On Campus

Voices from the Classroom

The World of the English Language Learner and their Teachers


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Imagine yourself in an unfamiliar community in a room full of language you cannot comprehend. Imagine you are five- or eight-years-old or a teenager or a youngster with disabilities. This is the world of the English language learner.

Teachers prepared at Sonoma State University successfully address the exhilarating opportunity in current public education – effectively teaching the growing number of English language learners in our elementary, secondary and special education classrooms.

While the Sonoma County school population has declined over the past three to five years, the percentage of English language learners has increased by 5% from 2006-2007. Additionally, 27% of the County’s total enrollment in 2006-2007 are English language learners.

As the teachers express in their own voices (see photos), the representation of English language learners in their schools and classrooms are considerably higher. These students are an integral part of schools and community.

Helping these students acquire a new language and adapt to their new community while maintaining their own cultural identity is at the heart of effective English language instruction. The teachers whose thoughts are expressed here capture the thoughtful, caring and complex reality of that work.

For the full interviews with ELL teachers, visit www.sonoma.edu/education



Beautiful Cultures

two students and a teacher

“The goal of any dual immersion school is for a child to be bilingual, bi-literate and bi-cultural by fifth grade in the two languages. My students simply love the fact they have the opportunity to grow up learning two languages and about two beautiful cultures. It is amazing to see and hear first-hand how they read in English and then when Spanish time comes around, they read it without much difficulty. While test scores may suffer a little at the beginning of this long-term commitment education program, by the time our dual immersion students make it to high school, their test scores surpass those of their peers’ who attended English-only schools.”
—Lydia Calderon, Flowery Elementary School, Sonoma Valley, CA, Fourth Grade, Dual Immersion Classroom

Brave and Bright

Kimberly Laabs

“The kids in my class are really learning two languages, the language of mathematics and the English language. The very beginner English language students are recent immigrants. These are 16 or 17 year olds who have had little, if any, mathematics instruction before high school and they don’t speak English. Imagine walking into an art history classroom with a blindfold on. It’s a lot like that for them. The kids in the Shelter Instruction Program have the most challenges to overcome. They are very brave and bright, but haven’t necessarily had the educational opportunities that students who have benefited from living in this county all their lives.”
—Kimberly Laabs, San Marin High School, Novato, CA, Mathematics Instructor, Lead Teacher of Sheltered Instruction Program

It Takes Courage

Diane Conger

“I am always impressed with the courage it takes my students to learn. Students with learning disabilities have to navigate through difficult-to-read curricula and follow directions and respond in ways that are not always conducive to the way they learn. Then, adding the complication of language acquisition, I know at times they must feel completely lost. To me, their efforts are truly heroic.”
—Diane Conger, Healdsburg Junior High School, Healdsburg, CA, Special Education/English Language Teacher