Can you envision attempting to navigate language while peering through a filter, fog, Jell-O…a wall? I imagine it would be a difficult and frustrating task. Our ELL students undertake reading, writing, listening, speaking and understanding hindered by barriers over which they have little control: a new school culture, access, connection, unfamiliar vocabulary and proximity.
In helping ELLs become more proficient readers and writers, these barriers must be identified and broken down. I remember a former ELL student, Ana. During a conversation about the difficulty of my class, Ana expressed that although my class was hard, “… we get all the tools we need, every day in class, to figure it out and remember it forever.” By working alongside my ELL students, they built confidence, competency and skills as I gained an understanding of how they learned best by teaching strategies to make new learning last.
ELL students have limited control over the language cultures they navigate daily. They may live in a household where they are the only person who speaks English. Their friends and family and everyone they know, outside of school, may communicate totally in their native tongue. They have no one supporting their understanding of the selections they have to read and write except for the English models at school. As educators, we must provide our students access to a variety of words, concepts and skills they can learn, practice, and build upon. We must engage them at their proficiency level by making lasting connections.
We must encourage ELLs to analyze, increase and utilize new vocabulary so that English composition becomes easier and makes sense as they utilize new terms in their writing. We, as educators and lifelines to language, must seek to change the ELL proximity to language from a marginalized, after-thought, toward life-long learning and love of writing and language. We are responsible for bringing students into the learning and including them in the learning process, from start to finish.
By engaging approaches to writing and wider access to ways to create, understand and refine approaches to audiences, ELLs, too, can be successful writers. Easily implemented strategies coupled with practical writing procedures, begin to diminish barriers for our ELLs.
Stay tuned for strategies and continued support in breaking down these barriers facing our ELL students as they engage in the writing process.