Why We Need to Say “Yes” to English Language Learning for Kindergarten Students

photo 4-2We were delighted to welcome Donna Neilson, West Vancouver District’s English Language Learning Resource Teacher to Ridgeview on Friday, January 23, 2015.  Donna spoke to our parents of English Language Learners on the Language Learning guidelines, learning supports in place for West Vancouver students and learning essentials for success through the elementary and high school years.

Donna’s presentation focused on answering some of the commonly asked questions by ELL (English Language Learners) parents.  We would like to share this valuable information with you, plus some of our own thoughts, and how it affects your Kindergarten child.

My child knows everything in Kindergarten.  Why can’t he leave ELL support?

Donna explained that many parents of English language learners say that their children know everything that is taught in Kindergarten, and some do.  These parents may choose to refuse ELL support.

But the thing is, is that while the children do know a great deal about Kindergarten, they do not have the necessary academic English language to succeed in later grades.  If the children leave ELL support, they will not have the background in the English language to help them in the next school year where the language expectations will be much higher.  As the classroom teachers, we know attending ELL classes is necessary.  There is so much more to learning English than just being under the classroom teacher’s direction.

If I send my child to tutoring, will he learn English faster?

No, Donna explained that your child will not acquire the academic English faster with a tutor.  He or she may acquire and perfect some specific skills, but learning language takes time and this cannot be fast paced.

Donna showed us a picture of an iceberg to illustrate this point.


Above the waterline, the part of the iceberg we can see, are Levels 1-2, conversational or survival English, which takes 1-2 years to learn.

Below the waterline, the big base of the iceberg we cannot see, are Levels 2-4, academic English, which takes 3-7 years to learn.

While your Kindergarten child might know many things, he or she only knows the tip of the iceberg.  Your children have not been speaking or listening to English since they were born.  Young English-speaking children have the rich vocabulary, grammar and tenses to which they have been exposed to their whole life.

So imagine how fortunate ELL Kindergarten children are, to be receiving ELL support during their elementary school years, to learn the English language conversation skills, as well as the academic language.  This instruction will be of great benefit to them as they move through the secondary years in the West Vancouver School District (Grades 8-12).  We all need to think long term with regard to English language learning.

What are they missing?  When can my child take regular classes?

Parents often wonder what their child might be missing by going to ELL classes.  It’s a fair question, and one we are frequently asked as Kindergarten teachers.  For the Kindergarten students, we meet with our ELL teachers to discuss with them what our themes or topics of study might be so that the ELL program supports what is happening in the classroom.   Donna reassured us that your children are always taking regular classes, just with ELL support.  And some of that extra support will be given within the  Kindergarten classroom as both the ELL specialist and the classroom teacher collaborate or work together.

Our focus at school is on the success of your child.  We look at Assessment (testing), Placement and Program (how do we support your child?).  Each fall students are assessed and placed in an appropriate program for their level of English.

Our model of ELL support for the Ridgeview Kindergarten is :

  • the classroom teacher and ELL teacher working together so ELL students are receiving in-class support
  • small groups of ELL students receiving direct support in pull-out classes with the ELL teacher

At our school, and across the curriculum, supporting our English Language Learning students is a shared responsibility of all teaching staff.

We would like to thank Donna, and our Principal, Valerie Brady, for their guidance and feedback in the publication of this post.

5 thoughts on “Why We Need to Say “Yes” to English Language Learning for Kindergarten Students

  1. Pingback: Kindergarten English Language Learning Support | Supporting Teachers of Additional Language Learners

  2. Kindergarten is an important time in students’ lives, of course. In our northern school district, ELL resources are extremely stretched. Schools cannot not always continue with targeted ELL support after the 5 years of funding are used up. What would your thoughts be on beginning that specific support in grade one, in order to continue it through grade 5, rather than having to end it in grade 4?

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Only in recent years has the Kindergarten been receiving ELL instruction. We can still remember a time when they did not, and that was during the half day K program; we found it troubling because we knew there would be benefits to early ELL instruction. Now, when the ELL Kindergarten children receive their specific and targeted English academic instruction, they are quickly on the path to learning, using and improving their English to begin catching up to the English speaking children. Currently our students are learning vocabulary, sentence and question structures and developing their phonemic awareness during ELL instruction. In Kindergarten particularly, the children are also learning the language of social play, which we know is imperative to forming friendships, and ultimately, their social well-being and self-confidence. We don’t want to lose a year by waiting until Grade One. In West Vancouver, our ELL teachers continue to service the ELL children as long as it’s needed, even if the cap is only 5 years.

  3. Pingback: The Self-Regulated Teacher’s Top 5 Posts for Term 3 | The Self-Regulated Teacher

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