ells multicultural leaders

School leaders reveal the common sense keys to ELL success


Two educational leaders share their districts’ strategies for supporting ELLs; specifically by meeting ELLs where they are.

Supplemental reading and language tools have proven essential in these settings, especially for 9th– through 12th-grade students. Through my department and grants, we fund specific programs for our ELLs such as ESL Reading Smart and Imagine Learning. The district has also committed to Newsela and Vocabulary.com. We use Reading Horizons to engage ELL students with age-appropriate basic literacy skills. It focuses on foundational literacy skills, while still keeping our middle and high school students interested.

While we strive to build our students’ English literacy skills, BCPS values supporting native-language instruction as well. ELLs are often students who are intent on succeeding in English while maintaining their language and culture. BCPS has made a commitment to bilingual education. The district currently offers a dual-language program in Spanish at 41 elementary schools and French in one. In addition, our high schools offer 10 different world language courses. One of the Bilingual/ESOL department’s roles is to provide students a pathway to biliteracy so they can ultimately graduate with the Florida Seal of Biliteracy.

In all these efforts, we strive towards ensuring that everyone in our district understands that knowing another language besides English is an asset, not a deficit.

Jose Aldaco: Offering Language Modeling for Every Student

Waterford Unified School District, located just outside of Modesto, is a diverse district where 63 percent of our student population is Hispanic, and 30 percent are ELLs. Research shows that if ELLs are not reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade, then the likelihood of them graduating from high school dramatically drops. This is the primary reason why we work hard to ensure all ELLs have equal access to education and the tools they need to achieve success.

While a majority of our ELLs speak English, their parents are first or second-generation immigrants who speak Spanish, meaning students do not have exposure to English at home, and overall, have limited knowledge of the language functions. We call these students “language deprived,” since the only opportunities for clear English language modeling they receive are at school.

Young people require multiple opportunities to listen and interact with proficient English speakers in order to successfully learn the language. Additionally, it is with and through language that students learn, think, and express information, ideas, perspectives, and questions. Since we know that in many cases school is the only place where proficient English is spoken, we need to make sure each lesson has maximum effect, allowing each student to hear every word spoken in the classroom.

To help our ELLs, teachers focus on modeling and having students use complete sentences, utilize academic language appropriately, and employ sentence stems to promote students’ use of complex language. Teacher-led close reading activities also play a role in the acquisition of academic language. English learners benefit from visual aids, as well. For this reason, we equip all classrooms with LCD projectors and document cameras, and provide Chromebooks to students, which serve to support staff in the facilitation of learning.

To reach every student regardless of where they are seated in the classroom, we implemented a variety of Lightspeed classroom audio systems including two-way pods, Redcats, and Topcats, in every 4th– through 8th-grade room. The audio systems allow students to hear clear language modeling and crisp pronunciation from the teacher. Our teachers use the audio systems to amplify their own voices, and students utilize the system during presentations and during in-class participation opportunities, which helps build their English skills and confidence when speaking a new language.

Since the implementation of the audio systems and clear language modeling, teachers report that students are more attentive and have a better time following instructions, as they can hear and process enunciated words appropriately. Our hope is that all of these tech tools with help our teachers as well as our English-speaking students become role models for ELLs as they develop the language skills they need to be successful in our society.

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