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PREPARING ALL TEACHERS TO MEET THE NEEDS OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS: New Report Identifies Promising Practices With ELL Students That General Education Teachers Can Employ

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“The reality is that most, if not all teachers have or can expect to have English Language Learner (ELL) students in their classroom and therefore must be prepared to best support these children.”

Noting that an estimated 25 percent of children in the United States are from immigrant families and live in households where a language other than English is spoken, a new report from the Center for American Progress offers promising practices that all teachers can employ when working with these students. Drawing from recent research identifying what English-as-a-second-language (ESL) and bilingual teachers should know, the report applies foundational knowledge about English language learners (ELLs) that could serve all teachers, including general education teachers, who educate these students in their classrooms.

“The reality is that most, if not all teachers have or can expect to have English Language Learner (ELL) students in their classroom and therefore must be prepared to best support these children,” the report reads. “In many cases a general education teacher who knows the content and pedagogy to teach to the grade level standards will also need specific knowledge and skills to help ELLs across the curricula.”

The report, Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners: Applying Research to Policy and Practice for Teacher Effectiveness, says state adoption of the common core state standards and the move toward high-stakes evaluation of teachers provide an opportunity for implementing “purposeful” teacher effectiveness initiatives that have promise for improving outcomes among the nation’s least-served students, including ELLs.

According to the report, ELLs need special attention particularly because of their growing numbers and low performance, as compared to non-ELL students. And while research has begun to identify the critical knowledge and skills that specialized teachers of ELLs should have, the report finds that there has been “relatively little” attention paid to the essential standards, knowledge, and skills that general education teachers need to provide to ELL students.

Based on research identifying what ESL and bilingual teachers should know, the report recognizes areas of knowledge that general education teachers need to serve ELL students. Specifically, the report cites the importance of attending to oral language development, supporting academic language, and encouraging teachers’ cultural sensitivity to the backgrounds of their students.

To ensure that these areas of knowledge “be purposefully and explicitly integrated into the preparation, certification, evaluation, and development of all teachers in the interest of improving outcomes for English language learners,” the report recommends that consistent and specific guidelines on these areas be addressed in

  • a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind;
  • revisions to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) standards;
  • state regulations;
  • teacher preparation programs;
  • state certification exams;
  • teacher-observation rubrics in performance evaluations; and
  • professional development linked to teacher evaluations.

“In order to make significant progress in improving the outcomes for ELLs, sweeping changes are needed in the way that teachers are prepared and supported to better serve this growing population,” the report notes. “Given the current reform efforts in learning standards and teacher evaluations, a unique opportunity exists to get things right for all students, including ELLs whose subpar educational performance requires urgent attention.”

The report also compares and contrasts five key states—California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas—that have large numbers of ELLs and examines to what extent the specific needs of ELLs are accounted for in educational policies and school-level practices.

Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners: Applying Research to Policy and Practice for Teacher Effectivenessis available at http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2012/04/pdf/ell_report.pdf.

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