Helping Bilingual Students Thrive in Education

Teaching and Lifelong Learning

Roughly 60 percent of the world's people speak more than one language, and Texas especially is becoming more bilingual by the day.

Students being taught in a bilingual education class.

Students across the state live in households where a non-English language is spoken exclusively or in addition to English. Dr. Maneka Brooks, assistant professor of reading education in Texas State’s College of Education, studies the everyday schooling experiences and the instructional practices of educating adolescent students who are identified as learning English.

Despite what may be expected, the students on whom her research focuses are not new to the English language: most speak English on a daily basis and have been solely (or primarily) educated in United States schools. This group of adolescents is often referred to by educators as long-term English learners

Dr. Maneka Brooks
Dr. Maneka Brooks

In order to address the obstacles encountered in the education of this population, Brooks spends her time observing classrooms and meeting with and interviewing dozens of students and teachers to gain a full understanding of the experience of long-term English learners. Brooks emphasizes that this type of research is important because it allows for information to be gathered that is hidden by focusing solely on test scores.

One of the topics that has become salient in her most recent work is a lack of communication between schools and long-term English learners themselves. Many of the students interviewed were unfamiliar with why their English proficiency was being assessed, what is expected from them on these assessments, and how the outcome of this testing could impact the courses that would be available to them.

For long-term English learners, Brooks argues, the educational process runs into a problem when it must answer the question of “what is English language proficiency?” For instance, as a result of various educational policies, English-speaking bilingual students can remain classified as English learners because of their performance on standardized assessments of reading — even those on which monolingual English-speaking students also struggle. Year after year, long-term English learners can become frustrated at being told repeatedly that they do not really know English. As one student shares: “[I felt] like they were treating me like I didn’t know anything about English.”

18.8% of Texas public school students are classified as English language learners.

Of Texas students in grades 6-12 who are classified as English language learners, 65% were born in the United States.

Brooks’ work puts the focus back on the students, centering student experience to facilitate more equitable instructional programs. The students, who naturally are the largest stakeholders in their education and the most knowledgeable about their own experiences, are encouraged to contribute their perspective.

By engaging with students about their understanding, thoughts, reasoning and desires, as well as creating spaces to collaborate with schools to make changes, Brooks hopes to build a knowledge base for the successful and inclusive education of bilingual students. In her own words, her goal is to help school districts “build on what they are doing well and provide opportunities to improve.”

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