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October 3, 2023

SBHS guides English learners toward fluency

Courtesy of San Benito High School:
With a goal of improving English Learners’ language skills and helping them get reclassified as English Language Proficient, San Benito High School offers these students a strong emphasis on oral communication, reading, listening and writing.
From the introduction of English Language Development (ELD) standards and professional development for teachers that focuses on assessing learning, the school has multiple layers of support for the 11 percent of students who are classified as English Learners on campus.
Interactive, Exciting, Energetic
Eric Martin said he decided to become an English teacher so he could focus on ELD, “so naturally, I believe an ELD classroom is an interactive, exciting, and energetic place to be.”
Year after year, he said, students who are working to learn English show “resilience, motivation and positive attitudes. Many of our students have overcome great adversity,” he said, “yet they still show up, every single day, with a desire to learn.”
High Expectations
English Department Chair and ELD 4 teacher Carissa Alvarez said her classes emphasize speaking, listening and grammatical skills.
“I’m all about challenging them,” she said of her students. “In fact, their novel this semester is one that was on the summer reading list for our advanced students for several years. They are currently writing an argumentative research paper. I have very high expectations for them.”
With the large range of English abilities in the classroom, teachers think outside the box to give students what they need to succeed.
“Some of my kids are recent immigrants who have been flying through the language levels,” Alvarez noted, referencing proficiency levels that are assessed annually with a goal of becoming Fluent English Proficient. Some of her students have been in ELD classes since second or third grade.
“I know my students really well and become an advocate for them,” she said. “It’s incredibly rewarding to watch them progress through language levels and eventually reclassify.”
Moving Toward Fluency
San Benito High School English Learner Program Specialist Joanne Kaplansky said 80 percent of the school’s EL’s are identified as Long Term English Learners; students who have been enrolled in American schools for more than six years and have not progressed toward English proficiency.
SBHS teachers provide varied levels of support in the classroom, based on student proficiency levels, to move them toward fluency.
“Word banks, sentence frames, visual representations like graphic organizers, and partnering with bilingual students are supports that assist all EL’s,” Kaplansky said. “Some teachers modify tests, translate, and allow less proficient students to work with a partner.”
Martin said his ELD students in each unit practice reading, writing, speaking and listening to English.
In the first unit of ELD 3 this year, his students wrote a personal narrative about a pivotal moment in their lives reflecting their culture. The narratives were read aloud — in English — in the school auditorium as the culminating project in September. In the second unit, students argued for and against raising the minimum wage in California and eventually produced an argumentative essay from their research.
They are currently researching clothing brands around the world and “looking behind the curtain to discover the wages, working conditions and environmental effects of the brands’ factories and factory workers.” Students will present their findings to the class and try to persuade their audience to either support or boycott their brand of choice.
“Whatever the content might be, every student, every day, has an opportunity to engage with English through reading and listening,” Martin said, “and every student has multiple opportunities to produce language orally and in writing.”
A Team Effort
ELD teachers are not the only ones focusing on English Learners, as the entire teaching staff has gone through professional development on content area literacy as it relates to EL students.
English and science teachers have utilized the school’s new Academic Focus Time periods to offer ELD-specific tutorials, giving these students more time with a bilingual instructional aide. A goal this year is to include writing workshops and targeted listening practice for students who are close to being reclassified and the school continues to offer math and English boot camps to prepare 11th grade EL’s for Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing.
Teachers and staff use technology to help move EL’s toward reclassification, including Rosetta Stone, language learning program that supplements the ELD Reading Support class, and Listenwise, which teaches and assesses listening skills. English teachers use a program called ELlevation to evaluate students for reclassification and monitor those that have been reclassified.
All teachers will soon have access to ELlevation Strategies, a digital toolkit of classroom activities to incorporate language instruction into existing content lessons.
Recognizing that reclassifying an English Learner and Fluent English Proficient can often be a multi-year task, Kaplansky works closely with the EL coordinator from the Hollister School District to create ninth-graders’ schedules, collaborate on best practices, meet with parent groups and discuss reclassification criteria.
An Indicator of Success
English Learner proficiency is one of the district’s Indicators of Success and EL support is one of the in-progress action plans that is part of the Strategic Plan, a document that serves as a guidepost for the student-focused decisions the Board of Trustees and the District make. Click the link below to learn more.