English Language Learners (ELLs)

  • District 47 offers a variety of language support services to meet the needs of our students who come to us with a variety of native languages. These home languages are a great asset to our District. We proudly provide English Learner services to approximately 836 students from 36 different home language backgrounds. Our top language groups include but are not limited to Spanish, Polish, Gujarati, and Urdu.  Our philosophy of education for English Learners in grounded in the WIDA CAN DO Philosophy.




    Who are ELLs?


    ELL stands for English Language Learners. English Language Learners are students who are learning English as their second language and need assistance in developing the academic language skills required for school. They need to acquire the social language, but more importantly the academic language.


    What is the ELL program?


    District 47 offers an English Language Learner program for students who are learning English as their second or third language and need assistance in developing the academic language skills required for school. All students enrolled in this program learn English while studying school subjects. These subjects include language arts, math, science and social science.


    The English Language Learner program has many different program types to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners. The programs include the Dual Language program for students who speak Spanish as well as ESL pull-out programs.


    The Bilingual programs in District 47 are based on a dual language model that emphasizes the development of biliteracy and the goal is language proficiency and academic achievement in English as well as Spanish.


    The ESL programs in District 47 provide support in a variety of ways, including pull out as well as resource services. A sheltered instruction approach is used to teach both language and content simultaneously.


    All ELL teachers, whether they are ESL or bilingual teachers, are trained to use teaching strategies that make language comprehensible and promote language development while using the grade-level curriculum.


    ELL programs are located throughout the District and are provided either at the home school or at a nearby school where teachers can best accommodate a student’s needs.  \The Dual Language Program is offered at three elementary schools (Canterbury, Coventry and North) and at two middle schools (Hannah Beardsley and Lundahl).   


    How are students identified for the ELL program?


    During the registration process, all families receive a home language survey. If another language is spoken in the home, the District is required by the State to screen students for the ELL program. Students are recommended to be in the ELL program based on the results of this screening. The test measures the student’s ability to listen, speak, read and write in the English language.


    What is the difference between bilingual and ESL?


    Both Bilingual and English as a Second Language models focus on the development of English language skills while learning school subjects such as language arts, math, science and social science. In a transitional bilingual program, students who speak the same language work with a teacher who provides instruction in both the native language and in English. In an English as a Second Language program children are serviced who come from many different language backgrounds. ESL classes are taught in English.


    Students benefit academically by being in bilingual and ESL programs. Teachers use special teaching techniques to provide instruction. Lessons focus on learning vocabulary and developing reading and writing skills, while developing academic concepts. The teachers are providing instruction to students to speak, listen, read and write in all subject areas. Teachers use a wide variety of visual aides and hands-on activities to ensure students’ understanding.


    How long does it take to learn another language?


    The most comprehensive work done in this field is the research conducted by Wayne Thomas & Virginia Collier. Thomas & Collier studied the language acquisition of 700,000 English Language Learners in a longitudinal study from 1982 to 1996. They wanted to find out how long it took students with no background in English to reach native speaker performance (50th percentile) on norm-referenced tests. In addition, they looked at variables such as socioeconomic status, first language, programs used to learn English, and number of years of primary language schooling. In their study, Thomas & Collier found that the most significant variable in how long it takes to learn English is the amount of formal schooling students have received in their first language. They found that it typically takes 5-9 years to learn another language academically (Thomas & Collier, 1997). It takes 5 years or less for students with a strong foundation in their native language and up to 9 years or more for students who are weak in their native language.


    Our bilingual program in District 47, which now uses a dual language approach, has a content allocation plan to help grade-level bilingual teachers know when to teach English and Spanish. It provides consistency between bilingual programs across the district and supports students in learning both English and another language.


    Students in the ESL program receive support in their English development and that support is gradually released as the child acquires English and attains higher levels of English proficiency.


    Every child is different and, regardless of the type of ELL program, some students take less than 5 years to acquire English while others take longer.


    How do we know that ELL students are making progress?


    All English language learners in K-12 must be assessed annually for English proficiency growth and academic progress. The ACCESS test is used to assess English language proficiency while the PARCC test is used to assess academic achievement in English.


    As a District we use a variety of academic measures to monitor progress of all learners. In order to make sure students are on track with their learning, we use local assessments to measure growth. ELL teachers and general education teachers work collaboratively to make sure students are making their growth targets for the year.


    What is the best program for English Language Learners? 


    Dual language programs, like the one offered in District 47, are the only programs to date that assist ELL students to fully reach and maintain high levels of achievement in the native language and English in all subjects through the end of schooling. The fewest dropouts come from these programs (Thomas & Collier, 2002). Dual language programs include the strategic and sustained use of both English and the language other than English across the curriculum and require that a minimum of 50% of the instructional time be spent in the language other than English. In dual language programs students interact socially and academically in English and another language and develop both social and academic proficiency in two languages.


    District 47 started its first dual language program in the 2009-2010 school year. The program started with a Kindergarten class made up of 50% native Spanish speakers and 50% native English speakers. In dual language all students learn to read, write, listen and speak two languages. Based on the success of the initial program, we have grown the program to be the model for bilingual services for our ELL students in the district. 


    How can parents help their children learn? 


    Students who can speak, read and write in their native language will learn English more quickly. You don’t need to teach reading twice. These native language skills transfer. A well-established native language will help children to learn a new language because they transfer what they know.


    Parents can help by:

    • Providing a strong language model at home within the language you feel most comfortable;
    • Reading stories to or with your child at home in the native language or English;
    • Using your native language to discuss academic topics like math, science or social science, which are taught at school;
    • Being patient. Developing a second language for academics takes time, effort and understanding;
    • Taking your child to museums, theaters, libraries and parks;
    • Becoming a part of your child’s educational team;
    • Keeping in contact with your child’s teachers and school;
    • Encouraging your child to participate in after-school activities;
    • Celebrating and acknowledging the growth your child makes in both languages; and
    • Modeling the advantages of being bilingual.


    Why is it important to be bilingual? 


    Our core purpose in District 47 is to prepare students to be successful for life. We believe that language and literacy, embedded in a rigorous and relevant curriculum, are integral components of this preparation. All students need fully developed capacities to read, write, speak, listen and use language strategically and effectively. As our world becomes more global and connected, the development of language and literacy skills in both English and a second language provides significant educational and career advantages. The demographics of our district provide a rich environment to foster linguistic and cultural appreciation. Strong family and school connections build on the talents and assets that our students bring to school, and produce students who proudly identify themselves as bilingual and multicultural.