He was born in the U.S. Is he lazy? unmotivated? what's going on?
If you teach middle school or high school you can probably relate. You may have asked yourself this question before, “Why hasn’t this EL met exit criteria?” Are they lazy? Are they not trying? Are they unmotivated? What is going on?
Let’s look at a student profile:
Why haven’t they met criteria to exit ESL?
There may be many factors that contribute to students remaining in ESL and not meeting exit criteria. Examining each student’s profile closely could reveal the answer.
However here a few common problems that lead to long term EL status:
Gaps in academic instruction
Students may lack academic vocabulary, language, and content in reading, math, science, or social studies because they were pulled out of instruction to receive English language development. In some schools, ELD is provided as a pull-out service and ELs miss out on something while they are out of the classroom for ELD. When they return to class, it can be difficult to catch up on what was missed and get into the flow of what’s currently happening. Imagine watching a movie that you haven’t seen before and having to leave the movie for 30 minutes. When you return, you need to know what you missed.
In other cases, ELs were not pulled out of the classroom but the instruction that was delivered was not comprehensible. They were in the classroom but the content lacked sheltering. It was not understandable and therefore students have academic gaps. Many teachers did not receive instruction on ESL strategies and may not know how to teach lessons that are differentiated to meet ELs’ needs.
Consequently, when students have academic gaps, it becomes difficult to meet state testing criteria to exit EL programs.
In some states, providing ELs with accommodations during state assessments hinders them from meeting exit criteria even if the EL does not use the accommodation. For example, in Texas, if the Language Proficiency Assessment Committee (LPAC) recommends the use of content and language support or extra time on the English Reading exam or English End of Course Exam then the EL may not exit the program.
So let’s say I have an EL named Julia who is taking the eighth grade English Reading exam and the LPAC recommends extra time for her to complete the exam. Yet on the day of the exam, Julia doesn’t use the extra time. Well, the scores come back and Julia exceeds expectations on the English Reading exam. She also meets all of the other criteria to exit ESL. Yay Julia! However, since the LPAC recommended extra time, Julia will remain in the ESL program for 9th grade.
This is why it’s critical that educators examine each student’s needs individually prior to testing and recognize the state exit criteria. This bureaucratic error has now left Julia in a program she does not need. As she transitions to 9th grade, Julia and many of her teachers will not know that the bureaucratic error is why she’s still in the ESL program. This label may weigh her down socially and emotionally.
When educators say that long term ELs are lazy, unmotivated, or fake ELs, it breaks my heart. I’m saddened because I feel we created this problem. This is not the students’ problem. If they seem lazy, unmotivated, or not really English learners it’s because of their past experiences with education.
Lazy and unmotivated can be manifestations or years of feeling failure and not seeing success. It can be the result of poor quality instruction or the lack of comprehensible input. It may be due to low self esteem and low confidence. Imagine year after year doing something that you don’t feel successful with but your peers seemed to do with ease and still having to do it. Unmotivated can be an effect of lessons that don’t relate to students, books they can not connect with, and instruction that is one size fits all. This is an US problem not a them problem.
These students are not “fake ELs”. They are English learners. No matter if they are proficient in another language or not, they are still acquiring English. We all are to some degree. These students need specific support to get them through to the next level.
With older ELs, we can leverage their maturity to help them both linguistically and academically. These are 4 steps you can take right away to start making a positive impact on your long term ELs’ success:
I’d love to hear your ideas, thoughts and most of all success stories. Please share this post and comment below.