In spring 2014, the New York State Education Department released a newly developed Blueprint for English Language Learner Success. It is a groundbreaking statement that sets high expectations for English Language Learners and recommends a new Seal of Biliteracy on students’ diplomas. In this way, the state recognizes the economic and cultural value of being proficient in two languages. Education Week called the blueprint, “a sweeping, perhaps first-of-its-kind statement from state policymakers on the needs of English learners.”
To achieve the Seal of Biliteracy goal, the state has produced a range of guidelines for teachers and districts. These guidelines are consistent with the research-based strategies advocated in Explicit Direct Instruction for English Learners, a book authored by DataWORKS founders Dr. Silvia Ybarra and John Hollingsworth (Corwin 2013). This article will describe how the DataWORKS research supports and elaborates on the principles and guidelines set forth by the New York State Education Department.
All Teachers Teach ELs
The first principle articulated by the NY Blueprint is that “all teachers are teachers of English Language Learners.” Likewise, in their book, Ybarra and Hollingsworth point out that all teachers have a triple duty.
You must provide well-crafted lessons so your ELs [English Learners] learn the content you are teaching them, plus you must consciously modify the English you are using during the lesson so your ELs understand it, plus you need to support your ELs in learning more English every day.
The authors then identify practical and specific strategies that teachers can use to achieve those three goals for ELs. These strategies clearly support the principles of the NY Blueprint, giving the teachers “language-focused scaffolds” that are “aligned to the Common Core standards.”
Using Language Objectives
For example, one NY guideline is “articulating specific content and language objectives.” In the book, the authors describe how English Learners need to simultaneously learn content and learn English. An entire chapter is devoted to Language Objectives. They explain how to have English Learners listening, speaking, reading, and writing English in every lesson in every content area. These Language Objectives are for the teacher to have in mind as he or she is preparing a lesson. It’s a way to help teachers think about their own language use while teaching a lesson. These skills help teachers to feel confident about teaching ELs.
A second NY guideline is “integrating explicit and implicit research-based vocabulary strategies.” Authors Ybarra and Hollingsworth also include a chapter on vocabulary development. Its aim is to show teachers how to teach English Learners new words in every lesson. They identify nine different strategies for teaching vocab. Support Vocabulary is taught with Contextualized Definitions. Content Vocabulary is taught with four strategies: Develop Concepts, Attach a Label, Multiple-Meaning Words, and Homophones. Finally, Academic Vocabulary is taught with four strategies: Synonyms, Definitions, Word Morphology, and Relationship Vocabulary.
A third NY guideline is “providing opportunities for students to discuss content and problem-solve with peers.” As part of a well-crafted lesson using the Explicit Direct Instruction model developed by DataWORKS, teachers lead the students in regular use of Pair-Shares. This method of student engagement gets students talking with each other, using the academic vocabulary and content-specific concepts they have just learned. Pair-Share also allows ELs to rehearse their answers in English with a peer before reporting out to the class. This Pair-Share strategy, along with the seven other Engagement Norms identified by DataWORKS, is a primary way for each teacher to involve and promote language development in the classroom. [A brief article on 15 Reasons to Pair-Share is available at this link.]
It should also be pointed out that an article by Dr. Claude Goldenberg of Stanford University (American Educator, Summer 2008) described two major government-funded reviews of the research on English Learners which found that good instruction for English Learners is similar to good instruction for English-speaking students. Goldenberg’s summary identified eight features of lessons that benefit English Learners:
- clear goals and objectives
- well-designed instructional routines
- active engagement and participation
- informative feedback
- opportunities to practice and apply new learning and transfer it to new situations
- periodic review and practice
- opportunities to interact with other students
- frequent assessments, with re-teaching as needed
The research-based practices Dr. Goldenberg referred to are all incorporated into the Explicit Direct Instruction model of the well-crafted and powerfully taught lesson, developed by DataWORKS.
A fourth NY guideline is “anchoring instruction by strategically using research-based practices (e.g., multimedia, visuals, and graphic organizers).” The EDI for English Learners book describes how DataWORKS’ new READY TO TEACH Common Core lessons are all multimedia-ready in PowerPoint format. They include animations and graphics/photos when applicable, and they make regular use of graphic organizers to help students categorize the concepts they are learning.
The New York Blueprint for English Language Learners Success is a big step forward in meeting the specific educational needs of English Learners, and those of us at DataWORKS are pleased to see how many of the research-based strategies from our EDI for English Learners book can be used to implement the guidelines – not only in New York, but in all states that are working to raise the level of expectations for English Learners.
As DataWORKS founder Dr. Silvia Ybarra explains in the book:
“I am a native Spanish speaker myself. I came to the U.S. from El Salvador when I was a teenager, not knowing a word of English. … It is critical for English Learners to be taught correct English so they develop language fluency that matches a native speaker’s. Language acquisition must be a focus of every classroom lesson.” [hr]