Local Boston Radio show, Here and Now, recently ran a story on the benefits of language immersion, holding up a program in Anthem, AZ as a model. Children in this Phoenix suburb are immersed in a 1-way Mandarin immersion program, and score equally well on standardized test scores as their non-Mandarin-immersed peers. District officials are interviewed, touting the benefits of learning more than one language. Meanwhile, in Phoenix and elsewhere across Arizona, scores of native Spanish speakers are prohibited from being able to learn in two languages because the anti-bilingual education law is actively enforced. This phenomenon, of who gets to be bilingual and biliterate through schooling, and who doesn't, underscores the realities of discrimination and xenophobia in public education. According to recent census numbers, the population of Anthem is 89.7% White and 2.6% Asian. If Anthem, Arizona were home to a huge influx of Chinese immigrants, what is the likelihood that this Mandarin immersion program would survive?
IES has released a revision to its 2007 practice guide for English learners that takes into account the relative proliferation of research that has been published since 2007. The panel (on which I served) makes 4 recommendations, accompanied by specific "how-to's" that are characterized by instructional examples. The recommendations are as follows:
1. Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities;
2. Integrate oral and written English language instruction into content-area teaching;
3. Provide regular, structured opportunities to develop written language skills; and
4. Provide small-group instructional intervention to students struggling in areas of literacy and English language development
The recommendations are rather broad, and are constrained to the extent that the panel was only able to consult findings from studies that conformed to standards for experimental, or quasi-experimental, research set by the What Works Clearinghouse. So there is much more research out there that might help fill out these recommendations (or add to them) that was not included in the report. Still, the focus is squarely on the role of language, paying strong attention to the need to ELs to have opportunities to USE language in spoken and written form and not just listen to it. The guide is freely available here.