Learning English as a Second Language in California Elementary Schools

The National Center for Education Statistics states that as of 2011-2012 the estimated number of students who were members of the English language learners program in the United States was 4.4 million. Statistics have also show that since 2002, over 300,000 English Language Learners’ have been added to programs across America.

hardest thing ever

According to the Glossary of English Reform, English Language Learners’, commonly abbreviated as ELL, “are students who are unable to communicate fluently or learn effectively in English, often coming from non-English-speaking homes and backgrounds, and who typically require specialized or modified instruction in both the English language and in their academic courses.”

For these students to meet their full academic potential, many English Second Language (ESL) programs have been put into place across the country. After English Language Learning students complete an assessment that includes: the testing of their reading, writing, and speaking skills; they are placed into either an English second language program or a bilingual education courses. However, if a student adequately portrays that they can learn in a primarily English-speaking environment, they will be placed in a fully English-taught classroom.

IMG_0555Alicia Lau, a long-term substitute teacher at Riverside Christian School, commented on the ESL programs offered at RCS.

“Riverside Christian Schools not only offer ESL classes but also ELL classes depending on where students are in the English proficiency,” said Lau.

Lau commented on the large community of International Students that come to Riverside Christian from various countries. The school offers many opportunities for students to work up towards being in classrooms that are being taught fully in English.

Dual language courses, according to edglossary.org, reached popularity in 1970 and are taught in two different languages.

These dual language courses insure that ELL students who are not yet skilled in English, receive an equal opportunity at receiving an education.

Curriculum for bilingual education is divided up into three different categories. These groupings are offered throughout California. The categories include:

– Transitional programming

– Maintenance programming

-Two-way enrichment programming

Transitional programming allows students one to two years of instruction in their primary language and eventually transitions them into fully English-teaching classrooms.

Maintenance programming provides students with teachings in their first language until they exit elementary school.

Two-way enrichment programming teaches students in two languages in an attempt to help them become fluent in both. Many times students who are only English speaking will become part of a two-way enrichment program to become fluent in another language.


Apart from these programs, there are multiple strategies that Elementary School teachers use to assist their students who are struggling to learn in English.

In an interview with Margaret Ponce, 3rd Grade teacher of 8 years at Buena Vista Arts-Integrated School, she spoke up about some of the techniques she uses in her classrooms to help students struggling to learn English.

“I use lots of visuals, vocabulary development, and peer models. I provide them with a lot of opportunities for structured talk too.  This helps them to practice correct grammar and sentence structure,” said Ponce.

Ponce currently has multiple students who are first generation Americans and even more of whom’s parents do not speak any English.

Ponce noted that great responsibility lies on the kindergarten through 2nd-grade teachers, as many of the students learn a vast majority of their basic English skills during those years. When they reach her 3rd-grade class, it is basic vocabulary that she pays the most attention to.

Ponce noted that the student teachers coming into her classroom to help teach were very well learned when it comes to teaching ELL and ESL students who have integrated into fully English-speaking classrooms.

Jennifer Brown, Credentialed student teacher and graduate student at The University of La Verne, explained that she feels well prepared in teaching English Language learning students.

Teacher Jennifer Brown and 3rd grade students

Teacher Jennifer Brown and 3rd-grade students

“The University of La Verne requires that we incorporate modifications for ELL students in every lesson that we teach and in all lesson plans,” said Brown.

Brown explained that all student in the graduate credential program at UNLV were required to incorporate adjustments for English Language Learners’.

“I’ve learned many strategies that I use daily in my teachings to help English learners, the most important one is to make sure you are creating a multicultural classroom environment, in which all students feel comfortable to learn,” said Brown.

Brown explained that many teachers attempt to have their students become fully adapted to American culture that she believe is important. However, she pushed that it is equally as important to incorporate other cultures into her classroom environment.

Brown elaborated on the lack of resources the school offers to ELL students. She recently tested her students through what is called the Smarter Balanced testing.

Smarter Balanced is a new form of state testing that all student are required to take in elementary school.

According to SmarterBalanced.org, the tests allow educators to have feedback on their teaching skills and environment. Students are tested on the common core education standards that are decided by the state. Brown is currently teaching at a school that offers no modifications for this standardized testing regarding ELL students.

“The elementary school that I am currently working at does not offer many resources for the teachers to use regarding ELL’s,” said Brown.

Brown expanded by explaining that students were struggling to take the tests. However, she was not allowed to help them in any way. She also confirmed that the school she is working at does not offer any text books that are modified to help ELL students.

Margaret Ponce also commented on the Smarter Balanced testing stating that to her knowledge there were no modifications for this testing and no money in her school’s current budget to further the process of receiving funds to do so.

However, there are committees that have been put in place that can advocate for ELL students and begin working towards modifying state testing to be fair for all students.

According to the California Department of Education, “Each California public school, grades kindergarten through 12, with 21 or more English learners must form an English Learner Advisory Committee (ELAC).”

The English Learner Advisory Committees are responsible for assisting the school in their needs for English learners; these needs include:

– The schools yearly language census

– The education of school parents on the importance of attendance

– The development of the school needs assessments

The Government has put strict regulations in place regarding the ELAC committees. The same percentage of English learners in the school should match a percentage of English learners’ parents on the committee. For instance, if 40 % of a school consists of English Language Learners’. 40 % of the committee should be parents of those particular students. Parents of the ELL students hold the opportunity to elect fellow members. The government has also put into place training for all members; this includes consultations and legality training.

These committee work towards educating the student body and parents, as well as fighting for the rights of their students. However, these committees are not the only thing the Government has mandated to meet the needs of ELL students.

Lori Lopez, a 4th grade teacher at Buena Vista Arts, commented on the lack of these Committees and resources at her work place.

“Our school has no mandated curriculum for ELL students at this time, and we do not offer committees or programs,” said Lopez

Lopez has 61 students and out of those 23 of them have non-English speaking parents. She is bilingual, and this is a huge help in communicating with parents to meet the needs of their children. She also uses SDAIE strategies, which include speaking slowly and repeating vocabulary.

Lopez explained that the school is attempting to budget money for standardizing testing to be adapted, but the government has yet to mandate that money.

However, as of 2001 the No Child Left Behind Act can help school receive funding for such things.

According to the Federal Education Budget Project, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, (also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education act of 1965 revised), allows the federal government to spend money on various educational programs within grades K-12.

President Obama announced that waivers given out regarding the no child left behind act could be redeemed to help further ELL education.IMG_0558

According to the Center for American Progress, the country has begun “Using no child left behind waivers to improve English language learner education.”

In a press release from the white house in 2011, President Obama said, “Now, it is an undeniable fact that countries who out-educate us today are going to out-compete us tomorrow. But today, our students are sliding against their peers around the globe. Today, our kids trail too many other countries in math, in science, in reading.”


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