Challenges & Opportunities for English Learners

By Agung Kristianto, ELL Instructor at MCC

Image result for inquiryI attended a workshop entitled �Challenges and Opportunities for English Learners (ELs) in Mathematics and Science Language� facilitated by Dr. Lia Plakans, Renka Ohta, Crissa Stephens, and Warren Merkel at the Iowa Culture and Language Conference (ICLC) pre-conference session. In this workshop, the facilitators proposed the following ideas: bridging language, math, and science for ELs; recognizing linguistic challenges; supporting language learning opportunities; and cultural considerations.
First, the facilitators suggested that language teachers should be aware of the challenges of ELs. These challenges depend on the following factors: their English language (L2) proficiency, first language (L1) and home culture, prior educational experience, literacy levels in their L1 and L2, and grade level. Having known these challenges, the facilitator argued for the following strategies to bridging the language challenges. That is, by minimizing linguistic challenges and supporting language opportunities.
Second, the facilitators encouraged math and science teachers to recognize the ELs� linguistic challenges. Some examples of these particular challenges are unfamiliar words/ phrases, sentence complexity, and cultural knowledge. An example of unfamiliar words can be found in the use of polysemous words in math. Another example of this problem often appears in the use of prepositional phrases such as the preposition �by� used in the following examples: the room is 12 ft by 16 ft; the number can be divided by 3; and by noon the temperature had risen. In addition to these word level problems, sentence complexity can also pose challenges for ELs. Some examples of this are the use of passive voice, conditional clause, and relative clause. Next, the facilitator discussed the challenge of ELs� cultural knowledge. That is, a particular cultural knowledge that only certain cultural group of students is familiar with. An example of this is a test question that requires the knowledge of particular sport such as American football.
Third, having recognized those challenges, the facilitators proposed some strategies that could support language-learning opportunities. These strategies are, for example, activating prior knowledge before reading; introducing strategies for reading science and math texts; illustrating academic language function: describe, explain, predict, infer, conclude; teaching the use of graphic organizers: before, during, after; and using writing to support reading and analysis: using informal journal.
Finally, in the area of cultural challenges, the facilitators offer the following strategies: create a community of inquiry using discussion questions with more than one answer, recognize the complexities and multiple ways of seeing content in learners� subject areas, use their background knowledge as a basis for introducing new material, and create an environment where diverse linguistic and cultural resources are asset to learning. At the end of the workshop, the attendees had the opportunities to apply the strategies through an activity that required the workshop attendees to modify some challenges found math and science questions.

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