Teacher Reflections: Implementing the Common Core with ELLs

In these video clips and journal entries, teachers from our Common Core in Albuquerque, NM project share their reflections on ways to successfully implement the standards with English language learners (ELLs).

Journal Entries

Ali Nava: Higher expectations

I feel that the CCSS does provide higher standards for minority students and will give them more exposure to more in-depth learning. New Mexico is the only state where it is written in our constitution that we must meet the educational needs of ELL students. If we can take the time to look at what other areas of the country are doing, that will only enrich our practice. Conversely, what New Mexico has learned and is continuing to learn about ELL students can help other states. If we do this, our learning community will be hugely enlarged.

Clara Gonzales-Espinoza: Helping ELLs meet high standards

Note: Clara describes her work as part of a different Common Core teacher work team in this entry.

Before our work began each participant was asked to identify his or her own experience with CCSS. I had to admit to myself that, yes, I had read the standards and was currently developing a lesson based on a standard — but I really didn't have the background to be able to make meaning of the standards.

The structure wasn't clear to me until after the 3 days I spent with this teacher work team. I began to better understand the 3 components of text complexity and how teachers will need to scaffold students' comprehension of complex texts. I practiced crafting text dependent questions. I was able to examine students' writing samples and identify evidence that students are making progress towards or have met the writing standards. In other words, I was immersed in the work that is crucial for all teachers as they begin to understand how to design and implement lessons.

Throughout our discussions, many teachers asked how ELLs and struggling readers and writers would be able to access the CCSS. Of course, I also had the same questions. I strongly believe that all students should be able held to the same high expectations outlined in the CCSS, but I also know that these learners may require additional time, appropriate instructional support, and aligned assessments that give them the opportunity to demonstrate proficiency.

Most importantly, to help ELLs meet high academic standards in language arts, it is essential that they have access to rich oral and written language, meaning they need to read a lot and be involved in literate conversations in literacy-rich classrooms. I found myself questioning why personal response and student connections were left out of the standards. Working with ELLs, I have learned that they need many opportunities for classroom discourse and this interaction has to be well-designed to enable them to develop communicative strengths in language arts. As I provide feedback to guide learning, I need my students to first feel comfortable about sharing their stories.

Clara Gonzales-Espinoza: Museum Trip

All around me teachers are preparing their students for the upcoming Standards Based Assessment (SBA). Students are given drill sheets, quick mini science lessons, revisiting the RACE rubric for reading and math, etc. Part of me begins to panic and I ask myself should I too be preparing my students. This sudden doubt was quickly replaced with the urgency to plan for our upcoming field trip to the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe.

None of my 24 students had been to this particular museum and some students hadn't been to Santa Fe. They were excited! They had the opportunity to learn about Folk Art from the Andes when Patricia visited our classroom during her pre-museum visit. Students touched the artifacts from the Andes and asked countless questions about where the Andes was located and what was Folk Art. They were fascinated with the handmade masks. As we heard that our bus had arrived we quickly packed up lunches, coats, and backpacks and headed to the front of the building.

As we exited the front entrance we saw a charter bus parked by the curb. Students asked hesitantly, "Is this our bus?" Suddenly someone shouted it is a "Party Bus". Needless to say we traveled to Santa Fe in both style and comfort. Once we arrived Patricia, the educational resource teacher greeted us as we walked through the doors of the museum. Students quickly glanced around as we were ushered into the lunchroom to place our belongings.

The first part of this field trip was to work in the studio. Students quickly gathered around Patricia as she explained the step -by- step process needed to construct a mask. Students were excited about the array of materials they could use. They asked questions about the process and eagerly shared their knowledge. They moved around the studio with ease, laughing and talking with one another. I watched and listened to them. Suddenly I realized I was preparing them for the upcoming SBA. They planned their masks, demonstrated a strategy to achieve their final goal, expressed their thinking verbally, and most importantly they applied the skills they were taught from a demonstration.

It is important to note that the emphasis in the Common Core is on students learning to read and write complex texts independently at high levels of proficiency. Most of my students are becoming independent thinkers but they'll need more nudging to move to CCSS work.

Ida Demos: A-ha moment

After having examined the Common Core Standards and served on the APS Steering Committee for the implementation of the CCSS, I found myself asking, "How attainable would the standards be to my own English language learners?" It wasn't until I started brainstorming and collaborating with the other teachers in the 8th grade ELA group of the WETA/ELL cohort did I realize the extent to which lessons would need to be sheltered and modified to meet the needs of our ELLs. That's when the fun began. The creative juices began to flow.

This a-ha moment has led to my investigation of other resources and strategies with which to enhance or supplant the existing curriculum. After having worked with the CCSS, I have also come to the conclusion that Depth of Knowledge plays a major role in students' acquisition of skills, concepts, and language. Students are given multiple opportunities to acquire, practice, perfect, synthesize and demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

Miriam Martinez: Meaningful Experiences

As I reflect on the work we have done so far, I am still a fan of augmenting the lesson sequence with critical empowerment. As primarily a language teacher, highest on my priority list is meaningful learning experiences that build literacy. I am ever conscious of the fact that my students tend to be economically disadvantaged, and consequently at a low experiential threshold for experiences greatly correlated to student achievement.

My priority is to engage them in meaningful experiences. I believe I can achieve this by making one of the broad learning objectives for students the awareness of the various opportunities that exist and to let them explore its constructions with purpose. This understanding will help them see the powerful potential of schooling on their lives.

Video Clips: Implementing the Common Core with ELLs

 

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National Education Association. How Educators Can Advocate for English Language Learners.

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