Thing 35 – Supporting English Language Learners

I have been the librarian at Rochester International Academy for six years. All of our students are English Language Learners and nearly all have refugee status. Many of our students have limited or no formal education before attending our school. After reflecting on 10 Ways to Support ELLs in the School Library, I have my own 10 ways to add to Ms. Jules’ list.

  1. Visual Dewey – If the non-fiction section is organized by Dewey, consider how you can visually represent the subjects. For example, I have a small giraffe statue on the shelf at the end of the books on giraffes, a small model airplane on the shelf where books about airplanes can be found and a poster of Lionel Messi above the soccer shelf. Three dimensional objects help especially for students with limited formal education.
  2. Google Expeditions – One of our best months was the month we borrowed a Google Expeditions Virtual Reality kit. Students were able to explore museums from their home countries and introduce us to key artifacts. Others climbed to the top of Sagarmāthā (Mount Everest in English). We explored biomes, space and Machu Picchu to supplement classroom lessons. When you are learning a new language, it is helpful to receive information in multiple modalities and virtual reality was very engaging for my students.
  3. Dedicated keyboards – Did you know you can purchase stickers to turn your keyboard into an English and Arabic keyboard? I worked with our IT department to create a toggle so our students can easily output Arabic from the keyboard. This is helpful since many of our Arabic-speaking students are literate in Arabic and enables them to use more easily use Arabic websites, email fellow Arabic students and use Google Translate.
  4. Have you seen Hafuboti’s awesome “Libraries Are for Everyone” graphics? They are available in many different languages and can be downloaded for free. Our students provided a few translations Hafuboti did not have and within a day there were new graphics in those languages available. Hafuboti gave me permission to use the graphics to create shirts for my student library helpers in each of their languages. Some of our local public library branches display posters with the graphic, and we saw them in the library on a visit to our local community college. It’s such a welcoming and inclusive message.

  5. Librarians and teachers often call me to find materials in languages other than English for their students who are learning English. I recognize that my school is unique in that many of my students have limited or interrupted formal education. Many times the first language a student will learn to read is English so materials in other languages are not helpful unless their parents can read and share the content. It is helpful to have material that is read aloud or recorded in other languages, though.
  6. Google Translate is not a perfect translation, but it is often good enough to convey a message. The “listen” feature is helpful for our students who don’t read their other language (see immediately above).
  7. Many of my students have never experienced a culture with freedoms that we have in the United States. They may have never had access to information like we have in the library. I explicitly teach them about the First Amendment, and its impact on library services during their first visit to the library. We also discuss how our libraries may have content that their culture does not agree with and how to proceed with using the library if this is a concern (hint: your librarian can help!).
  8. If you are looking for diverse books, take a peek at Lee & Low’s offerings. We have found some of our school’s favorites there. 
  9. We had a temporary subscription to the the Arabic World Book referenced in Ms. Jules’ post. My Arabic-literate students felt it was very simple content and not sophisticated enough for their searching needs. Hopefully, World Book will offer an Arabic version that is closer to World Book Kids or World Book Student.
  10. Often, when educators ask me what they can do to support their English Language Learners, they seem to be viewing them from a deficit lens. They describe the challenges of working with students who know little English and have limited education. I see my students in a completely opposite way. Our diverse population has taught me so much about perseverance, persistence and tenacity Many have experience meeting their basic needs in a refugee camp via “make-do’s” – a homemade solar oven, sophisticated water collection systems, their shelter. In other words, they are the perfect candidates to take a leadership role in our makerspaces!

One thought on “Thing 35 – Supporting English Language Learners

  1. Wow! I didn’t even finish reading your tips before I went back and added this post to the Cool Tools lesson. Thank you for sharing so many great ideas. And yes, these students bring so much to our classrooms and can teach us all so much! Love that they helped provide translations for the library poster project.

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