Thursday, September 11, 2008

Once more into the Breach of Contract

I feel that we have a Contract with Students to teach them as much as possible. For ESL/ELL students, this means English. This country runs all it's systems in English, with a patchy cobweb of translated documents inhabiting the corners of our bureaucracy. Colleges are run in English. Businesses are run in English. Media are run in English. Laws are written in English and court cases are judged in English. (Sure, they're translated. Do you trust that translator with your freedom? What if he went to the same school you did and the same program and learned just as much?)

ASBJ: has an article about the struggles of ELL students to pass the state competency tests. The article is called "A Race Against Time" referring to the need to take tests soon after starting at school.
Butler estimates that a mid-level student, with average intelligence and moderate literacy in their home language, will be in ELL classes about seven years. Research shows it takes five to seven years to gain competency in English.
Which leads me to ask, "Why?" The answer is "Because they're not focusing on English."

The kid is in the US and will have to take tests in English. If he's a good student and works hard, he'll go to college - in English. Why are we teaching him math in Spanish or Vietnamese? Let him take all his time to learn English. No science. No math. No history. A class of grammar. A class of reading. Back to writing. Speaking and enunciation. A math class in English - one he has already mastered the math of and is taking for the English.

It is better to take a year off from math and science and history than to take four or seven more years to learn English. He's already at the ninth or tenth grade in math skills. He'll not lose that. His math skills are probably better than his classmates' anyway because his old math teachers didn't mess around with calculators and group learning and fuzzy math. (Yes, it's a stereotype but the reality is too often true to that stereotype. Remember the South Park episode where the Mexican day laborers teach math better than Mr. Garrison? priceless.)

As a final point, look at the language program at Middlebury College or any competent college. Total Immersion. Why? It's the best way.

Here are your choices to use the time he's got:
A) Math and science classes in which the language problem will limit him to maybe a half year of progress and lots of time staring at the wall.
B) English classes in which he'll make several years of progress, which will then allow him to take those math and science classes NEXT year.
Nevertheless, Georgia requires high school students to take the district’s graduation exams after they have been enrolled for only one year, beginning in 10th grade. Norcross’ ELL students struggle to pass any of the seven required subjects, particularly the writing exam.
I'll bet many of them pass the math tests anyway.

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