A new set of best practices has the potential to change the way non-native English speakers are taught. Indeed, while the common consensus among educators has long been that non-native English speakers need to be in separate classes to excel, a new breed of administrators in both the United States and United Kingdom have helped their students to achieve unparalleled ESL success by turning this received wisdom on its head.
Trying Something Else
While non-native English speakers have traditionally struggled in “mainstream” (English-only) classes and tend to get stuck in an endless loop of language remediation at the expense of other disciplines, this new approach comes at the problem from another angle. Though no single educational school of thought can is responsible for this trend, a growing number of schools are placing students who arrive with little or no English in intensive language sessions for as little time as possible before placing them full-time in what are known as “mainstream” (English-only) classes. During the English remediation the core curriculum is still covered and in mainstream classes peer-instruction is maximized. This last tenet is predicated on the belief that students can best learn from their peers – in the words of one teacher, “advanced speakers of English will be able to explain things to somebody who is less advanced” – and best progress through inclusive learning.
Though no formal studies have yet been conducted, anecdotal evidence from schools around the world would appear to indicate that this approach is working. In the UK, for example, non-native students who participate in this kind of model actually outperform their native English-speaking peers. According to the UK Department for Education, for example, while 22.5% of 16-year-old students whose first language is English achieved passing marks in English, math, science, and other core subjects, fully 24.4% of English as a Second Language students did.
Not a Moment Too Soon
Such conclusions will doubtless be of interest to teachers and administrators in the US and UK. After all, ESL students now represent more than 10% of the student body on both sides of the Atlantic.
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