Archive for the ‘English Lanuage Learners and Other Diverse Learners’ Category

Peggie Garcia
American Institutes for Research

How can secondary schools best serve their English language learners (ELLs)? The research base related specifically to secondary ELLs is quite limited, but more studies are beginning to emerge.

Because secondary ELLs bring with them a range of experiences, backgrounds, and needs, there is no silver bullet. It is essential to develop a comprehensive understanding of each ELL’s strengths and needs and then design a personalized menu of supports and interventions that will help each student to improve their mastery of grade-level academic content at the same time that they increase their proficiency in English. As the academic language that is used in the classroom and the content that is covered increases in complexity in secondary schools, ELLs will need to receive differentiated instruction and supports that are based on their individual needs.

Actions that schools and districts should consider implementing to meet the needs of ELLs include the following:

  • Use a variety of data to place ELLs appropriately and inform their instruction. Educators should have frequent access to data from regular, valid, and reliable assessments of student progress, and there should be a districtwide commitment to use these data to diagnose and respond to student needs on an ongoing basis.
  • Ensure that ELLs receive high-quality literacy instruction. Effective instruction for ELLs must include explicit vocabulary instruction, opportunities to build oral language proficiency through extended discussions about the meaning and interpretation of a variety of texts, and direct and explicit comprehension strategy instruction. Instructional strategies and interventions may need to be modified to ensure that they are developmentally and linguistically appropriate for each student.
  • Focus explicitly on vocabulary development and academic English. ELLs benefit when they receive intensive, explicit, high-quality in­struction that embeds vocabulary words in a meaningful context, emphasizes “student-friendly definitions,” builds on the student’s first language knowledge, and provides students with multiple opportunities to review and practice these new words through structured activities that allow them to interact and to learn collaboratively through discussion with their peers.
  • Provide ELLs with time to develop their skills with academic language and content in English. Because adolescent ELLs who enter high school as recent immigrants may not have adequate time to reach a fluent level of English proficiency before graduation, secondary schools should consider program models that will allow adolescent ELLs more time to reach proficiency through flexible pathways.
  • Build the capacity of all educators to serve ELLs. Districts should invest in high-quality, sustained, and job-embedded professional development to ensure that all teachers have strong content knowledge, are skilled in aligning curriculum and instruction, and are able to implement research-based instructional practices that are effective with ELLs.

Resources to explore to learn more about the research and best practices for secondary ELLs:

The Center on Instruction (COI) has released a new resource that addresses the challenges faced by English language learners (ELLs), who must acquire the content knowledge necessary for academic success while simultaneously developing their English language competency. Effective Practices for English Language Learners: Principals from Five States Speak examines key practices of principals from 49 schools that have achieved excellent academic success. This resource has taken on the challenging task of describing both research and successful practices and the connections between the two. In the document, COI acknowledges that research has not gone far enough to identify “effective, high-quality instructional strategies or about school contexts that promote ELLs’ academic development.” In an effort fill this gap, COI identifies the characteristics of school practices that have experienced success for ELL students.

Specific examples of strategies that you have seen achieve success with ELL students would make this conversation richer. Please share any examples or strategies that would help others working to succeed with ELL populations.