Empower ELL students to learn

TLN Forum member Larry Ferlazzo’s popular teaching resources blog began with a strong focus on teaching English Language Learners and then exploded into one of the best general resources for teachers across the K-12 spectrum.

A community organizer turned ELL teacher himself, Larry is now sharing key ideas from his own classroom in a new book, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work. He proposes that the best way to empower ELL students as they master English is to abandon the “deficit model” common in many schools and develop their self-efficacy and leadership skills. He elaborates in a recent article for Teacher Magazine:

During my organizing career, I participated in efforts that won many concrete community improvements in jobs, affordable housing, citizenship, and child care. But the most important results were seeing how dramatically people changed themselves based on what they learned through community organizing—how to give and receive constructive critique, how to lead and guide diverse groups, how to confidently confront challenges, and how to take the initiative to create change. Many developed a burning desire to learn, and often surprised themselves with their capacity to excel with difficult tasks.

Seeing these kinds of results caused me to wonder how much better people’s lives could be if they developed effective leadership skills at a younger age. I wanted to help people learn to think critically and act confidently as they were growing up, rather than waiting until they were adults. That desire, and my belief that many of the organizing strategies that worked successfully with adults could benefit teenagers and younger children, prompted my decision to become a teacher.

In his book and in this Teacher Magazine piece, Larry describes a five-part Organizing Cycle that “can help students become co-creators of their education, without being constrained by their limited English skills. I have used it successfully in my classes for the past six years.” The steps in the cycle include: (1) Build strong relationships with students: (2) Access prior knowledge through stories; (3) Identify & mentor students’ leadership potential; (4) Promote learning by doing; and (5) Model reflection.

If you agree that ELL and other students considered “high-need” are often treated as individuals with deficits to be addressed rather than potential to be developed, you’ll find important messages in this article and In Larry’s latest book.

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