A guest post
Teresa Vignaroli, ELL Supervisor, Loudoun County Public Schools, Virginia; Julie Baye, ELL School Improvement and Accountability Specialist, Loudoun County Public Schools, Virginia; Giuliana Jahnsen Lewis, ELL Staff Development Trainer, Loudoun County Public Schools, Virginia
Imagine Learning now publishes monthly guest posts in order to stimulate conversations about K12 education across the country. Opinions expressed herein are those of the individual author(s) and may not necessarily reflect the official opinion of Imagine Learning.
Like many other districts in the nation, Loudoun County Public Schools has experienced an influx of older English Language Learners (ELLs).
Currently, nearly twenty-seven percent of our high school ELLs are proficiency level 1 students; forty-five percent are combined proficiency levels 1 and 2 students.
These students bring a myriad of situations and challenges that include varying ethnic backgrounds, low socioeconomic status, differing levels of formal education, and special needs status.
The varying language learner types and their unique needs indicate that there is no one-size-fits-all service delivery model nor one intervention that addresses, in its entirety, the best practices in service delivery models for high school ELLs.
Research, however, indicates that ELLs must have access to standards-aligned curriculum that is rigorous and grade-level appropriate.
Developing a Guide to Quality Instruction
An English Language Learner’s Experience (Giuliana) - Being an English language learner and arriving to a new educational system at the age of fourteen was one of the most challenging experiences that I, personally, faced due to many factors that, as we are all aware, affect the acclimation of language learners into a new cultural and educational environment.
When I was first given a teaching assignment at my dream school, the feeling of excitement, motivation, and determination directed my work.
However, by looking at my students’ profiles, their high need for instruction, and various educational backgrounds, two questions played a much larger role in my purpose for instruction: what do my students need in terms of quality instruction? And how are they going to show success and growth?
As a result, I wanted to provide the best possible learning experience for my students, so that they could become independent learners.
Similarly, my wish was to instill the sense of feeling capable of achieving their goals, which for most was learning English and advancing in their education. It was my sole duty and responsibility to provide the best quality instruction.
After entering the classroom and noticing the lack of a curriculum guide, I decided to create my own. The goal was to create a roadmap for my students’ success during their first year in the LCPS Newcomer English class.
As part of this process, I placed myself back in 1999, right when I was sitting in my own beginner English class learning a new language.
Various thoughts came into play, but most important were the skills, concepts, and vocabulary that I needed in order to advance to the next proficiency level and to feel a sense of independence. I took these three aspects along with various factors and opportunities for differentiation to develop a comprehensive guide, which was implemented and tested for a few years.
As a result, the growth of my students in the four language domains greatly increased. In a few cases, students went from the LCPS Newcomer beginner English class to mainstream English classes.
A student who truly inspired me to pursue this work and experiment with techniques arrived into my classroom more than half way to the end of the school year. He did not only speak English, but also lacked a solid formal education and presented many difficulties to learn.
K was one of those students who was always eager to learn, help others, and try his best at all times. By the time of his arrival, I had a large class of newcomer students from grades 6th through 8th and the need to differentiate and write four to five different plans for one class was my main task.
By utilizing the curriculum guide, K was able to slowly master skills, such as, phonemic awareness, phonics, formation of words, and meaning of new vocabulary. He felt capable of writing letters and words in English that he was unable to do even in his native language.
One episode that showed me that he was truly learning and using his strategies took place when I was talking to a teacher. K was immediately able to read my lips and tell what I was saying, but to my colleague’s luck, he was able to tell who her presidential candidate was!
After two years of exposure to this curriculum guide and with multiple ways of differentiation, K was able to read his favorite stories, retell events and his opinion, write paragraphs in English illustrating narrative writing, and portraying his diligent hard work; but most importantly, he felt ownership of his own learning and capable of mastering higher level skills.
The Alignment and Implementation
The final steps to the full development of the newcomer curriculum guide was its alignment to standards and its implementation.
As mentioned above, best practices reveal that ELLs must have access to standards-aligned curriculum that is rigorous and grade-level appropriate. Therefore, this guide was aligned to both the Virginia Standards of Learning in Reading and Writing for grades 6–12 and the corresponding WIDA CAN Do Descriptors.
To test the implementation of this new curriculum guide, a condensed version was delivered during our summer enrichment session.
Under the guidance and expertise of key players and teachers in the ELL Department, this guide provided successful results from this initial delivery and is now being fully implemented this school year.
It has also become the basis for the development of other curriculum guides for which, a group of exemplar ELL teachers, in LCPS, dedicated their time to successfully develop the Newcomer Math, Newcomer Social Studies, and Newcomer Science curriculum guides at the middle-school and high-school levels.
These curriculum guides are now serving all secondary ELL Newcomer students in the county.
We would like to thank our ELL teachers and department for their diligence, expertise, and work through this process.
Teresa Vignaroli, Julie Baye, and Giuliana Jahnsen Lewis