Originally posted May 7, 2013 on Colorin Colorado by Diane Staehr Fenner 

A little while back, Lydia wrote about TESOL International Association’s Convening on the role of the ESL teacher during the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. The report’s findings were released this week (you might even recognize the report’s author). I’d like to share some highlights of the findings and my takeaways with you.

As you may recall, TESOL held the convening in February 2013 and brought together ESL teachers, administrators, researchers, thought leaders, and policymakers to discuss three topics framed in the form of guiding questions:

  • What are ESL teachers’ current roles in implementing the CCSS for ELs?
  • What should ESL teachers’ most effective roles be so that ELs achieve with the CCSS?
  • What are the most promising strategies to support ESL teachers as they teach the CCSS?

ESL Expertise and Training

Overall, convening participants described a sense that ESL teachers’ expertise is often not fully understood or recognized, at times leading to a perceived lower status of the ESL teacher when compared to content area or general education teachers.  Participants described the many different program models in which ESL teachers currently work, including pull out, push-in, co-teaching, and itinerant. Each of these program models for ELLs requires different skill sets, and administrators might not always be aware of the ways in which ESL teachers provide instruction.

In addition, participants noted a wide variance in terms of the degree to which ESL teachers and content teachers are prepared to teach ELLs at the pre-service level, with some states requiring intensive coursework on how to instruct ELLs and others requiring a minimal or nonexistent level. Coupled with this continuum of training for teachers of ELLs, the Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT) definitions from the No Child Left Behind Act may also affect the status of ESL teachers. Since ESL is not recognized as a core academic content area under NCLB, it is not included among the HQT definitions. As a result, the HQT requirements for the TESOL field have been left up to the states to interpret, resulting in a broad spectrum of definitions. Due to this variation of definitions, coupled with the lack of a definition in some states, the status of the ESL teacher may be diminished.

ESL Teachers and CCSS Implementation:  Strengths and Challenges

Participants also discussed the degree to which ESL teachers and administrators saw themselves as being involved in implementing the CCSS for ELLs in their contexts. Their experiences varied widely, with individual teachers explaining they were not always invited to take part in CCSS policy decisions or were questioned when attending CCSS training events at their school.

On the other hand, Dr. Karen C. Woodson, Director of the Division of ESOL/Bilingual Programs in Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools, shared the ways in which she explicitly included ESL teachers in CCSS planning to leverage these teachers’ expertise and asked the group to think about ways to help administrators understand the skills that ESL teachers bring to the table.While several challenges in terms of the current role of the ESL teacher in implementing the CCSS were discussed, many strengths also emerged. One topic brought up several times was the importance the CCSS places on academic language for all students, including ELLs. To that end, convening participants described how ESL teachers bring a deep, often untapped level of expertise in teaching academic language that could be leveraged across their schools and districts. Participants also described how ESL teachers tend to be highly adept at advocating for their ELLs in multiple ways, even if they do not see themselves as advocates. Participants noted that if school administrators recognize ESL teachers as experts and set an expectation that ELLs are “everybody’s kids,” they have the opportunity to create a school culture in which the entire staff shares responsibility for ELLs’ success with the CCSS.

A Vision for ESL Teachers’ Most Effective Roles to Foster ELLs’ Achievement with the CCSS

When it comes to channeling all ESL teachers’ skills within the CCSS context, participants fleshed out several areas in which ESL teachers’ roles could shift along with the major shifts in the CCSS.

First and foremost, participants overwhelmingly described a need to redefine ESL teachers’ role during this changing educational landscape so that ELLs can best work with the demands of the new standards and also in order for ELLs’ content teachers to utilize effective strategies to support ELLs. In short, the time has come for ESL teachers to be recognized as “experts, consultants, and trainers well versed in teaching rigorous academic content” to ELLs. For example, the convening’s findings report offered that ESL teachers can consult with content teachers by helping them analyze the academic language demands of their content areas and offering them support designing lessons that teach academic language and rigorous content simultaneously.

Going beyond their expertise in lesson planning for ELLs, ESL teachers are often the teachers who are best positioned to help colleagues daw upon ELLs’ first languages and cultures in CCSS-based instruction. In order for this more collaborative, consultative model to succeed, participants felt that ESL teachers would need to not only demonstrate empathy with content teachers’ complex situations but also attend more content-area meetings and engage more with content teachers at the school, district, and state level.

In that spirit, participants underscored the importance of administrators advocating for ESL teachers by making targeted changes at the school level that will elevate ESL teachers’ status. Such changes include making teacher evaluation systems more inclusive of ELLs and ESL teachers and visibly embracing the school’s linguistic and cultural diversity. Perhaps most importantly, convening participants stressed that administrators must fully support ESL teachers in their new, necessary role as experts and consultants as the CCSS are implemented.

Promising Strategies to Support ESL Teachers as They Work with the CCSS

Finally, the report details ways in which participants felt ESL teachers will need to be supported in order to move into their roles as advocates, experts, and consultants.

Attendees first expressed an urgency for ESL educators to participate fully in policy discussions at the school, district, and state levels when it comes to teaching the CCSS to ELLs. However, instead of waiting to be invited, the group discussed ways in which ESL teachers can practice developing (and believing in) their own leadership voices to ensure that they are heard and consulted on decisions that affect them and their students. ESL teachers may require leadership training so that they can be better prepared to advocate for their place at the table and their students in policy decisions.

To mitigate the effects of the lack of teacher expertise related to teaching ELLs the CCSS, participants felt that all teacher education programs for content and ESL teachers need to evolve to prepare all teachers to work with the complexities of the CCSS with a heterogeneous population of ELLs. Hand in hand with pre-service training, participants shared a vision for professional development (PD) in which in-service teachers receive PD that is “functional, practical, quick to use,” suggesting that PD be ongoing as well as job-embedded. Some topics suggested for PD included collaboration to support ELLs in the CCSS, effective instruction, and teacher evaluation.

Lastly, participants outlined a framework for CCSS instruction of ELLs, citing ESL teachers’ dire need for new instructional strategies adapted to the rigor of the CCSS. They called for revamped ESL curricula based on the language needs of the CCSS and English language development standards. Unique populations of ELLs must also be included in this new framework, including young dual language learners at the preschool level, ELLs at the beginning level of English language proficiency, and long-term ELLs. As part of this framework, participants wanted to have “numerous, authentic model lessons grounded in the CCSS” to use with ELLs at different levels of English language proficiency. Finally, participants shared teachers’ and administrators’ need to have a better idea of what successful teaching of the CCSS to ELLs actually looks like in practice.

Final Takeaways

As I was writing this blog post, it struck me that I was able to link back to so many past blog posts I’ve written on implementing the CCSS for ELLs. To me, that means the topics I’m blogging about on Colorín Colorado are relevant and are resonating with stakeholders in multiple roles when it comes to thoughtfully including ELLs and their teachers in the implementation of the CCSS. That’s a good feeling. It also strikes me that TESOL called upon ESL teachers and administrators to vocalize their distinct needs implementing the CCSS for ELLs “on the ground.” Just like the convening’s participants, I’d also like to see more practical information and instructional materials emerge for all teachers of ELLs to use in their classrooms. I look forward to sharing any of these developments as they present themselves.

To end with, I’d love to hear from you, as always. How would you describe your role in implementing the CCSS for ELLs? To what degree is your expertise with ELLs recognized and leveraged? What best practices are you seeing that can be scaled up in other contexts?