Innovation in ELL bodes well for K-12 students

New strategies to teach and foster interest in learning can help in the classroom

Personalized learning is gaining popularity in the U.S., and so is innovation in English Language Learning. The combination of those two trends bodes well for K-12 ELL student population.

It’s clear that a present need exists. California has a reported 1.4 million ELL students, and number of U.S. students who speak foreign languages at home now totals 4 million. The Institute of Education Statistics found that the District of Columbia, Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas have public school ELL populations of around 10%. In California, that percentage is 22.8%.

States have tried to tackled the need to serve these students in various ways, including investing money into proactive support programs. Utah, for example, now invests $2 million per year for language immersion programs teaching Mandarin Chinese, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish in the classroom to roughly 25,000 students in order to increase global competitiveness for monolingual students.

President Obama’s "1 Million Strong" initiative, unveiled in September 2015, strives to teach Mandarin to one million American students by the year 2020.

Yet educators remain divided on how best to tackle the issue of ELL, and teaching methodology continues to change and evolve.

A collaborative November 2015 study from the Stanford University Graduate School of Education and San Francisco Unified School District proved that bilingual instruction is best for English language learners, yet a shortage of qualified bilingual teachers exists nationwide. The study reported that the number of dual-language programs in U.S. schools has increased tenfold over the last decade.

New York, for example, is expanding dual-language programs. New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced plans to expand or create 40 new K-12 dual-language programs last January. The primary focus will be on Spanish, but Japanese, Hebrew, Chinese, French and Haitian-Creole will also be available.

Other approaches include folding ELL learners in with non-ELL learners.

In Oregon, the Oregon Department of Education recently recognized the success of eight school districts, including the David Douglas School District (DDSD), with unique new ELL programs. There, the "Language for All" model focuses heavily on inclusivity.

Instead of separating ELL students from their regular classrooms for individualized instruction time, all elementary school students — not just ELL students — participate every day in oral-language development time.

That means non-native English speakers aren’t singled out, and a greater sense of community is fostered in the classroom.

Other approaches focus on blended learning and personalization. Interactive ELL programs developed by Vermont’s Middlebury Interactive for elementary, middle and high school students aim to provide more cultural competency while encouraging students to execute independent, self-directed projects.

After a two-year pilot in Connecticut’s Hartford Public Schools, districts including Clarke County, GA, Oakland, CA, and Lawrence, MA have started using the programs, bringing the total reach to 1800 student participants.

Earlier this month, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE) evaluated how well their product was doing to help English learners in the classroom.

The study, which was conducted in Hartford Public Schools over the 2014-15 school year, found improvement in ELL assessments and increased support among teachers, parents and students for what Middlebury Interactive calls “culturally-authentic, rigorous digital curriculum.” CRRE also found  “a measurable benefit to pilot students according to both quantitative and qualitative factors” existed.

Middlebury Interactive also offers a professional development component to ELL teachers.

Yet districts looking to implement new ELL programs may want to wait before diving in. Because accountability in ELL learning under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) still hasn’t been resolved, some experts have questioned how, exactly, ESSA will impact ELL.

Last week, as policymakers and experts traded ideas and hashed out compromises in ESSA, English Language Learning (ELL) was under the microscope as a discussion focused on the validity and reliability of ELL tests.  

State regulations and federal guidance around ELL under ESSA is expected to be released in the coming year.

Filed Under: K12