Teaching English Learners: A New Educator’s Practice Guide from the What Works Clearinghouse

We have better, stronger evidence about teaching academic content to English learners than we did a decade ago. That’s the conclusion of a new guide for educators from the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse. The guide — Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle Schoolrecommends four practices for instructing English learners and provides advice on how to carry out the practices, including sample lessons. The guide is geared to a wide spectrum of educators who are not necessarily specialists in instructing English learners: classroom teachers, content-area teachers, special education teachers, administrators, para-educators, and instructional coaches.

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To produce the guide, the What Works Clearinghouse engaged a panel of eight distinguished education researchers and district-based curriculum experts to review and rate the research evidence, develop the recommendations, provide concrete examples of the recommendations in action, and summarize tips for successful classroom implementation.

The guide offers four recommendations. They are: 1) Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities; 2) Integrate oral and written English language instruction into content-area teaching; 3) Provide regular, structured opportunities to develop written language skills and 4) Provide small-group instructional intervention to students struggling in literacy and English language development.

Each recommendation is accompanied by tips on carrying out the recommendations.  For example, to implement the first recommendation, the guide suggests choosing brief, engaging informational text that includes academic vocabulary and selecting a set of academic vocabulary words for in-depth content instruction. The guide recommends teaching the vocabulary using multiple modalities and word-learning strategies—such as context clues, word parts and cognates—to help students independently figure out the meanings of words. Each of these suggestions is amplified by even more detailed guidance and lesson plans that further illustrate the recommendations in action.  A “Putting It All Together” section at the end of each recommendation incorporates all of the “how-to-steps” into a lesson cycle, to be implemented over a few days, that demonstrates the lesson in its entirety.  All in all, the guide has over 20 supplemental activities for instructors. And because the panelists are familiar with the difficulties of implementing new practices, each recommendation is followed by a section called “Roadblocks and Solutions,” which anticipates potential hurdles and offers advice on how to get over them.

This guide is one of 18 Educator’s Practice Guides published since 2006 by the What Works Clearinghouse.  Each guide addresses a practical education topic related to classroom instruction, school organization, or keeping students on track. Other recent guides have addressed teaching math to young children and writing instruction in the early elementary grades.

Be sure to register for our May 1 (3pm EDT) online presentation and discussion on the guide with panel members Scott Baker, Nonie Lesaux, and C. Patrick Proctor.  The hosts will discuss the recommendations and answer your questions. Register here.

Vanessa Anderson is a research scientist and project officer at the What Works Clearinghouse

1 Comment

  1. Our school welcomed our first part-time ELL instructor this year. Together, our counseling, administration and teachers have formed a blended partnership to serve the academic and social needs of all our students. We appreciate your resources and professional development opportunities.

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