Teaching to Different English-Proficiency Levels

By Mary Ann Zehr — December 06, 2007 1 min read
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An on-going goal I have for reporting on English-language learners here at Education Week is to get into classrooms as often as possible. Though I work for a newspaper about education, you’d be surprised how many weeks can go by—while I’m writing about proposals for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act or explaining state policy changes concerning testing ELLs—that I don’t set foot inside a classroom.

Thus it was a pleasure to spend a day at Brooklyn International High School this fall trying to understand how teachers there provide instruction to ELLs of all different proficiency levels in the same classroom. Other aspects of the instructional model for this small school for immigrant students is that lessons are activity-focused, and 9th and 10th graders take all classes together. The four-year graduation rate for the school is 80 percent, versus 60 percent for all students in New York City’s public schools. The school is one of eight in New York City and one in Oakland, Calif., supported by the New York-based Internationals Network for Public Schools.

The classes at Brooklyn International were some of the most dynamic I’ve ever seen with English-language learners. Students seemed very accustomed to working in small interactive groups and staying on task. When in small groups, the more fluent speakers encouraged those who were less comfortable with the language to participate. If students working in a small group got stuck on something, it seemed that their teacher magically appeared at the right moment to help the students move to the next goal.

I realize that I only get a glimpse of what’s going on at a school when I visit for a day, but I really liked the glimpse I got of Brooklyn International. If you think your school’s program (or even better yet, your school district’s program) for teaching ELLs is really dynamic and successful, I invite you to send me a pitch for why I should visit it.

I’ll need the pitch for my editors. Include some kind of student achievement data.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.