California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II
Adapted from Chapter 10 of Taking Center Stage, Sacramento: California Department of Education, 2001, pp.155-171.
Schools in California have always been comprised of linguistically diverse students. However, the dramatic increase of students with a remarkable variety of linguistic and cultural differences over the last two decades has presented a significant challenge to educators in providing an excellent educational experience to all students.
California’s diverse student population comes from many different ethnic groups, speaks a variety of languages and dialects, varies in English proficiency, and comes to school with a variety of experiences, academic and nonacademic. The state Language Census for 2004-05 revealed that 2.66 million students enrolled in California public schools have a primary language other than English and 1.59 million are identified as English learners. English learners represent 25.1 percent of the total California school enrollment as reported by their school districts in 2004-05. The five languages most commonly reported for English learners are Spanish (85.3prcent), Vietnamese (2.2percent), Hmong (1.4percent), Cantonese (1.4percent), and Filipino (1.3percent).
All students with a home language other than English are provided an instructional program targeted to their English language proficiency level if they meet designated criteria and are identified as English learners.
If the Home Language Survey, completed by parents/guardians upon students’ initial enrollment in a California school, indicates a language other than English, students are assessed with the California English Language Development Test (CELDT). Assessment results determine whether a student is EL or Fluent English Proficient (FEP). (EC 60810) CELDT results are reported according to the five proficiency levels approved by the State Board of Education (beginning, early intermediate, intermediate, early advanced, advanced) and form the basis for measuring student improvement in acquiring listening, speaking, reading and writing skills in English. However, the effective use of CELDT data requires a thorough understanding of how CELDT results are to be interpreted and how to use them to identify learning needs. For a more complete description of the scoring and reporting process for the CELDT see the CELDT Assistance Packet for School Districts/Schools, posted on the CDE Web site.
Students who demonstrate on the CELDT that they have difficulties in speaking, reading, writing or understanding the English language that may impede the individuals’ successful achievement in the classroom, are considered to be English learners and must receive instruction designed to meet their individual linguistic and academic needs. In addition to identifying students as EL, the CELDT is used.
The CELDT is aligned to the English language development (ELD) standards adopted by the State Board of Education, found on the CDE Web site at Administrative Forms and Documents.
From the earliest stages of their academic career and in concert with direct instruction, English learners should be provided with understandable and meaningful experiences in English that enable the students to communicate effectively with peers and adults and to participate fully in the academic program.1 “For these pupils to have access to quality education, their special needs must be met by teachers who have essential skills and knowledge related to English language development, specially designed content instruction delivered in English…” Education Code 44253.
Significant numbers of English learners are enrolled in the middle grades, and schools need to accommodate their needs. School district administrative staff as well school site staff share the important role to assist English learners to effectively acquire English language skills and to develop their capacity to fully succeed in the mainstream classroom. Based on the school district’s criteria of reasonable fluency in English, EL are placed in structured English immersion (SEI) or English-language mainstream (ELM) program settings. Developing a comprehensive plan at a school site that identifies and then meets the learning needs of all English learners requires the collaborative effort of administrators, teachers, and other staff members involved in providing the instructional program such as:
The primary goal for teachers of EL students is two-fold:
Two sets of interdependent state standards guide teachers in determining appropriate instructional strategies for accomplishing this goal. In California, these standards are the English Language Development (ELD) Standards, approved by the State Board of Education (SBE) in 1999 and the Content Standards (English-language arts, mathematics, history/social science, science and visual and performing arts)). In order to ensure that EL have full and equal access to a school district’s educational program, EL must receive both ELD and ELA.
The ELD standards state explicitly what EL need to know and be able to do as they move through the proficiency levels toward fluent English proficiency. State and federal laws require that all EL be provided with ELD defined as direct, systematic, explicit development of vocabulary, grammar, comprehension and expression in both oral and written domains of English using a curriculum and instructional methods appropriate for second language learners. EL are to receive instruction specifically designed to enable students at each proficiency level to acquire academic English rapidly, efficiently, and effectively.
English language development instruction is required for all English learners, from the beginning level of English proficiency to the advanced. It is critical to provide students with the academic language required in the more advanced levels of English proficiency so they can fully participate in the core curriculum and master the content standards.
The content standards were designed to encourage the highest achievement of every student, by defining the knowledge, concepts, and skills that students should acquire at each grade level. The English–language arts content standards describe what students, including English learners should know and be able to do at each grade level in English-only classrooms. These content standard are supported and amplified through the Reading/Language Arts Framework for California Public Schools-Kindergarten through Grade twelve.
Together, the ELD standards, the content standards and the framework form the foundation for decisions about curriculum, instructional strategies and materials and assessments in California public schools. The EL related sections of the framework recommend instructional strategies, instructional support in reading and writing, alignment of instruction and assessment, differentiated instruction through pacing and complexity and grouping as an aid to instruction. As in the English –language arts framework, state frameworks for all core subject area provide assistance for teachers.
Current core instructional materials for grades six through eight, adopted by the SBE provide the third component of the state’s three-pronged system for improving the academic achievement of all students, including English learners. The first component, the standards, identify what students should know and be able to do in every core subject and at each grade level. The second component, state curriculum frameworks provide the contextual structure for relating identified state standards to curriculum and instruction. The third component, core instructional materials provide the necessary tools for teaching, assessing and supporting instructional goals. In addition to teaching skills and knowledge for specific content areas, most SBE-adopted core materials feature embedded assessments for diagnosing student learning needs and suggested interventions for use as needed.
English language development (ELD) instruction for all English learners is to be delivered by a teacher authorized to provide EL services. ELD should target the student’s level of proficiency (beginning, early intermediate, intermediate, early advanced, or advanced) and include many opportunities for student-to-student practice at that proficiency level as well as systematic teaching of language skills at the next level of proficiency. English-language development (ELD) requires purposeful, daily instruction during specific times. Although there are many opportunities in a language-rich classroom environment for language learning, merely being exposed to, even engaged in, activity in English is not sufficient to ensure the development of full academic language proficiency. The state ELD standards emphasize the connection of ELD and literacy and encourage reading and writing instruction early in learning English with an emphasis on direct teaching of new language concepts, greater attention to the features of English language, increased practice of complex language skills, and appropriate corrective feedback within the context of meaningful and rich language learning and interaction.2
The California Reading and Literature Project, in its Professional Development Institute for Teachers of English Learners, proposes that ELD include:
Although many EL may be appear proficient in the basic language skills used in everyday social interaction, they frequently lack the specialized subject-matter vocabulary unique to each area of the curriculum and the generalized academic language functions, structures, and vocabulary needed to master standards at the middle grades. English learners entering middle school with strong literacy skills in their primary language have the advantage of being able to concentrate on acquiring and learning academic language functions.
Academic language is defined in the Reading/Language Arts Framework as “the language of literacy and books, tests, and formal writing.” It differs from conversational speech in terms of “language function, vocabulary, background knowledge, text structure, syntactic complexity, and abstract thinking.”1 Another way to think of the academic language is to recognize that it represents a much higher level of literacy, a level basic to the full development of complex thinking skills.
Whether in specialized ELD courses or through the English–language arts program, students’ academic language must be continuously developed and explicitly taught as its own area of study and within all subject areas. Higher-level ELD students need explicit instruction and practice using advanced phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics.3 The challenges posed by a lack of proficiency in academic language (academic literacy) are especially acute in the middle grades. The level of academic success achieved in grades six, seven, and eight is pivotal in determining the extent to which students will be prepared to pursue progressively more demanding curricula in high school. Development of proficiency in academic language is closely linked to a commitment to provide equal access to the most valued curriculum for all students.
Universal access materials that are part of reading/language arts adoptions through grade eight offer additional support for EL by providing instructional material for benchmarks and strategic interventions. Classroom teachers can utilize universal access materials in a number of ways to:
Teachers use specially designed academic instruction in English (SDAIE) methodologies to help EL who have reasonable fluency in English learn grade-level content in the core curriculum. In implementing strategies to build academic literacy teachers can:
Aptly characterized as an effective educational practice, SDAIE allows teachers to present rigorous academic content to all students through scaffolding for linguistic complexity which the Reading/Language Arts Framework defines as the “temporary support, guidance, or assistance provided to a student on a new or complex task.”4
The use of scaffolding may range from learning basic knowledge and skills to understanding complex principles and higher-order thought processes. Scaffolding requires that teachers observe their students and gradually hand over responsibility to them.
Scaffolding involves the teacher in modeling and demonstrating skills and providing supports at strategic points in the lesson to help students assimilate new ideas and strategies.
Students will need many opportunities for scaffold use of a word, phrase, verb tense, or sentence structure before they are able to produce or understand it independently, orally or in writing. To develop high levels of language proficiency, the teacher must provide comprehensible instruction, clear modeling, many opportunities for practice, accurate and timely feedback, and reasons to apply new language skills in new ways. Particularly in settings with few native English-speaking models, teachers need to create many opportunities for English learners to hear and use academic language for the purpose of building the linguistic competencies required to achieve grade-level content standards. “Scaffolding . . . does not involve simplifying the task; it holds the task difficulty constant, while simplifying the child’s role by means of graduated assistance from the adult expert.”5 Among the most important elements of scaffolding are the tools listed below.6 They represent functional approaches to instruction, emphasizing the movement of students from dependence to automaticity and independence and the development of academic-language proficiency through expressive oral and written communications.
An anxiety-free classroom is necessary for the kind of risk taking required to expand language development and promote other kinds of cognitive growth. Having students collaborate in small groups and encouraging them to use expressive oral language in presenting their thoughts, feelings, and opinions about the material being studied foster an appropriate learning environment. By deepening their understanding and mastery of ideas and concepts, they increase their academic literacy. Collaborative learning in small groups also allows students to practice and apply content taught by the teacher and encourages students with conflicting viewpoints to attempt to clarify, analyze, synthesize, speculate on, and evaluate their views as they work their way toward solutions to problems or carry out other tasks. This process (1) promotes refinement of meaning based on the diversity of the group; and (2) encourages the members to reflect on their own understanding of the curriculum content. Teachers assist students in making connections between ideas presented in class and their prior knowledge—in effect, to move gradually from street-level literacy to academic literacy.
Learning strategies designed to develop academic literacy should include ensuring that students understand the significance of grade-level content and performance standards in each subject area. They should also be provided with the scoring criteria by which their performance levels will be determined. Emphasis is placed as follows:
Similarly, complex reading and expressive writing provide opportunities for students to use their new academic-language skills. Students are encouraged to connect new ideas, concepts, and vocabulary through, for example, reflective logs, quick writes, and essays. In mathematics and science students are encouraged to provide written explanations of solutions and processes used in problem solving, investigations, or research projects.
The next set of examples suggests strategies designed to practice and apply academic-language proficiency through complex reading experiences:
The next set of examples suggests strategies designed to practice and apply academic-language proficiency through complex writing experiences:
Effective SDAIE includes consideration of these areas. Simply accessing prior knowledge and ensuring student motivation and interaction—while critical—are not enough to ensure student learning. As teachers plan instruction, they must thoughtfully consider language, content, and the cognitive process involved in the learning task.7
1Reading/Language Arts Framework, pp. 234–35.
2R. Scarcella, “Effective Language Instruction for English Learners.” Paper presented at the Standards-Based Evaluation and Accountability Institute for English Learners and Immigrant Students: A Focus on English Language Development, sponsored by the California Department of Education, Santa Barbara, Calif., December 4, 2000; R.Gersten and S.Baker, “What We Know About Effective Practices for English-Language Learners,” Exceptional Children, Vol. 66, No.4 (2000), 459–70; L. Wong Fillmore and C. Snow, “What Teachers Need to Know About Language (2000)" (PDF; Outside Source).
3California Reading and Literature Project (binder materials for the California Professional Development Institute for Teachers of English Learners, 2000).
4Reading/Language Arts Framework, p. 279.
5P.M. Greenfield, “A Theory of the Teacher in the Learning Activities of Everyday Life,” in Everyday Cognition: Its Development in Social Contexts. Edited by B. Rogoff and J. Lave. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984, pp. 117–38.
6Aida Walqui-van Lier, “Sheltered Instruction: Doing It Right” (1992; California Reading and Literature Project, 2000, binder materials).
7S. Dutro, "Reading Instruction for English Language Learners: Ten Pedagogical Considerations" (California Reading and Literature Project, 2000, binder materials).
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