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English Learners


Teaching English Language Learners (ELs) to read is made more challenging by the fact that these students are also learning to speak and understand conversational and academic English, while being taught the concepts of reading (recognizing the correlation between printed letters and meaning). In the natural order, one speaks his/her language before reading and writing it.

A commonality in the English as a Second Language (ESL) primary classroom is the wide range of students' English oral proficiencies. Some will be non-verbal in English, while others are orally fluent, with sufficient English vocabulary to effectively communicate (Kauffman, 2007). This does not mean that the students have the academic language needed for listening, speaking, reading and/or writing in the typical Tennessee classroom.

Academic objectives in the primary grades (K-3) include: reading for information, developing an ability to communicate in writing, as well as learning mathematical concepts, introductory theory in science, and social studies (Echevarria, Vogt, Short, 2004). These objectives depend on English vocabulary, syntax, grammar, and phonology. Success is dependent on the acquisition of all four language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Teachers of English Language emergent readers, therefore, must be aware of the students' differences in oral proficiencies, the native language transfer (interference of the heritage language on English acquisition), and the students' stages of English proficiency.

The five English Language Proficiency (TESOL) standards (Short, Cloud, Gomez, et al, 1997)) for English Learners address these learning goals by first referring to the Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS), as well as the Cognitive Academic Language Proficiencies (CALP) (Cummins, 1979, 1981, 2009).
These standards set goals of communication in English for social, intercultural, and instructional purposes in an academic setting.

Common Core and English Language Proficiency Standards

English is the tool that unlocks academic subjects for English Learners. The standards addressed on the Tennessee Department of Education website are the standards that align with our English Language Proficiency Assessment (ELPA).  The standards are intended to be used as a tool, with the regular Common Core Standards, to ensure that English as a Second Language (ESL) needs are met for each student. In other words, in the content classes, the focus is on the Common Core Standards with support for English as needed to make understanding possible; In the ESL classroom, the focus is on the ELL Standard with content material chosen with the Common Core Standards in mind.

Common Core Standards address academic subjects and skills required to be successful in an American classroom. The English Language Development Assessment (ELDA) is the ELPA for TN at this time. These standards are for English Language Proficiency (ELP) and need to be overlaid with the Common Core Standards (CCS) for content to effectively meet the needs of the English Learner. Teachers of content subjects need to consider the ELP standards when differentiating for their English Learners; ESL teachers must consider CCS when choosing materials and planning lessons for their ELs.