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Three Effective Scheduling Considerations for Multilingual Learner Education

Part 1 of Scheduling for MLs series

Explore the Complete Three-Part Article Series, Scheduling of MLs

In our recent technical assistance work with districts, the topic of scheduling and multilingual learners (MLs) always seems to come up in discussions. ML directors and their teams are looking for clear suggestions for effectively scheduling MLs and their teachers, and they ask us questions such as: 

  How do we balance MLs’ schedules, so they receive the language instruction they need but do not miss content instruction? 

  Who should be teaching MLs’ content courses so as to best support the integration of content and language development? 

  We know collaboration is important, but how do we make that happen when our ELD teacher has so many MLs on their caseload? 

Maximizing staffing resources to effectively serve MLs is always a delicate balance of providing the best English language development (ELD) instruction for MLs with the most appropriate staff. Because of the many variables in scheduling instruction for MLs, the scheduling process should be collaborative and include the voices of students, families, teachers, support staff, and administrators (Calderón et al., 2019). The voices of stakeholders can inform schedules for MLs and their teachers. Various stakeholders can provide insight into what is working well in the master schedule and what may be a challenge. Further, MLs and their families can share their educational perspectives and goals, which can inform programming and scheduling for MLs.  

In addition, factors such as MLs’ English language proficiency and their teachers’ expertise and experience working with MLs can also impact the success of the schedule, MLs, and their teachers. In this article, the first in a three-part series, I will share general scheduling considerations, recommendations for creating a balanced schedule for MLs based on English proficiency level, and suggestions for placing MLs based on the size of the ML population. Finally, I will share a tool for discussing these considerations with your team as you develop schedules for ML instruction. 

1. General Scheduling Considerations for MLs and their Teachers

ELD instruction needs to be included in MLs’ schedules. Based on their English language proficiency levels, MLs may need designated ELD instruction in addition to the ELD instruction that is integrated into their content or grade-level courses (Calderón et al., 2019). The graphic below outlines the difference between designated and integrated ELD instruction. 

Designated ELD Instruction 

•  Protected time within the school day 

•  Focused instruction to advance MLs’ English language development 

•  Can be in a separate, standalone classroom or course or provided through in-class support 

•  Taught by an ELD teacher  

Integrated ELD Instruction 

•  Included in grade-level instruction 

•  Integrated scaffolding and language instruction to support simultaneous content learning and language acquisition 

•  Occurs within the grade-level classroom 

•  Taught by a content teacher or a teacher who is dually licensed in ELD and the content area 

Many, but not all, states and districts provide guidelines for ELD instruction. For example, guidelines may share expectations for when MLs should receive designated, standalone ELD instruction and what integrated ELD in content or grade-level instruction should include. Some states and districts provide guidelines for the number of minutes MLs should receive ELD based on their level of English proficiency. Depending on the program model, MLs can receive designated ELD instruction during small group instruction in their grade-level classroom during co-teaching or when an ELD teacher provides in-class support. At times, MLs at the beginning stages of English language proficiency may receive their designated ELD instruction in another classroom during small group instruction or as an elective course. These students may also take sheltered content courses that provide intensive language instruction through scaffolded grade-level content. For MLs to have access to rigorous, grade-level instruction and electives, they should not miss whole group content instruction in their grade level or content classroom or all of their electives for designated, standalone ELD instruction.  

Regardless of the program model used, teachers should have opportunities within their schedules to meet to discuss MLs’ progress in learning language and content. Collaboration is a key to successful ML programming where ELD and content teachers can share their expertise with one another (Staehr Fenner et al., 2024). Master schedules should be created intentionally so ELD teachers can join grade-level or content team meetings to discuss MLs’ English language proficiency and co-plan scaffolds and supports for MLs. Opportunities for classroom and ELD teachers to meet in vertical teams across grade levels or content teams can also provide a way to share strategies and ideas to support MLs with other teachers, which leads to language growth and consistent support in content instruction.  

2. Creating a Balanced Schedule for MLs

Designated ELD instruction is not defined by the location of the instruction and can be provided in a separate class, through in-class support, or within a co-taught class. MLs at the beginning stages of English language proficiency may receive some targeted English language instruction with an ELD teacher for a small portion of their day to provide a safe space to learn and practice foundational English skills and school routines. Designated ELD instruction, whether provided in the grade-level classroom or in another classroom, should not occur during whole group instruction. For designated ELD instruction outside the grade-level classroom, we recommend that MLs not be scheduled for this instruction during specials or electives since classes such as art, music, and physical education help MLs develop their social and academic skills.  

In addition, MLs at the beginning stages of English language proficiency should also receive integrated English language instruction as part of their grade-level classroom instruction. That grade-level classroom instruction can be in a sheltered content course that integrates ELD instruction and is designed specifically for ML newcomer students. MLs with more intermediate or advanced English language proficiency may benefit from more time in their content classrooms, rather than being pulled into another classroom for ELD instruction.  Staying in their content classroom will offer MLs more opportunities to be exposed to instruction that integrates English language development with grade-level content instruction. This ELD instruction can be provided by: 

•  An ELD teacher who comes into the classroom to teach a small group of MLs.

•  Both a content and an ELD teacher in a co-taught classroom.

•  A content teacher who holds an ELD license or who integrates best practices for integrating scaffolds and academic language instruction for MLs. 

3. Suggestions for Placing MLs Based on Size of Population

Determining how and when MLs will receive ELD support is not the only piece of the scheduling puzzle. Another important decision to be made is deciding which teachers will teach courses with MLs. While all teachers should be prepared to teach MLs, placing MLs in content or grade-level classes with teachers with an assets-based mindset will lead to greater success for MLs and their teachers. However, placing students cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach. Many factors should be considered when deciding whose class MLs will be scheduled into, such as teacher mindset, experience working with MLs, teacher certifications, and the number of MLs within the grade, course, or school.  We also recommend MLs have frequent opportunities to interact with fluent English speakers throughout their day

Schools with smaller numbers of MLs will schedule their ELD programming differently than schools with larger numbers of MLs. In schools with smaller numbers of MLs, clustering MLs together with a few grade-level or content teachers who are ELD certified or have successful experience teaching MLs will provide a supportive environment for MLs with a teacher prepared to provide scaffolded, rigorous instruction. Clustering small numbers of MLs facilitates opportunities for ELD teachers to provide in-class support or to co-teach content courses. Clustering also reduces the number of classroom teachers the ELD teacher will coordinate and collaborate with to provide quality ML instruction.  

In schools with larger numbers of MLs, schedulers can leverage teachers with dual certification in ELD and a content area to provide more integrated ELD instruction. However, MLs can also be scheduled into classes with supportive teachers who have had successful experience teaching MLs and will scaffold rigorous content instruction for them. In addition, providing professional learning opportunities to build ML teacher expertise, especially for those teaching MLs at the beginning stages of English language proficiency, can better prepare educators for planning quality instruction for MLs. 

Final Thoughts

In this article, I shared general scheduling considerations, recommendations for creating a balanced schedule for MLs based on English proficiency level, and suggestions for placing MLs based on the size of the population. However, it is essential to factor in your context as you consider how you can maximize staffing resources to effectively serve your MLs. This infographic can help guide conversations with stakeholders around best practices for scheduling MLs and staff within your ML program.

Scheduling MLs-SupportEd

Explore the Complete Three-Part Article Series, Scheduling of MLs


Calderón, M. E., Dove, M.G., Staehr Fenner, D., Gottleib, M., Honigsfeld, A., Ward Singer, T., Slakk, S., Soto, I., & Zacarian, D.  (2020). Breaking down the wall: Essential shifts for English learners’ success. Corwin. 

Staehr Fenner, D., Snyder, S., & Gregoire-Smith, M. (2024). Unlocking multilingual learners’ potential: Strategies for making content accessible (2nd ed.). Corwin. 

Shannon Smith

Comments (2)

  • Iris Cueto-Anglarill

    July 15, 2024 - 5:47 pm

    The ideas put forward are not in question. I feel such terms as : “Access to rigorous, grade level instruction; Language growth and integrating language developement with grade level content instruction” are used loosely. Unfortunately I don’t think these terms are represented equally among all schools. This leads to teachers questioning what exactly these terms mean when planning instruction for beginner ELLs, as learning the language alone is rigorous! Not following a content curriculum, is not rigourous. Not holding students to the same standards, is not rigorous. When co-planning, the question remains; how do we move on with the curriculum with monolingual students to maintain rigor, while providing rigourous instruction to newcomers in the name of “content” but will in no way prepare the to follow the curriculum as it must be presented. The mirror is really two separate curriculums where one is taught by the content area teacher and the other by the ELD teacher teaching “rigorous content instruction”, whatever that may mean for Administrators throughout all school systems. It seems that sceduling considerations is really a move toward a well funded change in how we teach newcomers.

    • Shannon Smith

      July 16, 2024 - 11:45 am

      Thank you for sharing these concerns around rigorous instruction. ML Programming and scheduling is very complex, especially when there is not a shared vision among all stakeholders as to what programming and instruction for MLs should look like for students at various levels of English language proficiency. Our next article on program types and instructional models will help support conversations with those stakeholders to establish a program design that is based on common goals for MLs and can guide scheduling decisions that address the needs of all MLs, including ML newcomer students. In addition, that design could lead to discussions on how best to maximize current staffing models to meet your program design goals while advocating for a more robust staffing model.

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