Sunday, April 16, 2017

Working with ELLs - Part 1

By Rosalie Pereda

This is a two-part blog post appearing April 16th and April 23rd.

“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, 
but learning another way to think about things.”
-Flora Lewis

Imagine walking into a classroom and not understanding what is being said.  What feels like a million eyes are on you, watching your every move.  You may hear some sneers or giggles as you struggle to figure out what to do and where to sit.  You have no idea how to ask for help, let alone understand what instruction is taking place.  You feel lost, hopeless, and alone. You just want to go home.

Every day, thousands of students feel this way across the country.  Even though each English Language Learners experiences may be different, many feel the way I’ve described above.  Many have just arrived and often feel as lost in our classrooms and schools, as we do in how to help them.  The numbers of English Language Learners in our country are growing rapidly with no sign of slowing down.  Now more than ever, classroom teachers need to be well versed in their teacher preparation programs on how to teach and differentiate instruction for ELLs (English Language Learners).  Teachers in the classroom need to keep abreast of ever changing laws, best practices, and the needs of their students.

Although many teachers have been trained in SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol), many teachers I’ve found lack the basic knowledge about second language acquisition to truly understand what ELLs go through.  Also, many teachers struggle with how to help the ELL students in their classroom to meet with success.  It can seem like a very daunting task that I hope to shed some light on in this blog post.  My objectives in this two-part blog post, will be to discuss some main points to provide some background knowledge about English as a Second Language and ELLs, as well as to provide some helpful hints and tools to assist teachers in differentiating instruction for ELLs in their classroom.

First, it is important to remember that we are all vital to the process of English language learning.  The Classroom Teacher, Special Area Teachers, classmates, etc. are just as important as the ESL Teachers in the language process.  From the cafeteria workers, bus drivers, classmates, and Special Area Teachers, the ELLs will develop their BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills).  BICS is basically our social language that we use in conversations to communicate with others.  When one is learning a language, this is the type of vocabulary that develops first.  Many people are fooled into thinking that a student is proficient in English based on their BICS.  This is a common misconception.  From their Classroom Teachers and ESL Teachers, ELLs develop their CALPS (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency Skills), which is essentially their academic language.  Subject matter vocabulary comes into play with CALPS.  For example, one doesn’t usually use words such as metamorphosis at home in conversation.  That would be an example of CALPS or academic language.

It takes students 4-10 years to achieve cognitive academic language proficiency in a second language.  However, if a child has had no prior schooling or has no support in native language development, it may take seven to ten years for ELLs to catch up to their peers. (Thomas & Collier, 1995) We must remember that each English Language Learner is different.  Some students may not have been able to attend school at all or may have had interrupted schooling, while other students will come to school well prepared with foundational skills firmly developed in their first language.  The varying degrees of English language proficiency makes it imperative to know the language levels of your students and their needs.

In that respect, it is important to know how one learns a language.  There are four language domains which will be listed in the order that they develop; listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  Writing is the last domain and it is the most difficult as it is not easy for one to express him/herself in writing.  Each year, students are assessed using assessments from WIDA (ACCESS and W-APT) which determine a child’s eligibility for English language services and gauges their English language proficiency levels and growth in English language development.  WIDA is a consortium made up of 36 states with standards for English language development and English language assessments.  North Carolina is a member of WIDA.  Teachers in North Carolina with ELLs will receive a report listing the scores of their students in each of the four language domains from their assessment.  This information is crucial in planning and differentiating instruction for optimal success.

WIDA has what are called Can Do Descriptors which will detail what a student can accomplish at each proficiency level and for each language domain.    You can download or order these Can Do Descriptors which are available by grade cluster.  Once you have your students’ scores, you can easily look up what they can do at that level and for that particular language domain.  Don’t be surprised when you see relatively higher scores for the listening and speaking domains compared to the reading and writing domains.  Remember, listening and speaking are the first language domains that are developed when learning a language; they are our BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills).

Click here for more information about the WIDA Can Do Descriptors.

Click here for more information about WIDA, including professional development opportunities can be found here

Laura Castro from has created a wonderful form that can be edited in Word to fit all of your students’ English language proficiency levels on one page to simplify it for you.  Her form can be a quick and easy reference guide when lesson planning and to serve as documentation when being observed to demonstrate knowledge of students in your class.  I like to put the student’s scores next to their name under each language level and domain so I know exactly how my students scored.

Laura’s Classroom Can-Do Template is great for grouping students and for differentiated instruction based on the needs of the ELLs in your class.  Once you have your students’ scores from the WIDA assessment (ACCESS), simply plug them into this form.  You’ll easily be able to tell what types of centers and activities you’ll need to develop or implement to gain understanding of the subject matter.  Please don’t forget that it is also important to take note of what your students will be able to accomplish at the next proficiency level as it should always be our goal and mission to help our students progress and move on to the next level.  Here is a sample of Laura’s Classroom Can-Do Template:

Please click here for a copy of Laura’s free Classroom Can-Do Template on Teachers Pay Teachers.

In next week’s conclusion of the blog post “Working with ELLs” we will continue the discussion on how to best help our English Language Learner students to learn and meet with success.

Mrs. Rosalie Pereda is currently a First Grade Bilingual and ESL Teacher.  She has taught grades K-8 in various capacities over the years in both urban and suburban districts.  She received her B.A. in Elementary Education and Spanish from Rider University.   She holds certifications in Elementary Education, Spanish, Bilingual Education, and ESL.  She is in her 18th year of teaching, all of which have been in New Jersey.  Rosalie believes in being an advocate for her students and in doing so, helps to prepare teachers to meet the needs of English Language Learners through professional development opportunities.  As a professional development presenter, she has presented several workshops on English Language Learners and differentiated instruction at conferences, including the NCAEE Conference and district in-service trainings.

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