We all seem to find our niche in education. We gravitate towards our passions and strengths. I am fortunate to have Debra Mueller as a colleague. She is an AIMS Facilitator who has found her niche by really knowing about the needs of, and how to help, English Language Learners (ELL) be successful in the classroom. Debra has also helped our Facilitator cadre understand what struggles ELL students have learning math and science, and how to help them.
Debra shared that a classroom teacher must first think about how the lesson they will teach is comprehensible to their ELL students. She uses Cummins’s Framework to evaluate the language demand in the content of any math or science lesson. (Dr. Jim Cummins is a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto where he works on language development and literacy development of learners of English as an additional language.) Debra shared how overwhelming it can be for ELL learners to learn a second language, and to learn math or science content simultaneously. She reminded us that for these students, vocabulary instruction is an essential key to effective math and science learning. Using ELL strategies such as pre-teaching key phrases, vocabulary, and using vocabulary banks help students whose first language is not English be successful.
Because of what I have learned from Debra, I share this thought with many AIMS workshop participants. Teachers of ELL students should always think about a math or science lesson as a way to deepen student learning. Listening, speaking, reading, or writing language acquisition skills are not taught in isolation, but rather together as the ELL student learns their second language through math and science content. I am glad AIMS has facilitators like Debra to help extend our knowledge base in areas that we need to be aware of. Teaching is hard, so I encourage you to seek information, advice, and tips from your colleagues, because chances are they have found their niche.