Words Matter: Quality Instruction for English Language Learners

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Last spring, as I renewed my National Board Certification, I was struck by how much has changed in the landscape of public education since I was first certified ten years ago. In 2007, I passed the testing center components of the NBPTS process just fine, but I remember being concerned initially about the component related to teaching English Language Learners. As a regular classroom teacher, I taught EL students in my high school English classrooms, but I had no specific training for doing so. I reached out to colleagues for support and dove into any available resources in an era before Teaching Channel and other numerous resources now at our disposal.

The standards for National Board certification for ELA/AYA emphasize equity and fairness, and we understand that equitable and fair situations are those which ensure ALL students receive the support they need to be successful in the classroom. This includes instructional settings that promote rigorous learning for everyone. For me, this was one of the very reasons I pursued the NBCT process in the first place.

I want consistent equitable learning experiences for all students, as do most teachers I know. For those of us without specialized training for teaching ELLs, we rely on colleagues for co-teaching situations or for support in other settings. Jamie Ponce’s article about co-teaching led me to a slew of other Tchers’ Voice posts about how to meet the needs of EL Learners.

I read Lisa Kwong’s and Jacqueline Fix’s recent blog posts about how the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) approaches instruction for ELLs with intentionality district-wide, through the Five Essential Practices for teaching ELLs. I also watched a few videos in the accompanying playlists demonstrating elementary and secondary ELL strategies.

Curiosity prompted me to revisit an instructional unit created by colleagues for a project I’ve been involved with for the past several years to explore if/how the work we created meets the guidelines suggested by SFUSD.

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Are You a Teacher Leader?

“I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people.” ~ Rosa Parks

Following a recent Friday evening flurry of Twitter exchanges, a friend and trusted colleague picked up her phone and called me. “You have me all fired up now about how we need to change the culture around teachers as leaders. How are we going to do this? What are we going to do?” We chatted for nearly an hour, talking about great visionaries and leaders throughout time, people who started movements and influenced change, people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. I haven’t stopped thinking about our conversation or wondering about who will be our fierce leader. Who will drive the movement around teacher leadership? I’ve come to this conclusion: It needs to be all of us, because we all want freedom, justice, equality, and prosperity for students.

Here is how YOU can become a teacher leader:

Move beyond the status-quo for ourselves, our students, our profession. Seek opportunities for self-improvement. Kentucky teacher Sherri McPherson states it this way, “I simply see a need to improve myself and seek opportunities to fulfill that need. If it helps, then I share. If it doesn’t, I keep looking and learning. My drive for learning often fuels my leadership.”

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Evaluating Lessons: Tips for Calibrating Group Feedback

My bet is if we place fifty educators in a room with a rubric and piece of student writing, we’re likely to come back with numerous different scores on that piece of writing, and we’re likely to notice a variety of interpretations of the rubric’s criteria as well. However, if we have a shared understanding and we calibrate with one another on the use and interpretation of the rubric, then the rubric becomes truly effective in informing our instruction and improving student learning.

Improved student learning is exactly what drives those of us who serve on the EQuIP Review Panel. (Watch our video series on how teachers evaluate lessons with Achieve’s EQuIP rubrics.) When we first began working together, we calibrated on multiple lessons as a large group, before beginning to review Common Core aligned lessons and units individually and in small groups. Since you, too, strive for improved student learning in your classrooms, we thought it might be useful to offer a few tips and suggestions for you to consider when you use the EQuIP tools in your own professional learning communities.

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