Appalachia IU 8: Building Skilled ESL teachers
The number of English language learners in Pennsylvania is skyrocketing, and Appalachia IU 8 is a leader in equipping schools to meet the challenges faced by students whose primary language is not English. No matter what their background or where they came from, every student of English in Pennsylvania needs expert help, because acquiring English is an arduous process that takes seven to 10 years, says Leonard Shurin, administrator and ESL Program Specialist at IU 8.
Additionally, ESL classes are required by state and federal law, and an ESL class, as a curricular subject, replaces English language arts in the curriculum. "English is the hardest language in the world to acquire," says Shurin. Students who get successful ESL, or English as a Second Language, instruction perform better on Pennsylvania's achievement tests in English and language arts, says Shurin, and an essential element of success is a well-trained and certified ESL teacher.
Appalachia IU 8's ESL instruction program attracts participants from all over Pennsylvania and beyond. Every semester's daytime and evening courses are filled with students, many of them teachers building the credits needed for Pennsylvania ESL certification. IU 8's courses are built around research showing how the brain learns new languages, including the importance of steeping students in vocabulary, and teaching the idea of the alphabet to students from countries such as China with character-based languages.
Teachers must learn strategies for reaching students who come from a broad spectrum of experiences - those who are well-educated and already know some English, or those who are barely literate in their native tongues. Finally, they must communicate with students who were born speaking Spanish, Chinese, French, German, or Gujarati, one of the many languages of India, or any of the world's countless other languages. "Any child in the United States -- citizen or noncitizen -- must go to school," says Shurin. "The best way for a non-English speaking child to achieve and acquire English language proficiency is with the direct daily instruction of a skilled ESL teacher. Otherwise, it's a difficult future for them."
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