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Adjust Your Teaching Styles for English Language Learners (ELL) in ESL/Bilingual Classrooms

From the Teachers of Color Summit
Tobey Cho Bassoff

On November 4, 2005 I attended the Teachers of Color Summit in Boulder, CO. The conference was thoroughly engaging and brought about some wonderful dialogue about how we go about educating our diverse student population. The following article highlights some of the thoughts shared by Gloria Ladson-Billings, PhD - Professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Her address encouraged me to be more reflective about the way I teach and the way I look at the ELL students I teach as a whole.

Keynote address: Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings - University of Wisconsin, Madison "What if we leave all children behind? The challenge of teaching in the new millennium"

The following statistics on the state of our nation's children came from the Department of Labor and Statistics:

  • One in two children will live in a single parent family.
  • One in three is born to unmarried parents.
  • One in three is a year or more behind in school.
  • Two in five never complete a single year of college.
  • One in five is born poor.
  • One in five is born to a mother who did not graduate from high school.
  • Three in five of pre-schoolers have a working mother.
  • One is six is poor now. One in seven has no health insurance.
  • One in seven has a worker in their family but is still poor.
  • One in eight lives in a family receiving food stamps.
  • One in eight never graduates from high school.
  • One in twelve has a disability.
  • One in twenty-four live with neither parent.
  • 1,056 kids will be killed by guns before Age 20.

In my state, Colorado:

  • A child is abused or neglected every hour.
  • A child is born in poverty every hour.

Colorado ranks:

  • 9th among states in children who are poor;
  • 10th in infant mortality;
  • 33rd in per pupil expenditure.

Dr. Ladson-Billings spoke about the deleterious effects that the term "at-risk" has on our nation's children. She believes that this terminology implies that the students can't learn. As an alternative she spoke about "school dependent" and "school independent" children. School independent students go to school, but because of the support and resources available to them at home they could get by without formal schooling. Their parents can provide them with opportunities that allow for experiences not otherwise offered through formal schooling. School dependent children are students who need school, with all of its resources, in order to learn.

She also replaced the term “student achievement” with “student learning” because of the negative association that student achievement has with tests. Dr. Ladson-Billings asserted that student learning encompasses more than tests. Student success involves student experiences and histories, and teachers teaching with cultural competence and socio-political consciousness.

As educators, we know how vital it is that we teach from a framework that encompasses knowledge about the student populations that we serve. Our responsibility to our students does not end with imparting knowledge to them. We know that it begins with being lifelong learners ourselves. Dr. Ladson Billings raised the awareness of a dozen or so educators from our district, including myself. We formed a committee to begin to seek out ways to use what we learned to educate others and to eventually have an impact not only on our classes, but also our schools.

For those of you who have emailed me about how to break down barriers between native English speakers and ELLs, both teachers and students, perhaps this journal will give you another place to start.

Good luck and as you celebrate your successes and process your challenges, please share them with me!



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