ESL and every student

I attended a new teacher inservice today designed to make us aware of the programs in place for accommodating our large population of English language learners or students who speak English as a second language. My district has many high quality programs to help students new to the country. I have been thoroughly impressed with the way the district has implemented and worked to improve the education if all students.

What troubled me today was the way we spoke about strategies to help English language learners as though they were specific to a certain group of students. Some specific strategies discussed were: using images or objects when possible, modeling, scaffolding content for students prior knowledge, and having students work with peers.

Each of these strategies were discussed as necessary to help students who do not speak English well. What troubled me was that at no point did anyone make the point that these strategies and considerations are necessary for ALL learners. Each of those strategies can be linked to the well established and supported learning theories (developmental, constructivist, and social, respectively).

When we do not consider the big picture and how the strategies for specific subgroups of students are the same guiding principles that ought to inform ALL students, we make our jobs more difficult. By looking only at strategies instead of the big ideas that underlie those strategies we limit our own flexibility to deal with any problem we might face as teachers.

Put simply, there is tremendous power in the coherence of effective teaching – no matter what level, subject or background of your students.

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