Teacher Reflections: Common Core Language Arts and ELLs

The following resources focus on ideas for supporting English language learner instruction in language arts and literacy in the Common Core classroom. Topics cover reading literature and informational text, complex text, and writing.

Featured resources include teacher journals from our Common Core in Albuquerque project.


Clara Gonzales-Espinoza: Reader response

To better understand the CCSS, I had to delve into how they organized reading skills into a kind of grid. It is a grid that offers a set of skills for readers of every age, and for both fiction and informational. As I read across the grades, I've noticed that the specific expectations for the skills grow.

I also notice what the standards value and devalue in reading comprehension — deeper comprehension and higher level thinking skills — but what skills in particular? By looking at what they give repeated attention to and what they leave out I can better judge what the standards value. For example these phases are repeated:

  • "demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text"
  • "refer to details and examples in a text"
  • "quote accurately from a text"
  • "compare and contrast"
  • "analyze."

These phrases are not in the Common Core: make text-to-self connections, access prior knowledge, explore personal response, and relate to your own life. In short, the Common Core deemphasizes reading as a personal act and emphasis textual analysis. In focusing on textual analysis as the primary means of comprehending and interpreting texts, I have realized the Common Core puts aside theories of reader response.

This is a major shift for me since Rosenblatt, who states quite explicitly that the meaning of texts resides in the interaction of the reader and the text, has influenced my work. If I have two readers reading Charlotte's Web they can't and won't see the same things in it because their own experiences partially shapes their interpretation. Even the same reader at different ages will see different things in the text.

My plan is to assess my student's current reading practices. I'm going to ask them to discuss a story and find out if they veer off into discussions of their own experiences. I know they will continue to need more support with academic, text-based responses.

Deborah Mathen: The shift

What is the shift? I would say that for me the shift has been two essential things. #1.) Using lexile appropriate text for the grade level the student is in. This of course goes for what we mostly know as common core/whole group instruction. Of course, there will always be students in a Tier IB, II, and III setting that need more work at their independent levels. #2.) To access comprehension of grade level text, (the teacher's shift comes here), educators will need to use higher-level questioning/thinking strategies. For example, in a math lesson 1/2 + 3/4, is a low level question, basically recall. However, a higher-level question would be to ask students what fraction of the weekend did they spend eating, sleeping, doing chores, reading, and watching TV. Learning to really scaffold vs. spoon feed the students is what I think is the shift.

Deborah Mathen: Reading intervention

Today I just spent the day at my reading intervention training session and we listened to Richard Allington. He of course talks about highly successful reading practices. Read, read, read, is his mantra. Don't use one-size fits all programs. Individualize and differentiate.

When reading through the Common Core Standards I get the feeling that, in a nutshell, reading is about accessing grade level text with appropriate scaffolding. He mentioned today that you read a text that is at your instructional level to gain the prior knowledge and then reading the higher-level text is easier to grasp. I really liked this technique.

Clara Gonzales-Espinoza: Informational reading

A student approached me last month and asked if I would refer her to the "Gifted Program." She is a very intelligent bilingual student who is extremely conscientious about school. As I sat with her and her mother during parent teacher student conferences the issue of nonfiction reading (Scholastic News) once again came up. She continues to struggle with this type of reading. She quite frankly admits she doesn't understand how to read the graphs and maps and often gets confused with the columns.

During our conversation, her mom tells her that knowledge is good and having knowledge will help her to be more informed. She begins telling a story about the day she received a small paper bird for her birthday from a co-worker. She admits she didn't know why she was given this particular bird but graciously accepted the gift. Once she arrived at home she showed her daughter her present. Her daughter shouted, "It is a paper crane & it means good luck." She immediately tells her mother about the story of Sadako & The Thousand Paper Cranes and how Sadako got leukemia because of the radiation her mother was exposed to when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. Her mom gently touched her arm and told her she had obtained "knowledge."

As I reflected on this conference I was reminded that the CCSS stress the importance of informational reading. The grade level specifics for informational reading follow the same logic as those for literature. The difference lies in the kind of comprehension involved. It was evident my student had knowledge about the cause of Sadako's illness. Her understanding of the time period was due to the fact that she had researched World War II.

As I think about how the standards focus readers on the work of analyzing the claims texts make, the soundness and sufficiency of their evidence, and the way a text's language and craft may reveal points of view I am reminded the CCSS for reading literature demand extremely sophisticated reading practices. In other words these standards invite readers into a highly analytical mode, where the reader must read for much more than information. I honestly admit this is new reading work not only for students but for most teachers.

Clara Gonzales-Espinoza: Helping ELLs meet high standards

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.

Loyola Garcia: "Text Complexity Is the New Black"

One of the members of our cadre recently gave us an article titled "Text Complexity Is the New Black." This was a very powerful article for me when considering implementation of CCSS. I feel that one of the greatest changes for teachers in implementing the new standards is going to be helping children to develop a deeper knowledge base & take ownership in their skills. The article stated that we should be making sure that we are using text that is challenging children in order to help them grow. As a teacher, I feel that this fits well with my educational philosophy. I want to always make sure that I have high expectations of the children, and I feel that CCSS is going to help me to have those high expectations because of the skills that they require at each grade level.

The article mentioned that we should be instructing children at 2-3 levels above their independent level. I agree, and feel that if children are going to grow in their abilities they must constantly be challenged. I also feel that children cannot only be given a harder text and left to struggle. They must be supported by the teacher. It has been nice to have Diane August on board as a consultant while developing lessons with the cadre. She has helped our group to learn how to render text and make it accessible to children. When children are given complex text, they need to be supported by the teacher in order to make meaning of the text.

In my experience, children need to be explicitly taught how to deal with unknown vocabulary and use context clues to make meaning. An important part of learning to read for children is learning how to interact with text. The best way to model and give children experiences to help them develop comprehension strategies is through rendering (breaking apart) complex text. Teachers need professional development in order to develop this skill and implement CCSS to the best of their ability.

Norma Lujan-Quiñones: Reading rich text with ELLs

We discussed Lily Wong Fillmore's views on the CCSS. One of the things she talks about is how text materials are made very simple for ELLS not allowing them to access what they are supposed to learn. The simple material does not give them opportunity to practice language that is present in rich text. However, simple, decodable texts may be needed but not for a long time. She states for about a year and not much longer. She emphasizes how complex language skills are accomplished only by exposing them and working with materials that are complex. Students need rich experiences with text. They need complexity of content and text. And teachers must practice strategies that are about complexity.

We as teachers should never underestimate what our students can do. They come with much knowledge. But they need to be given the opportunities by teachers. We need to provide them with rich literacy. In my classroom, I have the students read ear to ear. They pick books that are appropriate independent reading material. I am one of those teachers that spend many hours leveling my books. However, I learned today that although it is good practice to match readers with appropriate text, they also need to learn how to read more complex texts in order to have a balance of both. This is where teachers scaffold and support their students. They need to feel successful, AND they need to feel challenged. This is where the learning takes place.

Lynne Harper: Lexile levels

learned to check the Lexiles before I start a reading selection with my students. It needs to be grade equivalent. My question is: what do I do with my classroom at Kennedy where I have multi grades? Do I pick an 8th grade book or a 6th grade book for a basic class? I also learned that the lexile number would be gong up even more. What I would consider to be a high school reading is now 6th or 7th grade.

Video Interviews: Language Arts and ELLs

Teachers, researchers, and policy experts continue their discussion of Language Arts and Literature instruction for ELLs in this video interviews. Complete interviews are available in our Common Core resource section.

Text Complexity

Informational Text

Reading and ELLs



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