If you peeked into a South Carolina school classroom a decade ago, the cultural and linguistic demographics would look unlike anything you’d see today. While the state’s student population has always been predominantly English speaking and white, the English Learner (EL) student community grew by 236% between 2004 and 2014.
ELs comprise roughly 20-25% of the student community at the school in Greenville, South Carolina where Sarah Mitchell serves as an instructional leader. Even though Sarah is a well-trained educator who cares deeply about her students’ academic learning and overall well-being, she reports having little to no pre-service or in-service training on teaching diverse student communities. Because of this, she has struggled to engage her ELs and help them obtain the skills and knowledge necessary for realizing their academic potential. The school district provided some ESOL services for students, but assessment scores indicated that these services were insufficient in helping them perform as well as the native English speakers.
Sarah isn’t alone. Similar demographic shifts have occurred nationwide, and while these shifts represent an enrichment of perspectives and assets, they have also left many educators feeling underprepared to create equally powerful learning experiences for ELs that honor and build on their home language skills. Teachers today still scramble to find resources to help EL students learn rigorous academic content in a language they have yet to master. Like many teachers, Sarah doesn’t speak her students’ native languages, and she needs guidance on how she can leverage her students’ home languages to access grade-level content in English and maintain and celebrate their status as multilingual individuals. But her curriculum didn’t offer her any guidance on how to do this.