Inquiry Topic: English Language Learners and the Common Core Literacy Standards
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The AWL Highlighter

In my previous "scoop it" post I shared a webinar hosted by the National Charter School Resource Center entitled: "Helping Engligh Language Learners Meet the Common Core State Standards in English Languge Arts." I mentioned the "academic word list" of the most frequently used academic words in the English language, but decided to do a separate "scoop it" post about the list because this website has an extremely useful tool called the AWL Highlighter. This online tool is SO cool and would be helpful for teachers of ELLs as well as dependent readers. 

 

The Common Core State Standards require students to read more informational texts than many previous state standards required. Informational texts can be extremely difficult for ELLs who often lack a comprehensive vocabulary. Academic words are not something that ELLs will often hear in casual conversation with native speaker peers. ELLs therefore need extra help in building their academic word vocabulary in order to understand informational texts and the level of text difficulty required by the CCSS. This is where the AWL Highlighter tool can be a lifesaver. 

 

As proficient English speakers, it can be be difficult for ELA teachers to look at a text and identify the most common academic words. These words have become automatic to us. While we could cross check every text we are going to teach with the academic word list, this process would be time consuming depending on the length of the text. With the AWL Highlighter, however, teachers can simply copy and paste the text (if they can get a digital version) into a box and the AWL Highlighter will automatically highlight the core academic vocabulary within the text. After pasting the text into the box, users select the sublist level (1-10) depending on literacy level and click sumbit. Sublist 1 has the most frequent academic words and sublist 10 has less frequent academic words for more advanced students to learn. It's an easy two step process that immediately indentifies the key words that teachers could pre-teach before assigning a text to ensure that their students can understand the text. How cool!

 

I gave the AWL Highlighter a try with the description of NYU Steinhardt found on the Steinhardt home website. I selected sublist 5 for an intermediate level and the tool generated the following most frequently used academic words found within the article: professional, communities, cultures, creativity, research, theory, and involvement. It took 30 seconds for me to identify the words I would pre-teach if I were to assign this text to my students. And finally, because these words are among the most frequently used academic words, learning these words will not only help students to understand this particulate passage, but also texts that they will encounter as future independent readers.

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The Common Core Challenge for ELLs

The Stanford Understanding Language team is leading the national initiative to develop CCSS aligned resources for teachers of ELLs. In the meantime, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) has provided some strategies for teachers to help ELLs meet the CCSS. The NASSP seems to have been alerted to the same section of the Common Core that led me to my inquiry section. At the beginning of this “scooped” article, “The Common Core Challenge for ELLs” by Rhoda Coleman and Claude Goldenberg, the Common Core introduction is quoted from p.6 when the authors state that the specific needs of ELLs are “beyond the scope of the Standards.” While the Common Core Standards do provide supplementary guidelines for helping ELLs to meet the CCSS, Coleman and Goldenberg claim these recommendations are vague. I happen to agree.

 

As a result of needing to provide instruction for teachers before the Standard led national initiative has completed its work next year, the nassp provides some of its own recommendations. The details of the recommendations generally align with the preliminary documents released by the Standford intiative. Coleman and Claude even speak to the anticipation of Standford resources. The NASSP guidelines for “Instruction in Content Areas” and “Promoting English Language Proficiency” are detailed in the "scooped" article. A few key points are worth highlighting as strategies I hope to use in the future.

 

Coleman and Claude provide a section on academic language instruction within their “Instruction in Content Area” guidelines. In a specific strategy example, they use the 6th standard from the CCSS for literacy for grades 11-12: “Evaluate author’s differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.” (p.61). This standard offers an excellent opportunity for academic language instruction. In order to demonstrate understanding of varying viewpoints, students need to learn the language of compare and contrast. A teacher can model complex sentences using “although” and “however” before having students give a presentation or write an essay about a specific historical event.

 

The final takeaway is from the “Promoting English Language Proficiency” guidelines. Coleman and Claude explain that many content teachers are reluctant to consider language instruction strategies because they already have so much content to get through. The thing for teachers to remember is that language and content instruction can and should go hand in hand. Group work with structured roles rather than spontaneous conversation and structured student talk with prompts that include specific language structure, for example, can allow students to engage with content while developing key language skills. 

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http://www.colorincolorado.org/pdfs/policy/Road-to-CCSS-for-ELLS_Gettysburg-Lesson-Plan.pdf

This lesson plan from Colorin Colorado gives an idea of how to bring language instruction into a content based social studies lesson about the Gettysburg Address. Colorin Colorado is an organization dedicated to assisting teachers and families of ELLs. The concrete lesson plan is an excellent way for ELLs to practice using academic language and to build their vocabularies while simultaneously learning about the significance of the Gettysburg Address. After reading this lesson plan, I immediately thought about the goals of the Stanford initiative to identify areas in the Common Core that offer opportunity for language instruction. This lesson plan does exactly that. Students are not just asked about the key ideas of the informational text, but are also asked to decode the text. The plan addresses the Common Core standard for Informational Texts as well as the unique needs of ELLs.

Within the lesson, students are asked to define pre-highlighted words that the teacher thinks are important for comprehension and vocabulary building. Students also build key background knowledge before reading the document by creating a KWL chart. After reading the document out loud as a class and then independently, students get into pairs to fill out a graphic organizer. They initially meet with a partner of their own language level and then they switch to partners of varying levels. Both pairings allow ELL learners to practice discussion skills and to see how their peers break down the text. The lesson concludes with students completing summaries of the document in vernacular English by filling in missing words of a paragraph from a word bank.

What makes this lesson plan unique and catered towards ELL learners, in my opinion, is that it adds language instruction to a typical social studies comprehension lesson. Instead of immediately jumping to reading comprehension questions or a lesson on the Civil War, the teacher takes time to introduce new vocabulary and make sure that students have the necessary background knowledge to understand the text. Finally, students are given the opportunity to transform the historical document into familiar vernacular via the summary fill-in the blank worksheet. This exercise will be especially helpful in preparing ELLs, and all students, to write an essay or short response about the Gettysburg Address. Two goals of language instruction and specific content instruction are achieved while meeting key Common Core Standards for Informational Texts.


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Stanford to Lead Creation of ELL Standards for 'Common Core'

Stanford to Lead Creation of ELL Standards for 'Common Core' | Inquiry Topic: English Language Learners and the Common Core Literacy Standards | Scoop.it

This bog post is written by Mary Ann Zehr of Education Week. The post, from July 12, 2011, further explains the Stanford grant for aligning the needs of English Language Learners (ELLs) with the Common Core. This two-year Stanford grant is called "Building on Common-Core Standards to Improve Learning for English-language Learners." The interesting insight from the article is that the grant money from the Carnegie Corporation of New York is intended for writing new national standards for EELs that parallel the Common Core. The Stanford led initiative is therefore not only looking for resources to assist teachers in getting ELLs to meet the CCSS, but is also responsible for writing supplementary ELL standards to be used in conjunction with the CCSS. This reminds me of the freedom that each state has to write its own supplementary standards to the CCSS. The CCSS does not claim to be all encompassing.

 

As mentioned in my previous scoop it post, Kenji Hakuta, an education professor at Stanford, is the Principal Investigator of the grant as well as the co-chair of the national initiative. The other co-chair is Maria Santos, the former director of programs for ELLs in the New York City school system. In Zehr’s article, Hakuta explains how the ELL standards will work. The standards will supplement the Common Core by explaining what ELLs, at different English-proficiency levels, should be able to do in the various content areas. A direct quote from Hakuta explains how he envisions the ELL standards and the CCSS working together: “The effort is to think about the content areas in the common core that offer strategically fertile areas around which language instruction can take place.” (Zehr, Education Week) If the currently under development ELL standards can in fact achieve this goal, I think knoweldge of these"language intruction opportunities" will be invaluable for teachers.

 

The final thought provoking part of this article was the fact that English-language-proficiency tests for the Common Core standards were already underway as of July 2011. According Zehr, The U.S Department of Education launched a grant competition for the development of such tests. The grant money, however, only pays for the development of the tests and not for the development of ELL standards. It is promising that the Stanford initiative is developing such ELL standards, but it is worrisome that the tests are being developed before these standards are published. This adds to the growing need to find a way to fairly align assessment with the new CCSS.  

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Helping English Language Learners Meet the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts | National Charter School Resource Center

This webinar was hosted on February 22, 2012 by the National Charter School Resource Center featuring Diane August, Ph.D. Dr. August is a managing researcher at the American Institute for Research. During the webinar, Dr. August explains some key strategies for helping ELLs to meet the CCSS. I highly recommend watching the webinar if you have time. Chapter 1 is helpful because it gives an good overview of the unique needs of ELLs and the CCSS. In Chapter 1, for example, I learned the statistic that ELLs make up 10.8% of the public school enrollment in the U.S., and that 60% of that ELL population is concentrated in 6 states. New York is one of those 6 states. If, however, you want to get straight to the strategies, these are presented in Chapter 2. The entire webinar is about an hour. 

 

The most helpful part of the webinar for me was when Dr. August explains pre-reading strategies for ELLs. Her recommendations reminded me a lot of Kylene Beers' pre-reading strategies for dependent readers. It's exciting to see ELL strategies that will help a variety of learners, including native speakers, because teachers hopefully won't readily disregard these strategies as irrelevant to the majority. Dr. August stresses the importance of pre-teaching key vocabulary before giving a text to ELLs. Key vocublary includes the 4,000 most frequently used English words (http://www.sewardreadingresources.com/fourkw.html) as well as the most frequently used academic words (http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~alzsh3/acvocab/wordlists.htm#awl). Of course teachers are not expected to cover all of these words, but the lists helps techers to identify key vocabulary words within a specific text that ELLs (and all students) will need to know in order to become independent readers. 

 

In order to pre-teach these key vocublary words for a specific text, Dr. August explains that teachers should use visuals to model the definition, identify if the word is a cognate (important v. importante in spanish), point out any roots, prefixes and suffixes, and allow for students to practice the words with partners. For example, if the word is "dedicate," students could be asked to partner up and discuss a day that is dedicated to something. It is also crucial for teachers to explain the meaning of the word within the text to be read as well as other meanings the word might have. Teaching vocabluary this way becomes more of a "word study" as opposed to sheer memorization out of context. It also allows ELLs to begin a text knowing vocabulary that is crucial to deciphering the meaning.

 

The reason I found Dr. August's pre-reading vocabulary strategy so helpful is that she provided a way to identify key vocabulary using the 4,000 word list and the academic word list. Such resources are essential for teachers to find and teach vocabulary that will help their ELL students to become independent readers.  

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Council of the Great City Schools Presentation | Understanding Language

Through my researching, I found that the Stanford group in charge of the grant to improve learning for ELLs in light of the new Common Core Standards (explained in previous scoops) is called the Understanding Language team. On May 18th and 19th 2012, the Understanding Language team shared their intial work at the Seattle conference of the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS). The team presented preliminary resources as well as a working draft of instructional principles for teachers of ELLs. The instructional principles are intended to guide teachers in helping ELLs to meet the Common Core. 

 

What really struck me while reading through the documents that the Understanding Language team presented was the call for collaboration. The team is asking for ELA teachers accross the country to review the sample ELA unit plan that is catered towards ELLs. Further, the guiding premises behind the development of the ELD (English Lanugage Development) Standards involves all content areas. The idea is that the needs to ELLs will not be contained to ESL classes, but rather incorporated into the entire grade level curriculum. The premises include the development of language practices needed to engage with academic content, attention to discipline specific language competencies, the leveraging of students' linguistic and cultural resources, and several more. All 8 premises to the ELD standards can be found on the "scooped" page in the "English Language Proficiency Development Framework" pdf. It's encouraging that even math teachers will be given instructional principles and ELD standards for helping ELLs to master mathematic language and content. This makes sense since the Common Core Standards include literacy standards for mathematics, and all subject areas. It's also interesting that the Understanding Language group is looking at specifially what language practices students need to engage with academic content. The idea of identifying specific language practices reminds me of the need to identify and teach specific reading strategies to our students. ELLs need a variety of explicit strategies and skills to engage with acadmic content. These strategies should include discourse, reading, and writing activites.

 

I'm interested to see the final draft of the instructional principles for each discipline as I'm sure many teachers never think about ways to include language instruction into a specific unit lesson that seems to have nothing to do with language. 

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Schools reluctant to call kids fluent, lose funds

Schools reluctant to call kids fluent, lose funds | Inquiry Topic: English Language Learners and the Common Core Literacy Standards | Scoop.it
Nearly 3,000 San Francisco students who started school in the city as English learners were reclassified as fluent in the language last year while untold thousands of other students across the state with similar English skills remained stuck in...

 

This June 27, 2012 article by Jill Tucker from the San Francisco Chronicle is slightly off topic for my inquiry project in that it doesn’t address the Common Core. It does, however, speak to the need of establishing national ELL standards and assessment. I found the article to be fascinating.

 

Speaking specifically about California, Tucker explains that many school districts are reluctant to re-label ELLs as fluent despite ELL students scoring proficient in English on standardized tests. The schools resist reporting too many students as fluent because they do not want to lose funding. Tucker explains that CA schools receive $500 on average for each ELL to help that student to become fluent. Once a student reaches fluency, the funds are taken away. The result of such resistance to re-labeling ELLs as fluent is alarming when looking at the statistics. California averages a 10-year time frame for ELLs to become fluent. According to Tucker, however, experts claim that the time frame for most kids should be less than 5 years. Some schools are therefore doubling the amount of time students are labeled as ELLs and kept in limited-English classes.

 

How can the schools get away with this? Until the recent adoption of the national CCS, each state had (and still does) its own standards. Similarly, each state still has its own criteria for determining fluency. One standardized test determines if a student is an ELL, but fluency is determined by individual school factors such as parent input, grades, test scores, and teach evaluation. Schools therefore make the final decision about classifying a student as fluent.

 

I’m fascinated and torn by this article. I like the idea of multiple factors such as teacher and parent input determining if an ELL student is fluent. The problem, however, is when these determinations are altered by financial incentive. I’m wondering if national ELL standards that align with the CCS could help to solve this problem. If we can develop national standards for fluency and clear benchmarks of what ELL students should be able to do at each grade level, perhaps school will be held more accountable for fluency evaluations. I tend to not support taking away control from individual schools, teachers, and parents, but something has to be done to prevent schools from holding back ELL students for money. 

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Stanford launches effort to improve English Language Learner access to Common Core State Standards

Stanford launches effort to improve English Language Learner access to Common Core State Standards | Inquiry Topic: English Language Learners and the Common Core Literacy Standards | Scoop.it

On August 15, 2011 Stanford University announced its national initiative to create and gather resources to help English Language Learners (ELLs) meet the Common Core Literacy Standards. This article, “Standford launches effort to improve English Language Learner access to Common Core State Standards”, from Stanford's website explains the objectives of the initiative and how the project came to be. Stanford received a $2 million jointly funded grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Principal Investigator of the grant is Kenji Hakuta. In the article, Hakuta explains the need for a clear instructional system that outlines the language necessary to succeed in learning. This attention to language is important for all students, but especially ELLs. The idea is that language proficiency instruction will not be an isolated class, but rather something that happens in conjunction with content learning. In order for this idea to become a practical instructional method, the initiative first needs to explore what language and specific language skills are necessary to learn and meet CCSS standards.

 

A tangible set of resources or supplementary standards for helping ELLs meet the literacy standards of the Common Core is extremely important in a time when according to the 2010 U.S. Census, the Hispanic population is the fastest-growing population in the U.S. In the Stanford article, Andréa Herínquez stated that 21% of eighth-grades in the U.S. are English Language Learners. That is a significant portion of students. Teachers of all content areas therefore must be aware of instructional methods that foster language development as well as knowledge of a specific content area.

 

As current or future teachers in diverse NYC schools, we all need to be especially aware of the unique needs of ELLs. The Stanford initiative is working to create instructional methods and resources to assist teachers of all content areas in getting ELLs to meet the Common Core Standards. I really like the Stanford approach because it looks to all content areas as opportunities to develop language proficiency, as opposed to leaving all responsibility to English as a Second Language Instruction. This ideology seems to compliment the Common Core Standards well since the CCSS see literacy instruction as a shared responsibility across content areas.  I’m interested to see the unique resources that the Stanford-led initiative produces to help teachers to bring language proficiency instruction into any classroom. More specifically, I'm curious about how to incorporate such resources into a class of varying levels of English proficiency so that all students are benefiting and learning.

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