New National Research Raises Teachers Voices about Instructional Materials for English Learners

September 28, 2022

“There is nowhere near enough materials for English language learners, all of our curriculum is for students who speak English. We need to make curriculum that fits the needs of all students.”

“The materials do not address specific needs or gaps in content knowledge as well as vocabulary and language acquisition.”

“[We] need more ways to connect to the English Learners' funds of knowledge, more authentic text that relates to their cultural backgrounds.”

From Virginia to Nebraska and California to New York, teachers told us the same thing: they can not fully rely on their current instructional materials to support their multilingual learners (MLL). These quotes reflect the many voices of a nationally representative sample of ELA and math teachers surveyed by Rand’s American Educator Panel and developed by San Diego State University and English Learners Success Forum researchers.

They are a small sample of the type of qualitative and quantitative feedback we are proud to publish in our newest national research paper: Raising Teachers’ Voices: What do teachers say about how well their instructional materials support English Learners? by Lynda Wynn, California State University, Stanislaus and Bill Zahner, San Diego State University, and published by English Learner Success Forum.

We know that high quality instructional materials can improve teacher instruction and academic outcomes for multilingual students. Research supports this premise. (Opfer, et al, 2018; Koedel & Poliko, 2017; Kane, et al, 2016; Chingos & Whitehurst, 2012). 

We wanted to better understand how well current materials support multilingual learners’ (MLLs) needs and how well they incorporate research-backed practices. So, we went directly to teachers themselves, the individuals who actually use the materials. What we found at the national level is not much different than what we found in our earlier research from California, or in other states. But, it is just as challenging.

Our recent survey found that:

  • 70% of teachers do not feel prepared to teach MLLs.
  • 64% of teachers do not regularly use district or school provided materials.
  • Teachers spend a significant amount of time creating their own materials, especially high school teachers. 
  • 80% of teachers feel they can not truly rely on their materials to support them in research-based practices that have been shown to improve outcomes for multilingual learners.
  • There is a relationship between teachers who find their materials helpful and teachers who feel prepared to teach MLLs.

Our research did reveal some positive findings. For example, in general, teachers felt that their instructional materials support their teaching of grade-level content standards, particularly in mathematics. And, math teachers in grades K - 8 reported using instructional materials much more frequently to ensure students learn grade-level content than either ELA or high school math teachers.

However, we certainly found areas of growth. Perhaps the biggest challenge is that most teachers reported that their instructional materials are not designed with MLLs in mind and do not include the research-based practices that we know support MLLs. These practices include known strategies that provide adequate support to assess and improve language instruction and development, as well as using materials that are culturally or linguistically relevant.

From our work with practitioners, educators, and researchers, we know that all instructional materials should:

  • support simultaneous content and language learning.  This means that the language demands of lessons and units should be identified and explicitly integrated into language goals. Students need to use and understand the words in context to what they are learning; 
  • include scaffolding through interactive activities that amplify (not simplify) language and content. This means teachers need to know how to build on student knowledge and promote rigorous learning and engagement; 
  • show teachers how to position students as active and reflective learners of language and content.  This means providing consistent opportunities within the curriculum for students to have conversations about ideas and about language, share their reasoning with peers, and make connections between ideas. Students should have opportunities to refine and deepen their reasoning and language to express it through dialogue and to make choices about what they learn and how they express what they learn; 
  • reflect an assets–based approach to MLLs, showing teachers how to draw on students’ strengths and resources. This includes drawing on students’ identities, cultures, languages, and life experiences as resources for content learning;
  • contain assessments (including ongoing formative assessments) that inform instruction of content, language and literacy as needed. Assessments should be transparent to students and allow them and their caregivers to reflect on their progress in language development and content understanding. Assessments should also include multiple ways to express knowledge and skills.

We know the types of practices that help improve teacher instruction and student outcomes for multilingual learners. ELSF has spent years testing these practices and developing guidelines to help educators and curriculum developers understand what makes high-quality instructional materials for MLLs.

As we state in the conclusion of this new research, it’s time we all work collaboratively and work towards “not only the creation of high-quality instructional materials that meet the needs of our multilingual learners, but also for the adoption and implementation of these materials.” 

We know content developers and educators want to do this. Let’s work together to make it happen!

Here are a few steps content developers and educators can take:

Content Developers and Educators

Access our free guidelines to assess the quality of your current instructional materials.

Content Developers

Join us for our upcoming content developer webinars and events in which we share the national teacher survey results and best practices for implementing them.

Strengths and Missed Opportunities in Instructional Materials for Multilingual Learners
October 13, 2022 from 12 - 1:30 PM EST
Free Event: RSVP now

ELSF believes that every multilingual student should engage in learning that allows them to thrive. We partner with content developers who share this vision. Email us here to learn more. 


Gain a deep understanding of what high-quality materials for MLL should look like so you can improve and adopt the right materials. Take the Pulse.

We work with state and local decision makers to help them better understand how to identify, adopt and implement instructional materials that are truly inclusive of MLLs. Email us here to learn more. 

Renae Skarin has almost 30 years of experience working with English learner and minoritized populations through research, advocacy, and program development and implementation with educators nationwide and abroad. She currently serves as the Senior Advisor for Content at the English Learners Success Forum (ELSF) where she leads its research efforts to identify strategies and develop resources for improving education policies and practices with regard to high quality instructional materials for multilingual learners. Before joining ELSF she served as an associate researcher at Understanding Language at Stanford University. She received her M.A. in Second Language Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and did Doctoral studies in Educational Linguistics at Stanford University.


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