When non-native English speakers sued a California district in 1974 for refusing to teach them English, they pointed out that equality in education cannot exist by using the same materials and instruction as their American-born peers. Now many districts provide the benefit of English as a Second Language classes, pulling ESL students from their grade-level classes for English language instruction.
One of the biggest advantages of pull-out ESL classes is that the groups are usually much smaller than the grade-level classroom. When students receive instruction in small groups, they naturally also receive more of the teacher's attention. In the ESL pull-out classroom, this means the students have more opportunities to practice speaking when giving answers, as there are fewer children competing to talk. Likewise, small classes mean reluctant students can't "fly under the radar," or quietly not participate. Students are also less likely to become distracted since there is less activity than in a large classroom.
Smaller class sizes mean teachers get to know their students better. As such, they more quickly pick up on problem areas for individual students. Students end up receiving more constructive feedback in their language acquisition. Likewise, schools arrange ESL pull-out classes according to language ability. This means the ESL teacher can work with low-level students on the basics and high-level students on grade-level language. Thus, the teacher provides more examples of the target structures and modifies speech appropriate to the students. Either way, the students receive intense, individual attention focused on increasing their language.
A key advantage of ESL pull-out classes is that the teachers are highly qualified to fill in the gaps of the students' language acquisition. Students who are new to the United States or who speak another language at home have specialized challenges about which grade-level teachers only receive broad training. ESL teachers, on the other hand, must complete enough training to receive licensure in the discipline, thus ensuring they have the depth of knowledge necessary to scaffold instruction appropriately for ESL students. Likewise, from experience, they often have more knowledge about the students' home cultures.
ESL pull-out classes provide a safe space for non-native English speakers to practice their linguistic skills. Indeed, ESL students often report feeling frustrated in the grade-level classroom, not understanding everything and, therefore, unable to participate fully. Conversely, in the ESL class, the teacher modifies the language so that it is appropriate to the students' levels, thus providing them with opportunities to participate. Since the students feel comfortable, they are more likely to take educational risks, thus speeding up their language acquisition. Students in ESL pull-out classes also report feeling a sense of community that comes from being grouped with others who can understand their specialized needs.
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