Meeting Needs of Different English Learner Typologies in ELD Programs

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

As a teacher of English learners, you know that not all your students are the same. Some have more advantages than others due to several factors. In this lesson, we discuss some approaches that are considered to be helpful for different types of students.

Different Needs

Imagine a student who moves from another country with proper schooling and another who did not have good schooling back home. If you think that the one with proper schooling has bigger advantages in developing English skills, you are absolutely correct. This is why it is important to know about English learner typologies. These are the different profiles that define English learners based on their educational background and, thus, determine their needs as far as learning English goes. In short, different English learners have different needs. Let's see about how you can meet their needs.

English Learner Typologies

As a teacher of English learners, you have access to school records that allow you to learn about the educational background of your students. Luckily, the typologies are not difficult to identify. Once you identify them, you can apply different approaches. Before we begin, remember some approaches below are applicable to more than one typology. For example, it does not hurt to integrate newly arrived students into English-speaking events, but this has to be done carefully to not intimidate them. Similarly, it is obvious you would focus on specific needs for all students, but long-term English learners usually have very punctual needs in English.

However, there is one approach that applies to all: monitoring progress. In all typologies, it is important to assess students continuously. This way, you monitor the progress of the student in the areas that are most needed.

Now, let's take a look at the typologies.

Long-Term English Learner

Seven years ago, Camila joined school in the US in second grade. While she has made progress in English, her English language scores show that she reached a specific level when she was in fifth grade and those scores have not varied since then.

This illustrates the definition of a long-term English learner (LTEL) as a student who has been enrolled in a US school for six years or more but has stagnated in the development of English skills, which makes the student struggle in school. This can happen due to factors such as inconsistent instruction of the English language, the student feeling frustrated and resigning to a specific level, or the student feeling comfortable enough once social skills are in place, etc.

Whatever the cause, here are some approaches that help LTELs:

  • Focus on the needed skills: Camila's needs in English are mostly vocabulary expansion and grammar. For this reason, focusing on these specific needs would allow her to get over her limitations in English.
  • Allow the student to develop: As Camila's English skills have stagnated, her school keeps putting her in classes that are designed for newcomers. The right approach is to actually allow Camila to sit in regular classes that demand a higher level from students. This would give Camila an incentive to develop her English skills.

Newly Arrived with Adequate Schooling

Carlos is a student from Mexico who attended a good school back home, which helps him to quickly adapt to his new life. Clearly, those that are part of this typology have the advantage of possessing a strong academic background. The strategies that work with this typology are:

  • Use the student's educational strengths: Carlos' English language teacher realizes Carlos understands basic grammar principles. Thus, the teacher uses this previous background as a strength to develop Carlos' skills in English. Previous strengths are positive as they can be transferred into English.
  • Use the student's first language as a referent: Carlos often points out that many English words are very close to Spanish words. The teacher then tells Carlos that they are cognates and encourages him to keep learning this type of words. In short, the first language can represent a basis to learn aspects of the second language.

Newly Arrived with Inadequate or Interrupted Schooling

Lorena is a newly arrived student in the US, but her schooling back home in El Salvador was interrupted due to many factors. Lorena does not even have the appropriate grade level knowledge in Spanish, much less in English. Lorena has a classmate in a similar situation: Andrés, from Colombia. He attended a school in the countryside back home, but the resources at the school were inadequate due to lack of funding. Here are the approaches you could apply:

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