Much of the following was originally produced in The Information Package for the Review of ESL Support Services 1995, prepared into the Guidelines For Elementary ESL Support in 1997, revised in 2001 and again in 2011:
  • ESL learners are like all learners and therefore require active participation, an opportunity to learn through individual and group processes, and an opportunity to learn in a variety of ways and at different rates.
  • ESL support should strive for continuous learning of both general academic concepts and language.
  • Students with English as a second language should work toward communicative competency to the fullest extent possible.
  • The aim of the ESL program is to support students for whom English is a second language in integrating into the wider school (and community) environment.
  • ESL teachers should work as part of a team to support students. The team includes: Classroom Teachers, Resource Teachers, Educational Assistants, Counsellors, SLP, PT, OT, etc.
  • Students with English as a second language belong in their neighbourhood schools and should all have opportunities for maximizing their potential within their neighbourhood school or have opportunities at other schools to the same extent as non-ESL students.

Program Planning for ESL students should reflect the following guiding principles:

From the Provincial Mission Statement:
In order to "enable learners" to develop toward the image of the educated citizen, the school system strives towards three general goals in partnership with the family and the community.

  • intellectual development
  • human and social development (self-worth, cultural heritage, tolerance and respect)
  • career development

From the District Philosophy Statement:
The Richmond School District is dedicated to providing opportunities for all students to develop the attitudes, skills and knowledge which will enable them to enjoy a productive and satisfying life and to be positive, responsible participants in our democratic society and the global community.

From the District's Overall Educational Goal:
Schools will provide a safe, supportive environment for all students; and schools will provide a stimulating environment which motivates and challenges all students to intellectual, physical, emotional, social and vocational development in order that each student develops towards the ideal of the educated person, achieving at a level of personal excellence and formulating attitudes towards self, society and the world which will provide sound preparation for a productive and satisfying life.

Principles of Second Language Acquisition
1. Students who are ESL learners come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. By viewing their students' backgrounds and experiences as a valuable educational resource, teachers enrich the learning experiences of all students, as well as enhancing the confidence and self concepts of students learning ESL.

2. Language is learned through meaningful experiences in social contexts. Interaction between second language and English speaking learners can facilitate language development for all students, also known as BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) or survival English.

3. Conversational English skills may be acquired within a year or two. With these skills, a student should be able to participate in classroom activities, work easily with classmates in small group activities, and participate in social situations.

4. Acquiring academic language proficiency similar to that of native English speaking peers, also known as CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency), usually takes from four to eight years. During this period, students with ongoing support develop, within their potential, the skills for reading and writing appropriate for their grade level.

5. The teaching of academic content must continue while English is being learned in order for students learning a second language to maintain their cognitive and academic growth. Learners' levels of language development should always be taken into account when designing learning opportunities. Cross-disciplinary collaboration is essential.

6. Students best acquire a second language when skills are taught simultaneously and in meaningful contexts. Students learn language in a holistic manner rather than by piecing disconnected chunks together.

7. Students learning a second language bring with them a variety of experiences and background knowledge. Students should be encouraged to use these previous experiences and pre-existing knowledge while writing stories, reading and talking with others. Teachers developing curricula should begin with what the students already know and build on their existing framework.

8. The ability to use language for practical purposes (requesting, requiring, agreeing, inviting), should take precedence over grammatical correctness. Functional language can be best developed by giving students the opportunity to use language for everyday purposes. A student's learning is enhanced when language is real and relevant. The focus should be on communication competency, not linguistic competency.

9. Affective factors influence learning. Therefore, plan with your students in mind. Connect with them and strive to understand their personal background, language, and experiences. Make connections and references when teaching where appropriate.

Use of First Language
As a district, we have an opportunity to encourage bilingualism amongst our students. Families should be encouraged to maintain their first language and to gain fluency in English. In various circumstances, students should have opportunities to use skills they have acquired in their first language while they are gaining fluency in English. For example, students benefit from opportunities to read in their first language as a bridge to support their understanding of the novel in English.

The use of a first language can be used:
  • to check insight into grammar and vocabulary;
  • to supply lacking vocabulary in second language; and
  • to help a friend paraphrase a teacher's explanation.

However, ESL teachers must remember that our primary responsibility is to develop students' ability to communicate and learn in English. Schools are one of the few places where many of our students will have the opportunity to use English. Their parents expect them to be practicing English at school. Whenever working with the ESL teacher, students are expected to use English. In their classroom, they should be encouraged to use English to the best of their ability. With support through the use of dictionaries, "buddies", visuals, gestures, and adjusted speech and a tone of trust and care, English is understood by even the Level One student without the resort to first language translation.

Nevertheless, strong first language knoweldge facilitates learning of a second language. The experts tell us:

  • Students with well-developed skills in their first language have been shown to acquire an additional language more easily and fully and that, in turn, has a positive impact on academic achievement. Fred Genesee, Kathryn Lindholm-Leary, William Saunders, and Donna Christian. Educating English Language Learners: A Synthesis of Research Evidence. Cambridge University Press, 2006

  • ELLs use what they know in one language to help develop other languages. This positive transfer effect has been found to be particularly strong in reading. Claude Goldenberg. “Teaching English Language Learners: What the Research Does – and Does Not – Say,” American Educator, Summer 2008: 8-23.

  • Students who use their bilingual skills have been shown to develop both cognitive flexibility and divergent thinking. Jim Cummins, “The Influence of Bilingualism on Cognitive Growth: A Synthesis of Research Findings and Explanatory Hypotheses” in Colin Baker and Nancy H. Hornberger, eds.,An Introductory Reader to the Writings of Jim Cummins. Multilingual Matters, 2001.

  • Students’ home language proficiency at time of arrival in an English speaking country is the strongest predictor of English academic development. Jim Cummins, et al. Affirming Identity in Multilingual Classrooms

  • English language learners’ cultural knowledge and language abilities in their home language are important resources in enabling academic engagement. Jim Cummins, et al. Affirming Identity in Multilingual Classrooms

  • English language learners will engage academically to the extent that instruction affirms their identities and enables them to invest their identities in learning. Jim Cummins, et al. Affirming Identity in Multilingual Classrooms

  • By welcoming a student’s home language, schools facilitate the flow of knowledge, ideas, and feelings between home and school across languages. Jim Cummins, et al. Affirming Identity in Multilingual Classrooms

False assumptions from Jim Cummins, et al. Affirming Identity in Multilingual Classrooms:
Students’ home language is, at best, irrelevant. At worst, it is an impediment to literacy development and academic success.

The cultural knowledge and linguistic abilities that English language learners bring to school have little instructional relevance.

Instruction to develop English literacy should focus only on English literacy.

Students can learn only what teachers explicitly teach.

Culturally and linguistically diverse parents, whose English may be limited, do not have the language skills to contribute to their children’s literacy development.

For further information on bilingualism and cognitive development, visit: