Building ELL Brain

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How teachers can teach content in English and not have to spend so much time teaching the English language itself.

Learners of English (ELLs) face a difficult task in schools—absorbing content instruction while their English skills are still developing. Additionally ELLs who come from homes of poverty or undue stress may need cognitive interventions, as well as English instruction. Here are 4 key things to keep in mind for your teaching.

1) Tune the “keys” in.

Effective English language learning requires the brain to build new keys—clusters of neurons—to access the new language accurately and quickly. If a child wants to learn a second language, he or she has to be “tuned” to it— the keyboard must be accurate and finely tuned for both languages.

2) Native language competence.

Research has shown that the better a student’s language skills are in his or her native language, the easier the second language will be learned and mastered. Research supports determining English language learners’ native language competence before determining the best approach for second language learning. Language immersion, for instance, may work for some learners, but may frustrate a student whose native language skills are impaired.

3) Older learners.

Evidence suggests that older second language learners require and benefit from direct instruction that includes auditory training as well as the direct teaching of vocabulary and grammar.

4) Poverty and stress.

Decades of research show that poverty and stress adversely affect brain development and maturation. In addition, sustained activation of the stress response system can lead to impairments in learning, memory, and the ability to regulate certain stress responses.