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What Are ‘Superdiverse’ Learners?

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Since 2000, America’s dual-language-learner population has grown by 24 percent, according to Corey Mitchell in “Schools Are Ill-Prepared to Educate ‘Superdiverse’ English-Learners” from Education Week. For years, K-12 classrooms in the U.S. were able to provide a bilingual education to support Spanish-speaking students.

Now, the English-language-learner population has exploded to the point where only 5 percent of refugees arriving in the U.S. speak Spanish. Mitchell says that a report from the Migration Policy Institute has found the change in demographics is largely spurred by immigration and refugee resettlements.

The top five native languages of arrivals between 2008 and 2017 are:

  • Other (35 percent).
  • Arabic (21 percent).
  • Nepali (14 percent).
  • Somali (8 percent).
  • S’gaw Karen (7 percent). 

Public schools cannot begin to support every language from this superdiversity. This is especially true when there is at least one English-language learner in approximately 75 percent of U.S. classrooms, according to Sarah D. Sparks in “Teaching English Language Learners: What Does Research Tell Us?

What Teaching Approaches Help Dual-Language Learners Be Successful?

Sparks lists three common approaches that U.S. schools use to teach English language learners (ELL):

  1. Pullout and push-in tutoring: ELLs attend core classes that are taught in English. They also receive instruction in English during class or get pulled out into a separate class.
  2. Stand-alone classroom: ELLs with lower English proficiency learn English in an isolated classroom where the teacher spends several hours covering English and academics. In this classroom, students may be grouped by English proficiency.
  3. Bilingual instruction: Students learn subject matter in English and their native language. They can either be with other ELL students or in an immersion classroom with English native speakers.

Superdiversity makes bilingual instruction challenging as a school may not have enough ELLs who speak the same native language to justify having a teacher for each language.

Migration Policy Institute report recommends three things to assist dual language learners (DLL):

  1. Build a more diverse early-childhood workforce.
  2. Improve tools to assess DLL in early-childhood programs.
  3. Conduct research to identify teaching approaches for superdiverse classrooms.

How Administrators Help Facilitate Learning for ELL Students

Liliane Vanoy, principal of Dual Language Academy, believes that the emphasis should be on building vocabulary beginning at ages four and five. “Building ELLs’ Literacy Early Is Crucial” discusses two things Oklahoma does. One is assessing students in the second week of kindergarten and the other is to provide free prekindergarten classes for 4-year-olds. 

The article refers to a Georgetown University study of the students in Tulsa. Its findings reveal that  Hispanic students who attend pre-K are at least four months ahead of their peers in reading and writing.

Sparks states the Education Department’s research agency, the Institute of Education Sciences, has evidence that the following practices are effective for ELLs to learn academic content:

  • Focus heavily on academic vocabulary words.
  • Use spoken and written English in content-area teaching.
  • Provide consistent opportunities to work on developing writing skills.
  • Set up a small-group intervention for students who have specific literacy or language development struggles.

If a school has DLLs with multiple native languages, it will help for administrators to research and identify rigorous studies that show evidence of what works in teaching in a superdiverse setting. They can share the studies with their staff and recommend appropriate training to help staff work with diverse groups.

Learn more about the University of Wisconsin-Superior online Master of Science in Education — Educational Administration program.


Education Week: Schools Are Ill-Prepared to Educate ‘Superdiverse’ English-Learners

Education Week: Building ELLs’ Literacy Early Is Crucial

Education Week: Teaching English-Language Leaners: What Does Research Tell Us?

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