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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What NGSS Course Pathways Do You See For High School Students?

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Transitions can be both exciting and marked by uncertainty. As a science coordinator and classroom coach, I’m learning about NGSS K-12 transition as I go. I’m sure the same is true for many of you. After reading “A Framework for K-12 Science Education,” by National Research Council (NRC) and spending some time with state education leaders, I quickly learned, with respect to the NGSS transition, “There will not be a significant shift in WHAT students learn, but in HOW they learn.” With this in mind, I’m seeking resources that might reveal the most efficient way to embed the NRC grade band endpoints as a foundation, coupled with dedicated professional development on the 3-D Learning vision.

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What Can The EQuIP Rubric Do For You?

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Teachers across the nation are earnestly working to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Three-dimensional student performances, a hallmark of the NGSS, require some big changes in classroom experiences, and everyone wants to know “what does an NGSS lesson look like in the classroom?”

The standards themselves provide some important clues:

  • They describe snapshots of what students should be able to demonstrate when their learning experiences have prepared them for rigorous three-dimensional performances.
  • They are student-centric.
  • They define science goals for students at every level of the K-12 educational system.

The standards, though, are standards and not curriculum. They describe new and exciting end-of-instruction goals, not a prescribed path for how to get there. Since a standard is not a lesson, what does it look like in a classroom? It can look very different in different contexts, but there are some common features that can be found in materials (lessons and units) that support high-quality science education in classrooms. These features are described as criteria in the Educators Evaluating Quality in Instructional Products (EQuIP) rubric for Science, the topic of a new video series produced through a collaboration between Achieve and Teaching Channel.

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Building Towards NGSS Classrooms

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Systems tend to move toward a stable state, and so do people. Change is usually hard, and if it doesn’t feel hard, you probably aren’t really changing all that much.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) represent a significant transition from our previous state standards in that they explicitly call for a multidimensional approach to teaching to be the norm in every science classroom. Common practice for many veteran teachers of science has been to emphasize content knowledge first, application next, and connections between and across disciplines last. Effective implementation of the three-dimensional NGSS demands a fundamental shift in this practice and such a large change likely won’t happen instantaneously. At several points along the way, it will probably feel hard — and that’s OK.

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Sharing Lessons to Shift Practice

How to Strengthen Lessons - CCSSAs a teacher, I loved designing my own lessons. There’s something exhilarating about using your own creativity, content knowledge and understanding of your students to create a learning experience. But we all know that writing lessons and units on your own takes a lot of time and energy, especially when you want to check that your lessons align to standards or that they help you shift your practice. Once I created them, I wanted to be able to share them with the world in order to save other teachers time, as well as to get their feedback and ideas for revisions. Today, there are so many ways teachers can share lessons on the web, and with many states sharing common standards, it’s even easier to share standards-aligned lessons. One place to find lesson planning rubrics and quality instructional materials is Achieve.org.

Teaching Channel and Achieve.org partnered on a three-part series featuring EQuIP’s (Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products) tools for Common Core lesson planning.

  • We showed you how to use EQuIP’s Student Work Protocol to analyze student work as an indicator of the strength of your instructional materials.
  • We introduced you to the EQuIP’s Math and ELA rubrics for evaluating lesson plans for Common Core alignment. While you can use these tools alone or as part of a team in order to plan and evaluate your materials, you can also submit your materials to EQuIP’s Peer Review Panel.
  • In this last part of the series, we get to see lessons resulting from this process of educators creating and submitting materials for peer review. Four Maryland teachers selected these exemplar lessons from Achieve’s website, downloaded the instructional materials, read the panel’s feedback, and tailored the lessons to the needs of their own classrooms.

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