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Helping Bilingual Researchers

Melanie Curl demonstrates how using youth-friendly databases helps increase literacy among English language learner

In classrooms that include both English language learners (ELLs) and native English speakers, educators face the unique challenge of teaching these two groups at the same time. When teaching regular-paced lessons in English, educators can struggle with how to ensure their ELL students are understanding. However, due to funding issues, it may not be possible to give these students the specialized language instruction they need separately from the mainstream class.
Given this dilemma, many schools have chosen to take a different route when it comes to the inclusive classroom.
At Bean Elementary, we have about 50–60% ELL students. We are a Title I school: about 90% of our students are eligible for free/reduced lunch. We are also a dual-language school where pre-K–fifth grade have two classes that are taught in both English and Spanish. In these classes, teachers conduct Monday, Wednesday, and Friday classes in Spanish and Tuesday and Thursday classes in English.
To help support ESL/ELL students, we also have a designated Spanish section in the library, and we provide multiple technology resources to assist our ELLs. One of these resources is a kid-friendly digital database called PebbleGo, which has nonfiction articles in both English and Spanish. A read-aloud feature helps teachers looking to bridge the gap between Spanish and English—even teachers who are not dual language use this feature to support ELL/ESL students in their classrooms. Plus, the nonfiction content helps introduce academic vocabulary—words like habitat—that gives students the content knowledge they need, regardless of the language in which they have the most proficiency.

When it comes to reading, vocabulary is the biggest area in which I see ELL students struggle. Translating the nuances of meaning from one language to another can be difficult, particularly for younger students who simply do not yet have the English vocabulary to read English fluently. Providing dictionary definitions for words that may be troublesome for students to understand and then reading them aloud helps them understand the proper way to say these words. It allows them to learn new things, even if they have difficulty reading.
Providing pictures, video, and graphic organizer resources helps. Even for native English speakers, these resources and features help support reading and comprehension skills. Students learn information, whether in their native language or not, and in this, in turn, increases their enthusiasm for reading and research. Teachers are always looking for multiple resources for research and need to teach their students about finding reliable research sources. In an age when “fake news” has become the latest buzzword, teaching students about finding credible sources of information is important, especially for ELL/ESL students. When English learners are reading nonfiction, their focus is on understanding the words, and it may not occur to them that what they are reading may be opinion or fiction. Students are naturally trusting of the information provided to them. Teaching research skills at a young age is a great way to teach them about the difference between reliable and nonreliable sources. Students are now growing up in a very technology-based world, and information surrounds them daily. We teach them how to look for valid information and research topics deeply.
As the librarian at Bean Elementary, I believe it is my job to enhance the knowledge of both the students and the staff. I make sure a variety of types of resources are available and introduce these resources to teachers and students. The library affords everyone in the school the opportunity to explore new resources.
Being enrolled in a dual-language school benefits both ELLs and native-English-speaking students. They are each being immersed in another language on a daily basis, which research has shown leads to higher academic achievement and cognitive skills. In addition to this, dual-language programs give students the opportunity to spend great quantities of time with peers from another culture, widening their worldview and deepening their understanding of others. In this type of environment, with the right tools and scaffolds, all students have the chance to succeed.

Fortune, Tara Williams. “What the Research Says about Immersion.” Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, University of Minnesota,, retrieved 3/20/17.

Melanie Curl is a librarian at Bean Elementary in Lubbock, TX.

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