Identifying the Needs of English Learners
English learners (ELs) have unique needs requiring targeted instructional approaches to support their language acquisition and academic success.
- ELs need instruction tailored to their language proficiency level. Because ELs come from diverse linguistic backgrounds, their English language skills may vary widely. Therefore, it is essential to assess their language abilities and design instruction that meets their needs.
- ELs deserve access to the same content and curriculum as their peers. This ensures they are exposed to grade-level academic content while developing their English language skills. Teachers can incorporate instructional strategies that scaffold content, such as visuals, graphic organizers, and word banks, to facilitate comprehension and engagement.
- ELs need ample opportunities to practice speaking, listening, reading, and writing in English. Creating a language-rich environment that encourages meaningful interactions among peers and with the teacher is crucial. Teachers can incorporate collaborative activities, discussions, and cooperative learning strategies, like reciprocal teaching, that promote speaking and listening skills. Additionally, providing reading materials at different levels and genres with resources like Newsela and CommonLit, and assigning writing tasks that focus on language development, can strengthen their reading and writing skills.
- Culturally responsive teaching is also vital for supporting ELs. Recognizing and valuing their diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences fosters a sense of belonging and enhances engagement in the classroom. Teachers can incorporate culturally relevant materials, celebrate multicultural events, and encourage students to share their cultural perspectives and knowledge. This approach helps create an inclusive and supportive learning environment that respects and appreciates the diversity within the ELL population.
Equality vs. Equity: Are We Meeting ELs’ Needs?
First, we must be clear about the difference between equality and equity. Equality is when everyone gets the same experience and resources.
Equity recognizes that individual students need different inputs to reach a particular output. So, some students will need more of our time and energy resources or more support and scaffolding to reach a specific learning goal.
Equity recognizes that ELs require additional assistance and accommodations to overcome language barriers and thrive in the classroom. Instruction tailored to their language proficiency level acknowledges their diverse language backgrounds and varying levels of English proficiency. By differentiating instruction to meet individual needs, teachers can provide targeted support, scaffold learning, and gradually increase linguistic demands to facilitate their language acquisition journey. This approach recognizes that ELs may require extra time, support, and specialized instructional strategies to attain the same academic standards as their English-speaking peers.
Leveraging Blended Learning Models to Ensure Equity
The teacher-led whole-group lesson design makes it challenging to ensure ELs get an equitable experience since it limits how much time teachers can spend supporting individual students. Often lectures or mini-lessons are provided to the whole group, presenting significant barriers for ELs who may not have the language skills or prior knowledge to access the information. They may also struggle with the pace at which the information is presented since native English speakers may talk fast.
Participating in a whole group, teacher-led discussions can also be intimidating for ELs. Language barriers may make ELs uncomfortable expressing their ideas in English in front of the entire group. This can hinder their engagement and participation in classroom activities, preventing them from fully benefiting from the learning experience.
These are just a few of the challenges that the whole group dynamic presents when attempting to provide ELs with an equitable learning experience.
Leveraging Blended Learning Models to Ensure Equity
Unlike the whole-group, teacher-led approach to lesson design, blended learning models create time and space for teachers to work with small groups or individual learners to provide the specific inputs they need to reach a particular learning objective or output.
For example, in a station rotation lesson, teachers can group students strategically and provide differentiated instruction, support, and modeling at the teacher-led station. They can also use this teacher-led small group time to provide focused feedback as students work on writing or engage a small group in a discussion to practice their speaking and listening skills. During these small group interactions, the teacher collects valuable formative assessment data they can use to continually improve their ELs’ learning experience.
Teachers using blended learning models, like the station rotation model, can create an equitable learning environment where ELs receive the attention and support they need for their individual language development. The flexibility of these models allows teachers to customize instruction, adapt to students’ individual needs, and maximize learning outcomes. Through targeted small-group or individual instruction and the strategic use of technology, teachers can ensure that ELs have equitable access to tailored language support.
Blended learning can help educators meet the unique needs of English language learners, ensuring they receive equitable opportunities to succeed academically and linguistically while embracing their diverse identities and experiences.
Teachers interested in learning more about how they can prioritize small group instruction with the station rotation model can check out my mini-course!