IF Matters: Intellectual Freedom @ your library®
School Library Monthly/Volume XXVII, Number 1/September-October 2010
Welcoming America's Newest Immigrants: Providing Access to Resources and Services for English Language Learners
by Helen R. Adams
Helen Adams is a former school librarian and an online instructor for Mansfield University. She is author of Ensuring Intellectual Freedom and Access to Information in the School Library Media Program (Libraries Unlimited, 2008). Email: email@example.com
America has always been a nation of immigrants, and many school libraries serve students whose first language is not English. In AASL's 2009 School Libraries Count! Survey, 14% of the 5,824 respondents reported a student population with 25% or more English language learners. Yet 91% reported that less than 5% of their collections are in a language other than English. Unfortunately 36% reported they used no special strategies to serve their ESL student populations (American Association of School Librarians 2009).
This lack of resources and services tailored to English language learners (ELL) impacts the students' First Amendment right to receive information in a school library. "Access to Resources and Services in the School Library Media Program: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights" points out the responsibility of school librarians in this area stating, "Schools serving communities in which other languages are used make efforts to accommodate the needs of students for whom English is a second language" (http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/accessresources.cfm).
Supporting Students' Academic Achievement
Debbie, a school librarian in Pennsylvania, describes the unique position of school librarians to assist ELL, "Librarians can play a vital role in acting as liaisons with other teachers to provide supplemental materials to support the ELL students' academic needs. Working closely with the ESL teacher is a natural alliance. We should be aware of the power we have to enhance a student’s life and educational achievement" (Rentschler, email to author, 2010).
Supporting ELL's academic achievement requires analyzing school library resources and services from the perspective of the ELL student. Following are some practical ideas shared by school librarians working with ELL students.
For ELL students homesick for anything familiar, ensure there are current materials on their home countries. Provide copies of translated children's and young adult fiction in a highly visible area. For those building their English language skills, high-interest, low-readability books are especially popular. When possible, offer translated curricular materials in core subjects such as science and social studies. Select subscription databases and online encyclopedias that are available in other languages as well as those with built-in translators. Create an ELL section on the library's Web site with links to online translators, dictionaries, and foreign newspapers. Create a link to the International Digital Children’s Library (http://en.childrenslibrary.org/) where students can read books in more than fifty languages (Summers, Davis, Donahue, email to author, 2010).
Utilize Audio Technologies
Purchase mp3 players or other audio devices to help students learn English. Obtain a permission slip signed by the parent promising to take responsibility, then download a book the student's class is reading or one of personal choice (http://www.audible.com [subscription-based]). Check out the same book so the student can follow along with the audio version (Heller, email to author, 2010). Another librarian states, "I buy Playaways for all required texts so that the students can listen while they read since students can understand spoken English before written English" (Teixeira, email to author, 2010).
Collaborate with ELL Teachers
Librarians often find themselves collaborating with ELL teachers as they seek resources to meet state standards and prepare students for required state tests. Jamie, an elementary librarian explains, "To satisfy Virginia's Literacy Standards of Learning, third graders need to be able to distinguish between historical fiction and fantasy but may not always be able to read and/or understand what their classmates are reading. I collaborate with teachers to find appropriate genres on the reading level needed" (Chapman, email to author, 2010).
Lisa, a high school librarian, explains, "Our students arrive without any familiarity about school libraries. I have revamped my orientation for these students, teaching them about what a library offers" (Teixeira, email to author, 2010). Efforts to support non-native English speakers pay off as Laurie, a senior high school librarian, states, "We have nearly a hundred ELL students, mainly from India, Haiti, and Turkey. I have helped them complete homework, get information for their school projects, proofread any writing they were assigned, helped them find books to read independently, and assisted them with their job searches. I was involved with students making Animoto video slide shows of their home countries (http://animoto.com). These students are among my most loyal patrons. I see very many of them every single day, before school, at lunch, during study halls, and when they come in with their general classes, their reading classes, and with their ESL teachers" (Summers, email to author, 2010).
Libraries as a Haven
"Librarians can often be the first line of defense in helping ELL students feel secure, welcome, and safe in their new environment," declares a school librarian in Pennsylvania. "My first ELL student was from Turkey, and he was initially bullied by another student. I stepped in and kept a close watch over this unwanted behavior" (Rentschler, email to author, 2010). School library professionals can create an inviting atmosphere through simple actions such as these:
- Welcome each new ELL student personally, and enlist them to work in the library (Hill, email to author, 2010).
- Learn to greet students in their first language. Laurie, a school librarian shares, "I have shown an interest in the students, so they have been trying to teach Spanish to me. They laugh right along with me when I can't pronounce the words correctly. They enjoy being the 'teacher' for a change" (Miller, email to author, 2010).
- Obtain "welcome" and "read" posters from ALA in the native languages of ELL students (Hill, email message to author, 2010).
- Display "materials for holidays and heritage celebrations such as Native American Month in November, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, Divali, or Ramadan so that teachers and students will find them and discuss their significance" (Chapman, email to author, 2010).
- Provide email access to help students keep in contact with relatives and friends in their home countries (Davis, email to author, 2010).
- Celebrate events such as National Foreign Language Week by displaying student-created posters depicting the flags of students' home countries with the word "hello" and a pronunciation guide (Tabit, email to author, 2010).
- Offer space to community groups who provide after school tutoring (Teixeira, email to author, 2010).
- Invite a public librarian to introduce ELL students to public library services and facilitate their obtaining library cards (Popuri, email to author, 2010).
As communities and schools become increasingly diverse, school librarians find themselves stretched to meet the needs of English language learners. Yet as the ALA Code of Ethics states, "We [librarians] have a special obligation to ensure the free flow of information and ideas to present and future generations" (http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/proethics/codeofethics/codeethics.cfm). Every positive action taken to support ELL students' use of school libraries helps them understand that access to information in libraries is part of American’s democratic tradition and their First Amendment right.
American Library Association. "Access to Resources and Services in the School Library Media Program: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights." http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/accessresources.cfm (accessed May 8, 2010).
American Library Association. Code of Ethics of the American Library Association. http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/proethics/codeofethics/codeethics.cfm (accessed May 8, 2010).
American Association of School Librarians. "School Libraries Count! Supplementary Report on English Language Learners." 2009. http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/researchandstatistics/slcsurvey/2009/ell2009.pdf (accessed May 8, 2010).
Email exchanges between school librarians Jamie Chapman, Betsy Davis, Jane Donahue, Carol Good, Susan Heller, Lin Hill, Laurie Miller, Usha Popuri, Debbie Rentschler, Nancy Summer, Linda Tabit, and Lisa Teixeira and the author, May 5-19, 2010.