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According to Diane August (2002), a senior research scientist at the Center for Applied Linguistics, English Language Learners (ELLs) spend less than two percent of their school day in oral language development. Worse yet, when ELLs are speaking in school, it is often not about academic topics or rigorous content. Instead, according to Gibbons (2002), ELLs are relegated to shallow forms of speech, such as those which require only one-word responses.
This lack of academic oral language practice is detrimental to the acquisition of English, as well as to the access of grade-level content area material, which are both mandated by Title III of the No Child Left Behind Act. Similarly, the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth (2006) suggests that oral language development is the foundation of literacy. In order for ELLs to become proficient in the basics of English, as well as grade-level academic English, it is imperative that they be given repeated and more complex opportunities to speak about academic topics across the school day.
One way to systemically create awareness around the importance of academic oral language development, or "academic talk," is to train teachers in ELL shadowing. During this process, teachers monitor the academic language and listening opportunities of ELLs at five-minute intervals over a two-hour period of time. This process allows teachers to become more reflective about their own practice, especially as they see how few opportunities ELLs typically do have for academic oral language development.
After participating in shadowing, teachers become much more sensitive to embedding "academic talk" into their lesson design, and school district office and school site administrators begin to tailor professional development around increasing opportunities for academic oral language development. In this article I will explain why academic oral language development is important and how to embed ELL shadowing into either a teacher education program, a district, an individual school, or a county office of education staff development program.
The Importance of Academic Oral Language Development
Historically, the four literacy domains--listening, speaking, reading, and writing--have been taught separately, with an emphasis on reading and writing …