Language Development for English Language Learners.

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  • Language Development for English Language Learners

  • The Center on Instruction is operated by RMC Research Corporation in partnership with the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida StateUniversity; Horizon Research, Inc.; RG Research Group; the Texas Institute for Measurement,Evaluation, and Statistics at the University of Houston; and the VaughnGross Center for Reading and Language Arts at the University of Texas at Austin.

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  • Demographics

  • Frequent terms used in the literatureLanguage Minority Student (LM) a child who hears and/or speaks a language other than English in the home

    Limited English Proficient (LEP) Term used by federal government to identify LM students whose limited command of English prevents independent participation in instruction

    English Language Learner (ELL) an LM student designated locally (i.e., by the state) as limited English Proficientthe English Language Learner term is often preferred over Limited English Proficient as it highlights accomplishments rather than deficits

  • Who areEnglish Language Learners (ELLs)?National-origin minority students who have limited proficiency of English

    Membership defined by limited proficiency in English language use, which directly affects learning and assessment results

    Group membership is expected to be temporary

  • One of the fastest-growing groups among the school-aged population in this nationOf over 9 million LM students, roughly 5.5 million are classified as Limited English Proficient (LEP/ELL)Within the ELL population the largest and fastest growing segments are:Students who immigrated before KindergartenU.S. born children of immigrants (native-born) K-8: 76%9-12: 56%ELLs form a large, growing populationBy 2015, second generation children of immigrants are expected to be 30% of the school-aged population.

    (Capps, Fix, Murray, Ost, Passel, & Herwantoro 2005)

  • Number of LEP StudentsU.S. Department of Education, NCELA, 2006

  • Density of LEP StudentsU.S. Department of Education, NCELA, 2006

  • Growth in LEP StudentsU.S. Department of Education, NCELA, 2006

  • A heterogeneous populationLanguagesOver 460 different home languages are represented nationallyMost common languages are:Spanish (79%)Vietnamese (2%)Hmong (1.6%)Cantonese (1%)Korean (1%)Other 455 languages (15.4%)

  • Native language(s)

    Level of native language/literacy skills

    Level of English language/literacy skills

    Age of arrival

    Previous schooling experience

    Familiarity with school routines

    Content area knowledge

    Parental educationOther Characteristics of this Heterogeneous Population

  • Definitions: At school entryIdentification Home surveyLanguage proficiency testsOther input (e.g., teachers)MonitoringLanguage Title IIIAchievement Title IELLs(or LEP)IFEP(fluent)Language Prof. TestsIFEP = Initially Fluent English ProficientSlide courtesy of N. Lesaux and M. Kieffer, Harvard Graduate School of Education

  • Definitions: Over timeRFEP = Reclassified Fluent English ProficientSlide courtesy of N. Lesaux and M. Kieffer, Harvard Graduate School of Education

  • ELL Performance OutcomesSome states have begun to look at the performance of ELLs on state tests after they have gained proficiency in English

    Although some reclassified ELLs do well, many students who have lost the formal LEP designation continue to struggle with:listening, speaking, reading, and writing that involves academic languageaccess to content-area knowledge

  • Learning challengesELLs face a unique set of learning challenges: to develop the content-related knowledge and skills defined by state standardswhile simultaneously acquiring a second (or third) language for young children, this is a time when their first language is not fully developed to demonstrate their learning on an assessment in English

  • Language Development

  • What is Language?Is a written or oral system of communication made up of symbols with rules that govern their use

    Is the gateway for learning

    Enables us to communicate

  • Phonologythe patterns of basic speech units and the accepted rules of pronunciation

    Morphologysmallest meaningful units of speech

    Syntaxhow individual words and basic meaningful units are combined

    Semanticsthe ways in which a language conveys meaning

    Pragmaticsthe appropriate use of language Language Components

  • First Language Development MilestonesThere are many theories of how we develop languageLanguage and speech development vary across childrenMilestones serve as a guide to normal developmentLanguage development is cumulativeSimple skills are mastered before more complex onesOn average, children pass through different periods of language development at a certain age and time

  • Language Acquisition TheoriesNativist theoriesPropose that children are born with specific abilities that facilitate language learningLinguists ChomskyUniversal Grammar

    Lenneberg Critical Period for language acquisition

    DeKeyserRole of language aptitude opposed to the Critical Period

  • Interactionist theoriesTheorize that adults play an important part in childrens language acquisitionTheorists: Snow; Bates; TomaselloLanguage learning results from general cognitive abilities and the interactions between learners and their environment

    Language Acquisition Theories

  • Some languages are easier to learn than others depending on the complexity of their symbol system and the degree of transferability from the first language.

  • What is the Alphabetic Principle?

    The idea that letters and letter patterns represent the sounds of spoken language

  • What is an Alphabetic Language?A language that uses symbols to represent sounds in speech and print.Examples: English, Spanish, Greek, RussianAlphabetic languages differ in how they present a single sound in print.Orthography (defines the set of symbols used and the rules about how to write these symbols)Transparent Languages that allow a few or just one association between symbols and soundsOpaque Languages that allow: many ways to represent the same sound and a given symbol; or combination of symbols to represent sounds

  • Alphabetic LanguagesEnglish is considered to have an opaque orthography due to its many combinations of symbols to a particular sound.Ex: English: f and ph in fantasy and pharmacy; ee, ei and ea in need, receive, and readu for umbrella or Utah Whereas Spanish is considered to have a transparent orthography because of generally a 1:1 correspondence between letters and sounds.

  • What is Second Language Acquisition?The process of learning a language in addition to a native or first language.Debate: how long does it take to become fully proficient?Little empirical data to inform an answer to this questionFactors that influence second language proficiencyAge of first contact with new languageLevel of proficiency in first language (L1)Language-learning abilityIntensity of instruction and opportunities-to-learn

  • Assessment

  • Challenges in Assessing ELLs Content KnowledgeContent area knowledge and language proficiency challenges;

    ELLs need to devote more cognitive resources than their monolingual peers to process the language of English assessments;

    Fewer cognitive resources to attend content; and

    Language demands of the testsFrancis, 2006

  • Language ProficiencyStudents considered fully proficientcommunicate effectively and understand the meaning that others are trying to relay Components of language proficiencyoral (listening and speaking) skillswritten (reading and writing) skillsacademic and non-academic language

  • Language Proficiency TestsThe purpose of using Language Proficiency Tests with ELLs is threefold:To determine placement in language programsTo monitor students progress while in these programsTo guide decisions about when students should exit the program (August & Hakuta, 1997)

  • Language of AssessmentIn what language should ELLs be assessed?

    Native Language

    may give more accurate inventory of students knowledge and skillsmay be less predictive of English skills than a English assessment, depending upon schooling history


    may be more predictive of English skills than a native language assessmentmay reflect misunderstanding of assessment directions more than actual skill levelmay also reflect the ELLs schooling experiences in English

  • Testing in both languagesProvides a clear picture of knowledge, skills, abilities, and instructional needsIdeally, instructions even for English assessments, should be given in the students first language (L1) for ELLs who are indeed bilingual and biliterate

    ChallengesDifficult to find comparable assessments in L1 and EnglishTechnically and financially demandingDialectsMany skills being assessed are dependent upon instruction, but much instruction is only in English

    Language of Assessment

  • ReferencesAugust, D., & Hakuta., K. (1997). Improving schooling for language minority children: A research agenda. Washington, DC National Academy Press.

    Capps, R., Fix, M., Murray, J., Ost, J., Passel, J, & Herwantoro, S. (2005). The New Demography of Americas Schools: Immigration and the No Child Left Behind Act. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.

    Francis, D.J. (2003, October) Identification of learning disabilities in Spanish-Speaking English language learners. Paper presented to the OELA/OSERS/NICHD Symposium on Learning Disabilities in English Language Learners. Washington, DC.

    Hakuta, K. (2001). A critical period for second language acquisition? In D. B. Bailey, J. T. Bruer, F. J., Symons, & J. W. Lichtman (Eds.). Critical Thinking about Critical Periods. Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes Publishing Company.

    National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Language. (2006). Growing numbers of limited English proficient students: 1995/96 2005/06. Retrieved June 25, 2008, from

    *First, the module presents relevant demographic information about the school-aged population of ELLs.*These terms are commonly found in the literature in reference to children who may hear and/or speak a language other than English in the home.


    Limited English Proficient is the legal term used to identify students with a small or no mastery of English language skills within the larger population of Language Minority Students.

    It is important to understand that not all Language Minority students struggle with command of English skills, only those identified as LEP (or ELL).

    The English Language Learner term is often preferred over Limited English Proficient as it highlights accomplishments rather than deficits.

    It is also inclusive of students who have conversational English skills but lack mastery of academic English. This term will be used throughout this training in reference to LM students who are not proficient in English.

    *These children have limited proficiency in English, which affects their learning and assessment results.

    By definition, the Limited English Proficient (LEP) label is expected to be temporary since the goal is for the student to become proficient as soon as possible.

    These students also face challenges due to their limited time to acquire and be proficient in English while they are learning the standards expected for their age and grade level.*In the last two decades, the population of ELLs has grown 169%--whereas the general school population has grown only 12%.

    Many ELLs with academic challenges have been enrolled in U.S. schools since Kindergarten.

    These students typically have good conversational English skills, but lack mastery of academic language that is necessary for content learning.

    ARE THE STATES YOU SERVE READY FOR THIS GROWTH?*This map illustrates the increasing number of students formally designated as LEPs in the states.*This map illustrates percentage of LEP students in the states.

    This is different from the map illustrating the number of LEP students since it provides information comparing LEP vs. non-LEP students.


    Here we clearly see the large concentration of LEP students over other groups.*This map illustrates the growth in the LEP population in several states.

    This growth represents a different scenario for middle and northern states.

    HOW HAS THE GROWTH IMPACTED THE STATES YOU SERVE?*The number of languages spoken in schools represents a challenge for state agencies in terms of assessment and instruction.

    However, Spanish is the most common language spoken by ELLs. **Activity: Ask audience to name other aspects that are relevant to the ELL population before showing the list. Write on chart paper.Please turn to a person sitting next to you and share what you think are differences within the ELL population.Can we name a few?Now, lets look at a list.

    *Language Minority children in school undergo a screening process through surveys, tests, and referrals.

    The results of language proficiency tests would identify them as IFEP (Initially Fluent English Proficient) or LEP (Limited English Proficient), also called ELL (English Language Learner).

    Schools are held accountable for monitoring their progress in English language acquisition and achievement.

    WHAT ARE OTHER SOURCES OF IDENTIFICATION USED IN THE STATES YOU SERVE?*Over time and with effective instruction, ELLs who demonstrate a functional level on a measure of English proficiency that is considered adequate for meaningful participation language proficiency are re-classified as Fluent English Proficient.

    *Not all ELLs struggle with academics; however, several factors, such as lack of high quality of instruction and opportunities to practice reading and speaking, contribute to some ELL difficulties.

    These deficiencies in the instructional and school environment are detrimental to their continued progress and increase the gap between them and their native English speaking peers.

    The current model of LM designation does not provide support to ELLs who are re-classified as fully English proficient.

    *This heterogeneous group presents a range of abilities. ELLS with struggling issues have skills that range from not speaking English to having different stages of conversational vocabulary and low mastery of academic language.

    Their varied abilities are challenged when they are required to master content and improve their English language proficiency.

    In addition, some ELLs may have had limited or no test-taking or assessment experiences in their first or second language.

    ARE THERE ANY OTHER CHALLENGES TO INCLUDE?*Before we discuss research based teaching strategies, lets discuss what is language.*Language is a unique human capability.It plays an important role in representing our knowledge and experience, goals and aspirations, feelings and emotions (Francis & Rivera, 2007). It is the gateway for learning and the vehicle that facilitates the acquisition of new knowledge.*With practice and experience, children develop skills within each of these components as they develop language.


    Children develop speech and language as a result of many factors that interact; however, there is a natural progression that goes from the simplest to more complex skills.

    Some aspects of skills, which we call milestones, are significant and serve as a guide to a normal language development. Facilitator: pass the handout titled Language Milestones and make reference to one skill for each of the stages of development.

    **Linguists have theorized about language acquisition for many years. The most influential theories fall into two main categories: nativist and interactionist theories.

    Nativist theories propose that we are born with inherited abilities to communicate.

    Nativist theories view language as a human trait and its acquisition as a natural part of maturation.

    Chomsky theorized that children were born with a language acquisition device in their brains. Later, he modified this idea and said that the presence of Universal Grammar allowS children to deduce the structure of their native language. He defined universal grammar as a set of innate principles and parameters that are common to all human languages.

    Lennberg claimed that a language could not be learned in a normal and functional sense if not acquired before 12 (onset of puberty). He proposed the idea of Critical Periods, which are timeframes in which environmental exposure is needed in order to develop language in a normal and functional way and end around the age of 12.

    More recently, Hakuta (2001) examined the literature on critical periods for language acquisition.

    DeKeyser agreed with the Critical Period idea, but that language aptitude help adults to learn a second language.

    On the other hand, social interactionist theories propose that other individuals (e.g., adults, siblings, peers) and the linguistic environment have an important role in a childs language acquisition.

    The main tenet of these theories centers around the idea that language is a result of the interaction between cognitive abilities and the linguistic environment.

    According to these theories, childrens language develops as a result of high quality linguistic interactions and environments.

    *Some factors may represent an obstacle for language learners. For example, the symbol system and transferability of literacy skills from native language to the second language may add difficulty to the process.

    **Lets examine the relationship between symbols and sounds as it pertains to reading skills.

    Writing systems may include letters or symbols that represent sounds. The alphabetic principle is the foundation of any alphabetic writing system.

    The mapping of sounds to print and print to sounds defines the orthographic conventions of an alphabetic language.

    *Alphabetic languages are based on the alphabetic principle. Their sounds are associated to one symbol or a combination of symbols.

    Languages are considered to have opaque or transparent orthographies based on their association of letters and sounds.


    They are considered more opaque as they associate different combinations of symbols to a particular sound.


    Examples of this dichotomy are the English and Spanish languages.

    Spanish is considered to have a more transparent orthography since it only associates one or two letters to each sound.

    English is considered to have a more opaque orthography due to the multiple combinations of letters in the orthography of some sounds and the many sounds for one letter.

    *Estimates of time required to acquire proficiency in a second language vary considerably, with little empirical data to inform this debate.

    As in many other aspects of learning, the process of becoming proficient in as second language is affected by numerous factors that interact and change constantly for the learner.

    It is hard to control these factors in order to study them and arrive at an answer on time required to be considered proficient; moreover, its hard to agree on what proficient means.

    **The inherent relationship between language and knowledge represents a challenge in the development of suitable assessments of language ability and content-area knowledge in ELLs.**Assessments of content area knowledge and skills are also inherently tests of language proficiency. This is a challenge to the content validity of the tests.

    ELLs are likely to be disadvantaged when taking tests in a language in which they are not fully proficient.

    Scores may reflect ELLs language abilities but not necessarily their competence in content area.

    ELLs use significantly more cognitive resources processing the language of English assessments than their monolingual peers.

    As a result, fewer cognitive resources will be available to attend to the content being tested.

    While there may be gaps between ELL and non-ELL content knowledge, the size of these gaps are affected by the language demands of the tests. Academically, some ELLs have not had the opportunity to learn the subject; therefore, assessment by test would not be a fair evaluation.


    To be proficient in a language means to effectively communicate or understand thoughts or ideas through the language's grammatical system and its vocabulary, using its sounds or written symbols.

    Language proficiency is composed of oral (listening and speaking) and written (reading and writing) components as well as academic and non-academic language. *State education agencies have the responsibility to select and/or design appropriate tools to measure ELLs development and acquisition of English language proficiency as well as content-area knowledge and skills.

    Under current law, states must now align their language proficiency standards to their content-area standards and achievement targets.

    ***A pervasive question, and challenge, associated with comprehensive ELL assessment relates to the childs knowledge and skill level in the native language. That is, many educators and clinicians are interested in whether the ELL who is struggling with a particular skill is similarly struggling with this skill in the native language.

    This relates directly to the question of whether the source of the difficulty relates primarily to the skill in English (second language learning) or is a more pervasive difficulty that is present in both languages.

    What children know in their native language is distinct from what they know in their second language (L2), although there may be some overlap. Assessing a child in only one of the two (or more) languages may result in an incomplete picture of his or her knowledge, skills, abilities, and instructional needs.

    *Bilingual and/or biliterate ELLs must be assessed in both languages. Assessment in the second language (L2) may be affected by the students failure to fully understand the instructions, despite his or her competence to perform the task. Ideally, instructions should be given in the childs first language (L1).

    While testing in both languages is ideal, it is difficult to find comparable assessments in L1 and in English. Assessment instruments must evaluate the same domain of knowledge or skill, and must do so at comparable levels and with comparable precision.


    Unfortunately, developing high-quality L1 assessments is technically and financially demanding. Even if instruments exist, finding competent individuals to conduct the assessment is often a challenge. Variations in dialect also can complicate the process of building comparable tests and finding suitable examiners (Francis, 2003).


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