English Language Learners (ELLs) are the fastest growing population of students in our school system. According to NCELA, it is predicted that by the year 2025, one in four public school students will be an ELL. As this unique learner population continues to grow, it is beneficial to understand the students, as well as quick and easy ways to begin to meet their diverse needs.
Who is an ELL?
An English Language Learner is also often referred to as Limited English Proficient (LEP). ELLs are students who are between the ages of 3-21, enrolled in school, and have a primary language (L1) which is not English. In order to meet their needs, these students require specific language instruction, in addition to the regular curriculum being delivered as part of the grade-level content. It is imperative that educators encourage the student to continue to develop their L1, while also developing English. A strong foundation in the first language makes learning of the second language far easier. A typical ELL student will take 5-7 years to develop a quality understanding of the English language. While a student will demonstrate command of the social language first, appearing in conversations with friends to be English proficient, more time is required to fully develop a quality understanding of the academic language needed to perform in school.
There are four basic levels of English language proficiency, which may increase or decrease depending on the state system adopted. Each of these four levels have general supports which can be put in place to allow for success of an ELL in the classroom. Each level’s supports can be used with any student, depending on the content area and student understanding in that specific area. For example, a level 3 student may require little support in mathematics and need more visuals and shortened assignments to truly understand the concepts in science. Additionally, student’s level of English proficiency is not synonymous with their grade level, therefore, a tenth grader could easily be a “newcomer” and would require the same type of supports that a “newcomer” in third grade would require.
While this list is not comprehensive, it is a start to provide an opportunity for success in an English-based classroom for an English language learner. The more opportunities that students have to speak, read, listen, and write in English, without the fear of penalty for doing/saying something wrong, the quicker that they will acquire the English language.