ESOL Instruction/Language Policy
Attached to the language policy (#138) is an ELL Handbook. I would like to comment on one of the many troublesome sets of guidelines found in this document: Recommendations for instructional time and methodology in K-8 ESOL. In many presentations to this body and at community meetings, speakers have addressed the lack of adequate ESOL services and specialized curriculum. Experts working with ELs in Philadelphia have also bemoaned the lack of services for Level 3 (intermediate) students who “fall off the cliff” and slow their progress when receiving very limited ESOL services. Remember that state guidelines call for substantial daily services for ELs at least through Level 3 (intermediate). This handbook seems to justify a further erosion of EL services in Philadelphia.
(First a few definitions: The handbook introduces the term “collaborative pull-out ESOL,” which apparently indicates that ESOL and classroom teachers will carefully co-plan lessons that meet the special needs of ELs and that will then be presented during a small-group ESOL class. However, there is no vehicle presented that would afford time and opportunity for such co-planning; it rarely happens. Pull-out instruction does provide the opportunity for specialized, EL-specific services. In “push-in instruction” the ESOL teacher does not provide specialized services, but instead circulates and helps, where possible, during the regular lesson, to help ELs “keep up.” Rarely in push-in instruction are students introduced to the special grammatical, vocabulary or literacy skills that their English-speaking classmates have already mastered or have the linguistic skills to capture; there is no time or opportunity without interrupting the flow of the “regular lesson.”)
The guidelines in the handbook call for students in Grades K-2 to receive NO specialized pull-out instruction at all, only push-in “support.” This is probably workable for Kindergarten and for students in Grade 1 who are not new to the country, but what happens to students arriving with no English in the spring of Grade 1 or during Grade 2? Apparently they are to be included in the “regular” literacy block to sink or swim, with the ESOL teacher providing help with “keeping up” with the regular lesson. These beginners compete with classmates who, ideally, have already been exposed to intensive literacy instruction and who possess native-level English. No foundational skills—such as basic vocabulary or foundational literacy skills—-are introduced to those ELs who need it. No time and rare opportunity.
Of even more concern in Grades 3-5, where academic language and content are becoming much more challenging, only Level 1 students are to receive specialized pull-out support, with Level 2-3 students receiving such support on a “case-by case” basis. Level 2 students are advanced beginners and Level 3 students only intermediate—which of them would present a case for no necessary support? Schools would most likely decide whom to serve based on staffing, not student need. This document justifies limiting ESOL services.
For Grades 6-8, where the language needed for academic content learning becomes incredibly challenging, only Levels 1-2 are to receive pull-out services; Level 3 students are served again on a “case-by-case basis.” This, despite the fact that these middle-school students are expected to interpret and to produce a wide variety of academic texts in their content-area classes. Can the push-in ESOL teacher circulate to many different math, science, social studies and English classes to whisper in the ears of ELs who need help? This is not possible. Push-in instruction at this level is not feasible or meaningful.
There is ample research on the process of language acquisition for ELs. No research suggests that students absorb language through osmosis. Focus on form and carefully planned explicit instruction are called for. Clearly those creating the handbook have ignored such research in favor of cost-cutting measures or simply out of cynical indifference to ELs’ needs.