Teaching Opinion

Response: Ways To Try Using The CCSS With English Language Learners

By Larry Ferlazzo — April 14, 2013 11 min read
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(This is Part One Of a two-part series)

Louise Oppedahl asked:

Because the language acquisition process is largely absent from the Common Core Standards, and teachers must use these standards, how can ESL teachers use them to teach our English Language Learners?

Louise raises a challenging question.

I’m still just trying to “wrap my head around” the Common Core implications for teaching my “mainstream” students and, other than thinking a bit about more ways to incorporate academic language support for my ELLs (which is, of course, never a bad thing), my advice is rather limited.

Others, though, have done more thinking on the topic and today and later in the week several guests, as well as readers, will be contributing their ideas. This post will include responses from educators Diane Staehr Fenner; William and Pérsida Himmele; Debbie Arechiga; and Julie Dermody.

One thing I can offer before I share their responses, however, are links to related resources and previous posts:

The Best Resources For Learning About Common Core Standards & English Language Learners

The Best Resources For Learning About The “Next Generation” Of State Testing

Response: Best Ways to Prepare Our Students for CCSS in Language Arts

Response: ‘How on Earth Will I Implement’ Common Core for Language Arts?

Response: Many Ways To Help Students Develop Academic Vocabulary

Response: Helping Long-Term ELL’s & Evaluating ELL Teachers Fairly

Response From Diane Staehr Fenner

Diane Staehr Fenner is the president of DSF Consulting, a woman owned small business that specializes in English learner achievement by providing multiple services to school districts, states, organizations, universities, and museums. Diane is a former ESL teacher who also writes a weekly blog for Colorín Colorado on the CCS for English learners. Her book Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators will be published by Corwin Press in September 2013:

ESL teachers should consider doing the following to use the CCSS to teach ELLs:

* Become familiar with the CCSS’ language demands, analyzing the CCSS at their students’ grade level(s) through the lens of what kinds of language the CCSS require for ELLs to be successful with them.

* Look at English language proficiency/development (ELPD) standards correlated to the CCSS at their students’ grade level(s) to get a better grasp of the language needed to bridge their ELLs’ success achieving the CCSS. To date, the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) consortium, California, Arizona, and Kansas have released ELPD standards that they have correlated with the CCSS. Other states (some of which are members of the ELPA21 consortium) are also in the process of revising their ELPD standards.

* Read the ELPD Framework, which outlines the English language practices found in the CCSS and the Next Generation Science Standards. ESL teachers can use ELPD standards and the ELPD framework together with the CCSS to better understand how academic language and language practices are intertwined with the CCSS in order to plan CCSS-based instruction for ELLs.

* Embed effective ELL strategies and scaffolding during instruction that are appropriate for students’ levels of English language proficiency/development that will support students’ access to the CCSS. For example, when ELLs are asked to write arguments to support claims, ESL teachers can provide them targeted scaffolding, structures, and linguistic support so that they can successfully create a claim, synthesize information, cite textual evidence, and create a written argument.

* Support ELLs’ access to complex text. The CCSS call for an increased reliance on students to work with complex grade level text in multiple ways. To that end, ESL teachers need to ensure they are aware of the level of their ELLs’ background knowledge related to the texts they read. Most likely, ESL teachers will need to build ELLs’ background knowledge so that they can comprehend the historical period in which texts are situated and teach them about implicit cultural references contained in texts. Teachers can also include supplementary texts on the same topics at students’ reading levels and in students’ home languages. ESL teachers should also deconstruct the grade level texts ELLs will be expected to read. In this way, they can anticipate the linguistic challenges ELLs will face in comprehending them and provide instruction in such areas as grammatical structures and idiomatic expressions.

* Collaborate with general education and content teachers to share ELL strategies so that all teachers of ELLs are aware of how to help them access the CCSS. Also, ESL teachers should collaborate with other ESL teachers within and outside their school, district, and state to share materials and ideas related to teaching ELLs within the CCSS framework.

* Make sure they are included in CCSS-related policy meetings at their school and also at the district and state level to the extent possible in order to provide the ELL student and ESL teacher perspective. In this way, multiple stakeholders will be aware of the kinds of support ELLs and their teachers will need to succeed with the CCSS.

Response From William and Pérsida Himmele

William Himmele is an associate professor of education and the coordinator for the ESL Certificate Program at Millersville University. Pérsida Himmele is an associate professor of education at Millersville University. The Himmeles are the authors of the ASCD books, Total Participation Techniques: Making every student an active learner and The Language-Rich Classroom: A research-based framework for teaching English language learners:

In some schools, ESL instruction happens behind closed doors, and the underlying belief is that whatever the English language learner needs is going to be taken care of during ESL instruction. In essence, it creates an environment where ELLs are the ESL teacher’s responsibility. That has to change. The CCSS doesn’t address early language acquisition, but it does make it everybody’s responsibility to develop academic language. I’m sure that it’s going to be a bumpy road. Some of the example texts and student work samples in the appendices may turn teachers off because they really don’t seem all that attuned to the urban teaching experience. But the standards themselves are compact, meaningful, and-well written. They have a welcome focus on higher-order thinking and deeper learning--what we want for ELL, and all, students. It can be done, and it can be done well when the job of teaching ELLs is seen as everybody’s responsibility.

We’ve seen amazing teachers, in classrooms where a quarter of the students are ELL, work with specialists to design instruction that keeps learning and language targets in mind, while providing just enough scaffolds to make students want to learn the concepts. For example, in this picture walk, third graders developed “wonder” statements by analyzing pictures that would be in their readings. They hadn’t seen their books yet, but the curiosity developed around the pictures, and the time invested in the wonder statements, were a way to usher them into the reading. In this unit, students studied the author’s craft of character development using Kate Dicamillo’s book, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane -- but the pre-reading hype (and scaffolds) had to be there for the kids to want to know more. We can’t just erase ELLs’ needs for the in-between steps before they will be able to deeply understand complex grade-level text. For these students, the pre-reading led to deeper reading. Students’ writings reflected deep thinking and deep processing related to character development. And one-fourth of these students were non-exited ELLs. This school has several ESL teachers, which helps in defining each ESL teacher’s role. The ESL teacher who worked with these students took on the role of co-planner and co-teacher, while another ESL teacher was assigned a pull-out ESL class for new arrivals, across the elementary grade levels. She provided the fundamental understandings behind Camillo’s book, so that these new arrivals could be informed on what was happening during classroom instruction, and further develop their language during the more interactive activities.

Response From Debbie Arechiga

Debbie Arechiga is a Literacy Consultant with Tools For Literacy, and the author of Reaching English Language Learners in Every Classroom: Energizers for Teaching and Learning:

There is no doubt that the Common Core Standards have raised the level of language competency that our students will need in order to perform with proficiency across all subject areas. Currently, many states are in the process of developing or adapting English Language Proficiency standards that align with the Common Core. This framework will help teachers unpack the academic language and supports that will be necessary to help our ELLs achieve academic goals. Language is our most important building material in education, and meaning is what we’re building with it.

Even though language skills appear to be our current crisis, we can’t afford to forget that language is significant because it leads to comprehension. It’s plain that language is essentially meaningless until it’s understood. This means that we can’t put language acquisition on the front burner and slide comprehension to the back. They both need to simmer in the same pot until they blend together to generate learning. An ELP framework tied with the Common Core will serve to provide educators with tools to support ELLS in acquiring language while simultaneously learning the skills and knowledge of a subject area.

While the CCSS requires equal outcomes for all students, we will need to use a variety of scaffolding strategies to help our diverse learners achieve success. In my recently published book, Reaching English Language Learners in Every Classroom (Arechiga, 2012), I present four instructional supports that, when orchestrated by a skillful teacher, will provide our ELLs the type of inputs necessary for performing in academic situations. These instructional supports or as I reference them as “Energizers” are: 1) Keep the learning comprehensible, 2) Get students talking, 3) Flood vocabulary throughout instruction, and 4) Bridge for language and learning. When used effectively, they work together to promote and sustain a rich, differentiated context for learning. While the CCSS sets forth worthy goals and rigorous expectations for our students, ultimately, it will be the teachers who make the standards into an instructional reality through thoughtful implementation.

Response From Julie Dermody

Julie Dermody, NBCT, is a member of the Teachers Leaders Network. She recently had an article published in ASCD Education Leadership regarding her work with ELLs in her Chapel Hill, NC classroom. She presented at this year’s National TESOL Conference regarding growth mindset and ELLs.

Without a lot of guidance from the Standards, our states or districts, many of us have had to dive into the Common Core Standards and then reflect on best ESL practices to decide what we can do that will best move our students forward to meeting each standard. It isn’t an easy task - either for us or our students. Achieving the correct “zone’ in The Zone of Proximal Development is never far from my mind. I don’t want my students not to have to make an effort nor do I what them to feel that their effort doesn’t pay off. I’m miscalculated several times already this year. It helps me to remember this quote from Debbie Silver’s latest book, Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8:

Every learner deserves a reasonable change at success, and working within a student’s ZPD is a proven way to help every learner become self-motivated.” (pg. 22).

For many ESL teachers, the Common Core demands that their roles change. It’s certainly not enough to pull English Language Learners out of classrooms for 30 minutes and not make any connections to classroom content and expectations (such as the Common Core Standards). Teaching students content, academic language and the literacy strategies needed to access that content has to become the joint mission of ESL and content area teachers. And that’s a good thing. Hopefully, one of the results of the rigorous expectations of the Common Core will be to decrease the number of long term English Language Learners - students who remain for six years of more in ESL programs.

As I become more familiar with the standards and better able to match scaffolding techniques to changing student needs, I will feel even more confident sharing strategies with content teachers regarding general, as well as domain specific language demands required of our students.

Thanks to Diane, William Pérsida, Debbie and Julie for contributing their responses.

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