English Language Learners questions account for 7% of the test.
This section tests your knowledge of researched-based practices appropriate for teaching English language learners. This includes but is not limited to:
- second language acquisition
- language biases in standardized testing
- positive and negative language transfer
Let’s take a look at some concepts that may pop up on the test.
Second Language Acquisition
Students who are in the process of acquiring a second language will need a range of support. Support for these students can include scaffolding, error correction, explicit vocabulary instruction, differentiated instruction, gesturing, and peer learning. There are five stages of language acquisition that students will go through, and it is important that teachers are aware of those stages, as well as what type of support and instruction is appropriate at each stage.
Let’s take a look at the stages of second language acquisition, along with some support strategies to use at each stage:
Stage 1: Pre-Production
Known as “the silent period,” this stage is where ELLs may understand some words but are not yet speaking the new language. They may be able to convey an answer by drawing, pointing, or nodding. Some students in this stage will repeat words you say, but they are not producing language.
Strategies to use in this stage include gesturing, visual aids, using pictures to build vocabulary, asking yes-or-no questions, and partnering students with a buddy who speaks their language if possible.
Stage 2: Early Production
Students in this stage will usually speak in one- or two-word phrases, but these phrases will not always be used correctly. They might also use common social phrases.
Strategies to use in this stage include using pictures to build vocabulary, asking yes/no or either/or questions, and modeling correct language use.
Stage 3: Speech Emergence
Students in the speech emergence stage of language acquisition will ask basic questions and initiate short conversations with peers, although there will likely be grammar and pronunciation errors. Students in this stage are also able to understand basic storylines with the support of pictures and complete some content work with appropriate supports.
Strategies to use in this stage include visual aids, modeling academic vocabulary in sentences, and having students retell a story. Teachers can also provide graphic organizers, word banks, and fill-in-the-blank questions on assignments.
Stage 4: Intermediate Fluency
Students at this stage will have a broader vocabulary and will begin to use more detailed sentences when speaking and writing. They will be willing to express their opinions and will ask questions for clarification. Grammatical errors will decrease at this stage, and comprehension will be at or near the level of their peers.
Strategies to use in this stage include asking for clarification, paraphrasing student responses, correcting errors, and asking students to verbally elaborate on their thinking process.
Stage 5: Advanced Fluency
At this stage, students will be proficient or nearly proficient in the new language. Students in the advanced fluency stage will be fluent in speech, writing, and reading. Most students at this stage will exit the ELL support program but may still need support from teachers regarding specific academic language.
Strategies to use in this stage include pre-teaching specific academic vocabulary, providing ongoing feedback, and conferencing with students on written assignments.
Language Bias in Standardized Testing
Language bias in standardized testing refers to the fact that there are clear biases in testing against students whose primary language is anything other than English. It is important for educators to be aware of this because more and more students are in one of the stages of second language acquisition. Educators need to be able to differentiate between assessing a student’s mastery of a learning target versus a student’s mastery of the English language. At times, the two go hand in hand, but often they do not.
Positive and Negative Language Transfer
Language transfer refers to the influence of ELLs’ native language on second language production. This includes both positive and negative transfer.
- In positive language transfer, the influence of the native language leads to the quick acquisition of the second language. This can occur when two languages have a similar structure, or when words translated from one language to another have a similar spelling and pronunciation.
- In negative language transfer, the influence of the native language leads to errors and misunderstandings of the second language. This can happen when two languages have different structures or when languages have words that sound the same but have different meanings.
Typically, teachers are only concerned with negative transfer, because that is where corrections need to be made. Most languages share some similarities, but teachers need to be aware of how a student’s native language is transferring to English and promptly correct any negative transfer.