One of the fastest growing demographics in education today is our English Learners (ELs).  With this unprecedented surge in students, we must support our teachers in providing them with a quality EL program and the necessary services for their success.  Student success is not just reading skills, we must address the whole student.  ELs must be provided with a quality education and the opportunity to be an engaged participant in the school community.  These students, under the No Child Left Behind act, were called English Language Learners, but the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 renamed them English Learners.  Our federal government has provided us with guidance on identifying ELs and the services we must provide.

According to ESSA, an EL is defined as an individual:

  •  who is aged 3 through 21;
  • who is enrolled or preparing to enroll in an elementary school or secondary school;
  • who was not born in the United States or whose native language is a language other than English;
  • who is a Native American or Alaska Native, or a native resident of the outlying areas; and
  • who comes from an environment where a language other than English has had a significant impact on the individual’s level of English language proficiency; or
  • who is migratory, whose native language is a language other than English, and who comes from an environment where a language other than English is dominant; and
  • whose difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language may be sufficient to deny the individual —
    •  the ability to meet the State’s proficient level of achievement on State assessments;
    • the ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of instruction is English; or
    • the opportunity to participate fully in society.

The regulations outline 6 steps in the process of servicing ELs:

  • Step One- Home Language Survey
  • Step Two- Placement Test for Instructional Placement
  • Step Three- Parent and Family Notification
  • Step Four- Placement in a Language Instruction Educational Program
  • Step Five- Developing a Language Service Plan
  • Step Six- EL Data Entry

Existing EL Program

In most cases, the EL program decisions about how and when these steps will be taken by a school lies with the Superintendent’s office of the school district.  They make most decisions about registration requirements, the specific test to be administered, and the procedures required for the development of the Language Service Plan.  But, the one step that is most under the control of the school is Step Four- Placement in Language Instruction Educational Program.  A school administrator knows what resources and funding they have access to at any given time.  Once school resources and funding come into play, the school administrators must make the best decisions they can based on what they have access to and the needs of their students.  Finding those resources is the trick.

To make the best decisions about your building’s EL program, an administrator must take the time to gather as much of the necessary information as possible.  Before you get started, you should reflect on what you already have and know.  You do not want to make unnecessary purchases of materials or training if you can avoid it.  Administrators should reflect on the following topics:

What does your EL population look like?

This topic has two parts, your student EL population and the teachers who work with them.  First, let’s focus on the students.  As an administrator, you should not only know how many ELs you have in your building, you should also know:

-How were they identified?

-Are the parents and families part of the support offered?

-What are the languages spoken in the homes?

-Are they immigrants, refugees, or long-term ELs?

-How many dually identify as an EL with a disability?

Second are your teachers.  They may hold an untapped resource of knowledge.  Get to know your teachers’ license endorsements.  And, get to know your teachers’ interests in becoming EL teachers.  Many teachers are thrown into positions that they have little or no training for, but, even worse, are teachers who are put into a position where they have limited proficiency.  These issues are detrimental to the teacher and their students.

Know the EL curriculum requirements

An EL program must include ways to address skills in Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing in English.  When creating a student’s Language Service Plan, you must address all of the skills.  Most teachers have skills and ready resources to teach Reading and Writing, but the skills of listening and speaking sometimes fall to the wayside.  For ELs, this is a Language Service Plan, not a Reading Service Plan.

Many schools have data rooms or data walls where student data is tracked and even color coded.  Make sure your ELs are included in the data.  This will give an overall sense of shared responsibility and accountability.  Depending on the number of students in your EL population, they may be considered a sub-group that counts toward your Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAO) data.  Everyone in your school may not know it, but the success of your ELs reflect in your yearly school rating; therefore, understanding and tracking their progress toward proficiency is an important part of your data collection.

Clearly define best practices for ELs

Everyone in the building must be on the same page when it comes to the EL programs.  As administrators do walk-throughs, their expectations should be clear on what they see and hear.  As a building, you must agree on what the practices are, how they are demonstrated, and how they are tracked.  The activities may differ from one room to the next, but quality of content and expectation of outcomes should not.  These expectations should not end with teacher presentation.  Student engagement must be clear.  Are the ELs engaged and participating in the classroom activities?  Are they using academic language in discussions or their writings?  If not, how can their engagement be encouraged and supported?

With these four topics in mind you can make the best decisions possible about the services you provide.  I have found the three sites below to assist you in your search.

EL site

Colorín Colorado is a national multimedia project that offers a wealth of bilingual, research-based information, activities, and advice for educators and families of English Learners. Colorín Colorado is an educational service of WETA, the flagship public broadcasting station in the nation’s capital, and receives major funding from the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association.  It is a one-stop-shop for all things EL.  Teachers and administrators will find blog posts and video resources about teaching ELs and the basics in general.  The site also has a list of books for EL children, young adults, and their parents.  Colorin Colorado is a site that has resources for everyone who works with and loves students who are categorized as EL.  Not only do they share tried and true information, they also keep their site updated and timely.

Teaching Channel

Teaching Channel is a thriving online community where teachers can watch, share, and learn diverse techniques to help every student grow.  It is an online resource for teachers to use for their own professional development along with teaching strategies.  By using the search bar, teachers can access videos to assist them in reaching their ELs.  Although this site is not specific to EL strategies and training, it has a great wealth of information that is both useful and timely.  The format of having classroom videos is a perspective that can be seen as useful to those people who are more visual learners.  There are several people who would prefer to see a strategy in action rather than just reading about it.  The Teaching Channel is great for that reason.

Cener for Applied Linguistics

This document was created by the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL).  The EL program strategies in this document are intended as a resource for general education and content teachers to scaffold content and language for children who are in the process of learning English as a new language, but these are also effective strategies for all students.

The strategies focus on 5 principles of scaffolded instruction:

  1. Academic language, literacy, and vocabulary
  2. Background Knowledge and culture
  3. Comprehensible input and language output
  4. Interaction
  5. Higher order thinking and learning strategies

This document includes:

  • A list of primary and additional strategies for each of the 5 principles listed above.
  • A one page matrix that lists 3-6 exemplary strategies for each skill: listening, speaking, reading, and writing at the 5 language proficiency levels.
  • An inventory of each strategy with a Table of Contents
    • Each strategy entry in this section describes the purpose, grouping format, proficiency level that it is geared towards, and gives teacher actions and students actions.
  • A glossary of each strategy

This document is a real resource for teachers.  It is not a source for ideas, it is a resource with ready strategies to use today.  Although it does not contain a video for each strategy, the abundance of resources makes this document the best resource that I found.  It is a resource that several State Departments of Education have used as the EL resource on their websites.  The abundance of ready to use resources in this one document makes it invaluable.