Some doing great job with English learners
Arizona Republic
Feb. 14, 2005

Oftentimes, we mistakenly jump to the conclusion that students who don't speak English are slow learners.

A person's native language is not a predictor of intelligence, and learning any second language is challenging. Research and my experience have taught me that the most effective English language learning, or ELL, programs focus on teaching English vocabulary quickly. They include additional instructional time and individual tutoring for struggling students and provide teachers with effective teaching strategies and opportunities for students to excel. Several schools are doing an exceptional job in these areas.

At Tucson's Walter Douglas Elementary School, English-language learners are given intensive English language instruction every school day. An after-school tutoring program is also available for students who have had limited formal education in their native countries. Experience Corps volunteers give one-on-one modeling and support to ELL students. Parents are also involved in adult GED and English classes.

"Effective practice with ELL students begins with a passionate belief that all children can achieve at high levels and there are no excuses for low achievement," Principal Manuel Valenzuela said.

He ensures that this attitude permeates the school culture.

Desert Horizon School in the Pendergast School District realized the importance of additional professional development. It provides a program called Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English for its teachers. This involves using teaching strategies to teach grade-level subject matter in English so that it is comprehensible and engages students who are learning English.

"A teacher with knowledge of effective teaching strategies and an understanding of how a child acquires a second language can make all the difference," Principal Camille Schaffer said.

Alhambra School District ensures that English-language learners have the opportunity to excel and that other students are taught a foreign language, beginning in kindergarten. A 15-minute daily instructional block for Spanish as a foreign language is provided; this is when English-language learners shine. Their native language is affirmed and they feel valued, and English speakers are given the opportunity to learn a foreign language, a win-win situation for both.

Research shows that the earlier a student learns a second language, the more proficient he or she will be. Students who can speak a second language will have future job opportunities not available to others. Call your child's school if you want to know how it is approaching this challenge.

Carol Peck is president and CEO of the Rodel Charitable Foundation of Arizona. Send your questions and ideas to her at