Can a longer school day help students who are learning English grasp the language faster and better? A new report from the National Center on Time and Learning suggests it’s a strategy worth considering.
The report from the Boston-based organization dedicated to increasing the time and quality of instruction in high-poverty schools highlights three elementary campuses in Massachusetts and Denver that have seen the expanded learning time model make a difference for their English-language learners (ELLs).
While all three schools are majority Latino, Godsman Elementary School in Denver had the most English-language learners at 86 percent of its student body. Nearly two-thirds of the students are native Spanish speakers of Mexican heritage. The school has reaped success from adding two and a half hours to its school day and implementing a dual-language model in which students get three hours of literacy-focused instruction every day.
Guilmette Elementary School in Lawrence, Massachusetts lengthened its school day by 90 minutes in 2013 and devotes an hour a day to targeting students’ individual achievement gaps. During that time, ELL students use Imagine Learning, a computer-based educational program that emphasizes oral language skills and vocabulary through videos, pictures and direct translation. Since also creating a position for an ELL coach at the school, the school’s performance on the annual state test for ELLs has skyrocketed, and Guilmette is now ranked among the top 15 percent in the state, according to the report.
The third campus evaluated for the study, Hill Elementary in Revere, Massachusetts, added 300 hours to its calendar, which translated to an additional week of the school year as well as a longer school day. The additional time has allowed for more collaboration among teachers — ELL specialists included — and up to three one-on-one sessions between ELL students and their specialized instructors.
As Corey Mitchell of Education Week points out, there were a few notable strategies that worked across the board for the students learning English in these schools.
- Extended literacy blocks, with upwards of 2.5 hours per day focused on skills needed for reading and writing.
- Using data to pinpoint areas where individual students struggle, then subdividing those students into small groups where staff can help address the challenges.
- Maintaining support and services for fluent-speaking English-learners who need to boost their academic English skills.
- Ensuring that teachers meet often to align lesson plans, and identify and address student needs.
“The benefits of having more instructional time during the day and across the year to build in many layers of learning and mastering English are undeniable,” the center’s co-founder and president Jennifer Davis said in a statement. “With substantially more time than the conventional schedule, the schools we document are able to provide the kind of deep support that traditional schools find much more difficult to do.”