Improving Outcomes for English Language Learners

By Valerie Futch, postdoctoral fellow at Youth-Nex studying adolescent
identity development, and more.

Valerie Futch
Related posts will be found under Works In Progress Meetings

English language learners (ELLs) are a very diverse and ever-increasing population of students. They may face many challenges while learning a new language and navigating the educational system, but there are also many opportunities for them.

One such opportunity comes in the form of dual-language programs, which place ELLs with native English speakers (NEs) in a setting that allows them to use their proficiency in their native language to help learn the new (or partner) language.

Last Thursday, Assistant Professors Amanda Kibler (Curry School) and Sophie Trawalter (Batten School) discussed the progress of their Youth-Nex seed funded grant project to develop a dual language program for area high school students. Their preliminary findings show interesting differences between how ELLs and NEs engaged with the curriculum and experience. In an effort to understand the effect of participation in such a program, the two researchers gathered survey data at the beginning of the school year and are collecting follow-up survey data now. In this presentation, they addressed initial measures of ethnocultural empathy (EE). Primarily, they were interested in how their measures of positive youth development (PYD) were related to measures of EE.

The findings were compelling and raise a number of questions for further investigation. They found that ELLs and NEs had a differing relationship to EE when PYD was considered. For native speakers, PYD measures weren’t related to their scores of ethnocultural empathy. For ELLs, however, PYD was strongly related to EE. This suggests that individual and external developmental assets are particularly important for ELLs experiences with and understanding of ethnocultural empathy.

However, the discussion period resulted in a number of questions for the researchers to investigate with their follow-up data and qualitative interviews. Primarily, it was posited by a number of colleagues in the audience that it could be that the ELL and NE students are distinctly different populations that come to the programs for different motivations and expectations, which may explain the marked differences. Additionally, some wondered about the interpretation of the EE scale by these two groups of students and suggested that stories or case studies of ethnocultural empathy experience may provide some answers above and beyond the scale scores.

Kibler and Trawalter have clearly designed a program and curriculum that are having an impact on local students and it will be interesting to see how the additional data helps them understand the impact of the program for both ELLs and NEs. The talk was compelling from both an intervention standpoint and a conceptual/research standpoint. Their results show the importance of using multiple methods to understand youths’ experiences and development in educational programs.

The presentation was a great way to close out the 2011-2012 series of WIP talks!

Project Description: Languages Across Borders: Building Positive Cross-linguistic and Cross-cultural Networks in High Schools.  Audio.

Editor Note: Works In Progress talks will break for the summer and resume
next semester on August 30. Charlotte Patterson and Samantha Tornello will
present “Reproductive Health Among Sexual Minority Youth.

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