“Well, we thought we nailed down a focus area, but, instead, we decided to shift gears.” – Assistant Principal, PS 182, New York
Part of being part of a PLC is staying focused, but just as valuable is the ability to be flexible and shift gears when our knowledge and understanding has morphed and grown. This is especially true when it comes to making the ELSF Guidelines for English Learners relevant and responsive to your individual school context. The way you use the ELSF Guidelines depends on multiple factors. Digging into the specifications under each of the Guidelines is no different.
Take teachers at PS 182, for instance. The goal of their first meeting was to begin diving into the Guidelines and select a focus area. The staff started to naturally gravitate towards Focus Area II (Scaffolding and Supports for Simultaneous Development) and IV (Leveraging Students’ Assets) as many of the teachers questioned the use and efficacy of the scaffolds they were already using in their teaching. When teachers reconvened for their second meeting, the AP used the teacher-friendly Rating Scale tool to help teachers further reflect on their instructional materials, practice, student needs, and their individual understanding of the Guidelines.
Using the rating scale, teachers and instructional leaders had an opportunity to engage in the specifications, and this is when they had some big “aha” moments. Our very own math coach said, “Wow… I thought I knew how to teach.” One teacher’s first impression was that Focus Area IV (Leveraging Students’ Assets) was really just for gathering background knowledge on students during the first two months of school and then that focus area could be put on the back burner. After fleshing out the specifications in that focus area, her thinking shifted and she recognized that she needed to visit and revisit that focus area throughout the school year. The math team came to a new realization: “Wow…we really don’t craft language goals for our kids…it’s all about the math.” All of our students are English learners, hence their interest in exploring Focus Area I, Guideline 2 (Interdependence of Mathematical Content, Practices, and Language; Explicit mathematics and language learning goals and pathways).
Using the ELSF Math Guidelines Rating Scale tool revealed that many of the teachers concluded that teaching language does not usually get the attention it deserves, even in a school where English learners comprise nearly half of the student population. The ‘aha’ moment came when educators realized that they hadn’t been thinking explicitly about language development in math. Some of their reflections on this included PLC team members noticing and wondering:
The team recognized that they need to develop their expertise and that they need more knowledge when it comes to teaching English learners. As ‘good’ teachers of math, what else is needed to fully support English learners (de Jong & Harper, 2008)? The reality now in schools is that ALL teachers need to be teachers of English learners. Math teachers need to engage their students in language development while teaching content at the same time (Walqui, 2006).
It was important for the AP to keep alignment to the school’s instructional focus in mind and circle back to that (and often). Therefore, she embedded the instructional focus, which happens to be centered around the concept of student “transference,” in her exit card at the culmination of the meeting. Besides jotting down a lingering question and an emerging “aha!” moment, each member had an opportunity to answer the following question:
PLC members responded with the following…
This gave teachers an opportunity to revisit the big overarching goal of the year, ensure alignment, and make connections to our support for English learners.
Stay tuned as we see where this team goes next in their exploration of teaching math AND language!
de Jong, E. J., & Harper, C. A. (2008). ESL is good teaching “Plus”. In M. E. Brisk (Ed.), Language, culture, and community in teacher education (pp. 127-148). New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Walqui, A. (2006). Scaffolding instruction for English language learners: A conceptual framework
International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 9(2), 159-180.