Originally posted December 7, 2012 on Colorin Colorado by Diane Staehr Fenner

Understanding Language’s December 6 webinar, presented by George Bunch, Susan Pimentel, Aída Walqui, Lydia Stack, and Martha Castellón, showcased the first of the Stanford University initiative’s curricular units for teachers to use in their classrooms. The official launch of the exemplar provides one example of what is possible when educators collaborate to design instruction that will help ELLs access the English Language Arts CCSS.

The five-lesson middle school unit, called Persuasion Across Time and Space: Analyzing and Producing Persuasive Texts, was designed for ELLs at the intermediate level of English language development. The unit builds upon existing research as well as the strong belief that ELLs bring many strengths to the classroom. The unit exemplifies the shifts of the English Language Arts CCSS by having students build background knowledge and vocabulary, read complex texts, cite evidence, write from sources, and build their knowledge through non-fiction. Each activity included in the unit was scaffolded at three different levels to provide multiple pathways for all ELLs to access instruction aligned with the CCSS.

I was fortunate to participate in a hands-on demonstration of the unit by Aida Walqui and Lydia Stack at the Association of Latino Administrators and Supervisors (ALAS) summit in Miami in October. It was truly fascinating to take part in the demonstration, working through some of the interactive tasks the students would engage with. Even as a native English speaker (who is also a bit older than the average middle school student), I could see how the scaffolded unit would appropriately challenge – but not turn off – native speakers as well as ELLs.

Future Plans

In the future, Understanding Language will develop additional units for use at the elementary school level. The group does not have immediate plans to create high school units, as they believe the current middle school exemplar provides more direction for those who design instruction at the high school than for the elementary school level. Understanding Language is partnering with the Council of Great City Schools to do instructional pilot work in some school districts. They will be posting student work samples and videos from the pilot sites, and I will let you know when those resources become available. There are also opportunities for you to post comments about the unit here on the Understanding Language site.

If you happen to use this unit with your students, please also let our Colorín Colorado community know your impressions by commenting on this blog.

Diane Staehr Fenner