ELL Needs Keep Rising

As Bixby High's attendance increases, more students acquiring English as a second language becomes a reality.


Ava Harper

Ms. Terri Sloan helps an ELL student

Ava Harper, Reporter

The need for ELL teachers of English Language Learners is only getting higher, especially at Bixby High School, whose only ELL teacher, Terri Sloan, teaches students from all four grades.

ELL classes are taught to students who are not native speakers. Some of Bixby 37 ELL students come from different countries and spend the majority of their time in these classrooms. ELL classes, conducted in English, are not bilingual. They teach regular subjects, like math, social studies, science and English.

“I am not an expert in every subject, so we should have more teachers for different subjects,” says Sloan, who has had to juggle to get everyone accommodated for semester exams.

Sloan says that there is an increase in the number of students every year at Bixby High. The National Center for Education reports that 10 percent of U.S. students were in ELL classes in 2018 and predicted 25 percent would be in ELL by 2025.

Sloan says the number of students next school year will be affected by factors: mobility in and out of the district, and proficient scoring on the language acquisition test.

“We will not have a solid number until the beginning of school,” she says.

Sherri Mcmillan, executive director of elementary education at Bixby Public Schools, says “the district will continue to monitor the number of ELL students and request additional teachers as needed.”

Teaching a classroom that does not speak English comes with challenges. Instructions need to be adjusted to meet the needs of the students. When teaching vocabulary, ELL teachers use cognates (words sharing common lingual roots) that students may recognize in their native tongues.

Another technique is teamwork. Research suggests that English speakers and non-English speakers are equally capable of learning scientific concepts through collaborative group projects.

Many people say math is a subject anyone can learn, but Sloan says this is not necessarily the case.

“Math is usually the most difficult for them,” says Sloan, adding that many words used in math have a completely different meaning outside of the classroom.

Words like this are called polysemous and can cause a number of difficulties to people who are learning English.

Teaching ELL may seem difficult to some, but Sloan says it can be done.

“We simplify the language and use pictures to explain things,” she says.

The use of visual aids when teaching are used in a wide range of ELL classrooms at various levels.

Many linguists agree that the best way to learn a language is through immersion. For example, if a person wanted to learn French, the fastest way would be to live for several months in a French-speaking country and listen to natives speak. This is the case for ELL students. In the United States, they go to English-speaking schools and listen to fellow students.

One problem these students face is speaking the language.

“They have no confidence when they speak English,” Sloan says.

More than 30 states do not require ELL training for general classroom teachers beyond federal requirements. Most schools in Oklahoma have a few ELL classes, but with an increase in English-learning students, there is a demand for more.