more likely they are to get funding for support of teachers and learning materials. Placed in this context it becomes critical to determine which individuals might legitimately be considered part of what demographic groups.

Jedwab goes so far as to assert that in Quebec, at least, it is the failure to define individuals as English-speaking that has led to the decline of English-speaking communities (in the US, it would be non-English speaking communities). Different governmental agencies, he suggested, will utilize different methods of determining which residents fall into which groups. By accepting one organization's definitions over another, the area can end up with a great deal less support in social services, education, health care, and even governance and cultural development.

The tendency of agencies, he suggests, is to use census reports of language and ethnicity to define language and ethnicity. The problem with that is that different groups may have a more tightly defined self-notion of inclusion, while others may have a liberal definition. From a practical standpoint it is quite possible for the individual to define him or herself as being French speaking when in fact they know only a few words. Thus, another way to identify ELL students is needed, beyond self-definition through census or indeed through any form of self-report.

The question that arose while reading this article was to wonder the extent that these issues would affect Americans. Is there, indeed, a difference between social and cultural self-identification and the reality of language? It would seem that this might be more likely in areas with large and strong populations of specific cultural groups, but this would undoubtedly affect funding in many areas!


Janzen, J. Teaching English Language Learners in the content areas. Review of Educational Research 78(4) 1010-1038, DOI: 10.3102/0034654308325580.

Jedwab, J. How shall we define thee? Determining who is an English-speaking Quebecer and assessing its demographic vitality. In R.Y. Bourhis (Ed.) The vitality of the English-speaking communities of Quebec: From community decline to revival. Montreal, Quebec: CEETUM, Université de Montréal, pp. 1-18. - Writing and Research Advice to Learners of English language

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