Academic English Language Program

This specific initiative was designed to provide English as a Second Language classes to the Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners (LCDL) of an elementary school. Language and Cultural Diverse Learners are those students whose home languages are not English, whether they are immigrant or native born. Those students were placed in a Bilingual Education class. The ultimate goal of the Bilingual class was “to provide a comprehensive instruction in the content areas of the school curriculum”, while “the goal of the content-based language learning period was primarily, to master the English language” (Castro Feinberg, 2002, p.6).

Review of relevant literature on this topic highlights these two studies. Castro Feinberg (2002) noticed that over the past two decades researchers with professional standing in the field of language education have studied how long it takes to develop the more complex level of language proficiency needed for academic use have concluded that for students at the k-12 level, social and survival skills are not sufficient to enable English language learners to meet required standards in the content areas (p. 10). Its consequences are described by Macias (1998) who reviewed different state educational reports to conclude that Limited English Proficiency students are more prone to be retaineed, dropped of school, and score below state norms in math, science and social studies.

Objective of the Program

The overall goal of this initiative is the development of “academic English language” (Cummins, 1981) necessary to achieve competence to support learning in both regular bilingual and later monolingual English classes. During the first phase of this initiative, the principal goal was English language acquisition by providing formal instruction in English language skills, with emphasis on developing the writing skills, for two consecutive periods five days of the week.

The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (BSPTS) refers to the overall objective of this program as “th as e development of English as a New Language”.

Program:

  • Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners wwew tested at the beginning of the school year with the district-wide selected instrument which determines not only language dominance but also the oral, writing and reading levels of English Language Proficiency -non, limited, competent. Those students who do not reach the limited level in the test received comprehensive input in English through English as a Second Language classes for two consecutive learning periods five days a week.
  • While Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners were receiving English as a Second Language classes their bilingual peers placed in the bilingual classes were receiving two consecutive periods in Communications.
  • Both, Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners and bilingual students eeceived together a third period of communications every day, five days a week. This period of Communications was taught in English following the principles of “Sheltered Instruction”. Sheltered Instruction communicates meaning by presenting concepts in contextually rich environments; for example, with pictures, graphs, charts, maps, and models. Hands-on activities and cooperative learning (in-class projects in which students discuss the content while they work with it) augmented the impact of visual aids on the development of higher-order thinking skills and study strategies. It is, this third period provided content-area instructions, at grade level, that students who had not yet mastered English can understand and use to promote their English language development.
  • Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners as well as bilingual students received the rest of the academic subjects following the accepted routine of the bilingual setting: (a) by teaching in English and translating into Spanish only when it is needed, and/or (b) by providing instruction parallel to facilitate the transfer of concepts learned in the home-language and supporting and promoting the commands acquired in the English as a Second Language classes.
  • These Linguisticallt and Culturally Diverse Learners faced formidable obstacles to learn the content material, at grade level, while also learning English. Consequently, the principles of Sheltered Instruction discussed previously were applied always again and again.
  • In English as a Second Language classes, the English language was the object and the means of instruction. The English as a Second Language Standards for Pre-K-12 students emphasize the foundational function of language as a tool by which other subjects are acquired. The English as a Second Language standards are organized around these three goals: using English to communicate in social settings; using English to achieve academically in all content areas; and using English in culturally appropriate ways (TESOL, 2001). The English as a Second Language curriculum included the skills involved in English language acquisition for academic purposes: listening, speaking, reading and writing. This Program emphasized learning materials and experiences organized around the structure of language, or grammar.
  • Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners received one weekly 37 minutes class of Spanish as part of the Whole Language Program. Their participation in this home-language course was based on evidences from research which emphasized that high literacy achievement in the home-language is associated with high achievement in second-language learning.
  • The achievement in English as a Second Language of every Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners placed in the Academic English Language Program was measured at the end of every marking period using the Bilingual Verbal Abilities Tests (BVAT), created by Ana F. Muñoz Sandoval, Jim Cummins, Griselda G. Alvarado, and Mary L. Ruef and published by Riverside Publishing.

Exit from the Program:

Limited review of literature in the area of Second Language acquisition determined that the development of academic language requires from four to seven years of instruction. For example, Cummins’ research (1981) with immigrant second-language learners in Canada concluded that it takes from five to seven years or more for these students to reach grade-level norms; Collier’s (1987) analysis of the tests scores of English-Language learners led to the conclusion that four to eight years of study are needed. Thomas and Collier (1997) of the Center for Research in Education, Diversity & Excellence found that the amount of instructional time needed to become sufficiently proficient for academic purposes is from four to seven years (CREDE, 1998). Finally, Hakuta, Butler, and Witt (2000) reported that it takes from four to seven years to develop the ability to use language that is needed for long-term success in school.

An important factor to consider is not only the in-school efforts but also the our-of school support for English Language acquisition. In that regard, Marquez (2000) noticed how the recent immigrants to the New York/New Jersey Metropolitan area remain closely connected with different ethnic clubs, ethnic churches, social committees, or ethnic organizations that work together to maintain Spanish language and ethnic traditions. In all the five towns where the sample for the qualitative study was taken, more than half or its inhabitants were Hispanics and Spanish was part of the daily living of the community-hospitals, banks, stores, travel agencies, mass media, etc. Two of the five mayors were Hispanics, and in the five towns there was at least one city councilman who was Hispanic. In addition, the responses obtained in this study revealed that other social institutions such as bodegas, beauty-parlors, newspapers, radio stations, theaters, churches, schools, and other ethnic organizations in general continually provide parents with a Hispanic cultural framework of values and and behaviors socially accepted by both Anglo-Americans and Hispanics This sample and findings also illustrate what was happening in the district where this program was developed, and probably can be found in different educational districts throughout the United States.

At the end of the academic course, all the Linguistically and culturally Diverse Learners were evaluated using the same Proficient instrument used at the beginning of the academic course. Only those students who reached the competence level on this instrument exited the Academic English Language Program.

Psycho-educational intervention for both Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners and their parents:

The psycho-educational part of this intervention was directed to the informal discussion of the history and culture of their own ethnic group and of the history and culture of the United States. The purpose of this informal discussion was to contribute to the development of students; sense of bi-cultural pride as well as their bi-cultural sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Using the home culture as a reference point for teaching the culture of the United States also “applies the pedagogical principle of using what the students know as a means to aid new learning” (CastroFeinberg, 2002, p. 18).

In addition these students attended eigth group sessions of “culturally sensitive” counseling. During these sessions students got amiliarize with cultural differences and their impact on their learning and behavioral difficulties, a positive by-product of these interventions was the improvement of students’ assertive behaviors.

In addition, the parents were invited to attend four group sessions. The first session provided opportunities to discuss., clarify, vent and alleviate the psycho-socio-cultural stresses associated with immigration and acculturation in order to improve their socio-emotional adjustment and the quality of life at home (Clark, 1983).

The next three sessions provided culturally sensitive parent enrichment programs on child rearing practices, negotiation and decision making skills, cultural values differences, and child cognitive development.

Program evaluation

The Academic Language Program was evaluated during the last month of the academic year using the comparison of scores obtained by each one of the students at the end of the every marking period.

A second instrument selected to measure students progress was the Bilingual Verbal Abilities Tests (BVAT) created by Ana F. Muñoz Sandoval, Jim Cummins, Griselda G. Alvarado, and Mar L. Ruef and published by Riverside Publishing. This instrument is intended for measuring bilingual verbal ability, or the unique combination of cognitive/academic language abilities possessed by bilingual individuals in English and in another language. This test was selected based in the fact that bilingual students know some things in one language, some things in another language, and some things in both languages. Traditional procedures only allow the student’s language ability to be measured in one language, usually the one considered to be dominant.

References

Castro-Feinberg, R. 2002. Bilingual Education: a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc.

Center for Research on Excellence and Diversity in Education (CREDE). 1998. Findings on the effectiveness of bilingual education. Talking Leaves 2,No. 3, (Summer).

Clark, R.M. (1983). Family life and school achievement: Why poor black children succeed or fail. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Collier, V. (1987). Age and rate of acquisition of second language for academic purposes. TESOL Quarterly, 21, No. 4, December.

Cummins, J. 1981. Age on arrival and immigrant secobnd language learning in Canada. A reassessment. Applied Linguistics, 11, No. 2.

Hakuta, K., Y. Butler, and D. Witt, January 2000. How long does it take English learners to attain proficiency? Polocy Report 2001, University of California Linguistic Minority Research Institute (Online). Available: http://www.stanford.edu/-hakuta/Docs/How Long.pdf

Macias, R. 1998. Summary report of the survey of the states’ limited English proficient students and available educational programs and services 1996-1997. The SEA Report. Washington, DC: Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.

Marquez, G. 2000. Qualitative Study of the Acculturative Process followed by Immigrant Hispanic Families. Doctoral Dissertation. Fordham University. Unpublished.

Teachers of English to Speakers of other Language, Inc. (TESOL). 2001. The ESL standards for pre-K-12 students: Table of Contents. Alexandria, VA: Author. (Online) http://www.tesol.org/assoc/k12standards/it/01.html.

Thomas, W. & V. Collier, 1997. School effectiveness for language minority students. NCBE Resource Collections Series, No. 9. Washington, D.C. National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. (Online). http://www.ncbe.gwu.edu/ncbepubs/resource/effectiveness/index.html

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Dr. Gelasia Marquez is an immigrant clinical and bilingual school psychologist. Dr. Marquez has studies, researches, articles, and programs aimed to help immigrant Hispanic children, adolescents and families in their processes of transition after migration

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