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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Using Shared Structures to Build Literacy

5 Essential Practices for Teaching ELLs

Students at San Francisco International High School (SFIHS) come to us from all over the world. They come from the megalopolises of Hong Kong and Mexico City, from the deserts of Yemen and the high steppe of Mongolia. They come speaking the ancient indigenous languages of Central America, as well as the cosmopolitan slang of bustling cities of Asia, Europe, and South America.

Some students come to us alone, without parents or family to support them in their new lives in the United States. Some come after attending prestigious schools in their home countries, while others enter school for the first time in their lives the day they walk through our doors.

SFIHS has served hundreds of immigrant and refugee students over the past eight years; even though each brings their own experience from their distinct corner of the world, they have one thing in common: they come to us to learn English and to graduate from high school.

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Video Playlist: Five Essential Practices for the High School ELL Classroom

Teaching Channel and the San Francisco Unified School District have partnered to share practices for engaging and supporting all students, especially English Language Learners (ELLs). In the first part of this series, we visited two elementary classrooms to watch teachers put the district’s recommended five essential practices into action (For more on these practices, read Lisa Kwong’s blog post).

In the second part of the series, we visit San Francisco International High School, a small school that serves recently arrived immigrant youth and is a member of the Internationals Network for Public Schools. There is so much to learn about teaching ELLs, especially newcomers, from stepping inside the classrooms in this high school.

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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.

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Video Playlist: Five Essential Practices in the Elementary ELL Classroom

5 Essential Practices for Teaching ELLs

In this new series, in partnership with San Francisco Unified School District, we step inside classrooms where teachers are using strategies to engage and support all learners, especially their English Language Learners (ELLs). In Part One of the series, we visit two elementary classrooms to see how teachers use the district’s recommended five essential practices to teach their students during designated English Language Development (ELD) time, as well as to integrate ELD into content. For more information on these practices, read Lisa Kwong’s blog post about the district’s ELL work.

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Reality Over Rhetoric! ELL & the Year Ahead

English Language Learners

A few days after the November election, I had a meeting with Angie Estonina and Lisa Kwong, two talented educators who lead professional learning efforts on ELLs for San Francisco Unified School District.

With our webcams on, the mood was a bit somber — the election talk of deportations, walls, and targeted registries hung in the air as the rhetoric suddenly became more real. In fact, it felt a bit suffocating. In education, we all have days when we feel weighed down by how much needs to be done and by our professional and personal puzzles, but the unknowns of impending political shift pushed on us from the sides, making us feel the squeeze of change.

I even started wondering if an upcoming presentation I was about to do in Canada on ELLs with school districts from Ontario/Montclair, California, and Yakima, Washington, was even relevant. In retrospect, it was incredibly sad to even think this. But this was my state of mind. It was easy to go there when the personal and professional intersects — my nine-year-old son who is of half Mexican descent asked if he was going to be deported. This was not a question I had at nine years old.

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