Supporting English Learners - Challenge Map
Challenge Map

Equity

Supporting English Learners

The Challenge

Many schools struggle to provide high-quality educational opportunities to their growing and diverse — in first language spoken and time spent in the US, among other factors — English language learner population. It is difficult to fully integrate students’ English language development with their learning of subject matter concepts and over time, students miss out on the core curriculum, widening achievement gaps between English learners and native English speakers. Many schools also grapple with the consequences of re-designating English learners as Fluent English Proficient, as re-designation can mean that students lose access to critical services that support their integration into mainstream classrooms. While some schools are pioneering bilingual education programs, finding qualified educators and suitable materials for these classrooms remain challenges.

In the Words of District Leaders

For years, we're gearing these kids towards learning English, and we're torturing them in classes that they have no chance of getting credit for because everything they do is in a language they don't understand...At the younger grades, it's easier to do, but once you get to high school, and they have four years to earn all the credits and graduate, why wouldn't I leverage all the content I can give them in their language and then worry about English?

“Well, I think that because we are a majority Latino and like 40% English learners, our strategy is really around English learner development. We believe that if we can begin to use our English assets and create more literacy for kids in the earlier grades that we will definitely see a spike in student achievement throughout the district. Our re-designation rates for bilingual learners are higher than anyone in the state but we still are grappling with, ‘How do we do more?,’ because we have such a large population of English learners.”

Ideas from the Field

  • Embracing native language instruction by having bilingual teachers lead classes entirely in Spanish and also allowing students to take exams in their native language is one initiative underway. On a similar theme, another school created classes of half Spanish-speakers and half English-speakers, alternately week-by-week the language of instruction.
  • Parent and community engagement is also seen as a critical approach, whether that consists of regular parent meetings, public relations efforts, or community partnerships, all with a focus on families for whom English is not the native language.

Resources

Check out the following research-based resources for more information about supporting English learners:

Language Learning topic page – From Digital Promise, and introduction and key findings from the research on language learning and language teaching.

English Language Learners – From NEA, get connected to issues, strategies, and resources for supporting English Language Learners.

English-Language Learners – From Edutopia, discover ways to optimize instruction to address the needs of students who are learning English.

Amplify your ELLs’ Voices with Digital Storytelling – From Common Sense Education, practical tips and advice for educators on implementing digital creation and storytelling activities for english learners in schools and classrooms.

Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School – The goal of this IES practice guide is to offer educators specific, evidence-based recommendations that address the challenge of teaching English learners in the elementary and middle grades: building their English language proficiency while simultaneously building literacy, numeracy skills, and content knowledge of social studies and science.

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