[lg policy] US: Language Demands to Grow for ELLs Under New Standards
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Wed Apr 25 14:37:34 UTC 2012
Language Demands to Grow for ELLs Under New Standards
Students required to go well beyond grammar, vocabulary
By Lesli A. Maxwell
Putting the common-core standards into practice in classrooms is a
monumental change for teachers in the nation's public schools, but for
educators who work with English-language learners, the shifts in
instruction are expected to be even more groundbreaking.
That's because the new academic expectations for English/language arts
and mathematics now adopted by all but four states require much more
sophisticated uses of language than the mishmash of standards that
have been in use for years across the states, say language-acquisition
Grammar and vocabulary, for example, are often the primary focus of
instruction for English-learners, as is teaching students to master
certain language functions, such as suggesting or complimenting. Under
the standards developed through the Common Core State Standards
Initiative, however, instruction for English-learners will have to
move far beyond those fundamental components of learning the language
to include instruction on how to read and comprehend complex texts and
to construct and convey arguments in writing across the content areas.
Math, Literacy, & Common Standards
"For the most part, the profession has focused on bits and pieces of
language," said Aída Walqui, the director of teacher
professional-development programs for WestEd, a San Francisco-based
education research firm. "The common core is really going to require
teachers to move from understanding language as form or function to
understanding it as activity and giving students the supports they
need to participate in academic activities using language.
"Vocabulary and grammar are still important, but at a lower level of
importance," she added. "That's going to be a momentous change."
This work will no longer be just the province of
English-as-a-second-language teachers. The common core demands that
teachers across all content areas teach literacy skills and the
so-called "academic language" that is at the heart of their area of
As some states and districts—such as the Miami-Dade County school
system in Florida, where 58,000 students are English-learners—push
ahead on an early timeline with turning the standards into actual
classroom instruction, language scholars, policymakers, advocates, and
educators around the country continue to wrestle with important
questions about how the language needs of English-learners will be met
under the more-rigorous standards. A number of small- and large-scale
efforts are taking shape to develop tools, resources, and
instructional supports to help ensure that English-learners—the
fastest-growing subgroup of students in the nation—will have the same
access to the rigorous instructional levels of the common core as
their peers who are native English speakers.
'Academic' vs. Everyday
Helping English-learners surmount the higher expectations of the
common standards will depend largely on how well teachers get them to
understand academic language, in contrast to the informal, everyday
English they use outside the classroom.
One of the most far-reaching efforts under way to help teachers in
that vein is a project led by the World-Class Instructional Design and
Assessment consortium, a group of 27 states that currently share a
common set of English-language-proficiency standards. Using broad
input from member states, language experts at WIDA are working to
finalize a new edition of the consortium's five
English-language-development standards that will show clearly the
connections between the content standards of the common core across
every grade level and the academic language that will be necessary to
teach across the varying levels of English proficiency.
For example, in 1st grade, the common core calls for pupils to "write
opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or name the book they
are writing about, state an opinion, supply a reason for the opinion,
and provide some sense of closure." The WIDA edition clearly spells
out the grade-level vocabulary words and expressions that teachers
should use—such as fact, paragraph, topic sentence, main idea,
detail—while teaching that writing standard to students at all levels
of English development. The WIDA edition also offers example topics
that are pulled directly from a content standard in the common core
and provide teachers with the types of support and scaffolding of
academic language that they need depending on students' proficiency.
The new edition is also more explicit in showing teachers the
cognitive demands required of the core-content standards and how to
adjust instruction in line with English proficiency.
"I am hoping that teachers can see how to differentiate their
instruction, so that even if you are a level-one English-learner, your
teacher is going to have the tools to help you access the content even
though you don't have much English," said Margo Gottlieb, WIDA's lead
developer of common assessments for English-learners.
The final version of WIDA's English-language-development standards
should be published by June, and, starting in late summer, the group
will hold four regional conferences around the country to provide
training to teachers and school administrators on the new edition and
its connections to the common standards.
WIDA is also leading the effort of a group of 28 states to design new
assessments of English-language proficiency that will measure the
language demands of the common standards.
Another major initiative unfolding to craft an array of free
instructional resources for teachers of English-learners is centered
at Stanford University, where Kenji Hakuta, an education professor and
an expert on English-learners, is co-chairing a project with María
Santos, a former director of English-learner programs for the New York
City school system, that will map out the English-language demands of
the common standards. Ms. Walqui of WestEd is also on that team of
Nine-year-old Denib Rojas, a recent arrival from the Dominican
Republic, cuts out words that match a sound, then places them on a
sheet of paper in a class for English-language learners at Riverside
Elementary School in Miami. The Miami-Dade County, Fla., school system
is pushing ahead to align ELL instruction with the common-core
—Andrew Innerarity for Education Week
Earlier this month, the team launched its Understanding Language
website with a dozen papers related to the common core and ELLs, along
with a collection of practice and policy briefs that will address key
The project is well-funded, with separate, $1 million grants from the
Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation. (Both foundations also support some areas of coverage in
Ms. Walqui said the group is hard at work devising "exemplars" to
demonstrate to teachers what planning a unit for ELLs under the common
core would look like. The first exemplar, she said, is scheduled to
come out in June and will focus on middle school English/language
arts, because "it's a critical transition point for English-learners."
—Andrew Innerarity for Education Week
The key for lesson planning is that the goals for students must be the
same, Ms. Walqui said, but that there are multiple pathways for
students of varying developmental levels of English to achieve the
"The differentiation is within the activities or versions of the
activities for students," she said.
As the team publishes its exemplars, it will host webinars to train
teachers, Ms. Walqui said.
—Andrew Innerarity for Education Week
The Council of the Great City Schools—which represents 67 urban school
systems that are home to 30 percent of the nation's
English-learners—is involved in a multitude of initiatives to help its
member districts implement the common standards as thoughtfully and
carefully for ELLs as they do for students who are not learning
English. The rigor of the common core is also providing a prime
opportunity for some districts to improve their services for
English-learners, said Gabriela Uro, the manager of
English-language-learner policy and research for the Washington-based
"The English-language-learner programs in many of our districts need
ramping up anyway, and now they understand that if you are going to
improve those programs, you needn't bother improving to the current
standard," Ms. Uro said. "You need to design it for the common core."
For nearly two years, the council has offered sessions on the common
core during the regular meetings Ms. Uro conducts with district
directors of English-learner programs. Part of that has included
bringing in language-acquisition experts to explain the implications
of the new standards for ELLs and to show explicitly, for example, how
to teach complex texts to English-learners.
The council is also coordinating a project to help districts provide
information to parents of ELLs by writing guides on the new standards
in Spanish, Chinese, and up to eight additional languages that are
represented in urban school systems.
Ms. Uro is also serving on the steering committee of the Stanford
project to keep "the district perspective in the mix and to make sure
that we bring all of this down to a greater applicability at the
In the 345,000-student Miami-Dade school system, teachers and school
administrators are largely forging ahead on their own to adapt the new
standards for English-learners, said Karen Spigler, the administrative
director of language arts/reading and bilingual education/world
languages for the district. This year, the common-core standards are
already implemented in kindergarten and 1st grade, with 2nd and 3rd
grades on tap to begin in the fall, she said.
Visit this blog.
The district offered teams of teachers in those early grades a two-day
training to focus on how to bridge instruction—especially in
reading—from the state standards they have been using to the common
core, Ms. Spigler said.
A major component of that training, she said, was explaining to
teachers how they must incorporate more nonfiction into the curriculum
and how to figure out ways to judge the complexity of those texts for
"Our early-grade teachers think about children reading 'stories,' but
we have to shift our thinking to how do we prepare them to read a
science piece or something about the environment," she said.
Another big shift for teachers—especially those working with ELLs—will
be letting students struggle with difficult texts.
"That's huge," Ms. Spigler said. "We have been very focused on making
everything readable for kids, and they haven't been as successful in
independently reading difficult texts."
The vast majority of English-learners in public schools are native
Spanish-speakers. That reality has led to at least one large-scale,
formal undertaking to translate the common standards into Spanish and
provide "linguistic augmentation" to account for the differences
between the two languages when necessary.
Called Common Core en Español, the project is being led by ELL
practitioners in San Diego, in collaboration with San Diego State
University, the California education department, and the Council of
Chief State School Officers.
"We are staying very aligned with the common core. It's the same
content," said Silvia C. Dorta-Duque de Reyes, a bilingual-services
coordinator in the San Diego County office of education. "But because
of the challenges that English-learners face in accessing academic
content as they learn the language, one of the ways to differentiate
for them is to provide the access through their primary language."
The content standards have already been translated, Ms. Reyes said,
and now the team is in the midst of providing the "augmentation" to
show, for example, that in Spanish, students must learn accentuation
and accent rules.
After a peer-review process over the summer, the goal is to publish
the translations and make them available to all states and school
districts by the end of the year, she said.
Ms. Reyes is also serving on a key panel of experts in California who
are charged with revising the state's English-language-development
standards so that they are in line with the common core. And she is
providing professional-development seminars to school administrators
and leaders to help them prepare for implementation in another year or
Many frontline teachers in California, however, aren't at the point of
being trained for the shift to the common core. The new assessments
for common core will roll out during the 2014-2015 school year.
"These teachers are still being held accountable for results on the
[state test]," Ms. Reyes said.
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