One of the approaches that a school district may adopt to ensure that LEP students receive equal educational opportunity is to provide them with bilingual instruction. This approach can be appropriate for school districts enrolling large numbers of LEP students from specific language backgrounds. In Ohio, several of the larger urban districts use this approach.
Bilingual education operates on two basic premises: 1) Students are more likely to learn anything, including English, if they understand what they are being taught, and 2) Students who are not proficient in English will not fall behind their English-speaking peers if they are able to continue learning subject matter in their native languages.
There are a variety of models of bilingual education. In some programs, the students may learn to read first in their native language and then in English. In other programs, LEP students only use their native language orally in the classroom. The focus of the program is on teaching them to read, write and speak English. The important element of bilingual programs is that both the students’ native language and English are used as means of instruction.
Another approach to helping LEP students acquire the English skills that they need to be successful in school is the immersion approach. This is an alternative that might be considered especially by those districts where a large number of LEP students reside, but there are not enough of one or more language groups to justify the establishment of bilingual education classrooms.
In immersion classrooms, all of the students are LEP students. The focus is on teaching subject matter. Although the students are taught in English, no formal attempt is made to teach the language as an end in itself. The subject matter is introduced in a way that can be understood by the LEP students. The teacher adapts the language of instruction to the level of the students' linguistic and cognitive capabilities. Also, the teacher makes frequent use of visual aids, concrete experiences and manipulative materials. In this approach, students have the opportunity to develop the oral and written language skills they need to make academic progress.
School districts may provide ESL instruction to LEP students as a means of helping them acquire the English skills they need to be successful in school. In Ohio, ESL programs are used either as the principal component of the special language instructional program or as a complement to bilingual education. If the ESL class is the main component of the program, it is recommended that, when possible, native language support services be provided to supplement the ESL instruction, at least for students whose English is very limited. For example, bilingual instructional assistants could be hired to work with the regular classroom teacher during the school day, or bilingual volunteers could assist the teacher by clarifying or reinforcing what is being taught.
ESL classes may focus on teaching formal English grammar or on promoting natural communication activities (free conversation, games, and discussions on certain topics). Reading and writing should be practiced as well as oral communication skills in English.
In this approach, LEP students are together with their native-English speaking peers in the same classroom, but an ESL or bilingual education specialist is available in the classroom to support the LEP students. For example, the ESL or bilingual education specialist may provide guidance to the LEP students as they are working on a group project or individual assignment.
Another response that might be considered when there are very few LEP students enrolled in a school district is individual or small-group tutoring sessions. Tutors may range from trained professional ESL or bilingual education teachers to volunteers who work under the supervision of specially trained teachers. The tutoring sessions may focus on promoting basic English communication skills or focus on English for academic purposes.