Common Core and ELLs: Planning Professional Development for Colleagues (Part 1)

So you’ve been asked to provide professional development for your colleagues about Common Core State Standards for English Learners (ELs) at the faculty meeting – tomorrow.

What should you do?

I have been asked this question by a number of teachers that I’ve worked with recently. Some need to present a 30-minute session while others have been allotted a full day or more. Either way, this can be a daunting task if you are not used to working with adult learners, designing professional development, or speaking in front of large crowds. And even if you have experience presenting professional development about ELs, it can be overwhelming to think about how to tackle the Common Core. This blog post will provide you with key strategies and ideas on how to continue conversations about the implementation of Common Core and implications for educating ELs.

I have included a list of some possible topics for your session, as well as related discussion questions.  You may also wish to survey your colleagues to find out what they would find helpful. In addition, I have added some tips for planning effective professional development sessions at the end of the blog.

Note: In Part 2 of this blog, I will provide some additional specific strategies and instructional activities for Common Core instruction and assessment, as well as more information about academic language.


Your Goals

No matter how much time you have, I suggest that you think of your first session as the introduction to an ongoing conversation about the Common Core with your colleagues.  Your most important goal is to help your colleagues understand the importance of their role in helping ELs meet the standards. Here are some topic ideas for starting that conversation:

  • Your own role in working with ELs
  • Your school/district EL population
  • EL program and instruction models used in your school/district
  • The importance of helping ELs meet the Common Core

You may not have time to include all of these topics, especially if you only have a brief amount of time, so after reading through them, think about which of these topics will benefit your colleagues most. You can also use these topics as the basis for planning multiple sessions, depending on the number of hours you have available.

This may not be what your colleagues are expecting; they are probably anxious for takeaway activities to “teach the Common Core,” as well as classroom strategies and resources. These are certainly important, but in order for those tools to be useful, you need to create a foundation for collaboration, which may or may not exist in your current environment. Once that foundation is there, however, activities and strategies can be shared, modeled, and practiced in follow-up sessions, as well as online or in person in the future.  Starting here may help to answer commonly asked questions and clarify misconceptions.


Getting started: Your role in your school or district

I recommend that you start by explaining who you are and what you do. Do you work as part of a team or independently? Depending upon your program model of language development and scheduling, you may not come into contact with teachers who work closely with the students you service. Sharing a little bit about your background and what led you to teaching English learners is important too and helps to establish you as a member of school community. This is especially important for itinerate teachers, those who are assigned to teach in more than one school.

In addition, this kind of conversation provides a starting point for beginning to work towards increased collaboration around the Common Core – a key to implementing the new standards successfully with ELLs.

Discussion Questions: Who are the EL or bilingual colleagues that you work with?  What do you understand their role to be in the school?


The EL population

After explaining what you do, help your colleagues understand the ELL population with a brief overview of your district’s EL data. This doesn’t have to take a long time. Here are some points to include:

  • Number of students within the school, program, or district
  • Percentage of students per grade level including levels of proficiency
  • Most common languages spoken
  • Countries of origin, including the number of students born in the U.S.
  • Relevant data about EL achievement, graduation rates, etc.

If you have more time, the initial data shown can be more global, e.g., nationwide or statewide, and then more local, such as school-wide numbers and grade levels – whichever is most helpful for your colleagues in order to understand the breadth and depth of the EL program.

Discussion Questions: What surprised you in this data? How has the EL population changed while you have been in this district? What seem to be the strengths or weaknesses of how we are serving our kids?


EL program and instruction models

Why ELs are provided with instructional support the way they are is often a “hot topic” and question that other teachers ask. Talk about how your school or district is currently managing EL instruction and how that fits into broader legislation at the state and/or federal level regarding ELL instruction.

If changes occur within the program model depending upon grade levels, be sure to explain those changes to your colleagues. For example, the co-teaching model at the primary level may or may not be in place at the secondary level. For example, it is important for teachers to know what the transition from elementary to middle and from middle to high school will be like for their students in terms of language support. A preview of what the EL program looks like at the next level is an important piece but often overlooked. Share curriculum changes and mandates too. Are there high-stakes assessments that your ELs will be required to take and pass that your colleagues need to be aware of? For example, the fifth grade and eleventh grade writing test, how can we prepare students for these assessments? Other key areas about program models you should share include:

  • The intake and screening process involved in identifying English language learners
  • Your state’s exit criteria
  • The number of students who reach English proficiency based upon that exit criteria

Some questions to consider include:

Discussion Questions: What federal and state laws are we required to comply with? What is Title III? What guidelines are being used to design and monitor our EL program?


What resources are available to help ELs meet the Common Core?

You may wish to provide some background on the CCSS and ELs for your colleagues.  Here’s what they need to know:  A three-page document introducing guidelines for implementing the standards with ELs was published alongside the standards when they were released. (A similar document was written for student with disabilities.) However, the document does not provide any specific instructional guidance and the standards are not aligned to English language proficiency standards.  That alignment is left to the states. For example, states that are members of the WIDA consortia will be able to use WIDA’s amplified 2012 standards, which provide some examples that are aligned to the Common Core. It is important to find out how implementation with ELs is being included in your state-wide Common Core plan.

In the meantime, new lesson plans, exemplars, and guidelines that take ELs’ needs in account are being created and shared by teachers and researchers across the country.  You can learn more about the latest news from the field as well as more background information on our blog or from Colorín Colorado’s Common Core resource section.

Discussion Questions:  How has your state begun to implement Common Core State Standards?  What do you know about the relationship of your state’s English language proficiency standards and the Common Core?


Why ELs need to meet the Common Core

It is important to emphasize that ELs are expected to meet the same standards as their peers. Now that your colleagues have some additional background, this might be a good place to open the conversation for some discussion on what challenges ELs will face in meeting the standards, as well as the opportunities that the standards will provide ELs. Ask your colleagues to consider who has a role in helping ELs meet those standards. Keep in mind that this may require an adjustment in the thinking of those colleagues who see the ELs as only the responsibility of the EL teacher.  This is also an important conversation for setting the stage for specific strategies and classroom ideas that will follow in the next session.

Discussion Questions: What opportunities and challenges do you think the Common Core will present ELs?  Do you have any ideas on what role you might place in helping ELs meet the standards?


Closing the Session

Remember, your primary goal for the first session is to help your colleagues understand a shared responsibility for teaching ELs and to begin to think about ELs and the implications of CCSS. That is a lot of information in a short amount of time! You have prepared them for the next steps, though: continued discussion about the EL program, information about academic language, how to appropriately scaffold lessons, formative and summative assessments for ELs, and the use of approved accommodations.

As you wrap up your session, collect feedback from your colleagues by asking them to jot down on post-it notes and respond by sharing:

  1. what they found most helpful
  2. a question they still have
  3. their ideas for future PD

Use that feedback to tailor make follow-up sessions. Assure them that more will follow. This will help to alleviate the sense of unfinished business. For example, in a recent session I facilitated, a number of participants inquired about the process to obtain the ESOL endorsement. These teachers were interested in engaging in learning about second language acquisition, linguistics, language assessments and cultural diversity. How exciting!

All challenges are opportunities for growth. Your colleagues will greatly appreciate your ability to serve as a valuable resource for them and the students you serve.


Notes on Professional Development

In a perfect world, PD would be ongoing and embedded into practice, not a one-stop shopping approach. It would include coaching, lots of follow-up and self-directed independent studies. Unfortunately this is not the case everywhere. With the right approach, however, including these components will eventually become part of the fabric of your school community.

In addition, continue to reach out your colleagues who have experience providing PD to adult learners. They can help you highlight salient points within a given timeframe. Be sure to share your PowerPoint presentations and any other materials you plan to use with them to review. Sometimes an outsider looking in can be your best and safest critique. Lastly, additional suggestions for PowerPoint presentations include:

  • Spelling out terms used in acronyms
  • Sharing basic information about English language proficiency standards and assessments (e.g., when / how these assessments are administered)
  • Including culturally diverse images
  • Reducing the amount of text on each slide
  • Providing links to websites and other online resources
  • Thanking everyone for their time and attention

For additional information about professional development for content teachers, see the following:

Share My Lesson. For teachers, by teachers.

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

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