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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

Emergent Bilinguals Want to Go to College. You Can Help Them

By Larry Ferlazzo — July 13, 2023 10 min read
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Many ELLs find pursuing postsecondary education to be a challenge.

Here are some ideas on how we can support them.

Community College Alliance

Mandy Stewart is an associate professor of multilingual literacies at Texas Woman’s University.

Holly Genova is a Title III engagement and advocacy educator in a school district in Texas.

They are the co-authors of But Does This Work with ELs? A Guide for English Language Arts Teacher, Grades 6-12 with Corwin:

Future Ready: Supporting Emergent Bilinguals to Pursue Postsecondary Education

As educators, we have a tendency to be nearsighted with adolescent emergent bilinguals (EBs), particularly those who are newcomers or students with limited or interrupted formal education. We hyper focus on their race against time to acquire English and pass tests to graduate. However, when we step back and consider students’ futures, explaining clear pathways to postsecondary education, EBs can realize this dream.

Mandy has worked with teachers and EBs in various high schools, and Holly’s primary role in her school district is to support students to be successful in high school and work toward a college education. Below, we share a few of the action steps that educators can take that have yielded results we have witnessed.

At the beginning of this school year, Holly had an eye-opening conversation with a senior EB, Mirian, who was in the top 10 percent of her class. However, as she spoke to Holly about what she knew about college, it was evident that there was a chasm of inequity to information. Mirian had heard something about the SAT on the school announcements, but she did not know what it was. She also had no idea what was involved in applying to colleges.

Due to that conversation, Holly piloted a program called I Am Future Ready with a local community college to help EB parents and students understand various aspects of higher education. Below are the topics they addressed in these Saturday sessions.

Why go to college?

They explained the difference between a community college and a university, highlighting that community college might be a great place to start and build a solid foundation. They discussed how credits worked and how they would transfer to another college or university.

How do I apply?

In addition to explaining the application process for permanent residents or U.S. citizens, they were purposeful to show pathways for students who are undocumented, applying for asylum, or in other situations.

How do I pay?

They explained the cost per semester and how to gain access to grants and scholarships, giving very specific information.

What are other benefits once you are a student?

They shared what the Office of Student Life does at a college and how this provides ways for students to be involved and connect to others. Because many students will need to work, they showed them how, unlike high school, there are various times of the day and week to choose from for classes. Also unlike high school, there would not be a bus to come to their neighborhood to pick students up, so they shared various public transportation options for getting to a specific community college. Many colleges now offer classes in a variety of ways so they addressed technology and what students would need for different classes depending on if they were on campus or online. Finally, knowing that EBs are in the dynamic process of acquiring English as an additional language, they explained how colleges have services to support language acquisition and proficiency.

In addition to these Saturday sessions, Mandy has worked with other schools and has observed that these action steps have created a college-going culture.

  • View EBs’ home language as an asset! Provide EBs engaging reading material in their language, encourage bilingual writing, and if available, enroll students in Advanced Placement courses in their home language such as Spanish or French. They can earn college credit through the AP exam.
  • Take EBs on college visits and be purposeful to connect them to other immigrant/refugee/DACA college students. Send some emails and ask if multicultural and multilingual student groups will come to your high school to speak.
  • Provide parents information about how the college and university system works in the U.S. in their language.

In the end, all of the seniors Holly worked with not only applied but were accepted into various colleges, receiving $397,445 in financial aid and scholarships! Mirian ended up taking the SAT and applying to many colleges and universities. She will be attending Texas Woman’s University in the fall, which happens to be where Mandy works.

Here is a Future Ready EB’s letter to Holly.


Focus on Assets

Feras Majeed is a current high school EL English teacher and a former EL team leader. He earned his master’s in teaching from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.:

I was 9 years old when I came back to the United States after completing kindergarten and much of my primary education in Palestine. After completing 4th grade, my family moved back to the United States. Soon enough, I found myself in an English-speaking 5th grade classroom, lost and confused. Our first novel for the year: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone—as if I wasn’t confused enough.

Unfortunately, my story isn’t unique. According to Corey Mitchell in his article titled The Nation’s English-Learner Population Has Surged: 3 Things to Know, “There are now an estimated 4.9 million children in U.S. public schools learning the English language.” This number is only increasing year after year. So, with more multilingual students in U.S. schools learning English, how many are continuing their education after high school and entering postsecondary schools? EL students are often discouraged from continuing their education after high school due to lack of resources, high school course “tracking,” and lower expectations overall from staff and students. It is not that EL students do not wish to continue their studies, it is that they don’t see how it can be possible.

What Needs to Be Done?

To better support ELL students, high schools need to maintain high academic expectations, provide opportunities to enroll in honors and AP courses, provide continuous college and postsecondary school counseling that are linguistically and personally relevant, and create effective bridge programs with community colleges and other postsecondary institutions. These programs can help transition and support EL students once they start attending their postsecondary school of choice.

It wasn’t until I transferred my Junior year from my neighborhood high school to a college-preparatory magnet school nearby that I actually thought of life after graduation. What was it that made me change my thinking?

The school’s relentless commitment to the idea that every student regardless of socioeconomic background, language acquisition, or “track” attend college or a postsecondary institution. That commitment was clear in the high expectations each teacher exhibited for us, the pivotal role our college counselor played, the freedom the school gave to students to express themselves in whichever way they needed to, mandatory internships and opportunities to take college-level courses while still in high school, and availability of AP courses for all who are willing. These opportunities were not reserved for only those who are on a specific “track” but were ingrained in the culture of the school.

ASSETS-Based Approach

According to the WIDA Consortium, “Linguistically and culturally diverse learners, in particular, bring a unique set of assets that enrich any learning community and multilingual learners come with knowledge and skills in multiple languages.”

The culture of high schools around the country needs to change to the view that multilingual students are bringing in assets and knowledge from their native languages and their own academic experiences. Then, expectations of what they “can do” will rise and lead to EL students being challenged in the classroom and offered opportunities to enter more rigorous courses rather than stifling them by keeping them in a “tracked” schedule that does not expose them to all that a particular school has to offer them.

It must be a collective effort of the district and school, from district and school admin to teachers and staff, to ensure that high expectations for EL students do not waiver and are consistent with overall high expectations for all students. In fact, John Hattie consistently rates “teacher estimates of learning” one of the top effect sizes at a range of 1.29 and even a 1.62 in a recent version! In other words, if EL students are not thought to be able to achieve, it can be highly detrimental to their achievement overall and prospects of pursuing higher education.

Final Thoughts

The answer to the question is simple: Believe they can, and they will. With a high school culture that is assets-based and an effective bridge program aiming to support students’ developing language skills in the context of their major of choice, high schools and secondary education institutions can ensure a successful postsecondary experience for EL students.


Thanks to Mandy, Holly, and Feras for sharing their commentaries.

The question of the week is:

What can schools do to specifically support and encourage ELLs to pursue postsecondary education?

In Part One, Tu Vuong, Michelle Makus Shory, and Jody Nolf contributed their ideas.

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.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email (The RSS feed for this blog, and for all Ed Week articles, has been changed by the new redesign—new ones are not yet available). And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 11 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributors to this column.

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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