CAL Brief: Responses to Questions About Implementing the Common Core with ELLs

Hi everyone!  Diane has been at GATESOL this week in Georgia and continues her busy fall travel schedule, and Ayanna Cooper will provide the next installment of her series on planning professional development around Common Core and ELLs next week.

In the meantime, I want to share a great new resource with you just launched this week. The Center for Applied Linguistics has recently published a practitioner brief entitled Implementing the Common Core for English Learners: Responses to Common Questions.

Now that educators and researchers alike are digging into the Common Core, more substantive conversations are emerging about what the new standards mean for ELLs, and this brief does a good job painting the big picture as well as offering specific and practical ideas for the classroom. (As someone who has been hunting for helpful resources on the Common Core and ELLs since the publication of the standards, it's exciting to see the discussion about implementation continue to evolve and to discover great resources such as this one!)

What makes this particular brief so useful is that it is based on educators’ questions about the new standards encountered by the CAL team in their professional development sessions. These questions have been raised by a variety of educators, including ESL teachers, content-area teachers, coaches, and administrators, and the authors offer suggestions that address each of those audiences throughout the brief.

What the brief includes

The authors first provide an overview to three significant language and literacy demands of the Common Core and explain what those demands (also referred to as shifts) will mean for ELLs.  These are:

  • Language and literacy across all content areas and grades
  • Increased use of informational text
  • Focus on argumentation, such as citing evidence or defending a thesis statement

In addition to teasing out the implications of these shifts for ELLs, the authors provide specific classroom strategies for each of the three demands.

The authors then address five frequently asked questions about the Common Core and ELLs that they are hearing from teachers around the country, providing research-based responses to those questions and related classroom ideas.   You are sure to recognize at least a few – if not all – of them!  Here they are:

  1. The CCSS refer to the “conventions of standard English.” Does that mean I should explicitly teach grammar using traditional methods?
  2. Some of my students are still learning English. Can they meaningfully engage in activities that are aligned with the CCSS?
  3. According to the CCSS, students have to independently engage in close reading of complex grade-level text. Should I still build background knowledge?
  4. The CCSS for English language arts include recommended texts. Are these texts appropriate for English learners? What other kinds of texts should I use? How can I help English learners decode and comprehend texts at the recommended level of complexity?
  5. The CCSS do not address the first languages of English learners. Are there ways to incorporate students’ first languages in instruction and still meet the objectives of the Common Core?

This brief is useful not only in elucidating the opportunities and challenges that the Common Core presents to ELLs, but in moving that conversation to classroom application.  It may be helpful to share with colleagues or to use in your own preparation in answering colleagues’ questions about implementing the Common Core and ELLs.

We’d love to hear from you – how else might you use this brief in your Common Core work?

Note: One of the authors of the report, Jennifer Himmel, wrote an excellent article on the use of language objectives with ELLs for Colorin Colorado, which also includes a brief video clip from our interview with adviser Dr. Cynthia Lundgren at Hamline University.

CAL: Accelerating the Common Core

CAL will be continuing its Common Core work with the Gates Foundation around its new initiative, Accelerating the Common Core. The main goal of this two-year project involves improving teachers’ implementation of the Common Core State Standards for students learning English by providing online support for secondary teachers. You can learn more from the CAL website.


Duguay, A., Massoud, L., Tabaku, L., Himmel, J., & Sugarman, J. (2013).  Implementing the Common Core for English learners: Responses to common questions (Practitioner Brief). Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.


does any of this address immigrant status?

Hi Mara,

The CAL brief and the Common Core do not address immigration status, but it will be interesting to see how the "college- and career-readiness" conversation shapes up around the possibility of immigration reform. Thanks for your question!

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