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For Teachers Updated April 17, 2018

How Teachers Can Help ELL Students Create a Community

By The Room 241 Team October 26, 2012

Educators in both primary and secondary settings are looking for innovative ways to engage ELL (English Language Learners) students that will improve language acquisition efficiency. To accomplish this goal, some classroom teachers are looking to professional development strategies. Creating a learning community that is supportive and encouraging and that works toward a shared goal is one approach that is producing results.

Creating a community for ELL students

In New Jersey, as in other states, educators are embracing professional development standards designed to give teachers more insight into the benefits of creating communities within school systems that foster better outcomes.

The primary objective for New Jersey schools that have chosen to incorporate professional development as a means to reach more ELL students is to improve student performance through the implementation of high-functioning, collaborative efforts to create successful communities.

These collective efforts work to achieve better results by creating individual teams to monitor several areas of progress. These teams are designated to monitor or address areas like the ones listed below..

Key sectors

  • Reviewing measurable data related to student progress
  • Analyzing student work-product
  • Identifying strategies that improve or enhance learning
  • Developing or modifying lesson plans
  • Establishing qualitative measurement guidelines for classrooms

Rewarding successful outcomes through continuing support

According to Education Week staff writer Lesli A. Maxwell, school districts often struggle to find ways to include parents who do not speak English in the school community. In her article titled Ark. District Asks Former ELLs to Return as Bilingual Teachers, Maxwell praises the efforts the Springdale, Ark. school districts that are making an effort to engage students’ family.

Jim Rollins, the current superintendent of schools, champions programs and funding options for former ELL students to encourage them to find their way back into the classroom as teachers. By enlisting former non-English speaking students to train and teach in the classroom, the cultural as well as educational aspects of the program are improved and a more inviting community for students and their families is fostered. This approach serves a two-fold purpose. First, it encourages current students and it also provides continued support to former students as they continue to build community ties.

Ways teachers can help ELL students create a community

Classroom teachers can help students build a community that connects through common native languages and cultural similarities. In addition, teachers can encourage their students to focus on activities that increase positive outcomes by utilizing strategies that require group participation.

  1. Foster team collaboration
  2. Encourage students to define team goals
  3. Establish common learning objectives
  4. Enlist former ELL students
  5. Involve family and support networks in school projects or events

Changing the mindset

According to Linguistics specialist and educator Mari Haneda, it is important to consider what these students are doing each day in their own communities outside of the classroom in order to set up effective learning communities on educational campuses.

The abstract for Haneda’s 2008 paper, published in the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism discussing ELL students in United States middle schools, brings home the importance of understanding the diversity that is involved in these students’ daily lives. They already serve as translators for family and friends, engage in adult level negotiations for non-English speaking family members and strive to live up to academic and cultural expectations. Exploring opportunities to use these daily activities and bilingual learning platforms serves to strengthen community engagement.

Haneda suggests that teachers move away from focusing on acquisition and work toward participation as a way to provide community success. She also suggests observing students closely to discover both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators for individual students.

Classroom community

In order for the classroom teacher to help her students create a true community that fosters more successful outcomes, schools must accept that change is not going to happen overnight. School district leadership must search for creative ways to encourage students to apply English to their daily lives, making transitions from home to school more fluid and less stressful. Teachers who provide participation opportunities for their students throughout the school day and across all subjects in more practical and applicable ways, should see the number of positive results among their students begin to rise.

Further professional development for ELL educators

Stay updated on best practices and strategies for educating ELL students. Our ESOL Curriculum & Instruction program provides the knowledge to help you develop instructional strategies. Promote learning for students whose native language is not English. Click here to read more information about the program and to apply.

Learn More: Click to view related resources.

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