Posts filed under ‘ELL Transition Programs’

Dear Boston: You Need a Multilingual Exam School

Let’s begin at the top. A Grade 7-12 exam school for students who excel in linguistics would be a great way to meld cultures and celebrate language arts. The service gap to Latino students has persisted through a number of school transformations across the public schools in the City of Boston. Instead of searching for universal exemplars in English Language Learning, perhaps students would be better served by delving deeper into their strengths in World Languages.

The Boston Public Schools have been challenged to do a better job teaching Latino students. Law suits have led to a series of citations for poor service delivery with English Language Learners. The problem has persisted despite a number of initiatives to improve equity in education. A vision for under-served students has focused on pulling them up from the bottom in academic achievement, which by definition places a problematical label on Latino students. And it overlooks the strength they could bring to a multicultural world.

A few years ago I wrote about Charter Americas, a community-based idea for students transitioning to English language schools. A cornerstone of the plan was to reverse English Language Arts (ELA) and Foreign Language courses to reflect each student’s strongest native dialect. Essentially, English would be taught as a foreign language. Meanwhile, our ELA standards would be applied to the student’s own language with rigorous grade-level instruction in reading, writing, and speaking with depth in grammar and vocabulary development as well as genre studies. A broader humanities perspective would pull in elements of history, culture, and the arts.

This earlier program was conceived as a community center for multicultural activities that would transcend the primary goal of assimilating students into the Boston Public Schools. It would be a place for lifelong learning for non-native speakers of English to which students and their families could return to celebrate their heritage, for example, in the arts, oratory, or other cultural interests. To take the idea to the next level, however, would require bilingual rigor across a college-preparatory curriculum, essentially a multilingual exam school.

English language learners often have faced an ironic blend of excessive challenge with immersion courses while being bored by content that was necessarily superficial. Diverse learners have been frustrated with a standard program that seemed not to fit anyone. And there has been nowhere for advanced students from other cultures to achieve continuity in their studies in the US. Further, the bottom-up approach to newcomers has cost them their identities as high achievers.

Existing ELL programs would benefit from a program that identified students with the highest academic potential and channeled them into appropriate pathways for advanced studies. A multilingual exam school would stratify students initially, an undemocratic approach in the short term. However, it would inject high expectations and empowerment into a system that is struggling to realize equity in education. And it would create an incubator for an under-served population to teach educators how better to serve the larger population of English Language Learners.


May 17, 2015 at 11:20 AM Leave a comment

Thoughts on English Language Learning

In the world of multiple intelligences, linguistics is NOT one of mine. However, I try to pay attention to any dialogue on language acquisition or management of English Language Learners (ELL). After many years of listening to proponents for bilingual education, full immersion, or sheltered immersion programs, I have designed a couple of hybrid models for 1st year ELL students.

The first, CharterAmericas creates a community center based charter school that assimilates the speaker of limited English with a very strong primary language. The program celebrates the intersection of the cultures of the Americas and provides a combination of bilingual and sheltered immersion learning. Further, it seeks to engage the local community in a shared value of multilingual language fluency.

The second, a Cultural Studies program, focuses on native language instruction of topics across the curriculum to students with very little understanding of English and significant gaps in knowledge from very significant absenteeism. In this latter program, the goal for students is to achieve foundation content knowledge and improve skill in language arts while studying their own culture and native tongue.

Common themes with both programs include…

  • Strong language arts studies in the student’s native language
  • English taught as a foreign language credit
  • Emphasis on native language for new academic content, English instruction for rehearsal of familiar concepts
  • Living arts content in English with vocabulary training and hands-on learning opportunities

Option 1: A charter school that serves as a one-year intensive academic transition program for newcomers with modest English proficiency. The school is part of a community center that serves the extended family as they adjust to life in an English-speaking world.


Languages of the Americas, Year 1 ELL program 

Language Arts – Primary language at grade level with learning standards comparable to ELA. This course is intended to develop deep knowledge and appreciation of reading with comprehension, writing by genre with appropriate mechanics, and vocabulary growth in the students’ native language.

Co-teaching at Grade level with interpreter – in English + primary language translations with after-school tutoring in primary language

  • Math
  • Social Studies
  • Science

Electives – bilingual with English vocabulary learning standards, oral and written assessments, and performance tasks for content

  • English I as a Foreign Language credit
  • The Arts – fine art, music, drama, dance
  • Living Arts – Culinary arts, fashion, woodworking, handyman
  • Technology – Keyboarding, Office Software, Graphics, Web Design,
  • Health and Physical Education

Community links

  • Lifelong learning – tutoring support after program completion
  • Whole family success planning (ESL, career counseling and training, adult education)
  • Leadership series – multilingual lectures, debates, cultural events
  • Part-time interpreters from community
  • Feeder schools in local district
  • Universities with cultural links – Latino and/or Caribbean studies
  • Performance series – student and community productions
  • Support services – counseling, health links  

Languages supported

  • Creole
  • English
  • French
  • Portuguese
  • Spanish

April 6, 2011 at 4:08 PM 2 comments