California's ELA/ELD Framework: Bringing It All Together

In working with content and ESL teachers in multiple states, I've often found that teachers feel most comfortable using their "own" standards in teaching English Language Learners (ELLs). That is, content teachers may use primarily content standards, and ESL teachers may focus their instruction around their state's English Language Proficiency or Development (ELP/D) standards if they're not co-teaching.

While educators often hear that they should plan instruction for ELLs around both content and language standards, in reality it's often difficult to integrate both sets of standards in planning and instruction without strong and clear guidance.

That challenge has been particularly evident these past few years, since the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were written separately from and not aligned to ELP/D standards. However, one state stands out in terms of providing an unprecedented level of guidance on integrating both content and language standards for ELLs.

"As California goes, so goes the nation." Hopefully that's the case with the state's innovative English Language Arts/English Language Development (ELA/ELD) Framework. This groundbreaking effort, including multiple implementation supports, makes great strides in filling a gaping hole that has made implementing the CCSS for ELLs such a challenging feat.

The California State Board of Education adopted the ELA/ELD Framework in July 2014, and the final, edited digital version was published in July 2015. I first heard about it at the California Department of Education's Accountability Leadership Institute ALI conference in December 2015. I would like to share the framework with a wider audience so that districts and states outside of California can learn from this work.

To that end, in this blog post, I'll provide an overview of the framework and describe its distinctive features, provide five key themes of ELA/Literacy and ELD instruction included throughout the document, and highlight sample guidance and instructional suggestions for each grade level or grade level cluster. I'll end with some ideas on what this framework could mean for you in your work with ELLs.

What Is the ELA/ELD Framework?

The framework's main function is to provide a blueprint for the implementation of the following two sets of standards:

The framework aligns with both sets of standards, which are state-specific. (California modified the Common Core standards in 2013 and has its own state-wide system of ELD standards.)

The framework is also intended to:

  • Provide instructional guidance and lesson ideas for teachers
  • Translate research into practice
  • Guide districts in curriculum development and program design
  • Guide professional learning and leadership
  • Direct publishers to provide high quality materials to teachers of ELLs.

Comprised of twelve chapters and an extensive appendix, which total more than 1000 pages of user-friendly text, the framework begins with one chapter each on the Overview of the Standards and Key Considerations in ELA/Literacy and ELD Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. Next, five chapters of content and pedagogy follow that support ELLs in transitional kindergarten (or PreK) through grade twelve. Five additional chapters include:

  • Assessment
  • Access and Equity
  • Learning in the 21st Century
  • Professional Learning, Leadership, and Program Supports
  • Instructional Materials to Support the CA CCSS for ELA/Literacy and CA ELD Standards. 

Distinctive Features of the Framework

While there are many valuable features of the framework, some especially noteworthy pieces are that it's organized around a set of guiding principles and beliefs, which speak to shared responsibility and effective teaching as well as other topics. The framework:

  • Promotes an integrated and interdisciplinary approach to literacy and language instruction;
  • Positions cultural diversity, multilingualism, and biliteracy as valuable resources and assets;
  • Extends the notion of shared responsibility to emphasizing shared responsibility for literacy and language instruction among all educators;
  • Includes snapshots and vignettes of practice that teachers can adopt and adapt; and
  • Calls for collaboration among various stakeholders in ELLs' education (e.g., teachers, specialists, administrators, families, and communities).

As an advocate for ELLs, these guiding principles and beliefs are music to my ears!

Five Key Themes of ELA/Literacy and ELD Instruction

There are five cross-cutting themes which the CA CCSS ELA/Literacy and ELD Standards share. To me, these themes are especially beneficial in illuminating how the two sets of standards fit together. The five themes are summarized below:

  1. Meaning Making is at the heart of ELA/Literacy and ELD instruction and is the central purpose for interacting with text, producing text, engaging in research, participating in discussions, and giving presentations.
  2. Language Development is the cornerstone of literacy and learning. Students enrich their language as they read, write, speak, and listen and as they interact with one another and learn about language.
  3. Effective Expression is included in each strand of the CA CCSS for ELA/Literacy and each part of the CA ELD Standards. Students learn how to effectively express themselves as writers, discussion partners, and presenters while gaining command over the conventions of written and spoken English.
  4. Content Knowledge contributes to students' comprehension of text and undergirds the ability to produce different types of writing. It also contributes significantly to language development and is fundamental to learning about how the English language works.
  5. Foundational Skills enable students to independently read and use written language for multiple purposes. Students who can decode are best positioned to make significant strides in the four key themes of meaning making, language development, effective expression, and content knowledge.

Guidance and Instructional Suggestions

Each of the grade-level chapters includes the following features:

  • Discussions of content and pedagogy
  • Descriptions of and suggestions for ELD instruction
  • Snapshots of practice
  • Vignettes of practice
  • Figures that provide information on crucial areas of ELA/literacy or ELD content or pedagogy
  • Samples of student writing with annotations
  • Research findings on effective teaching practices for students experiencing difficulty with literacy.

I encourage you to take a look at the grade-level chapter(s) that correspond to the grades of the ELLs you teach for some new ideas, even if you don't teach in California. Also, consider reading other grade-level chapters for even more ideas.

While the five chapters dedicated to specific grade levels provide ample guidance and instructional suggestions to support ELLs during content and language instruction, I've pulled out and summarized a few key examples at different grade levels below to highlight the rich suggestions for instruction.

Grade Level

Sample Guidance and Instructional Suggestions

Transitional Kindergarten (PreK)

Encourage children to address one another in discussions, model and teach students to make eye contact with single and multiple listeners as they share their thoughts.


Discuss language, including interesting words, sentence constructions, and more extended discourse structures in read aloud texts, thus building language awareness.

First Grade

Create word-conscious environments to pique children's interest in words. Talk about word origins and draw attention to interesting words. Highlight the relationships among words (e.g., word, reword, wordy; final, finally, finalized), including words from different languages (i.e., cognates such as 'different' and diferente).

Second Grade

Children learn spelling patterns through direct instruction and through exploration and close examination of words. They can sort selected word cards based on a pattern or principle.

Third Grade

To help ELLs prepare for discussions, they can draw a picture that reflects an important point or theme and use the picture as the springboard for discussion. They can record reactions, points needing clarification, main ideas, or questions in a log and use the notes during the discussion.

Fourth Grade

Be selective about which words to teach, generally targeting those that require more than a synonym for explanation, are vital to understanding of a concept of text, and have high applicability – in other words, general academic (Tier 2) words. Teach students to use word parts, context, and resources to determine the meanings of words. Create many opportunities for discussions about how language works to make meaning, moving beyond the word level.

Fifth Grade

Provide different types of scaffolds for writing depending on the ELL's proficiency level. For an ELL at the Emerging (beginning) level to be able to write a story, consider providing a graphic organizer that structures the narrative into predictable stages, share a model story, highlight the expected language use, provide sentence frames, and allow ELLs to use bilingual dictionaries as appropriate.

Sixth Grade

Guide students to develop their collaboration and discussion skills by using techniques that promote productive and equitable group work. Small group roles may include Summarizer, Connector, Questioner, Passage/Quote Finder, Textbook Detective (nonfiction) or Researcher (fiction), Illustrator, Word Wizard, and Discussion Director. 

Seventh Grade

In collaborative discussions, students pose questions that elicit elaboration and make relevant observations. Use sentence starters or frames to scaffold student discussions, such as: What do you mean when you say ________? Why do you think that _________? Why does ______ do __________? Why does the author ___________?

Eighth Grade

To build students' metalinguistic awareness of language and its conventions, students can select a sentence or brief passage that is confusing for reasons other than vocabulary (e.g., grammatically complex, contains figurative language). Write the sentence or passage for all students to see with students identifying punctuation, transition words, and phrases that help illuminate the meaning. Facilitate students thinking aloud and talking about the strategies they are using to clarify the meaning.

Ninth & Tenth Grades

During classroom discussions, use various "moves" to help students focus on the text such as revoicing (interpreting what students may be struggling to express and rephrasing the idea), modeling (using think alouds to demonstrate thinking about the text), and recapping (summarizing when it is clear that students have grasped the ideas and are ready to move on).

Eleventh & Twelfth Grades

Students are expected to study syntax and vary its use for effect in their writing. A way to help students learn about syntax is to identify sentences with effective uses of syntax from a text being studied and help students analyze them together. Present simplified versions of the chosen original sentences and have students discuss the differences in the sentences' effect.

What This Framework Could Mean for You

Even if you don't teach in California or have access to a framework of this scale for your state, you can use some of the content of the framework in your own context. Here are four ways you might consider implementing this work with your own ELLs. I present each suggestion first in an environment in which collaboration is established and then in a context in which teachers might be flying solo:  

  1. Define the connections between your own content and ELP/D standards – You can highlight ways in which your content and ELP/D standards overlap and describe which themes connect both sets of standards. Discussing the connections between both sets of standards with content and ESOL colleagues will help you chart a clearer course for ways to then integrate both sets of standards in supporting ELLs, both at a school and district level. If you're on your own, you can still define these connections between your content and ELP/D standards for your own use and to share with teachers who are open to supporting ELLs.
  2. Develop your own guiding principles for implementing both sets of standards – After taking a closer look at both sets of standards and defining their overlap, you can write your own guiding principles grounded in both sets of standards. These guiding principles should define the framework from which you collaboratively create a vision for supporting ELLs in your school or district. A good place to begin is to look at guiding principles from your state's ELP/D standards and adapt them with input from content and ESOL colleagues. If that level of collaboration has not been established yet, you can still draft your own guiding principles to frame your work with ELLs and look for opportunities to share it wtih colleagues.
  3. Create an action plan to integrate both sets of standards – After you complete steps 1 and 2, you are in a position to collaborate with your colleagues to develop an action plan for ways to integrate content and ELP/D standards in your school or context. This integration may mean collaborative curriculum mapping, choosing standards-aligned instructional materials suitable for ELLs, or creating a professional development plan that focuses on integrating both sets of standards. If you're working in a less collaborative environment, you can create an action plan for your own use to integrate both sets of standards. If you're involved in any of the activities suggested here (and if you're not invited, I suggest you invite yourself on behalf of ELLs!), you can share your action plan.  
  4. Pull out strategies and supports for ELLs at your grade level that are mapped to your content and ELP/D standards – Read through the grade-level chapters to determine which strategies and supports might be effective for your ELLs in moving them toward meeting content and language standards. ESOL and content teachers can collaborate around ways to implement new strategies and supports and evaluate their effectiveness with the support of administrators. If you're in a less collaborative context, you can still pull out and adapt strategies and supports that you can use with your ELLs to meet both sets of standards.

Please let me know other ways in which the ELA/ELD Framework can support your practice with ELLs!

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