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Excerpt From My Book On Teaching English Language Learners

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My second book, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work, was published by Linworth Publishing in April, 2010.

You can read a summary of it that I wrote as a guest post on The New York Times website.

It now has a page on Amazon and you can also order it directly from the publisher.

Here’s the publisher’s description of the book, as it appears on the Amazon page:

Great teaching is about facilitating intrinsic motivation and self-directed learning. It’s about giving students the opportunity to learn by doing and encouraging them to take risks and learn from their mistakes. These same methods and skills apply equally to the huge number of English Language Learners now in American classrooms.

Written by an award-winning practitioner, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies that Work offers educators a five-step methodology for teaching this burgeoning population. Rather than viewing these students through the typical lens of “deficits” they might have, the process helps educators recognize and use the assets ELLs bring to the classroom.

The five principles around which the process revolves are: building relationships, accessing prior knowledge through student stories, developing student leadership, learning by doing, and reflection. The book shows how these ideas can be used in all subject areas to help ELLs master both content and language using “high-order” thinking skills. In addition to providing detailed lessons, the book shares a framework teachers can use to create their own lessons, and it shows how to take advantage of technology and games as teaching tools. References to extensive research studies are included to provide evidence of effectiveness, and each lesson is linked to state standards in English Language development.

The introduction is rather lengthy, so I’m going to just reprint a portion here on my blog. You can download the entire introduction here.

You can also see other information on the book, including a slide presentation and a Wordle of it, at one of my previous posts.

Here is a review of the book written by Mary Ann Zehr at Ed Week.

John Norton has also written a very positive review of my new book at the Teacher Leadership Today blog. It’s titled Empower ELL Students to Learn.

New York City education Jose Vilson has written a nice review of the book. You can read it at the Teacher Voices blog post, Becoming a Better Teacher of ELL Students.

As the publisher’s description explains, the book focuses on looking at English Language Learners through the lens of “assets” instead of “deficits,” and includes many practical ideas and lessons on how teachers can implement that perspective in the classroom.   I also use many of these same strategies in my mainstream classes.

I frame this concept through what I call the “Organizing Cycle,” ( Building Relationships, Accessing Prior Knowledge Through Student Stories, Developing Student Leadership, Learning By Doing, and Reflection), which is similar to how effective community organizers work. As many readers know, I was an organizer for nineteen years prior to becoming a high school teacher six years ago.

Obviously, I’m biased, but I believe teachers will find this book very helpful.

Here is a portion of my Introduction that explains the parts of the “Organizing Cycle”:

Building Strong Relationships with Students

Community organizers often say that “organizing” is just another word for “relationship building.” You can quickly identify people’s self-interests on the surface, such as the desire to get a better job or buy their own homes. But it is necessary to go deeper and find out what personal experiences might inspire people to seek improvements in order to develop power to create significant personal and social change. These insights can only be uncovered in the context of a genuine relationship.

We can use these self-interests, to be more of an agitator (challenging students to reflect on their own knowledge, lives, and experiences and then use these reflections to frame a vision for the future) instead of being an irritator (telling them what they should want to know and how they should learn it). Doing this successfully can help English language learner students fight past the frequent frustrations most people experience in learning a second language.

Accessing Prior Knowledge through Stories

Stories can help immigrant students make connections based on their similar experiences and help them consider alternative perspectives. These classroom conversations involve an exchange of information, not an interview or a one-way presentation, and can result in the creation of a community of learners. By developing this type of class culture, students can find that they have both more personal self-confidence and more in common with each other than they had originally thought. This combination of increased self-assurance and feeling more connected to their peers results in students feeling more comfortable taking risks, which is one of the keys, if not the key, to second language learning success.

Identifying and Mentoring Students’ Leadership Potential

Assisting students to develop the leadership skills helps them become cocreators of their learning journey. Everyone in the class, including the official educator, can be a learner and a teacher.

Patiently helping our students develop the capacity to lead helps them create their own sense of power, which dictionaries define as “the ability to act”—both individually and collectively. Developing this capacity is particularly important to English language learner students, many of whom have been uprooted from their native countries through no choice of their own, face challenges in understanding and communicating in our culture’s primary language, and can be living in lower-income communities where examples of powerlessness are obvious each day.

Learning by Doing

It’s difficult for students to feel powerful if the leadership and energy only flows from the teacher. Using Saul Alinsky’s “Iron Rule” of “never doing for someone what they can do for themselves” as a guide, we can show students how to become much more than empty vessels waiting to be filled by the educator’s input.

Community organizers describe action as the oxygen of an organization. Action is equally important to the healthy life of a classroom. We need to help students learn that people without power tend to react to rules and experiences that others create, while people with power can act to create those rules and experiences.

Having English language learners describe and interpret classroom experiences has long been considered an effective instructional strategy. Helping students discover knowledge on their own through those experiences instead of telling them information creates even richer language (and life) learning opportunities. To paraphrase Dave Kees, a talented English teacher in China: What makes for more engaging stories and conversation—going on a prepackaged tour or on an adventure?

Reflection

Many of us often define ourselves by our activities instead of the outcomes of those activities. Educators, too, can fall into the trap of substituting busyness for real progress. As T. S. Eliot once said, “We had the experience, but missed the meaning.”

When we take time to critically review our work and search for evidence of our accomplishments (both through data and personal observation), we learn how to improve and we’ll often uncover key lessons we may have missed. It’s important for educators and students alike to develop the discipline of reflection. Many often do not take the time to digest what they are doing and learning. English language learner students have to learn double the amount of other students—language and content—and are therefore even less likely to naturally incorporate this element. There’s always so much to learn!

It’s common for many groups doing good work in neighborhoods to focus all their energy on what they view as the task at hand—to build affordable housing, to develop jobs, to provide social services. In community organizing, the task at hand is providing people with the opportunity to develop relationships, relate their personal stories and traditions to what is going on now, develop themselves as leaders, shape their own learning environment, and take time to digest it all.

By focusing on these priorities, community organizing groups, in turn, are often recognized locally and nationally as extraordinarily effective organizations in getting needed services provided to low-income communities, creating affordable housing, and developing jobs that provided good wages and benefits to previously low-income people. The concentration on personal development in the context of “agitational” relationships (see the earlier discussion about the difference between “agitation” and “irritation”) can result in people gaining concrete community improvements and, much more significantly, insights and skills that can last a lifetime.

The purpose of this book is to demonstrate that similar outcomes can result by applying the steps described above to English language learner classrooms (and to other classes as well). By using these strategies in the classroom, educators can help English language learners make huge strides in their language development and in becoming lifelong learners

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

12 Comments

  1. Love the idea of agitator versus irritator. That applies to teacher professional development, too!

  2. Can wait to try some of the strategies with my students in Puerto Rico.

  3. This sounds really interesting and different. (It reminds me a little–in a good way–of the approach being used by the Digital Bridge Academy community college program that my husband recently went to a training for. Really exciting and innovative stuff!) I hope I get a chance to see it at a conference at some point…

  4. Larry – Congratulations!

    Your five principles articulate a powerful methodology for ESL, English, and Social Studies teachers – in the United States and around the world. I look forward to reading your book and learning more from you.

    Thanks for the heads up!

  5. I know I need to spend more time on #5 – Reflection. Too often, I’m so ready to jump to the next newest method or website for teaching ELLs, I skip reflecting on what went right & wrong in my previous lessons. Great post and thanks.

  6. I look forward to reading this Larry. Your excerpts are excellent.

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  8. I like your comments about about accessing prior knowledge in the classroom by sharing stories. I treasure my ESL students’ stories and find them the most helpful in terms of teaching. I plan to buy your new book, Larry, as soon as I get my next paycheck. Looking forward to learning more and posting a review of your book on my website. I can already tell that it’s well written. Don’t know how you find the time to keep up with this all. I see that you’re already starting on a third book.

  9. Hi,

    Your book looks superbly interesting. Is it available on Apple’s bookstore soon? Or in any downloadable format that I could convert to epub?

    Thanks :)

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  12. Nice book, look forward to getting it. Keep up the good work.

    Matt

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