For the most part teachers and staff working in schools in the state of Washington agree that community and student demographics are changing. More diversity and languages, and higher numbers of free and reduced lunch recipients translates to more families in poverty or homelessness. In fact, the Washington State Board of Education recently released its 2018-2023 Strategic Plan. It is eye-opening and revealing, also included here for the nerd in us to geek out on: https://www.sbe.wa.gov/sites/default/files/public/documents/StratPlan/SBE%20Draft%20Strategic%20Plan%20Draft%2010.9.18.pdf
Front and center in their report are the following points.
- Over the past 10 years, we have seen a 57 percent increase in the number of English Learners enrolled in public K-12 schools.
- We have also seen increased diversity with students of color now making up 46 percent of the student population compared to 34 percent a decade ago.2 However, the diversity of educators falls well short of the student percentage, as only 10% of teachers report a race other than “white.”
- The rate of low-income students, as measured by the percent of youth receiving free or reduced price lunch, has risen modestly over the past decade. However, we have seen a marked increase in the share of students experiencing housing insecurity as demonstrated by a 34 percent increase in just the last five years in the share of students who report they have experienced homelessness.3
How do these facts make you feel? Hopeful or hopeless? Panicky or prepared? The Washington State Board of Education includes in their report that "While the pace of these changes appears to be accelerating, our schools have struggled to keep pace and meet the needs of our students and their families, communities, and employers in this vibrant and growing economy."
This is our current reality, so what can the collective 'We' in education do to support English Language Learners' academic and linguistic development while also supporting teachers in the classroom whom serve these students daily? Many think that the answer is to pull students out of classrooms and teach them English first so that they can learn; however research shows that not only is this bad for students but the worst possible thing we can do to teach ELL students - besides not serve them at all. Below is a graph from researchers Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas whom have made it their life work to disaggregate data surrounding current practice and programs, and follow hundreds of thousands of students to get accurate information out to the public, education policy makers, school districts and teachers.
One solution is to get more teachers endorsed with an ELL certificate so their students will be better served, and more districts are already doing this. Another huge solution is co-teaching, where an ELL teacher, literacy or instructional coach pre-plans, co-plans and co-teaches with teachers K-12. The point of co-planning and co-teaching is to reach and maintain a higher level of rigor and keep our ELL and diverse students in mind and in the classroom as Common Core and Essential standards are targeted and taught. The co-planning can be done with grade level teams and/or individual teachers. Some things that to consider and intentionally plan for and teach are:
- What background information or vocabulary do students need to acquire in order to understand and demonstrate the learning target?
- Are there visuals - photos, drawings, videos, realia - that can help bridge what students know already to where they will be more successful?
- What instructional strategies can we intentionally plan for: chants, movement, table talk in a small groups or turn and talk with a partner before writing?
- Can graphic organizers, anchor charts, sentence frames or rubrics be used to record and cement student expectations and learning?
- What are some Common Formative Assessments (CFAs) that will be given so that we gather data about how our students are acquiring learning? What are they, how often and when specifically?
There is so much more to intentionally think about and plan for - there are many books and courses out there to head us in the right direction. Most importantly, it is our children's current and future lives on the line. What to do? What to do? We can continue to expand our own learning as educators to positively impact student outcome by collaborating, co-planning, co-teaching and assessing! Or, we can throw our hands up and be stuck with thoughts of distrust and lack of control in how different it is in schools today versus when we went to school. It is a conscious choice. What do you choose?
One of the most comprehensive books I read and use in my professional practice today is "Co-Teaching for English Learners" by Maria G Dove and Andrea Honigsfeld. Their Facebook page is here https://www.facebook.com/Collaboration-and-Co-Teaching-Strategies-for-English-Learners-146685988719863/ and Andrea's online site http://andreahonigsfeld.com plus Twitter @MariaGDove and @AndreaHonigsfel and on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4058761.Maria_G_Dove.
- English Language Learners