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Journal Article

Supporting Young English Learners in the United States

Lisa Barrow and Lisa Markman-Pithers
The Future of Children
Vol. 26, No. 2, Starting Early: Education from Pre Kindergarten to Third Grade (Fall 2016), pp. 159-183
Published by: Princeton University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/43940586
Page Count: 25
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Supporting Young English Learners in the United States
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Abstract

Simply put, children with poor English skills are less likely to succeed in school and beyond. What s the best way to teach English to young children who aren't native English speakers? In this article, Lisa Barrow and Lisa Markman-Pithers examine the state of English learner education in the United States and review the evidence behind different teaching methods. Models for teaching English learner children are often characterized as either English immersion (instruction only in English) or bilingual education (instruction occurs both in English and in the students' native language), although each type includes several broad categories. Which form of instruction is most effective is a challenging question to answer, even with the most rigorous research strategies. This uncertainty stems in part from the fact that, in a debate with political overtones, researchers and policymakers don't share a consensus on the ultimate goal of education for English learners. Is it to help English learner students become truly bilingual or to help them become proficient in the English language as quickly as possible? On the whole, Barrow and Markman-Pithers write, it's still hard to reach firm conclusions regarding the overall effectiveness of different forms of instruction for English learners. Although some evidence tilts toward bilingual education, recent experiments suggest that English learners achieve about the same English proficiency whether they're placed in bilingual or English immersion programs. But beyond learning English, bilingual programs may confer other advantages—for example, students in bilingual classes do better in their native languages. And because low-quality classroom instruction is associated with poorer outcomes no matter which method of instruction is used, the authors say that in many contexts, improving classroom quality may be the best way to help young English learners succeed.

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