Parents want English learners in Merced elementary schools to practice speaking more English in class

Advisory group wants teachers to prod students to participate.

May 12, 2010 

Practice will most likely make perfect.

That's one of the recent recommendations made by the parent advisory committee for English learner classes in three elementary schools within the Merced City School District (MCSD).

After visiting English learner classes at Gracey, Franklin and Peterson elementary schools, the committee concluded that students needed to practice speaking English more in the classroom to improve their speaking skills, according to their report.

The group presented their findings Tuesday at the MCSD board meeting.

School districts are required to have a District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC) if there are more than 51 English learners attending district schools.

During the 2008 and 2009 school year, the district had 2,211 students classified as English learners whose first language was Spanish. That's 74 percent of the total of English learner population, according to the California Department of Education (CDE).

The other major proportion of English learners, 628, spoke Hmong, the CDE said. They made up 21 percent of students learning English.

That same school year, MCSD had 1,107 students who spoke Spanish as their first language and who were classified as proficient in English. The number of Hmong students who were proficient in English was 291.

The parent group stated that English learner students are not engaged in classroom instruction at the same level as students who only speak English. The committee recommended that teachers engage students more by asking questions and calling on them, so as to increase the amount students speak in class.

These English learners did not come across as confident in their English speaking abilities, the committee said, and students should be required to use "public speaking" voices when talking in class.

Reports from the DELAC committee are presented annually. Schools are expected to address the recommendations made by the parent groups.

Last year, the group visited four other schools and noticed that students spent more time listening than speaking in class, according to Tammie Calzadillas, the MCSD director of state and federal programs.

The group made similar recommendations to teachers such as having them ask students at random to answer questions.

Schools had made improvements such as providing teachers with training to foster verbal student participation in class, making students work in groups and calling on students at random, Calzadillas added.

Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or joppenheim@mercedsun-star.com.

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