How Can We Support Our English Language Learners?

Last Updated by Jessica Dunn Feeser on

In many Central Indiana school districts, student enrolment is on the rise. With this growth, schools have become more diverse, and educators are working to find ways to serve growing populations of English as a Second Language (ESL) students. Check back to  learn from local educators, organizations, and professionals about about why this matters, understand what is being done in our community to support this population of students, and identify ways you can help, as a part of WFYI's October American Graduate blog series around supports for English language learners.

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As the Coordinator of the English as a Second Language (ESL) Department for Indianapolis Public Schools, the school district with the most English learners in the state, I am often asked the question, “How can we support our English language learners?” The answer to this question is both simple and complicated at the same time. 

The simple answer is that we have to ensure that ALL stakeholders are supporting English learners--from the bus driver, to the school secretary, music teacher, principal, classroom teachers, school nurse, to the after-school tutors. Every adult that interacts with our English learners needs to understand that she or he is an integral part in supporting the English language development of our students. 

The acquisition of English does not happen only when a student is receiving ESL support from a certified ESL teacher. Our students are learning English throughout their entire day, a fact that we need to acknowledge, embrace, and use to our advantage. It’s a great opportunity to realize that we have the entire day to teach English! 

While the answer seems very simple, the cultural shift that is needed is more challenging.  For years English learners have been considered someone else’s responsibility by most people who interact with them. Many times our English learners would receive alternative classroom instruction to learn English, but we have discovered that this just doesn’t work. 

As a result, we have looked closely at our practices and are moving to a model where our English learners will be supported throughout the school day in learning English. 

At the elementary school level we are moving toward a co-teaching model of instruction where the classroom teacher and ESL teacher work collaboratively to plan lessons, deliver instruction, and assess students. At the secondary level, we will begin a three-year implementation of the research-based Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) model. Both models are a markedly different approach to teaching our English learners because they promote a culture of shared responsibility. There is no more talk of “your” students and “my” students; instead, the conversation now centers around “our” students. 

As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” These words are indeed true as we look toward the changes in educating our English learners in Indianapolis Public Schools.  When every person that interacts with our English learners begins to understand their role and impact in ensuring the success of our students, then there is no doubt that the best is yet to come. 

What strategies do you know of that are being used to support ESL students? How can we conintue to support students for whom English is their second language? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and on social media using #AmGradIndy.

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Jessica Dunn Feeser has been an educator since 1993. She is currently the English as a Second Language (ESL) Coordinator in Indianapolis Public Schools and an adjunct instructor at Marian University. Previously she served as an ESL educator in the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township, a middle school educator in New Palestine, Indiana, a high school teacher in Williamsburg, Virginia, and a bilingual teacher in Oakland, California. She has an undergraduate degree from Indiana University and received her master’s degree in School Administration from Butler University. Jessica has served on the Teach For America Alumni board, Lawrence Township School Foundation Board, and the A-F Accountability Committee. She co-founded the Refugee Collaboration Committee in Washington Township and recently founded the United Northwest Collaborative, a collective of organizations dedicated to identifying and finding resources to meet the needs of our ESL community.

 

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