English language learners are just as diverse as other students
This quarter one of my new classes has brought a new challenge to teaching, 12 English language learners (ELL) speaking five different languages in a middle school class that already has 34 students in it.
Teaching ELL students is nothing new to me, and in a computer lab it can be a bit easier than in a traditional classroom setting. Watching students use Google Translate when one student speaks Spanish and the other Portuguese reminds me how amazing technology can be.
But this year is the first year I have had this many, speaking more languages, and with a large diversity in skill levels.
While it is a challenge, it is one that I am embracing.
The world has a habit of classifying students into single groups. This student is ELL. This student in special education. This student is in honors. This student has low math scores. And often students are placed in a classroom based solely on just one of those groupings.
But individuals are far more diverse than that, and this class is a huge reminder of that. Some of my ELL students can be given the same assignment, Google Translate, and outperform their English speaking peers. Others are learning to read for the first time, lacking skills even in their birth language.
Identifying ELL students that should also receive special education services is an additional challenge. Are they struggling because of eyesight, a learning disability, or are there unknown behavioral concerns?
On the flip-side, imagine if you had the IQ of an Einstein but were kept out of honors classes due to the language barrier.
Fortunately I work in a school district that provides a lot of staffing and resources for ELL students. We have dedicated teachers and aides. While they don’t attend my technology class with the students, they are always available for advice and reference.
Not every teacher is so lucky. In a previous school district I worked in we had a single teacher working with ELL students at multiple schools. There was not enough of an ELL population to warrant more than that.
This is a challenge I will face together with my students. And as any good teacher knows, relationship building comes first.