This position paper is designed to address the knowledge and practices teachers need in order to create and teach effective curricula and materials that engage English language learners (ELLs), develop their academic proficiency, and help them negotiate their identities as multilingual language users. More specifically, this paper reviews current research into the language and literacy needs of these young people as they participate and learn in English-medium classes. NCTE has made clear multilingual students’ right to maintain their home and/or native languages (see “On Affirming the CCCC ‘Students’ Right to Their Own Language’” 2003). Thus, this paper addresses ways teachers can help students develop their English language abilities as well as ways they can support their students’ multilingualism. In United States education policy, ELLs are defined as students who know a language other than English and are developing their English proficiency. Students’ abilities range from not speaking English at all to being fully biliterate. Teachers can use the recommendations in this paper to support all of these learners. A committee of English language teachers and teacher educators has updated the 2006 “NCTE Position Paper on the Role of English Teachers in Educating English Language Learners (ELLs)” to reflect current knowledge on and best practices in English language learning and teaching in K–12 schooling in the United States.
The population of students designated as English language learners in US public schools continues to grow. In 2015, 9.5 percent (4.8 million students) of all public school students nationwide were classified as ELLs, with eight states reporting more than 10 percent of their student population as ELLs (NCES, 2018). Spanish is the most commonly reported home language for 77 percent of ELLs, with another 2 percent each speaking Arabic, Chinese, or Vietnamese, and 1 percent each speaking Somali, Hmong, Russian, Haitian Creole, Tagalog, or Korean (NCES, 2018). Multilingual students (both those classified as ELLs and those who are not) in US schools speak hundreds of additional languages as well. A greater proportion of ELLs attend urban schools, but there are also growing numbers in suburban and rural schools (Breiseth, 2015; NCES, 2018).
When young people first enroll in American schools, US federal policy requires that their parents or guardians be asked whether they speak languages other than English. Schools must test the English proficiency of all newly arrived multilingual students within their first month of enrollment. Based on these test scores, students may be classified as English proficient or as in need of English language support. Federal law also requires that schools provide the latter group with some form of language instruction and re-test their English proficiency annually until they demonstrate fluency. States and individual school districts determine how to apply test results for reclassification and support, as well as what accommodations to provide. This means that classroom teachers may want to consult with their school district’s English language learner office for advice and support in determining instructional practices.
Federal, state, and local policies have addressed the education of ELLs by implementing different types of programs. Various models of bilingual education (both short-term transitional bilingual education and longer-term dual language programs), English as a Second Language (ESL) pull-out and push-in, English immersion, and integration into mainstream classes are common approaches. Preferences for the types of programs have changed over time, responding to demographic and political pressures. (For a historical and descriptive summary, see Brisk, 2006; Crawford, 2004.)
For a variety of reasons, however, the majority of multilingual students find themselves in mainstream classrooms taught by teachers with little or no formal professional preparation for teaching such students (Lucas, Strom, Bratkovich, & Wnuk, 2018; Villegas, SaizdeLaMora, Martin, & Mills, 2018). Although improving the education of ELLs continues to be a pressing national educational priority (Gándara & Santibañez, 2016), many teachers are not adequately prepared to work with linguistically diverse student populations (Lucas et al., 2018; Samson & Collins, 2012; Villegas et al., 2018).
Teachers working to better meet the needs of multilingual students deserve support. NCTE encourages English teachers to collaborate and work closely with ESL and bilingual teaching professionals, who can offer classroom support, instructional advice, and general insights into second language acquisition. At the end of this statement, we recommend books and other resources that can provide teachers with additional information on the topics addressed below.
2. WHO ARE THE STUDENTS?
Multilingual students differ in various ways, including level of oral English proficiency, literacy ability in both their home languages and English, and cultural background. English language learners born in the United States often develop conversational language abilities in English but have limited academic language proficiency. Newcomers, on the other hand, need to develop both conversational and academic English. Education previous to entering US schools may determine students’ literacy levels in their native languages. Some learners may have age- or grade-level proficiency, while others have limited or no literacy due to the quality of previous schooling, interrupted schooling due to wars or migration, and other circumstances (Suárez-Orozco & Suárez-Orozco, 2001). Given the wide range of multilingual students and their backgrounds, it is important that teachers take the time to learn about their students, particularly in terms of their literacy histories.
There are many different types of multilingual students in US schools, each with unique learning needs:
- The term newcomers usually refers to immigrant students recently arrived in the United States. Their level of English language proficiency can vary widely, depending on how much exposure they have had to the language and what opportunities they have had to study English prior to immigrating.
- Some multilingual learners are refugees or have sought asylum in the United States. Often these students come from countries where their families no longer feel safe, meaning they have little opportunity to return and will be settling long term in their new state. Many refugee youth have missed out on formal schooling entirely or lost multiple years of study, so their English proficiency as well as their academic content knowledge may be well below grade level.
- Students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE) have had limited or interrupted access to formal schooling due to a variety of reasons (war, frequent migration, necessity to work at a young age, lack of educational funding in home country, etc.) (DeCapua, Smathers, & Tang, 2009). While some may be refugees, others may be children of migrant laborers who travel around the United States or between the United States and other countries in pursuit of seasonal work. Like refugees, these students may have gaps in their knowledge of grade-level language or content.
- A growing population of ELLs are long-term English learners (LTELs). These students have been enrolled in US schools for six or more years but have not yet gained full English proficiency. For a variety of reasons, LTELS may remain at intermediate levels of English oral proficiency; lack literacy proficiency necessary for engaging with academic texts; struggle with English syntax, grammar, and vocabulary in speaking and writing; and, in many cases, be reluctant to participate fully in classroom academic tasks (Olsen, 2014).
It’s important to remember that multilingual students come from many cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Walqui and van Lier (2010) recommend ways to assess and differentiate instruction with a rigorous, well-scaffolded curriculum. Teachers can prepare materials to support their learning by:
- Determining students’ home languages. Some do not speak the national language of the country they come from (for example, many Latin American–origin students speak indigenous languages at home and Spanish as a second language); they may not be literate in the national language.
- Assessing students’ home language literacy. While translations of materials can be helpful for some learners, it’s important to check whether students can actually read and write in the language of the translation.
- Building background for content lessons. Multilingual students arrive with different experiences and may not have the same background knowledge as mainstream students.
3. TEACHING LANGUAGE: LISTENING AND SPEAKING
English teachers should strategically incorporate activities and practices that advance the listening and speaking proficiency of English language learners in their classrooms. Without encouragement to do otherwise, ELLs often remain passive or provide short answers (one-word or phrase) to oral language activities in the classroom (Soto-Hinman, 2011). Research has also shown that ELLs benefit greatly from repeated opportunities to use oral language in talking about academic topics (Soto-Hinman, 2011).
English teachers can support students’ speaking and listening development by:
- Modeling and developing structures for small-group and partner discussions on academic topics;
- Providing multiple and scaffolded opportunities for students to practice their oral English discussing academic topics;
- Providing conversational expressions that can be used in a variety of academic conversations, such as “To add to your point . . .” (Walqui & Heritage, 2018);
- Providing students opportunities to practice newly taught academic vocabulary and concepts in partner or small-group discussions to lower anxiety (Wilson, Fang, Rollins, & Valadez, 2016);
- Providing written models for presentations and oral debate activities;
- Providing corrections to students’ oral mistakes by “recasting” the sentence with the correct grammatical structures (Walqui & Heritage, 2018);
- Monitoring teachers’ and students’ speech pace in whole-class activities;
- Providing subtitles and texts for videos, podcasts, and other digital media to facilitate listening, as well as opportunities for students to listen to or watch digital media materials multiple times to build comprehension and fluency (Ghaniabadi & Hashemi, 2016); and
- Providing and modeling listening activities such as Cloze listening and note-taking during presentation to support students’ listening proficiency.
4. TEACHING LITERACY: READING
Multilingual students need to learn to read effectively in order to succeed in school. Reading is a complex skill that requires extensive instruction and practice. Successful readers have knowledge of both the processes of reading (including bottom-up decoding of words from letters and top-down applying of prior knowledge to understanding the text) and the language in which they are reading (Aebersold & Field, 1997). Students who have learned to read in their first language bring reading strategies and knowledge about print to the process of reading in English, even as they are still developing their language knowledge. Learning to read in a second language is more difficult when students are not fully literate in their home language or when their home language has very different orthography (writing systems) from English. Students who have not developed literacy in their home language need support to learn concepts of print, reading strategies, and English at the same time.
Teachers can support English language learners’ literacy development through:
- Explicit teaching of morphology, phonemic awareness, decoding, and fluency in whole-class and small-group intervention settings (August, McCardle, & Shanahan, 2014);
- Explicit teaching of similarities and differences between written English and home languages (August et al., 2014);
- Integrating and frequently teaching culturally relevant classroom reading materials;
- Inviting students to bring in their home language and literacy knowledge, such as by sharing family stories or letters from their grandparents written in their native languages;
- Teaching key academic language over multiple days and instructional activities and interweaving previously learned vocabulary throughout instruction to provide opportunities for repetition and reinforcement (Baker et al., 2014);
- Teaching and providing scaffolded practice with common sentence frames used in academic texts;
- Providing opportunities for partner, small-group, and whole-class discussions of texts and introducing language frames to scaffold discussions;
- Replacing discrete skill exercises and drills with many opportunities for cognitively demanding tasks at students’ English proficiency levels (Li, 2012);
- Providing in-class opportunities for choice reading in either the students’ home languages or in English with a wide variety of texts from school or classroom libraries;
- Reading aloud frequently to allow students to model the fluency, sounds, and structures of the written English language;
- Reading aloud while students have access to the text to facilitate connecting oral and written modalities;
- Teaching critical literacy practices by having students examine different perspectives set forth in texts and providing multiple critical literacy activities (August et al., 2014); and
- Recognizing that literacy growth increases with both abundant exposure to reading and a variety of texts as well as explicit literacy instruction.
Teachers can support reading comprehension of class texts by:
- Selecting texts that are accessible to students at a range of reading proficiencies, such as texts that include clear headers, graphics or illustrations, or vocabulary glossaries;
- Explicitly teaching reading comprehension strategies with mentor and whole-class texts;
- Taking a genre study approach to analyzing sets of texts within a single genre in order to identify features and variations within a given genre (Gilliland & Pella, 2017);
- Framing texts thematically so students can connect core concepts to their experiences and previous readings (McBee Orzulak, 2017);
- Activating students’ prior content knowledge before reading new texts;
- Relating the topic to students’ cultural experiences;
- Having students read a more accessible text such as a graphic novel excerpt on the topic or watch a video (in English or their home languages) before reading the assigned text;
- “Front-loading” comprehension via a walk through the text, a preview of the main ideas, a short video on the topic, and other strategies that prepare students for the topic of the text (McBee Orzulak, 2017);
- Doing prereading activities that elicit discussion of the topic;
- Teaching language features, such as text structure, glossary, footnotes, and text-specific grammatical patterns to facilitate comprehension of the text;
- Guiding students through close examination of specific language structures in a text (Gilliland & Pella, 2017; McBee Orzulak, 2017);
- Providing access to bilingual dictionaries;
- Asking families to read with students a version in their home languages;
- Encouraging students to talk with peers in their home languages as they analyze a text; and
- Assigning writing activities to clarify understanding of reading.
5. TEACHING LITERACY: WRITING
Writing well in English is often the most difficult skill for English language learners to master. Many ELLs are still acquiring vocabulary and syntactic competence in their writing. Students may show varying degrees of language development, and not all second language writers will have the same difficulties or challenges. As with reading, ELLs with literacy in their home languages may be able to apply strategies and concepts from their earlier schooling to learning to write in English. Additionally, state and national standards have set the expectation that students will develop proficiency in writing multiple text types, including narrative, exposition, and argument.
Teachers should be aware that English language learners may not be familiar with terminology and routines often associated with writing instruction in the United States, including writing process, drafting, revision, editing, workshop, conference, audience, purpose, or genre. Furthermore, certain elements of discourse, particularly in terms of audience and persuasion, may differ across cultural contexts. The same is true for textual borrowing and plagiarism. The CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers offers some useful recommendations for secondary school teachers, particularly with respect to concepts and practices that will prepare students for college writing.
All teachers can provide instructional support for multilingual students in their writing by:
- Providing a nurturing environment for writing;
- Utilizing mentor texts in both English and students’ home languages that provide students an opportunity to see how authors use language and grammatical features, and then providing students with opportunities to write like those authors to reinforce those practices;
- Introducing cooperative, collaborative writing activities that promote discussion;
- Encouraging contributions from all students and promoting peer interaction to support learning;
- Replacing drills and single-response exercises with time for extended writing from open-ended, high-level tasks that are text based or on student-selected topics;
- Providing frequent opportunities to write both in students’ home languages and in English and to share those writings with an audience;
- Designing writing assignments for a variety of audiences, purposes, and genres, and scaffolding the writing instruction;
- Providing models of well-organized papers for the class. Students should be given the opportunity to talk about those papers with their peers to identify what works well and what could be improved. Additionally, teachers can gloss sample papers with comments that point to the specific aspects of the paper that make it well written;
- Utilizing strategy instruction to help students plan, draft, and revise their writing, and modeling the use of these strategies (Graham, 2006);
- Offering opportunities for both peer and teacher feedback on the strength of the text in order to indicate areas where the student is meeting expectations;
- Reading multilingual students’ writing with an open mind instead of comparing their work to that of native speakers (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2017); and
- Making comments explicit and clear (both in written response and in oral responses). Teachers should consider beginning feedback with global comments (content and ideas, organization, thesis) and then moving to more local concerns (or mechanical errors) when student writers are more confident about the content of their drafts.
6. TEACHING EARLY LITERACY
Younger ELLs (in preschool and elementary school) are similar to their English-dominant classmates as they are still learning basic concepts of print. Because they are also still developing their oral English proficiency, however, they need additional instruction as they learn to read and write in English. Teachers can provide early literacy support through the following approaches:
- Interactive read-aloud: Teachers can immerse their students in the rich language and ideas of literary texts, helping ELLs build oral language, vocabulary, and comprehension of how story structure works (Lems & Abousalem, 2014). Throughout the shared reading, the teacher can engage students in discussing the text by using turn-and-talk to a partner (in English or in their home languages, if partners share another language). Interactive read-alouds, if done well, include many of the aspects of early literacy listed below: vocabulary development, phonemic awareness, concepts of print, and listening comprehension.
- Vocabulary development: Before reading a story, it is important to front-load key concepts and words in the story through a picture walk, images, first language support, role-play, gestures, quick sketches, and realia.
- Phonemic awareness: To help students understand that spoken words are composed of smaller units of sound, support students in hearing individual sounds in words and segmentation of words into these sounds.
- Knowledge of the alphabet: Once students have some phonemic awareness, hearing sounds in words, they can learn the names of the letters through songs, poems, gestures, images, and other activities.
- Concepts of print: Teach the left-to-right direction of print, what a word is, and that the space between words has a purpose.
- Listening comprehension: When reading aloud to students, teachers should incorporate the practices that good readers use to make meaning with text: previewing the text, title, headings, and images to connect to background knowledge before reading; thinking aloud during reading (predicting, questioning, monitoring, connecting, etc.); modeling how to monitor reading and self-correct; and providing opportunities for students to retell the story.
- Decoding: Use decodable books that focus on the letters and sounds with which students are becoming familiar. These books include high-frequency sight words that students are working on recognizing. First the teacher meets with students in guided reading groups and models fluent reading; next, students can do paired reading; and then students read it individually and take it home until fluency is reached.
7. DIGITAL LITERACIES
The definition of literacy and what counts as a text is continuously changing in this current technology era. Digital literacy consists of more than just basic computer skills, also including what people do with technology to solve problems, collaborate on tasks, and communicate through varying multimodal tools (Jenkins, 2015). NCTE’s “Definition of Literacy in a Digital Age” elaborates on the practices and perspectives learners need for active engagement with digital literacies.
The internet and other technological tools can provide teachers motivating ways for students to engage with content while at the same time scaffolding their language needs. To make content accessible and comprehensible by integrating multimodal tools that are culturally and linguistically relevant, teachers can enhance their ELLs’ learning by using:
- Multiple digital texts to support and enhance the classroom textbook (e.g., Newsela.com);
- Digital games and simulations to support students’ vocabulary and concept development;
- Multimedia that includes role-playing in a 3D virtual world to help learners use English through voice and text chat features;
- The combination of video, images, and audio into presentations;
- Digital storytelling to support students bringing in their funds of knowledge by communicating their family history, such as immigration stories, family wisdom, and home-school connections (Olesova & de Oliveira, 2016);
- Mobile devices like tablets and smartphones to provide easy access to online dictionaries, translators, and tools for researching information;
- Interactive whiteboards for direct instruction, modeling, and demonstrating;
- Mobile apps designed for language teaching (grammar, vocabulary, syntax, etc.); and
- Google Classroom tools (Google Slides, documents, forms, etc.) for collaborating and project-based learning.
8. TRANSLANGUAGING AND HOME LANGUAGES IN THE ENGLISH CLASSROOM
Students’ home languages can be valuable resources in developing their oral and literate proficiencies in English. Translanguaging, or “the deployment of a speaker’s full linguistic repertoire” (García & Kleyn, 2016a, p. 14), suggests that languages are not discrete entities, but rather are part of a single language system for each speaker. Instead of suppressing students’ additional language abilities, teachers can facilitate their using all their language(s) to make sense of school concepts and express their perspectives. As learners develop their linguistic repertoire, they also learn how to select from these resources to represent their perspectives appropriately for any given situation—which at times may mean in a specific variety of English. (See “9. Teaching Academic Language” for more on helping students build academic language proficiency.) García and Kleyn’s edited volume (2016b) and Celic and Seltzer’s guide (2012) offer recommendations for bringing students’ home language abilities into the classroom through translanguaging. Teachers can draw on students’ full linguistic repertoires for:
- Understanding language choice as a literary device: Students can study texts written with phrases from different languages and discuss the authors’ reasons for including those languages and for translating them (or not), as well as the effects the additional languages have on readers;
- Scaffolding access to challenging texts: Students can use their home language resources as they analyze and discuss texts written in English;
- Supporting multilingual lexical learning: Word walls with translations of essential vocabulary into students’ languages allow students not only to learn the English word but also to strengthen their home languages and learn their peers’ languages;
- Increasing language use around challenging concepts: Students can express their understandings of theories and ideas when they are able to explore and explain with all their language resources;
- Processing and preparing for higher-stakes assessments: Students can take notes, write journal entries, and write exit slips in their home languages as they build their concept knowledge and ideas toward presentations or writing assignments in English;
- Supporting home-school connections: Students can bring their home languages into their school writing and share their school writing with their families;
- Expressing emotions and creativity: Students can play with language and show the full range of their emotions;
- Giving all students a voice in the classroom: Lower-proficiency ELLs and other students who may be reluctant to speak up in English can enter class discussions by drawing on their home languages; and
- Understanding other cultures: Students can learn about other cultural practices and traditions from their classmates.
Teachers do not need to speak all the languages their students know in order to implement translanguaging practices in their classes. Even with speakers of many different languages, translanguaging can show the students that their languages are valued and that they have equal access to the learning opportunities in the classroom.
9. TEACHING ACADEMIC LANGUAGE
Academic language is far more than just discipline-specific vocabulary and “correct” grammar. Language is a resource for communicating ideas and for understanding cultural practices. While translanguaging practices (see above) allow students to draw on their full repertoires of linguistic resources, at times (such as on high-stakes assessments or for college and career readiness), students need to be able to understand and express themselves in academic varieties of English. Teachers can engage their students in discussion of reasons for choosing to use a particular variety of English and how to make those choices (Street, 1997). Importantly for the English language arts classroom, academic language is essential to students’ making sense of complex ideas and conveying their own ideas.
One common understanding of language separates basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS), or how people use language outside of school, with cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP), or how we use language within the classroom (Cummins, 2013). The BICS/CALP distinction draws attention to the fact that classroom language is often embedded in much less familiar contexts for all students and particularly for those still developing their understanding of English. ELLs may display fluent oral language when talking with their friends on the playground, for example, but still struggle to express their understanding of a literary text.
A more productive way of thinking about academic language highlights the fact that we often do hear “playground” language and students’ home languages being used in the classroom for academic purposes. Thinking about language use as the language of ideas and the language of display (Bunch, 2014) helps explain why, when young people are wrestling with complex new concepts, they are focused on making sense of what is going on, rather than saying it in a particular way. Their discussions or reflective writing will sound much more like everyday language than formal school language and may be conducted in a mix of their home languages and English. Bunch points out that this language of ideas is just as much academic language as is the more carefully composed phrasing students later use in presenting their thoughts to a specific audience—the language of display.
Second language learners need to develop academic English proficiency in order to study content area subjects and succeed in college and careers. Teachers can provide effective instruction by:
- Recognizing that second language development is a gradual process;
- Understanding that academic language takes various forms (in both the language of ideas and the language of display) depending on the text, task, or goal;
- Differentiating between general academic language (ways that school subjects use words and texts differently from outside of school) and subject-specific academic language (ways that individual academic disciplines use language, potentially in different ways from how it is used in more general or nonacademic ways);
- Providing authentic opportunities to use language for discussion, analysis, and presentation in a nonthreatening environment from the very beginning. Students should not wait until they have mastered certain grammatical structures to participate in academic activities;
- Maintaining the rigor and complexity of academic tasks while scaffolding the language students need to demonstrate their understanding (McBee Orzulak, 2017);
- Guiding students through genre study to analyze how authors use language in specific ways for different genres (Gilliland & Pella, 2017);
- Teaching academic oral and written language embedded in the context of various content areas rather than in isolation;
- Teaching key vocabulary, grammar, and discourse structures connected with the topic of the lesson;
- Teaching the specific features of language students need to communicate in social as well as academic contexts; and
- Helping students understand how language use varies across contexts and purposes.
10. TEACHING LANGUAGE THROUGH CONTENT
Subject area content can provide a rich context for multilingual students to learn language. Teachers can promote academic language and literacy development through the use of instructional routines focused on discipline-specific content in order to accommodate the needs of language learners (Kinsella, 2018). Content area teachers must understand the unique linguistic needs of their ELLs in order to provide meaningful lessons to support their language growth. Sheltered instruction grounded in research should inform teachers’ instructional decisions and ways of scaffolding students to make content accessible (Short & Echevarria, 2005).
From a language perspective, teachers need to identify the language demands in their curriculum and complex texts. Teachers can support students’ learning of language features by:
- Scaffolding challenging sentence structures, academic vocabulary, and content-specific vocabulary through the use of words walls, vocabulary journals, structural analysis, and a focus on general academic terms such as compare, contrast, and results;
- Engaging students in prereading activities (previewing headings and subheadings in a text, use of anticipatory guides and K-W-L charts) and prewriting activities (brainstorming prior knowledge, use of thinking maps and graphic organizers) to develop conceptual knowledge of the content topic;
- Providing students with multiple opportunities to engage in oral interaction and support students’ academic talk. Teachers should reflect on the amount of teacher-talk versus student-talk to facilitate student-centered interaction around content area topics;
- Modeling what academic language in partnerships and small groups looks like and sounds like;
- Establishing discussion routines and providing structures to teach students how to be active listeners and active responders in an academic discussion (Kinsella & Hancock, 2018). These routines may begin with teacher modeling of academic discussion with the use of sentence frames, then gradually releasing to students by having partners practice the use of these academic structures with the content (My perspective/experience on this is . . . , I hear you say . . . , Adding on to what you said . . . , I agree with you . . . , I disagree with you . . .). Over time, the sentence frames are removed in order to promote authentic rich discussion of content topics in which students draw on their linguistic repertoire using a range of registers, their home languages, and both the language of ideas and the language of display in English (Bunch, 2006); and
- Providing multiple opportunities for talking about content and for engagement in a variety of academic tasks to allow students to develop the linguistic resources they need in order to know how to make meaning when discussing rich content and read complex informational texts (Spycher & Lin-Nieves, 2014).
11. SUPPORTING NEWCOMER STUDENTS AND ELL STUDENTS WITH LIMITED OR INTERRUPTED FORMAL EDUCATION (SLIFE)
Both recently arrived immigrant ELL students and SLIFE ELLs have been found to benefit from Newcomer programs or Welcome Centers designed for one to three semesters of high school (Boyson & Short, 2003; Schnur, 1999; Short, 2002). The focus of these programs is to help students acquire foundational English proficiency and guide their acculturation to the US school system before enrollment in language support programs or mainstream classrooms. SLIFE ELLs benefit from specialized instruction in their native language, print, and foundational literacy in their home languages (Montero, Newmaster, & Ledger, 2014).
The integration of both ESL and SLIFE ESL programs in secondary English departments should be encouraged. English teachers can support former SLIFE and newcomer students by:
- Incorporating further explicit reading instruction on phonemic awareness, morphology, fluency, and academic vocabulary into classroom structures;
- Collaborating and seeking feedback from ELL specialists and reading specialists to support English language development (Hickey, 2015); and
- In-classroom activities, building on SLIFE ELLs extensive life experience and real-world abilities (DeCapua et al., 2009).
12. ASSESSMENT OF ELLs IN THE ELA CLASSROOM
Assessment is an essential aspect of any educational practice. It allows teachers to know whether students have learned what they were supposed to learn. Assessment, however, is not synonymous with testing. A test is a periodic, formal, cumulative measure of learning, whereas many other forms of assessment can be casual, daily, and in service of future teaching as much as past learning.
When ELLs are placed in mainstream English language arts classes, their progress should be assessed regularly so that teachers can adjust instructional practices to ensure they are able to keep up with the content of the class. Students also need to be supported in preparation for formal tests, both regular unit tests and standardized tests (Gilliland & Pella, 2017). Teachers can increase opportunities for useful assessment by:
- Integrating formative assessment throughout the curriculum in the form of everyday check-ins, exit slips, and other tasks that show what students are learning. Multilingual students benefit from getting feedback on the processes of language arts as well as the products, so regularly assess drafts, quickwrites, and participation in peer review.
- Conducting a running record of students’ reading. Running records are done at the earlier stages of reading development and allow teachers to record children’s reading behavior and then analyze it. After the reading, a miscue analysis of the errors determines areas of need. Results of the running record assessment and miscue analysis help teachers gain insights into children’s reading to inform instruction and to assign students to the appropriate reading levels for small-group leveled reading sessions in the classroom.
- Developing collaborative and paired approaches to assessment where more fluent students can support ELLs linguistically and where multilingual students can make valuable contributions with their knowledge and experience.
- Assigning grades reflecting students’ progress toward appropriate goals, not achievement against a native-speaker standard. Develop rubrics and means of providing feedback that help students see what they have accomplished, not just what they are lacking.
- Preparing ELLs for standardized tests:
- Teach them how to break down prompts (genre analysis of tasks).
- Teach them how to plan for timed writing.
- Teach them how to apply strategies in reading for different purposes to test tasks.
- Make sure that most instruction is not test-prep focused but rather builds general literacy proficiency that students can then apply to tests.
- Learning how to interpret English language proficiency test scores and students’ records to see what services and accommodations they may be qualified for.
As the number of multilingual learners in mainstream classes increases, it is even more important for mainstream teachers to use effective practices to support all students’ development of communicative and academic English and the content area knowledge they need for school success. The guidelines offered here are designed as initial suggestions for teachers to follow. However, we recognize that all teachers need much more.
School and district administrators need to assist teachers in their work with multilingual learners. Teachers deserve continued support and professional learning to enable all their students, including their multilingual students, to succeed. Ongoing professional learning, particularly with opportunities for cross-program and cross-grade-level collaboration, is essential. Teachers benefit from time to talk with one another and to work with ELL specialists in developing their instructional approaches and curriculum. School and district-level policies can also be revised to better support multilingual learners’ experiences in the classroom.
Multilingual learners further gain when their families and communities are aware of and integrated into school activities. Individual teachers can reach out to students’ parents and guardians to learn more about their lives and to invite them to visit the classroom. When multilingual youth see their family cultures valued in the classroom, they often feel more willing to participate in assignments. Course assignments can draw on learners’ funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & González, 1992) and engage them in using their home languages and community and cultural experiences to develop academic language and literacy. Schools can make sure that announcements are written in students’ languages and that interpreters are available at all school events.
Teachers deserve school administrators who support and encourage them to attend workshops and professional conferences that regularly offer sessions on multilingual learners, particularly in the areas of reading and writing. Schools may also consider seeking professional learning for their teachers from neighboring colleges. In turn, colleges and universities providing teacher education should offer all preservice teachers, as well as teachers pursuing advanced degree work, preparation in teaching linguistically diverse learners in their future classrooms. Coursework for all teachers should address second language literacy and second language acquisition, as well as culture.
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Bunch, G. C. (2014). The language of ideas and the language of display: Reconceptualizing “academic language” in linguistically diverse classrooms. International Multilingual Research Journal, 8(1), 70–86. doi:10.1080/19313152.2014.852431
Celic, C., & Seltzer, K. (2012). Translanguaging: A CUNY-NYSIEB guide for educators. New York: CUNY-NYSIEB. Retrieved from https://www.cuny-nysieb.org/translanguaging-resources/translanguaging-guides/
Crawford, J. (2004). Educating English learners. Los Angeles: Bilingual Education Services.
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García, O., & Kleyn, T. (Eds.). (2016b). Translanguaging with multilingual students. New York: Routledge.
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Gilliland, B., & Pella, S. (2017) Beyond “teaching to the test”: Rethinking accountability and assessment for English language learners. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Graham, S. (2006). Strategy instruction and the teaching of writing: A meta-analysis. In C. A. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (pp. 187–207). New York: Guilford Press.
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McBee Orzulak, M. (2017). Understanding language: Supporting ELL students in responsive ELA classrooms. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
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Walqui, A., & van Lier, L. (2010). Scaffolding the academic success of adolescent English language learners: A pedagogy of promise. San Francisco, CA: WestEd.
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RESOURCES AND RECOMMENDED READINGS FOR SUPPORTING ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS
GENERAL RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS
Resources for teachers and families of bilingual learners
Education Northwest: English Learners
Resources for teachers of ELLs, summaries of current research, parent guides
National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition in the Classroom
Practical resources for linguistically and culturally diverse classrooms.
Content- and topic-based articles that can be adapted to varying reading levels
Teaching resources and background information aligned with Common Core State Standards
CLASSROOM METHODS AND MATERIALS
Akhavan, N. L. (2006) Help! My kids don’t all speak English: How to set up a language workshop in your linguistically diverse classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Arechiga, D. (2012). Reaching English language learners in every classroom: Energizers for teaching and learning. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
Dragan, P. B. (2005). A how-to guide for teaching English language learners in the primary classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Freeman, Y. S., & Freeman, D. E. (2016). ESL/EFL teaching: Principles for success (Rev. ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
García, O., Ibarra Johnson, S., & Seltzer, K. (2017). The translanguaging classroom: Leveraging student bilingualism for learning. Philadelphia: Caslon.
Gibbons, P. (2014). Scaffolding language, scaffolding learning: Teaching English language learners in the mainstream classroom (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Mercuri, S., Freeman, Y. S., & Freeman, D. E. (2002). Closing the achievement gap: How to reach limited-formal-schooling and long-term English learners. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Reyes, M. D., & Halcón, J. J. (Eds.). (2001). The best for our children: Critical perspectives on literacy for Latino students. New York: Teachers College Press.
Van Sluys, K. (2005). What if and why? Literacy invitations in multilingual classrooms. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Walqui, A., & van Lier, L. (2010). Scaffolding the academic success of adolescent English language learners: A pedagogy of promise. San Francisco: WestEd.
CONTENT AREA INSTRUCTION
Burke, A. F., & O’Sullivan, J. (2002). Stage by stage: A handbook for using drama in the second language classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Dong, Y. R. (2004). Teaching language and content to linguistically and culturally diverse students: Principles, ideas, and materials. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
SPECIAL EDUCATION AND ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS
Special Education and English Language Learners: ¡Colorín Colorado! http://www.colorincolorado.org/school-support/special-education-and-english-language-learners
Artiles, A. J., & Ortiz, A. A. (Eds.). (2002). English language learners with special education needs: Identification, assessment, and instruction. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Hamayan, E., Marler, B., Sanchez-Lopez, C., & Damico, J. (2013). Special education considerations for English language learners: Delivering a continuum of services. Philadelphia: Caslon.
Hoover, J. J., & Patton, J. R. (2017). IEPs for ELs: And other diverse learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin
Klingner, J., & Eppollito, A. (2014). English language learners: Differentiating between language acquisition and learning disabilities. Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.
Matthews, M. S. (2006). Working with gifted English language learners. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
McCain, G., & Farnsworth, M. (2018). Determining difference from disability: What culturally responsive teachers should know. New York: Routledge.
Coombe, C., Folse, K., & Hubley, N. (2007). A practical guide to assessing English language learners. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Farnsworth, T. L., & Malone, M. E. (2014). Assessing English learners in U.S. schools. Alexandria, VA: TESOL Press.
Gilliland, B., & Pella, S. (2017). Beyond “teaching to the test”: Rethinking accountability and assessment for English language learners. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Gottlieb, M. (2016). Assessing English language learners: Bridges to educational equity (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
ELEMENTARY ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS
Ada, A. F., & Campoy, F. I. (2004). Authors in the classroom: A transformative education practice. Boston: Pearson.
Akhavan, N. L. (2004). How to align literacy instruction, assessment, and standards and achieve results you never dreamed possible. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Akhavan, N. L. (2006). Help! My kids don’t all speak English: How to set up a language workshop in your linguistically diverse classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Barbieri, M. (2002). “Change my life forever”: Giving voice to English-language learners. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Brisk, M. E. (2015). Engaging students in academic literacies: Genre-based pedagogy for K–5 classrooms. New York: Routledge.
Brisk, M. E., & Harrington, M. M. (2000). Literacy and bilingualism: A handbook for ALL teachers. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Cary, S. (2004). Going graphic: Comics at work in the multilingual classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Freeman, D. E., & Freeman, Y. S. (2000). Teaching reading in multilingual classrooms. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Freeman, Y., & Freeman, D. (2006). Teaching reading and writing in Spanish and English in bilingual and dual language classrooms (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Peregoy, S. F., & Boyle, O. F. (2016). Reading, writing, and learning in ESL: A resource book for K–12 teachers (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Ponte, E., & Higgins, C. (2015). Enriching practice in linguistically and culturally diverse classrooms: A guide for teachers and teacher educators. Philadelphia: Caslon.
Samway, K. D. (2006). When English language learners write. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Spycher, P. (Ed.) (2014). Common Core State Standards in English language arts for English language learners, grades K–5. Alexandria, VA: TESOL Press.
MIDDLE AND SECONDARY ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS
Calderon, M. (2007). Teaching reading to English language learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
DeCapua, A., Smathers, W., & Tang, L. F. (2009). Meeting the needs of students with interrupted and limited formal schooling. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.
De Oliveira, L. C., Klassen, M., & Maune, M. (Eds.). (2015). The Common Core State Standards in English language arts for English language learners, grades 6–12. Alexandria, VA: TESOL Press.
Freeman, Y., & Freeman, D. (2002). Closing the achievement gap: How to reach long term and limited formal schooling English language learners. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Hirai, D. L. C., Borrego, I., Garza, E., & Kloock, C. T. (2010). Academic language/literacy strategies for adolescents: A “how to” manual for educators. New York: Routledge.
McBee Orzulak, M. (2017). Understanding language: Supporting ELL students in responsive ELA classrooms. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Ortmeier-Hooper, C. (2013). The ELL writer: Moving beyond basics in the secondary classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.
Ortmeier-Hooper, C. (2017). Writing across culture and language: Inclusive strategies for working with ELL writers in the ELA classroom. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Perry, T., with Manery, R. (2011). Supporting students in a time of core standards: English language arts, grades 6–8. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Ruiz de Velasco, J., Fix, M., & Chu Clewell, B. (2000). Overlooked and underserved: Immigrant students in U.S. secondary schools. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
Umansky, I., Hopkins, M., Dabach, D. B., Porter, L., Thompson, K., & Pompa, D. (2018). Understanding and supporting the educational needs of recently arrived immigrant English learner students: Lessons for state and local education agencies. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers.
Walqui, A. (2000). Strategies for success: Engaging immigrant students in secondary schools (ERIC Digest). Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Wessling, S. B., with Lillge, D., & VanKooten, C. (2011). Supporting students in a time of core standards: English language arts, grades 9–12. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
ESL/ELA PARTNERSHIPS AND STAKEHOLDER OUTREACH
Alvarez, S. (2017). Community literacies en confianza: Learning from bilingual after-school programs. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Campos, D., Delgado, R., & Huerta, M. E. (2011). Reaching out to Latino families of English language learners. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Pawan, F., & Sietman, G. B. (Eds.). (2007). Helping English language learners succeed in middle and high schools. Alexandria, VA: TESOL Press.
RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS TO LEARN ABOUT LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AND DEVELOPMENT
Cary, S. (2000). Working with second language learners: Answers to teachers’ top ten questions. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D. A., & Snow, M. A. (2014). Teaching English as a second or foreign language (4th ed.). Boston: National Geographic Learning.
Freeman, D. E., & García, E. (2002). Student cultural diversity: Understanding and meeting the challenge (3rd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Freeman, Y. S. (2011). Between worlds: Access to second language acquisition (3rd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Freeman, Y. S., & Freeman, D. E. (2004). Essential linguistics: What you need to know to teach reading, ESL, spelling, phonics, and grammar. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Krashen, S. D. (2003). Explorations in language acquisition and use. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Lindfors, J. (2008). Children’s language: Connecting reading, writing, and talk. New York: Teachers College Press.
Menyuk, P., & Brisk, M. E. (2005). Language development and education: Children with varying language experience. Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Mohan, B., Leung, C., & Davison, C. (Eds.). (2001). English as a second language in the mainstream. Harlow, UK: Longman.
Piper, T. (2001). And then there were two: Children and second-language learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Richard-Amato, P. (2001). Making it happen: Interactions in the second language classroom: From theory to practice (3rd ed.). New York: Prentice Hall.
This document was revised by a working committee comprising the following:
- Nicole Da Silva, Boston Public Schools, MA
- Sara DeMartino, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
- Kimberly Ferrario, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
- Betsy Gilliland, University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa, Honolulu, HI
 Note on terminology: In this statement, we use the phrase “English language learner (ELL)” in keeping with the most commonly used terminology in federal and state education policy and practice. We also refer to the students themselves as “multilingual,” however, in order to emphasize that students should not be labeled by what they lack (complete command of the English language) but rather valued for what they are able to do (speak in one or more additional languages). We also believe that it is important for teachers to keep in mind that not all multilingual students are still classified (or were ever classified) as ELLs, yet many are still developing their English proficiency.
This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.