New book offers educators keys to helping students achieve

Helping older English learners achieve in school is the goal of a new book by Fresno Pacific University graduate faculty.

Closing the Achievement Gap: How to Work with Limited-Formal-Schooling and Long-Term English Learnersby Yvonne and David Freeman with Sandra Mercuri is published  by Heinemann. The Freemans have written several books and spoken internationally on English as a second language. At Fresno Pacific Graduate School, they created EXCELL (Excellent Education for English Language Learners), the nation’s first program to prepare teachers for dual-immersion classrooms. In addition, Yvonne Freeman directs the literacy for multilingual learners and bilingual cross-cultural programs and David Freeman heads the language development program. Mercuri, formerly a teacher in Kerman, coordinates the EXCELL program and teaches in the graduate school.

Teachers around the country ask the Freemans how to work with struggling older English learners. “These students typically have low academic achievement and their test scores are significantly below those of their classmates, “David Freeman said. “Teachers wanted to know how to close that achievement gap. Closing the Achievement Gap is our response,” Yvonne said.

The book begins by explaining differences among older English learners. Some recent arrivals have adequate schooling in their native language, and soon catch up with their new classrmates. However, others have had limited or interrupted formal schooling, so they struggle to learn academic concepts and the English language. A third group, the long-term English learners, entered school speaking a language other than English and have not fully developed literacy in their first language or high levels of literacy in English. Though these students have conversational English, they lack the academic English needed for school success.

The authors summarize the research on working successfully with older struggling English learners into four keys, then show how three Central Valley teachers incorporate these keys into their instruction. The three teachers are all current or former Fresno Pacific  University students.

“All three teachers build on their students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds and scaffold instruction to help their older, struggling English learners come to value school and value themselves as learners,” Yvonne Freeman said. “It is our hope that by summarizing the research and providing specific examples of successful teaching, we can give teachers the tools they need to help students close the achievement gap,” David Freeman said.

FresnoPacific Universityis an accredited Christian university ranked fifth among best values among Western universities—master’s category by U.S. News & World Report. Located on a 42-acre campus in southeast Fresno, FPU has an enrollment of 1,900 students—half in graduate and half in undergraduate programs.  The university also enrolls 12,000 students annually in its professional development studies programs offered locally and throughout the world.