Hello! My name is Sandy Lord and I've worked in Massachusetts as an Elementary English Learners (EL) educator for the past 7 years. That time has been an amazing and complex whirlwind of students, families, cultures, languages and communities. I've had the lovely opportunity to spend many years with some students and just a few months with others as they enter their lives in both the United States and in formal education. During my time as a teacher, English Learners have come to the forefront of Public Education. It is my goal to help guide our kids - a group uniquely talented at acquiring a language - to achieve native-like fluency in English.
To do that I have created CIRCLE-ELD, an oral-language based Language Development Curriculum. It uses the power of the human brain to acquire language naturally in an immersive, compassionate environment. Students, individually and as a group, are comfortable first and foremost. They know they are accepted just as they are. In such an accepting environment, they are exposed to engaging language and imagery. Students hear and produce the complex Academic English required for participating in Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, and Social and Instructional situations. These are the WIDA standards, a key component of our state and national English Learners standards.
Our goal as EL teachers is to prepare students for the rigors of the language used in the classroom and community. In order to participate fully in an American school and society, fluency in English is required. To become fluent in a language is a complex thing. There are multiple layers of language to acquire. These layers include:
Did you know American English has about 44 different sounds? Though we have 26 letters, there are 24 consonants and about 16 vowels. A little more than a,e,i,o, and u!
Why is it in the car and not in car the or car the in? How can we explain that to an elementary student? English syntax is unique, complex and crucial to know in order to be a fluent native-like speaker.
Have you noticed the 'l' in laugh sounds a little different than the 'l' in fool'? Or the 'p' in pin is a little different than the 'p' in spin? English has hundreds of ways sounds sound different depending on their neighbors!
I saw the gorilla with the telescope. Does that mean you were holding a telescope and witnessed a gorilla? Or does it mean that you happened to see an amazing gorilla holding a telescope? Putting phrases in the order you mean to is crucial.
'The door is unlockable.' Does that mean the door can be unlocked? Or the door is not able to be locked? Prefixes like un-, anti-, over- and suffixes like -able, -s, -ed, -ness, and -ism. English has hundreds of these, too!
Which sounds better:
1. The baby gorilla is cute. The baby gorilla is eating. The baby gorilla is holding onto the baby gorilla's mom. OR...
2. The baby gorilla is cute. It is eating. It is holding onto its mom.
How do we know which is a better way to express the idea in English?
Once we have the sounds, sound patterns, bits of words, bits of sentences, whole sentences, and whole discourse together, how do we get meaning from it? How does a child know that It's loud in here coming from a fellow classmate means something different than It's loud in here coming from a teacher? Same sounds, same words, same order, very different meaning. Semantics, the meaning of language, and pragmatics, the use of language in context, are interwoven at all levels of language.
Notes. Vocabulary lists. Pronunciation drills. Grammar study. Paperwork. Learning a language has been treated like learning math or science or even literacy. These subjects may become intuitive to a person after years of study but there is always conscious thought involved. Yes, you can learn vocabulary through lists. You can practice the sounds of language by focusing on specific movements of the lips and tongue. But these things only become internalized, i.e., native and fluent, when used. Like many things in life, it is use, actually doing something, that finally let's you become an expert in it.
"For ELLs especially, oral language is foundational to literacy development." In order to read and write a language, you need to know a lot more than 26 letters and when to use upper and lower case. You need access to the sounds, suffixes and prefixes, words, phrases, sentences, discourse and meaning. That is a lot! With CIRCLE-ELD's unique approach and curriculum, my students have 45 minutes a day of access to it all.
For the last 5 years, I have used versions of CIRCLE-ELD in my elementary classroom. In groups of between 2 and 10 students, we have had conversations on hundreds of topics in each WIDA Standard - Social and Instructional Language, Language of English Language Arts, Language of Science, Language of Math, and the Language of Social Studies. These detailed, academically oriented, and fun conversations activate the language centers in the brain allowing students to make huge gains without 'studying' at all. I hope you will use CIRCLE-ELD in your classroom. My students have enjoyed it and parents, classroom teachers and principals have appreciated the effects.
CIRCLE-ELD is a free, oral-language oriented language development curriculum for English Learners (ELs). If you would like to use this curriculum, please do so! I would love to hear from you and your success stories with your students. Our ELs need and deserve meaningful interaction in English and their home languages. Use CIRCLE-ELD to help your students achieve fluency and fully engage in their educational experience!