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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

English-Language Learners Opinion

Crystal Ball Predictions: What Will Education for ELL Students Look Like in 10 Years?

By Larry Ferlazzo — May 17, 2022 12 min read
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The new question of the week is:

Please take out your crystal ball and make some predictions about English-language learners and U.S. schools 10 years from now. How many ELL students might there be? Will there be any particular changes in how they are taught or assessed, etc.?

The latest statistics (which are 2 to 3 years old) show that English-language learners comprised 10.4 percent of the K-12 student population and that 64 percent of all U.S. teachers have at least one ELL in their classroom.

A few educated guesses of my own are that the ELL numbers could grow to 15 percent of the total population in 10 years and that at least 75 percent of all teachers could have at least one in their classroom.

Given those increases, I would hope that more and more schools and teachers begin to recognize what so many have already—that good ELL teaching is good teaching for everybody and that the engaging and accelerating instructional strategies used in ELL classrooms become more and more widespread in all classrooms.

Today’s more detailed responses come from Michelle Abrego, Aisha Christa Atkinson, and Sarah Said.

More ‘Equitable School Practices’

Michelle Abrego is an assistant professor in the Organization and School Leadership Department at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the co-author of Engaging the Families of ELs and Immigrants: Ideas, Resources and Activities:

Schools in the United States are expected to become more linguistically diverse as the number of English-learners in schools rise over the next decade. Currently, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that 1 in 10 students nationally is an EL. Projections regarding an increase in EL enrollment show a rise potentially to 20 percent of the overall student population.

Languages spoken by ELs will vary by region. Statistics from NCES identify the top home languages spoken by ELs. Currently, about 75 percent of the home language for English-learners is Spanish. Other top languages include Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Somali. Spanish will continue as the top home language; however, other home languages of ELs will surge.

Destinations for ELs will move beyond typical concentration in urban areas to many small towns and cities across the U.S. All schools should expect a shift in their student demographics and be prepared to engage in the discussion as to how to best meet the needs of their ELs. Additionally, schools must be prepared to engage families of ELs as partners in student learning.

Tensions and conflicts surrounding how to best educate ELs will continue over the next decade. However, there will be increased agreement regarding the value of producing students who are truly biliterate. Currently, over 40 states offer high school diplomas with a seal of biliteracy. The seal is awarded to students who have attained academic proficiency in two or more languages. Guidelines here. It is expected that increased support for biliteracy will result in an increase in dual-language programming for ELs. The United States Department of Education describes dual-language education programs as a type of bilingual education program in which students are taught literacy and academic content in English and a partner language. Such programs vary in structure.

An article in Education Week reports that 35 states offer dual-language programs in 18 languages. Most dual-language programs are for Spanish speakers. It remains to be seen if the linguistic diversity of dual-language programs offered will match the proportional increase of home languages spoken. For example, New America notes that although Arabic is the second fastest growing language behind Spanish, there are few dual-language offerings in Arabic.

Debates regarding the best instructional practices for ELs will continue with increased attention to new pedagogies. Alma Rodriguez and Sandra Musanti, professors of bilingual education at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, identify translanguaging as a major pedagogical paradigm shift occurring among bilingual educators. This pedagogy encourages educators to intentionally leverage and capitalize on students’ full linguistic repertoire (across multiple languages). Translanguaging breaks away from designs in dual-language programs that keep languages separate and or limit their use to certain times.

Despite the incorporation of pedagogical approaches promoting the development of biliteracy, it is expected that assessments will remain rigid and standardized with a focus on measuring the development of students’ English proficiency. A more balanced approach to assessment that measures language proficiency across multiple languages will continue to be needed.

Many questions remain related to ELs and U.S. schooling across the next decade. These include: (1) How will teacher and administrative-preparation programs prepare educators to best serve increasing numbers of English-learners? (2) How will schools engage families to support the development of biliterate students? (3) How will the education profession recruit qualified educators to support the needs of ELs? (4) How will state and national education policies impact bilingual education? And (5) Will English-only students be disadvantaged?

By 2030, tensions and conflict surrounding the best way to educate English-learners will continue. However, we can hope that a focus on equitable school practices that promote biliteracy and honor all cultures and languages will become the norm rather than the exception in U.S. schools.


‘Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies’

Aisha Christa Atkinson, M.S., is a high school educator with nearly 10 years of teaching, curriculum design, and instructional-leadership experience in secondary English/language arts and English as a second language. You can connect with Aisha on Instagram or Twitter at @TheLitSensei and by visiting her website: www.aishacatkinson.com:

Pre-pandemic, educators and advocates were “banging the gong” for fairer, more inclusive campus and district practices for multilingual students. The combination of deficit-thinking as well as limited funding for curriculum and instructional support created severe barriers and achievement gaps for multilingual students. While the evidence was in the data, statistically and anecdotally, no one was listening. Then the United States of America shut down, and suddenly, the playing field leveled just enough for that proverbial gong to be heard.

While these inequities heavily impacted countless numbers of students, none experienced them worse than the subpopulations of special education and multilingual-learners. And it didn’t take long for families and educators to point out these frustrating circumstances in board meetings and social media discussions. Now, more than ever before, conversations are being had, policies are being reevaluated and changed, and attention is finally being given to the experiences of the multilingual-learner. With equity, inclusivity, and culturally sustaining pedagogies taking center stage in post-pandemic America, multilingual-learners (MLLs) are the demographic poised to reap the most benefit.

Based upon 2018 enrollment data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, the MLL demographic in the United States grew by 1 million students across two decades. Suppose the data continues to trend and federal policies improve in the reception and accommodation of international families. In that case, I predict that by 2031, we will see growth that exceeds 14 percent, bringing the total number of these students to between 6 and 7 million. Statistics like these will ultimately force the hands of many key players in the educational policy sector to implement new guidelines that address student needs and achievement gaps. These policies will undoubtedly obligate public schools to meet specific diversity, equity, and inclusion standards that prioritize the requirement of continuous learning.

Topics such as MLL instructional best practices for all classroom educators and appraisers, the establishment of family- and community-engagement programs, and initiatives to increase the participation rates of MLLs in gifted and talented programs should all be prioritized in this new era. Federal, state, and local governments need to address educator preparation programming deficits and historic underrepresentation for multilingual families in campus-improvement processes, as well as discriminatory practices around the sheltering of gifted and talented MLLs based only on their English-language proficiency.

By doing these things, in 2032, instructional methodology will be informed by culturally sustaining pedagogies that serve to honor and respect the kaleidoscopic backgrounds of all students. These rich stories of language and tradition will be key to bridging gaps in achievement and student need. For students, this shift will be transformative because they will finally be seen for who they truly are: youth “at promise” for greatness, as opposed to “at risk” for failure.

Ultimately, though, when I think about the future of multilingual education, I think about students like Ever Lopez, a brilliant and resilient learner who was born to Mexican-immigrant parents and who was denied his high school diploma for wearing a Mexican flag over his graduation robe. Lopez was denied this rite of passage and booed for choosing to exhibit pride for his heritage in defiance of a culture of homogeneity. How many years did Lopez endure without ever seeing himself in American schools? How many times did he have to overcome a linguistic or cultural barrier steeped in ideology that privileged a cultural sameness over an individual identity? What could have been done to ensure that every student had an opportunity to represent their identities on what is supposed to be a universal milestone in the United States of America?

In 2031, I believe that those questions will be answered and that all of the Ever Lopezes within our schools will be seen, heard, and applauded for what they contribute to our country.


No More ‘Silos’

Sarah Said currently leads a multilingual-learning program in an EL education school in a suburb 30 miles west of Chicago:

We’re asking about predictions of what support and assessment will look like in 10 years for multilingual-learners. I know what I would like them to look like. However, will our policymakers and the powers that be agree with me? We know that multilingual-learners come from all economic and cultural backgrounds in this country. We also know that our practices from the past will not work in 10 years. We’re already starting to see that now. What needs to change?

Biases Toward Multilingual-Learners

How can we change biases toward multilingual-learners? Our language. In 10 years, my hope is that we stop referring to students as limited-English-proficient, English-language learners, the “high” kid, and the “low” kid. I prefer to use the term “multilingual” because it is asset-based. When we change our language, it helps us change the mindsets in how we view students. Really understanding the value that our multilingual-learners give to our classrooms and schools will open up so many doors for them.

Isolating Multilingual-Learners and Staff Who Support Them

I’ve had the classroom that was supposed to be a closet for the students I supported. I’m sure many of you reading this have. My students felt isolated from my school, and so did I. I got to a point a few years ago where I ate lunch with my students and didn’t eat lunch in the teachers’ lounge. Staff struggled with understanding the students I served and understanding me as well. We need to get rid of the silos that isolate us and work together to support “our” students. We need to have multilingual-learners among their peers. I foresee more co-taught classrooms that embrace inclusiveness in 10 years. We will also embrace student voice more as we saw in the pandemic—those tech tools we learned really enabled student voice more. And I foresee staff who support multilingual-learners seen as instructional leaders among their peers. Not only do we have training in content instruction, but we have training in language instruction, too!

Stronger Multilingual Family Communication and Engagement

The pandemic proved that we weren’t doing a good enough job communicating with multilingual families. Many students who are multilingual-learners fell off the grid for the sake of difficulty communicating with their families. We need to see multilingual family engagement as priority. More online communication with families will continue to happen as well as parent academies, language-learner family nights, and even allowing families to observe classrooms and be involved in the learning that their children are engaged in. We need to open up our schools more to families.

We hope that we have learned some lessons for supporting our multilingual-learners. We have to be catalysts to work toward and encourage these changes or we will go back to “normal,” which really was status quo.


Thanks to Michelle, Aisha, and Sarah for contributing their thoughts!

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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