Curriculum

ELL Programs Often Focus on Basic Skills, Not Higher-Order Thinking, Study Finds

By Corey Mitchell — November 09, 2015 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This blog was written by Sarah D. Sparks and originally appeared on her Inside School Research blog

Washington

Efforts to improve students’ critical thinking, problem-solving, and other “higher order” skills have been behind many of the recent education reform efforts, from Common Core State Standards to project-based curriculums. But two new reports from Jobs for the Future and the newly launched Palo Alto, Calif.-based Learning Policy Institute argue that pushes for “deeper learning” must be coupled with efforts to break down structural inequality that can prevent low-income and minority students from seeing the benefits of it.

“There has been a long tug-of-war about who is going to get access to a ‘thinking curriculum'--a curriculum that empowers,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University education researcher and president of the institute, during a symposium in Washington on Friday.

In the first report, part of a research series for Jobs for the Future, Darling-Hammond and co-authors Pedro Noguera and Diane Friedlaender, also of Stanford, found that schools that effectively promote deeper learning tend to include:


  • Instruction and assessment connected to the world beyond school, such as project-based learning, collaboration, and performance assessments;
  • Personalized supports for students, such as advisory systems and social-emotional training; and
  • Support for ongoing teacher learning, with both time and resources for reflection and collaboration.

Funding formulas, accountability systems, and staffing policies all tend to make it more difficult to implement these underlying structures in high-poverty and high-minority schools, and instruction associated with deeper learning is often relegated to advanced and honors classes, which remain disproportionately whiter and wealthier than other classes.

Reframing the Strengths of Vulnerable Students

The nation’s 17 million children of immigrant parents are a case in point. In a second report released at the same symposium, author Patricia Gándara, a research professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, found policies and programs for children of immigrants and English learners tend to focus on their need for remediation and basic skills, to the exclusion of ways to expose them to higher-order thinking or build on their strengths.

Children of Mexican immigrants, for example, have the highest rate of intergenerational mobility of any immigrant group in U.S. schools, Gándara found, suggesting that as a group the students respond well to educational opportunities.

“The problems here are differences not of culture but of opportunity,” Gándara said. “We need to reframe our English learners and our children of immigrants not through a deficit lens but as children with tremendous assets,” including the potential for full biliteracy.

Lara Evangelista, principal of the Flushing International High School in New York City, agreed. Her school serves students who have entered the United States in the last four years, 90 percent of whom live in or near poverty and all of whom are still learning English. The school uses a project-based curriculum, with students of different native languages and English proficiency levels paired regularly. By the end of high school, the students not only take the same Regents test required for all New York students, but also must produce an original research project, science experiments, a native-language project, and an oral presentation before a board of teachers.

Many of the newcomers have had significant interrupted schooling, and Evangelista told me she often hears doubt that they can handle complex content. But, she said, she has found it easier to motivate students to learn English and catch up on needed skills when they are actively using what they learn.

“Every one of our teachers is a language teacher,” Evangelista told me. “Language is something learned in context; it’s not something you learn outside of content, and we firmly believe you don’t need to be proficient in English before students can learn challenging content.”

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


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum What's the Best Way to Address Unfinished Learning? It's Not Remediation, Study Says
A new study suggests acceleration may be a promising strategy for addressing unfinished learning in math after a pandemic year.
5 min read
Female high school student running on the stairs leads to an opportunity to success
CreativaImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Curriculum School Halts Use of Fictional Book in Which Officer Kills a Black Child
Fifth graders in at least one Broward County school were assigned to read a book that critics say casts police officers as racist liars.
Rafael Olmeda, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
5 min read
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board, Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Broward County School Board member Lori Alhadeff listens during a meeting of the Broward County School Board in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Alhadeff told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that she does not feel like the book "Ghost Boys" is appropriate for 5th graders.
Lynne Sladky/AP
Curriculum Opinion Introducing Primary Sources to Students
Five educators share strategies for introducing primary sources to students, including English-language learners.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Curriculum Opinion Eight Ways to Teach With Primary Sources
Four educators share ways they use primary sources with students, including a strategy called "Zoom."
13 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty