California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

English language development (ELD)

Standards-based instruction for English learner (EL) students is critical to California’s success in closing the achievement gap. California has adopted instructional materials for ELs (intensive intervention) as well as Spanish-language versions of K-6 reading programs. The state-adopted basic reading/language arts programs include additional instruction for EL students. The Reading/Language Arts Framework for California Public Schools Kindergarten through Grade Twelve (2007) (PDF; 6.06MB; 386pp.) calls for material to cover one hour of instruction for EL students.

The American Educational Research Association identifies the following critical components of reading instruction for EL students.

  • Word recognition
  • Vocabulary development (academic language)
  • Reading comprehension
  • Speech1

Specially designed academic instruction in English (SDAIE) is an instructional method that helps EL students who have intermediate fluency in English learn grade-level content in the core curriculum. SDAIE—as the name implies—requires specially trained teachers (refer to , Recommendation 10—Professional Learning) and student grouping of intermediate EL students together in one classroom. For more on SDAIE, refer to "English Language Learners" (Chapter 10 from the original Taking Center Stage) or the SDAIE handbook (Outside Source). In addition, the Santa Clara County Office of Education (Outside Source) has developed many support materials for teaching EL students.

A study by the Public Policy Institute, English Learners in California Schools (PDF; Outside Source), found that middle school EL students have lower rates of growth on the California English-Language Development Test than elementary school EL students (page 61). The authors noted several reasons to expect lower gains for middle school students:

  • Fewer middle school students are EL students, so the infrastructure for helping EL students may not be as prevalent as in elementary schools.
  • EL students at the middle and high school levels share the added difficulty of learning advanced academic material in specific subjects in addition to learning English.
  • Many EL students in middle school were not reclassified in elementary school. These students did not learn English as quickly as fluent English proficient students who have been reclassified.
  • Generally, students learn faster in elementary school grades than in later grades (page 61).2

In a review of the literature about effective strategies for teaching non-English-speaking students, Bob Slavin and Alan Cheung (2004) found that non-native speakers of English are often shy and unwilling to use English because they may be ridiculed in class. The research suggests organizing opportunities for EL students to work in pairs or to work in small groups. In their literature review, Slavin and Cheung also found consistent positive effects of programs that use systematic phonics.3 The Public Policy Institute found that one-to-one and small-group tutoring models also demonstrated positive effects.4

In a 2007 report on best practices in middle schools, Springboard Schools studied what it called HP2 schools—those that are both high performing and high poverty. Springboard found that the successful schools built a coherent system to support students learning English through one of three ways:

  • As part of their English language arts (ELA) class, all students receive direct English language development (ELD) instruction regardless of ELD status.
  • The schools add an additional period of support for students, including EL students who are struggling in their ELA class.
  • Students not yet proficient in English take an ELD language development class as an elective class (sometimes tied to their ELA class).

The key difference between high- and average-performing schools did not appear to be which approach they chose but rather the coherence of the program: how data are used to monitor student progress and the way in which ELA and ELD standards are used to connect students’ regular English classes with extra classes for those learning English.5

Mathematics instruction is another place to reinforce literacy skills for EL students. The Center for Applied Linguistics report, Reforming Mathematics Instruction for ESL Literacy Students (Outside Source), outlines the following as important steps in teaching mathematics to EL students:

  1. Select mathematics tasks that engage students' interests and intellect.
  2. Orchestrate classroom discourse in ways that promote the investigation and growth of mathematical ideas.
  3. Use technology and help students use technology and other tools to pursue mathematical investigations.
  4. Seek and help students seek connections to previous and developing knowledge.
  5. Guide individual, small-group, and whole-class work.6

The Map of Standards for English Learners (Grades 6-12) (Outside Source) is a free WestEd resource to help teachers integrate instruction and assessment of ELD and ELA standards in California. A companion Guide to ELD Student Report: Grades 6-12 (PDF; Outside Source) includes ELD report cards in Spanish and English that align with the map and the ELD standards, allowing teachers to report in a meaningful, seamless way on their EL students’ progress.

On October 30, 2008, Taking Center Stage—Act II was featured on a SchoolsMovingUp Webinar titled Taking Center Stage—Act II: Building Effective Programs for English Learners in the Middle Grades (Outside Source). As a part of the Webinar, TCSII provided the following list of valuable tools for educators as they evaluate their site plans for EL students.

Related Links

Teaching writing

Bilingual instruction

1English Language Learners: Boosting Academic Achievement” (Outside Source), AERA Research Points, Vol. 2, Issue 1 (Winter 2004), 3.
2Christopher Jepsen and Shelley De Alth, “English Learners in California Schools” (PDF; Outside Source), Sacramento: Public Policy Institute, April 2005.
3Robert Slavin and Alan Cheung,” How Do English Language Learners Learn to Read?” (Outside Source) Educational Leadership, Vol. 61, No. 6 (March 2004), 52-57.
4Making Schools Work with Hedrick Smith” (Outside Source), transcript.
5Balancing Act: Best Practices in the Middle Grades (Executive Summary). San Francisco: Springboard Schools, Spring 2007, 11.
6Keith Buchanan and Mary Helman, “Reforming Mathematics Instruction for ESL Literacy Students” (Outside Source), Cal Digest (December 1997) .

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