There is a whole other category of English learners who are struggling to catch up with their native English speaking peers. In an everyday conversation with these students, you might never think they have a problem with the English language. They can be articulate and even sound like native English speakers. But their academic performance may be telling a very different story.
Long-term English learner (or LTEL) is a formal educational classification given to students who have been enrolled in American schools for more than six years, who are not progressing toward English proficiency, and who are struggling academically due to their limited English skills. Usually LTEL students are found in middle and high school (grades 6-12), and they are more likely to be held back or to drop out of school.
In Southern California, one school district wants to prevent elementary students from becoming long-term English learners by reaching them early, before they enter middle school. To begin their mission, they created a free summer camp for low-income students who scored below the level needed in order to be reclassified in the district as English proficient. This arts and science camp provided many opportunities for these children to learn and use advanced English words and phrases that they may not have encountered otherwise. It was so helpful to students and teachers, they hope to expand it next year and integrate things they learned throughout the year.
Non-native English speaking students are not the only ones in danger of struggling in reading and writing as they continue their education beyond elementary school. As one first grade teacher in Michigan using GrapeSEED admitted, “When I was first introduced to the idea of using an English learning program in my classroom to help my students’ speaking, listening, and reading skills, I was admittedly skeptical. My students all already speak English!” She went on to say, “I had never really thought much about how different my students’ everyday language was from the language I was using and from the language our books used. I was so used to just ‘interpreting’ what they said and rewording their sentences for them, that it hadn’t occurred to me how much of a struggle it must be for them to try to process what I was saying or what I was trying to make them read! It really sunk in that this program was going to help bridge the distance between their everyday language and our school language.”
These are just a few more great examples showing the importance of teaching early literacy and using high-quality early childhood education programs like GrapeSEED. When students, whether English is their native language or not, do not completely understand the academic language being used in school, they may experience anxiety, become withdrawn, or exhibit poor behavior, which can lead to lower test scores, lowered self-confidence, and other serious problems. It is crucial that we reach all young English learners as early as possible to give them the best chance of becoming successful readers and writers, to succeed in school, and, ultimately, to lead a better life.