ESL & bilingual education

Collaborative learning can aid the ESL learner tremendously, which was discussed at length in a recent study by Johnson & Wales University. Luckily, the advent of the Internet has fostered global communiqué between both ESL students and teachers. There are scores of growing online communities that offer support to new students, many of which provide much-needed multilingual support. Below are five such communities, all of which serve as useful resources for both students and teachers.

  1. The ESL Café — This comprehensive site is friendly to ESL newcomers and provides countless online learning materials. Here, students and teachers can communicate on forums and gain access to ESL-related job leads.
  2. John's ESL — This site is divided into two communities: one for students and one for teachers. Both areas are interactive and informative, offering guidance to those within the ESL world.
  3. English Club — Serving as an online "clubhouse" for ESL learners, this vast community provides welcome lessons and an inviting forum for teachers and students to communicate.
  4. English, Baby! — One of the largest online ESL communities, this site offers free English lessons, as well as live chats and English language forums. Here, fellow ESL learners can meet and help one another.
  5. English Forums — People from all over the world visit the forums on this site to meet others who are transitioning to an English-speaking culture. It can be comforting to speak with other people from your native country who are just learning English.

The sites above provide a comfortable environment for those who are new to the ESL society. With free online communities and online ESL lessons, the Internet offers many wonderful opportunities to those who are new to the language.


This post was contributed by Heather Johnson, who is an industry critic on the subject of university reviews. She invites your feedback at heatherjohnson2323 at gmail dot com.

In addition to my posts on NCTE and NWP, quite a few others posted on their experiences there, too. See NCTE's list of bloggers who posted

Apparently, graduate students are starting to use blogs more in their classes. At Formoosa WPMU Blog is a list of blogs apparently maintained by graduate students in Taiwan studying second language issues. Some apparently stopped writing this summer (class ended?), but others are continuing (perhaps a new course?). Altogether, they review quite a few journal articles, create lesson plans, and write on other items of interest to TESOL folks.

Similarly, at the University of Toronto are the GRAIL (Graduate Researcher's Academic Identity Online) blogs:

The overall goal of this project is to develop a set of social and technical tools that support the formation of an online community to engage graduate students in activities related to educational research across course boundaries and throughout your degree program.

This group of blogs is more wide-ranging in their topics than just TESOL, but still focused on education and learning. There's a lot of value here.

How can we get teachers to collaborate and continue to learn and develop professionally? One answer is inquiry groups.

Christine Berg, Ruth Devlin, Darshna Katwala, and Lynn Welsch presented "Exploring language acquisition, academic literacy, and advocacy for ELLs ", which was about their different inquiry groups, at the 2007 NWP (National Writing Profect) 2007 Annual Meeting yesterday afternoon.

Of course, it makes sense that having people work together on learning will help them become better teachers and better at helping English language learners. Another interesting thing is that successful inquiry groups have both structure and also flexibility.

In Darshna's inquiry group, teachers kept observation journals on things that came up with their students while teaching, read research articles that pertained to those observations, and held weekly discussions at set times on those readings. The flexibility, or perhaps I should say adaptability, came from choosing research articles that pertained to what the teachers were experiencing currently instead of having a set schedule of readings.

Another, apparently crucial, feature that made Darshna's inquiry group successful was Darshna. Apparently, she was the primary recruiter of teachers for the inquiry group, and she continually motivated teachers to keep coming to the groups. From her part of the presentation, it was easy to see her personality: friendly and enthusiastic. In addition, she listened to the other teachers and spent time finding research articles that pertained to their classroom experience. She obviously put a lot of energy (time, effort, and contagious enthusiasm) into making the inquiry group successful.

It seems then that success for any group or endeavor depends upon these three factors:

  • adaptability,
  • structure, and
  • energy (effort and enthusiasm).

The 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature was just awarded to Doris Lessing. From the New York Times:

Ms. Lessing, who turns 88 this month, never finished high school and largely educated herself through voracious reading. She has written dozens of books of fiction, as well as plays, nonfiction and two volumes of autobiography. She is the 11th woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

She never finished high school but won the Nobel Prize. The key to her success was reading, "voracious reading." What slows down students, especially ESL students, is a lack of reading. Without a strong reading background, students lack the vocabulary and the sensitivity to understanding and intuiting how reading and writing works, from such simple mechanical items as spacing, punctuation, and spelling to the critical issues of comprehension; questioning authors and assumptions; analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information; and more

Reading is crucial to all academic endeavors. A few years back, the principal of a charter school in Texas that had a majority of at-risk students, told me,

These students can do the math and science. Their difficulty is they can't read: They can't understand what a problem is asking them to do. But once you explain it to them, they can do it.

Reading is also important for acquiring a second language, especially at the academic level. Although I consider Stephen Krashen's distinction between acquisition and learning to be a specific application of the difference between procedural and declarative knowledge (and thus there is an interface between the two), he is right on the importance of reading. That is, massive reading is important for spelling, vocabulary, literacy development, and language acquisition. Thus, for teachers, a major, probably the major, key to helping their students to learn another language remains creating environments that engage and motivate students to read.

Related posts:
Language Learning vs. Language Acquistion
Engagement and Flow

Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, asserts that "Immersion is the best way to learn a language". Without commenting on the issue itself, the speech is a great study in rhetoric and audience awareness.

Schwarzenegger uses "I" 19 times, mostly when giving his own experience as a second language learner and identifying with second language learners (i.e., he knows what he's talking about). He uses "we" three times in identifying with the people of California and what they ("we") need to do (i.e., we're all in this together). On Proposition 227 and supporting it, he uses the words, "voters" (twice), "experts" (with examples), and "our State Board of Education and Legislature" and "board", and "California" (twice). In other words, it's the decision of the voters, board, and legislature; he just agrees with them.

This article should be interesting to and useful for discussing the rhetorical use of pronouns with L2 (and L1) learners, along with combining personal experience with outside expertise for a stronger argument.

American Eagle Outfitters has selected the six winners for their nationwide "Live Your Life" Contest for teenagers and young adults:

Leading lifestyle retailer American Eagle Outfitters today announced the winners of its highly successful "LIVE YOUR LIFE" contest, a program that encourages young adults around the country to achieve great things by following their dreams. Now in its second year, the contest awards each winner $25,000 to help make his or her dream a reality.

Kicking off last January, AE's contest attracted over 20,000 entries from individuals looking to fulfill their dreams, more than four times the number of applications received last year. Visitors to AE's Web site -- 4.7 million of them -- voted online to select six winners to bring their essays to life and make a difference in the world.

All six winners are amazing. To see them, their essays, and videos, visit the American Eagle "Live Your Life" site. And one of them, Elizabeth Torres, is not only an immigrant to the U.S., but she is also a student at Kean University!

Eleanor Chute ("Slow readers have difficulty trying to catch up, study says," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) writes about the difficulty slow readers have in catching up:

Helping older elementary school children who are struggling to read is even harder than some of the experts think.

A study involving 50 schools in the Allegheny County suburbs -- the largest of its kind in the nation -- showed that the intensive help provided for such students improved skills for third-graders but was less effective for fifth-graders.

And even where there was improvement in both grade levels, the help wasn't enough to catch up with the strong readers, who were continuing to advance.


When she heard that third-graders fared better than fifth-graders, Robin Pleta, a resource support teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School in Upper St. Clair who participated in the study, likened it to learning a golf swing.

"If you can catch it and correct it early, it's a little bit easier to correct it. By the time you get to fifth grade, you've had five years of practicing skills that haven't served you well," she said.

Dr. Torgesen said he was both surprised and disappointed to discover that the interventions didn't work as well for low-income children.

"This amount of instruction doesn't appear to be enough or the right thing for many of the kids who need it the most," he said.

Stanovich in his classic paper "Matthew effects in reading" wrote about the problem of slow readers falling further behind as they advance through grades. His work suggested that interventions were needed to help students catch up. However, this study shows that it may be too late even by the third grade for native speakers. What do these results say about Generation 1.5 students or language learners in general? Forget about nativelike pronunciation. Can they ever catch up in vocabulary, grammar, and reading in general? How does this study's results inform the bilingual education vs. immersion controversy?

Another finding, as Dr. Torgesen reported, was that poverty works against interventions. This finding matches the California five-year study on Proposition 227 that "the strongest predictor of academic underperformance" is poverty.

Hmm. I wish I knew more about why poverty is such a strong predictor. However, there are always exceptions. I wish I knew more about the successes. That might be more informative about what it takes to become fluent in reading and in language learning.

Beata Chojnicka, a 31-year-old immigrant from Poland one year ago, won (with three others) the Marion Drysdale award for her essay (Daniella Girgenti, The London Free Press).

This year, the essay theme was on "thinking globally." Chojnicka's essay -- entitled Will traditional cultures be eaten by hamburgers? -- concerns her fear that cultural diversity is disappearing.

"People are losing their national identities, languages are disappearing and other cultural things are going away."

A review of Proposition 227's effects commissioned by the State of California has English immersion and bilingual education at a draw, according to Sarah Tribble of the Contra Costa Times (via Kimberly Swygert):

It doesn't matter whether California students who don't know English are taught in bilingual classrooms or fully immersed in the language, according to a five-year study of California's Proposition 227. What matters is the quality of the education they receive.

Some findings from the report:

"we conclude that Proposition 227 focused on the wrong issue. It is not the model of instruction employed, or at least not the name given to it, but rather other factors that are much more operative in distinguishing between failure and success with ELs."

Comparing English immersion to bilingual education, "the best analyses we have been able to conduct given data limitations indicate that differences across models of instruction—holding constant such critical factors as student demographics—are minimal or nonexistent."

"the strongest predictor of academic underperformance" is poverty.

These findings probably apply to instructional approaches for subjects other than just English language learning. That is, social, cultural, and economic factors play a greater role in academic achievement than the method of instruction. Designing curricula requires taking the local environment into consideration.

Complementing the previous entry, Hui Cao, an ESL graduate teaching assistant finds grading native-speakers' papers difficult, frustrating, and rewarding.

"Grading was the toughest job. You had to read 40 papers with the average length of seven--- for twice. You had to write pages of comments on each one and be ready for their arguments. The close reading of their shitty first drafts for days made me sick. It usually took me an entire weekend to finish that. I hided myself under my desk and cried after it was done. When I was able to cry--- believe it or not, that would be my best time. ...

If I was asked whether I was qualified to teach native speakers English composition with my sometimes awkward written English, my answer would be I don't know but certainly I could contribute much to their writing. Writing, especially academic writing which I teach is more a kind of training of people's mind, making them think more logically, rationally, clearly and concisely with the least fallacies. Since mind and language are two separate things, articulating thoughts through language is a kind of art. For academic writing, the art has to be shaped to satisfy public's taste. The strength of rhetorical strategies in the States is so powerful everywhere that they can massage people's life easily. Plus most of the guys do not really know how to think and write. Their over-fluent oral English and simplified reasoning are everywhere in their papers."