Laurie Olsen, Ph.D. is known for her work in school district, county offices, and across the nation in the design and implementation of powerful English Learner programs. She has published dozens of books, videos and articles on English Learner education, and was the keynote presenter at the Southern California English Learner Summit held on February 15.
Olsen began her remarks by discussing the demographic shift in this country stating that many in this country are shaped by other cultures, other languages, and the immigrant experience. She emphasized the importance of supporting the whole English Learner, their entire educational experience by implementing best practices. Olsen lamented that many times there is a disconnect or mismatch between the practices implemented and the practices identified by research as those which will help us close the achievement gap.
The facts, Olsen explained, are the 1,475,988 English Learners on in K-12 education and that 85% of those speak Spanish, and the next highest concentration is 2.4% Vietnamese. She stated that these learners are across all age groups in the system and have a wide variety of experiences beyond language that influence who they are and the choices English Learners make. She stated that these young people must learn how to bridge cultural worlds and that it is essential we help young people successfully play the role of translator for themselves as well as their families. We need to help them develop healthy identities and develop a sense of competence and the life skills needed to be successful in life.
Olsen said that the job of people in education is to make grade-level academics comprehensible and accessible to all students by supporting each student’s participation in learning activities. One key way we can do this, Olsen said, is by giving students the opportunity to practice both conversational and academic language during the after-school program. Research has found that English Learners spend a mere 90 seconds a day talking and using the English language in the school setting. In after-school we have at least 180 minutes a day to increase that time at least twelve fold.
As after-school providers, we need to intentionally support our English Learners.