Thursday, July 22, 2010

Classroom Instruction that Works:

English language Learners: Chapters 1 -- 2

I acquired a copy of this book at the end of the 2008-09 school year.  I was familiar with Marzano's "CITW," but I've wanted to know how the experts applied that framework to a classroom full of students that don't speak the language that the class is predominantly conducted in.  (Judging from that last sentence, you'd be forgiven for thinking I don't speak English.  For what it's worth, I do.)  As the name implies, the authors wrote the book intending to give content teachers the tools they would need to reach their ELL students.  The techniques, though, should be about the same for teaching a classroom primarily in Spanish to non-English speakers.  (There may be some differences in motivation, but for reasons I'll explain later, they shouldn't be that big.)

Chapter 1 reviews the 9 high-impact (what Marzano now desperately wishes he'd called the "high-probablility")  strategies from "CITW."  The authors, upon first encountering these strategies, figured that these strategies had been taken from effective ELL classrooms.  The rest of the book is taking one of these strategies at a time, and showing in detail how they apply to an ELL classroom.  My job in this series of blog posts will be to steal as much as I can and apply it to Spanish classes.

Chapter 2 outlines the stages of language acquisition; in fact, it's called "The Stages of Second Language Acquisition."  This chapter is based on Krashen and Terrell's The Natural Approach.  This book is also the grandpappy of the communicative approach, to which I subscribe, so I was familiar with a lot of the ideas in this chapter, if not the actual tables they published.

The biggest piece of information, they argue, that you can know about your English Language Learners is what level of language acquisition they occupy.  This will permit you to tailor your tasks to their language skills.  These stages, according to Krashen and Terrell, are:
  • preproduction, at which students are still learning to understand vocabulary and may be able to answer some questions by pointing at pictures; 
  • early production, at which students can understand and may be able to answer "yes" or "no" questions;
  • speech emergence, at which students have a decent understanding and can produce simple sentences in response to questions, but who still make significant grammar and pronunciation mistakes;
  • intermediate fluency, at which students make few grammatical mistakes and are able to make hypotheses about content;
  • advanced fluency, where a teacher can essentially pretend that this student was born speaking English.
This doesn't strictly relate to lower-level Spanish classes, of course.  Coming into a Spanish I class, all students are going to be in the "preproduction" stage, plus or minus a few episodes of Dora the Explorer.  But one can see the parallels in ACTFL's proficiency guidelines (speaking downloadable here; writing downloadable here).

But even this understanding is incomplete, argue the authors.  Citing Cummins's research (1984), many ELL students learn the language of social activity, even as they continue to struggle in their classes, because they don't have academic language skills.  This has obvious implications for how much content ELL students were able to learn.

Interestingly, Marzano et al. also argue that this is a difficulty for students who have not had the life experiences necessary to develop this vocabulary, even if they are born into English-speaking families.  The lesson is essentially this: academics, even in kindergarten and first grade, requires its own language.  Some students are already more familiar with it and are better equipped to learn the new language, while others will struggle mightily in order to learn it.  All students need a mechanism to teach them this vocabulary, even if not all students need to take advantage of that mechanism.


Hill, J. D., & Flynn, K. M. (2006).  Classroom instruction that works with English language learners.  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Marzano, R. J. (2004).  Building background knowledge for academic achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

I cite Hill and Flynn citing the following:

Cummins, J. (1984).  Bilingualism and special education:  Issues in assessment and pedagogy.  Cleveland, England: Multilingual Matters.

Krashen, S. D., & Terrell, T.  (1983). The natural approach: Language acquisition in the classroom.  Oxford: Pergamon.

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