Many schools across the nation are facing the challenge of educating students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds who have limited English proficiency. This paper examines four exemplary elementary schools that have successfully implemented language development programs for limited English proficient (LEP) students as part of a schoolwide restructuring effort. These exemplary schools--in California, Texas, and Illinois-- were selected on the basis of a national nomination process. All have nontraditional school organizations, a well-developed language acquisition program for LEP students, and high-quality language arts curricula. The analysis presented here synthesizes data about the four schools gathered from telephone interviews and on-site interviews with teachers, principals, and district staff. Research staff also conducted focus groups with students and parents and observed instruction in selected classrooms.
Although each school takes an individual approach to language acquisition and development, they share the following elements: (a) They have changed the organization of the school in ways that support improved teaching and learning for all students, including LEP students; (b) they have adapted their programs for LEP students in response to their students' needs; (c) they have provided LEP students access to challenging content; (d) they have engaged LEP students with their English-only peers; (e) they have implemented innovative curricular strategies including whole language, literature-based curriculum, and thematic, integrated curriculum; and (f) they have implemented innovative instructional strategies including cooperative learning, active learning, and experiential instructional strategies.
In undertaking a process of education reform, these schools have been able to tailor their programs to meet the needs of their students. They have instituted innovative organizational structures that have specific pedagogical benefits for LEP students while at the same time creating a mission and vision for the school that embraces all students.