ELL Students Stuck in the Middle

ELL Programs Focus on Basic Skills Not Higher-Order Thinking

Key Points


Schools that offer Deeper Learning tend to:

  • Instruction and assessment connected to the world beyond school, such as project-based learning, collaboration, and performance assessments
  • Personalized supports for students, such as advisory systems and social-emotional training
  • Support for ongoing teacher learning, with both time and resources for reflection and collaboration.

English Language Learners (ELL) Students are often excluded from the higher learning process.

  • Immigrant ELL student for on basic learning skills to the point that higher learning opportunities are excluded all together.

  • Students respond well to challenging educational opportunities

  • Proficiency in the language is not always a hindrance in higher order thinking

"Language is something learned in context; it's not something you learn outside of content, and we firmly believe you don't need to be proficient in English before students can learn challenging content." -Lara Evangelista, principal of the Flushing International High School in New York City


Stuck in the Middle

This can be seen almost like what came first the chicken or the egg? Can ELL students have higher order thinking without a command of the language? This is something that can debated all day but call me an optimist. I believe ELL students are perfectly capable of higher order thinking even if they may have the highest understanding of the English language.

As this article states, it seems that ELL students are seemed to be written off and only focus on basic skill. I agree, a large component of EEL learning is tasked on basic skills but to eliminate any type of higher order thinking is just stagnating these students. It is almost as if they are thrown aside and put in their own little ELL bubble excluded from everybody else because they cannot use the language as well as you or me.

I met with my mentor the other day and she made an interesting point that I had never thought about. This article talks about higher order thinking but what about ELL students with special needs? My mentor mentioned this one student in her classes who she said clearly needs special help and has certain learning disabilities. When she attempted to find help for this student they said there was nothing they could do for her. They credited her struggles due her simply being an ELL student. It does not matter what language you speak a learning disability carries over with you and only intensifies in the second language.

This is why I say these students are stuck in the middle. There are very limited opportunities for higher order thinking and when students struggle they have now help to attend their needs. It seems that they are put on a straight highway for school with no opportunities to get off an exit at any point. Its a one way track.