The population of English Language Learners (ELLs) currently comprises approximately thirty percent of all school-age children in the United States. These students’ backgrounds are as diverse as the languages they speak at home. They enter the classroom with a range of literacy backgrounds in both their first and/or second languages, and they are at various stages of English language acquisition.
The Project’s methods for supporting students who are learning English vary, beginning with the recognition that this category of language learners encompasses a range of students, each with particular needs. Then, too, the schools we serve have varied language policies and programs to work with students who are learning English, so we approach our work in each school with that school’s language policies in mind.
The Project’s work with English Language Learners is led by Amanda Hartman, lead Staff Developer, who co-authored the DVD, Teaching English Language Learners in Reading and Writing Workshops. Other staff developers at the Project have special expertise in work with English Language Learners and work closely with the rest of our staff, sharing the latest research in the field. Alison Porcelli, one of our staff developers, co-wrote the Workshop Help Desk book, A Quick Guide to Boosting English Acquisition in Choice Time, K-2 with Cheryl Tyler, Senior Reading Specialist with the Project.
The Project also works with experts in the field including Lori Helman, co-author of the ELL version of Words Their Way, Mary Cappellini, author of several original children’s books and the professional text, Balancing Reading and Language Learning: A Resource for Teaching English Language Learners, K-5 , and Pauline Gibbons, whose works include Learning to Learn in a Second Language and English Learners, Academic Literacy, and Thinking . These authors often speak at our events, lead workshops and above all, bolster our work with English language learners and teachers with their ideas and contributions to the field.
Many of the Project’s schools—in New York City and throughout the nation and the world—have become models of best practice, receiving accolades for their state-of-the-art work and their levels of achievement. The TCRWP also offers workshops, study groups, and parent days at Teachers College, all focused on supporting both our English language learners and those who work with them.
When we plan our work in a given school, the first thing we consider is how to help that school think about its language policies in relation to the school’s data (broadly defined), to be sure these are designed and implemented in ways that serve the school’s population, whether that be a dual language program, transitional bilingual program, or a push-in/pull-out ESL program. We help the school think about how to structure its reading and writing curricula so that these remain consistent with the language policies that the school has developed, and so these provide students the opportunities and scaffolding needed.
Some of our schools are Dual Language schools. We help these schools think about ways to support ongoing, continued instruction, with one day’s instruction building upon the next, while learners work in two languages. Some of our Dual Language schools teach simultaneous literacy instruction (students learn to read and write in both languages from kindergarten onward) and sequential literacy instruction (students first learn to read and write in their first language, then in English). In either case, we help these schools design a plan for their units to unfold across a year. For example, in one of our Dual Language schools, the first grade might do a unit of study in informational writing first in Spanish, and then again, in English the next month. Meanwhile, other schools teach some components of the language arts curriculum in Spanish, other components in English (perhaps shared reading).
Many of the schools we serve support a transitional curriculum rather than a Dual Language approach. These schools move early arrivals into English speaking classrooms as soon as they are able to fare well in those settings. Some of these schools may decide that in kindergarten, for example, they will teach more of their units of study in writing in their students’ first language, and then, towards the end of the year, they will reteach a couple of units in English.
In our schools where there is a push-in/pull-out model in place to support English development, the English language teacher and classroom teacher collaborate around units, making language goals together for each reading and writing unit of study. Students are expected to do work in all units in English, with the support of one to one work and small group instruction to help scaffold the language.
The Project focuses especially on supporting both classroom and non classroom teachers to assess language proficiency. Staff developers work closely with these groups of teachers, helping them use both language assessments and ongoing assessments in the classroom to determine students’ needs around learning English. Staff developers also give attention to the many other assessments that teachers need to navigate. Together, teachers and staff developers consider what general language goals to set for the entire class and which to set for individual students. They also collaborate to create literacy goals.
Staff developers also work with teams in school buildings to design language goals in reading and writing workshops. We want to help build social language for our beginning speakers and to help ensure that as students become stronger speakers, we continue to help teachers build curriculum and practice in the classroom that develops more academic language. Staff developers work with teachers to design curriculum, methods and structures in the classroom that are suitable for their students and that will ensure that kids not only participate in classroom instruction, acquiring literacy skills, but also learn English. Together, staff developers and teachers examine the use of visuals, oral language rehearsal, partnerships, and powerful demonstrations (among other methods) to respond to the linguistic and literacy needs in a classroom.
We help teachers understand that new arrivals especially need to be integrated into the social life of a classroom so that they learn social English, which is something they can absorb from immersion and from peers. Once a child has progressed so that he or she needs to learn academic English, that student will benefit enormously from intensive small group instruction, which we help teachers provide. Every unit of study in reading and writing can have a language component, so that, for example, as students learn to write narratives, they can work in the tense that they are currently working on acquiring, whether that be present tense, present progressive or even past tense.
The Project offers a series of workshops on topics that are especially relevant to teachers whose classrooms brim with English Language Learners.