The current research on education for English Learners in English Language Arts

September 17, 2020

The events of 2020 —while challenging for most Americans— have had disproportionate impacts on the social, economic, and physical well-being of racially and economically marginalized populations. The COVID-19 pandemic, catastrophic weather events, the murders of Black Americans at the hands of police, and the criminalization of refugees, migrant workers and immigrants, together create a powerful moment in history. Looking back, we will recognize the dramatic shifts that took place and remember the before and compare it to the after world, post 2020. While we can only recall the before in hindsight, our current and future actions can still be instrumental in shaping the after.

In an effort to leverage these disasters into opportunities for change, the Coalition for English Learner Equity (CELE) has drafted a Statement of Agreement for those committed to advancing equity and justice in education practice for linguistically and culturally marginalized students, as part of a larger call to develop an anti-racist world. Since the shift to distance-learning has exacerbated inequities already embedded in our education system, it is essential we tackle these injustices with intention and collaboration. As a teacher, an instructional coach, a language development specialist, and now as a researcher, I understand the importance of coalition building and collective action of all stakeholders such as policy makers, administrators, teachers, students and families. It is only together that we have a chance of realizing the change we seek.

As we move forward into an uncertain future, we can use what we already know through educational research to design and implement equitable programs. Accompanying the Statement of Agreement is a whitepaper that highlights the most current research on education for English learners in English Language Arts (ELA). The ELA whitepaper identifies key guiding principles in the education of English learners as well as the instructional practices and policy implications supported by research. In this whitepaper, there are three key principles, foundational for working with English learners, all of which have important implications for those engaged in improving educational opportunities and enacting anti-racist agendas.

  1. By recognizing that classrooms are embedded in social and political realities, stakeholders can critically analyze decisions, policies, curricular choices, and instructional approaches.
  2. By valuing the wealth that exists in students' communities and cultures, stakeholders can work with families and communities to develop culturally and linguistically-sustaining distance and in-person learning.
  3. By understanding the nature of language and how it develops, educators and content developers can structure and create opportunities and materials that support dynamic language development.

There is an ever-growing body of research aligned with these principles that identify and support promising practices for working with English learners. Whether due to budget constraints, lack of professional development or unwillingness to change, there is still wide-spread use of approaches that contradict empirical evidence for effective practice. Now more than ever, we need to be intentional and critical in how we view policies, products, curriculums and pedagogies in order to ensure they align with current research and anti-racist agendas. While far from comprehensive, the ELA whitepaper is an important and timely resource that synthesizes current research and identifies policy and practice implications. The CELE Statement of Agreement is a call to action for all stakeholders that identifies key steps for those that seek to make a difference. Whether you are reading this as a policy maker, content developer, educator, teacher, student or parent, you have the ability to shape the future of education for English learners.

Will you answer this call to action?

  • take a stand against racist policies and practices
  • design curriculum and instruction with culturally and linguistically minoritized students in mind
  • reimagine partnerships and engagement with families
  • intentionally design professional development opportunities
  • showcase effective practices that highlight students’ assets
  • collaborate with others in order to realize our collective vision for an equitable and anti-racist education for all

We are at the critical moment where we can see the before, we can take action in the now and we can shape the ever after.

Read the ELA white paper here: "English Learners and English Language Arts Education"

Are you interested in what the research says for Math? Click here: "Multilingual Students and Mathematics Education"

Martha Sandstead is an educator committed to equity for culturally and linguistically marginalized students. She has 17 years of experience in a diverse urban district working as a classroom teacher, a teacher leader, an instructional coach, and a language development specialist. She has also taught graduate courses in Language Acquisition and ESOL Methods at multiple institutions. Currently, she is a Provost's Distinguished Fellow working on her PhD in Language, Equity and Educational Policy at Oregon State University. As a researcher she uses qualitative methods and teacher inquiry to explore classroom based language affordances and teacher language ideologies. She received her B.A. from Middlebury College and her M.A.T. from Pacific University.


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