Strengthening Teaching and Learning for ELLs

5 Essential Practices for Teaching ELLs

Adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) calls for an increase of rigor for all students and the California English Language Development Standards (CA ELD Standards) provide guidance to ensure English learners have entry points into meaningful and intellectually challenging curricula. San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) serves approximately 57,000 English learners who make up about 25% of the student population. We believe English learners have the capacity to meet the expectations of the CCSS through instructional practices that provide intentional and strategic scaffolding and strategies that equip English learners with the skills to engage and communicate meaningfully and authentically.

The Five Essential Practices guiding document represents what the district believes to be the most high-leverage practices for English learners. It was developed over time in collaboration with practitioners, content specialists across disciplines, district partners, and experts in the field. After the adoption of the 2012 CA ELD Standards, the document was further refined to incorporate key instructional shifts reflected in the updated standards. Here’s a summary of each practice:

Practice One: Strategically Plan and Integrate Focused Academic Language

Language is an integral part of literacy and learning. Students need to learn language to communicate effectively and be provided opportunities to learn and use academic English.

Practice Two: Teach Students to Analyze, Write, and Create Complex Text

In the past, we’d withhold grade level text from English learners due to its complexity and only exposed students to a narrow list of text genres. Today, teachers need to teach students the skills necessary to deconstruct complex text from a variety of genres so they can apply these skills independently.

Practice Three: Clarify New Language and Concepts Using a Variety of Strategies and Modalities

Content and language are best learned using a variety of strategies and modalities to help students form stronger neural connections. Most importantly, students need to develop awareness of their own learning.

Practice Four: Foster Heterogeneity During Integrated ELD

Teachers must foster a culture of conversation in their classrooms where each student’s thinking is valued. Conversations provide a vehicle for learning and meaning-making through routine, authentic interactions in a variety of groupings.

Practice Five: Use Formative Assessment to Inform Instruction

Collect important data using formative assessments to determine what language students can use and what they need to communicate more effectively.

A Collaboration with Teaching Channel

As we shared the Five Essential Practices with our community of educators, we were confronted with questions about what these practices look like in action. Our collaboration with Teaching Channel was timely because we now had the resources to capture the use of these practices in classrooms. Together, we co-produced a series of videos entitled 5 Essential Practices for the Teaching of ELLs specifically for this purpose. In addition, we’ve been experimenting with a small cohort of teachers using the Tch Teams platform to promote these practices.

How Can The Five Essential Practices Be Used?

The Five Essential Practices weren’t meant to be yet another checklist. Instead, we promote the tool as a way to strengthen teaching and learning for English learners at all levels. At the central office level, the 5 Essential Practices can serve as a common tool to ensure we’re addressing the academic language and literacy needs of English learners across the disciplines. School sites can also use this guiding document to plan professional development opportunities to support teachers in implementing these high-leverage practices. Teachers can use the tool to plan designated ELD lessons focused on language instruction or to plan how to integrate ELD supports for English learners in content area instruction. Another hope is that educators use the Five Essential Practices and video library as a self-reflection tool to celebrate areas of strength and identify opportunities for growth.

How can you use the 5 Essential Practices? We’d love to see your ideas in the comments below.

The videos in this series were produced thanks to the generous support of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.

Lisa Kwong currently works in the Multilingual Pathways Department at San Francisco Unified School District. Her experience as an English learner inspired her to become a teacher and site administrator. She now works in the same school district that first welcomed her as a newcomer. She is also a proud parent whose son attends an SFUSD school.

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