Academic achievement of English language learners (ELLS), the fastest growing population in the U.S. schools, deserves greater attention. This non-experimental study investigated the unique contributions—above and beyond other individual difference and school characteristics—of language learning strategies (LLS) to student academic outcomes in a second language (L2). The sample comprised 1,057 ELLs (651 elementary, 275 middle, and 131 high school) attending 38 schools in one urban school district.
Descriptive analysis results indicated that ELLs used a large array of LLS; yet, except for metacognitive strategies, most LLS were reportedly used only at a medium level of frequency. The results also indicated a strong awareness of strategy effectiveness among teachers: A lack of significant correlations between teacher and student LLS ratings, however, suggested that teacher beliefs may not necessarily translate into practice.
The results of Structural Equation Modeling analyses identified three positive, instructionally manipulable contributors to ELLs' L2 outcomes: metacognitive strategies, motivation, and native language (L1) literacy. Whereas metacognitive strategy use appeared to be stable, cognitive strategy use declined as a function of age; memory, social, affective, and compensation strategy use declined as a function of length of residence (LOR). These results confirmed Gardner et al.'s (1997) hypothesis holding that with increased L2 proficiency students may feel less need in using LLS and suggested that age and LOR may moderate the relationships between LLS and L2 outcomes.
Hierarchical Linear Modeling results indicated that metacognitive strategies, L1 literacy, and English proficiency significantly contributed to reading achievement. Controlling for other predictors, lack of prior formal schooling had no negative effect on ELLs' achievement; lack of mother formal education was a negative predictor of mathematics and science—but not reading and social studies—scores. Higher school quality indicators predicted higher academic achievement among ELLs.
The overall results suggest that ELLs would benefit from: (a) integrated content, language, and metacognitive strategy instruction; (b) classrooms that stimulate motivation; (c) LI literacy maintenance; (d) additional L2 support, and (e) placement in higher-performing schools. Additional research is needed to explore the potential moderator effects of age and LOR on the relationships between LLS and L2 outcomes.
Key words: English Language Learners, Language Learning Strategies, Second Language Proficiency, Academic Achievement, Structural Equation Modeling, Hierarchical Linear Modeling.