According to recent research (2021) conducted by the Linguistic Minority Research Institute at the University of California, “Learning Academic English is one of the surest, most reliable ways of attaining socio-economic success in the United States today.”
As educators, our job is to teach students to think, to master academic content, and to apply the things they learn. Often, we do not consider the question, “To what end?” Most parents would certainly agree with the research cited above. Even if they do not articulate it the same way. Parents want their children to attain socio-economic success, and they expect schools to assist in this endeavor. Simply stated, parents want their children to learn content, to be functionally articulate, and to become self-sustaining members of society. As educators we must accept that embedded within our range of responsibilities is ensuring students acquire the skills necessary to attain “socio-economic success.”
Given the imperative revealed by The Linguistic Minority Research Institute, we must help our students acquire academic English skills. To accomplish this task, we must understand what the term means. academic English is the genre of English used in the world of work, formal writing, research, study, teaching, and higher-level thinking. Academic English is domain specific, precise, expressive, and accurate. As revealed in the research, learning Academic English sharpens minds, teaches students how to communicate, and develops their thinking capacities and their ability to understand others. Writing, thinking, and speaking academic English are outcomes every student should obtain.
English Language Development
Academic English is an over-arching concept that includes English Language Development (ELD). ELD refers to an instructional program for students who speak another language and are developing proficiency in English. To ensure that these students attain “Socio-economic success in the United States,” mastery of academic English should be the goal of all ELD programs.
Given the growing language diversity of students in our schools, certain instructional principles are essential for students to develop proficiency in conversational and academic English. These principles include:
Instructional strategies have been developed to fulfill these principles, most notably the Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (SDAIE) strategies. SDAIE strategies are research based and a commonly accepted set of instruction strategies for English learners. SDAIE strategies are consistent with the Linguistic Minority Research Institute findings because they focus on curriculum, content mastery, and academic English. They emphasize using content, context, and vocabulary to teach language skills. The SDAIE strategies include:
Socio Economic Status and Language Development.
According to research conducted at the Universities of Washington, Delaware, and Temple, A student’s socio-economic status has profound effects on their language skills and directly impacts the number of words they know, their ability to conduct complex conversations with others, and subsequently, their ability to learn and apply meaningful content skills. Simply put, “Children growing up in verbally and cognitively impoverished settings start school with profound English language deficiencies.” Therefore, many English-speaking students suffer from the same academic English deficiencies as students learning English as a second language. Furthermore, many ELD students come from socio-economic conditions that have profound effects on their language skills in their primary language as well.
SDAIE Strategies for All.
The Standards Plus Instructional materials were developed, field tested and implemented in diverse settings with students from all socio-economic and language development conditions. During development, it became obvious that all students would benefit from instruction that incorporated the SDAIE strategies as a structural foundation for all lessons. Every Standards Plus lessons plan includes strategies (sometimes overtly and sometimes discretely) that explicitly focus on content mastery as a method to reinforce and crystalize English language development. Additionally, the lessons emphasize the specific academic vocabulary that matches the content and grade level expectations of a learning domain.
Since its development, Standards Plus has been implemented with positive outcomes across very diverse settings that included large ELD populations and students from all socio-economic levels. The Standards Plus content and the embedded language development strategies successfully met the requirements for teaching Academic English to all students as presented by the Linguistic Minority Research Institute at the University of California.