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January 2016 - This month’s focus: Language

“English language learners should not have to give up their language, their culture, or their diversity as the price for learning English. When ELL students walk into a classroom in this country, they should not be limited in their access to an equitable and excellent education. For that to occur, teachers and schools must be equipped to serve them.” – Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA President and CEO

Published 10 times a year, each edition explores issues facing U.S. education today and strategies to better serve every student. This newsletter is published in print and on the IDRA website, in addition to this eLetter format.

Three Teaching Strategies for Scaffolding Instruction for English Learners in the Content Classroom

by Paula Johnson, M.A.

In my early years as a high school math teacher, I often felt that I was short-changing my students whose first language was not English as they transitioned into my classroom. Not being fluent in any other languages, I didn’t feel confident in my ability to deliver instruction to English learners. I had not received professional development that would have given me the proper tools to increase my instructional capacity for scaffolding information.

Over the years, I have taken every advantage of opportunities that would add to my “toolkit” of strategies. These practices are useful for teachers across disciplines and for students of all ages. All teachers can successfully contribute to the development of academic language and vocabulary.

Effective teachers scaffold instructional content for English learners by supporting development of academic language and objectives by first modeling a desired task, then gradually shifting responsibility to the students. For example, sentence stems may at first be provided to assist students in formulating responses to questions. These may either be posted around the room or listed directly on learning materials. Over time, these stems will be reduced and later removed once students have mastered this skill.

This article highlights three teaching strategies that have been proven effective in scaffolding instruction for English learners in the classroom. Each of the strategies below includes a brief description, counter examples and benefits for English learners. It should be noted that these practices It should be noted that these practices support learning for all students, not just English learners. – Keep reading

Transformative and Effective School Leadership in Culturally Diverse Environments

by Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., and Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D.

Much has been written about the core competencies of effective school leadership, but less is studied about the transformative effect of these qualities within culturally diverse learning environments. This article explores a few examples of the virtues and transformational qualities of educational leaders working with diverse student populations. It poses the question of self-transformation as requisite for systemic transformation.

As a starting point for reflection, following are some virtues of transformative school leaders within a diverse learning environment for consideration.

Transformative school leaders display two inseparable aspects of their vocation: service and professionalism. Both of these are essential in order to dissolve the pessimism that causes schools to stagnate into inaction in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. – Keep reading

Giving English Learners Access to Language and Curriculum in Rural Arkansas

by Kristin Grayson, Ph.D.

Upon request, the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity recently returned to southern Arkansas to assess rural districts’ needs in response to the growing numbers of English learners (ELs) in public schools.

At about the same time, the U.S. Department of Education released a new English Learner Toolkit (September 2015). As IDRA met with directors of English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs from various school districts, we used the toolkit to shape the discussion about how to better serve EL students. For example, the first two chapters have lists of questions that participants used as an outline for describing their district’s current EL programming and professional development needs for content and grade level teachers. Participants also had access to IDRA’s Good Schools and Classrooms for Children Learning English: A Guide, a resource that districts can use to plan a quality, equity-based program for ELs (Robledo Montecel, et al., 2002).

The group discussed the sources of legal guidance that should form the basis of EL programs that must be provided in public schools. Central to the discussion were the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Lau v. Nichols Supreme Court decision that followed. – Keep reading

IDRA SCCE Assists School Districts to Support Diverse English Learners in Oklahoma

The IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity is one of 10 federally-funded equity assistance centers that provides technical assistance and training to school districts and other local education agencies in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. As exemplified in the article on Page 5, the center helps schools and educators provide an equal opportunity to a quality education for students who by virtue of their race, ethnic background, sex or national origin face being deprived of their civil rights in education.

In another example, the SCCE is working with school district leaders in the two large urban areas of Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In Oklahoma City, where schools are serving students representing more than 70 language groups, the district has launched a districtwide emphasis on building consistency of translation and interpretation to help the district communicate more effectively with parents in their own language.

In Tulsa, through a contract, IDRA is building capacity among the district’s English language development (ELD) coaches to sustain teacher training and support through dynamic coaching and instructional rounds in high-need schools. Additionally, we worked with the Tulsa Public Schools to adapt IDRA’s Good Schools and Classrooms for Children Learning English – A Guide for use at the secondary level for Tulsa PS’s current context. It will be piloted in selected secondary schools in Tulsa to build environments that improve English learner achievement. – Read online

Semillitas de Aprendizaje Bilingual Classroom Materials

Semillitas de Aprendizaje is a bilingual (Spanish/English) supplemental early childhood curriculum, developed by IDRA, based on the art of storytelling. The materials are designed for literacy development with beautifully illustrated and culturally-relevant materials for 3- and 4-year-old children and include:

  • 10 Big Books
  • 10 corresponding unabridged storybooks
  • 15 Math Books focusing on numeracy and social-emotional development
  • 20 Cartitas – Letters Home (10 English, 10 Spanish) with family activities for teachers to send home for parents
  • Teacher Guide (Manual de Maestro) with 10 units in 196 pages to lead your students through the Semillitas de Aprendizaje stories (Each unit has a set of classroom activities that include a morning song, storytelling, literacy connection with STEM explorations, center activities, phonemic awareness, writing and alphabet knowledge, English transition, family connections and informal assessment),
  • Storytelling-Storyreading Video DVD that brings the stories to life through engaging storytelling in Spanish and storyreading in English.

See our eBook about the Semillitas de Aprendizaje™ materials and training on Slideshare

Connect with Us Online

Encourage your friends to sign up for the IDRA Newsletter by email, IDRA eNews, Graduation for All and Classnotes Podcast notices.


Podcasts, Videos, and Digital Resources on Language

Classnotes Podcasts on Language

Civil Rights Update for English Learners – Episode 150

Substantive Conversation in the Classroom – Episode 130 

Building Critical Thinking through Visual Literacy – Episode 140

The Role of Bilingual Ed and ESL in Our Schools – Episode 138

Bilingual Stories for Young Learners – Episode 80

Science Success for English Learners – Episode 93


Watch the video from IDRA’s symposium: School Funding and English Language Learners

See samples from IDRA’s Semillitas de Aprendizaje™ Storytelling & Storyreading Videos DVD on YouTube

Web Resources

IDRA’s Good Schools and Classrooms for Children Learning English: A Guide

English Learner Toolkit

IDRA’s Six Goals of Education Equity

Low Funding for Educating ELLs Affects Students Across Texas – Symposium Proceedings

IDRA statement: “The New ELL Toolkit – Potentially a Great Resource… but Beware of Misuse”

Tool: Info on Science Instructional Strategies for English Learners – A Guide for Elementary and Secondary Grades

Tool: IDRA’s research-based Framework for Effective Instruction of Secondary English Language Learners

We’re here to help!

See How IDRA’s Training and Technical Assistance Can Help Your School or District

With an unwavering commitment to student success, IDRA services provide innovative, practical and sustainable solutions for diverse student populations based on the unique needs of each district, campus or classroom. A few examples of assistance packages include:

  • Assessing and Elevating the Education of English Language Learners Districtwide
  • Transforming Early Childhood Programs to Centers of Excellence
  • Using Semillitas de Aprendizaje™ in the Classroom
  • Coaching and Mentoring Novice Teachers in Culturally Diverse Classroom Settings
  • Implementing Engagement-based Sheltered Instruction
  • Building Authentic Parent and Community Engagement
  • Creating a College Readiness Culture for Success
  • Integrating Math and Science Instructional Strategies for English Learners
  • Mastering Dropout Prevention with the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program
  • Building and Sustaining Professional Learning Communities
  • Conducting Research and Evaluation

Email us for more information.