FAQ: About Supporting Language Learners in Schools

I recently hosted an amazing webinar around engaging in data-driven instruction for language learners with Dr. Doug Reeves.  I wanted to share the frequently asked questions that stemmed from the session.  Please reach out with any questions!

Q & A:
  • These “service” minutes are state requirements. What can we do, add more minutes? State requirements reflect the minimum number of minutes required to be compliant, and define the way in which certified specialists are allocated at the building level. While 30 minutes, may be what the state defines as the minimum amount of specialized support, it should not be used to define how schools ensure each student has the conditions of learning that will lead to their success. It is the difference of providing 1,000 calories of crackers and wheat versus a full meal – you can only survive for so long.
  • Does instruction and curriculum need to be authentic to students to be able to make meaning or authentic to the standards? Curriculum and instructional practices must first affirm the identity of the students that are meant its beneficiaries: meaning it provides content, concepts, and creation of knowledge (pedagogy) worth learning, and that it honors the life experiences that have shaped the individuals they are and will choose to become.  Without knowledge of the students first, educators will constantly be chasing standards that escape the grasp of learners that may not see the connection or the point.
  • Is the goal of early exit programs unrealistic in light of the research of 5 – 7 years? Yes, we have worked for many years to change policies that focus on unrealistic early exit philosophies and do so while also encouraging the abandonment of students’ first language and cultural reference points. These programs have consistently shown abysmal results, and are more grounded in personal beliefs around the value of English rather than the science and reality of the language acquisition process.
  • For schools/districts with low EL populations, how realistic is it for beginning ELs to participate in rigorous GenEd content, texts, and topics? We must shift the idea that ELs are only capable of remedial curriculum that leave learners with little opportunity for achievement.  On the contrary, ELs are capable of the cognitive demands of any curriculum that provide content, concepts, language, and meaningful opportunities to create knowledge that is worth learning within a context that allows every student to be a part of the larger community regardless of their language proficiency.  In thinking about curriculum in this way, there is no perfect curriculum, text, or topic.  Rather, the perfect combination of these things comes from knowing who each and every child is, and using that knowledge to adapt the materials’ ability to help each child make meaning, seek the answers to real questions, and develop more complex ways to communicate their truth within the world. Just know that the adaptation of the materials will need to include linguistic and cultural supports if the text is something like “To Kill a Mockingbird”, that is grounded in historical and cultural references that EL students may not have.
  • What about this metalinguistic awareness you spoke of? Metalinguistic awareness and the strategies that support its development are critical for language learners, especially in dual language programs.  These strategies are separate from and must work in addition to data-driven instruction.  Educators must have the opportunity to build their expertise and toolkit of strategies to be able to effectively build students’ ability to meaningfully apply this thinking to their language learning and development.  We do 2-3 day institutes to build this skillset strategically and effectively.