ASU professor concerned about new English Language Learner methods
Arizona Republic
Oct. 5, 2008


by Ray Parker

Arizona State University Assistant Professor Margarita Jimenez-Silva has worked in the classroom teaching English-language learners and more recently has been preparing future teachers to work with ELL students and researching the topic.

She said there are many ELL experts across the nation skeptical of the new approach Arizona has adopted for teaching ELL this school year: Four hours per day of intensive English grammar, reading and writing.

This way of teaching Arizona's approximately 138,000 ELL students diverges from the more common method, where students learn English grammar for an hour or so per day, but then spend time in other subjects, such as science, history or math, often with a translator.

But Arizona's new method stems from unusual circumstances involving a long-running federal court case, Flores vs. Arizona, in which the court has ruled Arizona doesn't adequately pay for the education of English learners.

Jimenez-Silva noted that the ASU College of Teacher Education and Leadership is teaching its students to respect the new law, while also instructing students in the tools and strategies they will need to implement this law when they become teachers.

Question: Have you heard of other states using Arizona's new ELL model?

Answer: No.

Q: Why do you think that is?

A: The model being used in Arizona is not being followed in other states for a reason. The literature focuses on how it has to be meaningful and implemented in other areas, or learning English through content (in other subjects). It's a questionable model.

Q: Do you think Arizona's model could influence other states?

A: I hope not. I hope other states learn what not to do from what we're doing. I'm very skeptical that it's going to work. The research doesn't advocate for it. The research that this model was based on, it was very limited. The way it is being implemented, it's chaos out there. We're just trying to just get a sense of what each district is doing. There's very different interpretations.

Q: So, this is not a good model for teaching ELL?

A: No, definitely not. I don't think it's a good model. I don't think it's based on sound research. We would not teach our native speakers in this manner, let alone those learning English as a second language. It's a tough question in terms of how we're going to measure the model. The kids will be able to do a lot of English memorization of rules instead of being able to use the language in content. Let me say, I don't think this is evil-spirited. We all agree that kids need to learn English, but we disagree about the most effective way kids learn English.

Q: What do your colleagues in the field have to say about it?

A: When I travel to other states for conferences, the people in my field do not believe what we're doing.