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English Language Development Materials: Five questions to answer before adopting
Susana Dutro, Co-founder and CEO
Raquel Núñez, Director of Elementary Services
According to Title III requirements, regardless of the type of program in which English learners are enrolled, they must receive instruction in English at their level of English proficiency, as well as meaningful access to grade-level academic content (Castañeda v. Pickard, 1981). School systems are compelled to structure the day to ensure English learners receive explicit language instruction for these two related, but distinct, purposes:

• Integrated ELD to provide meaningful access to language arts (and other content) instruction. Grade-level content learning is in the foreground; it is the purpose for instruction – and while students’ language development needs must inform planning, the instructional goal is achieving the demands of grade-level content.

• Dedicated ELD to grow students’ proficiency in English. Proficiency-level language learning is in the foreground; it is the purpose for instruction – and while grade-level literacy needs must inform planning, the instructional goal is developing English language.
As they implement Common Core State Standards (CCSS), districts are beginning to explore aligned language arts materials for possible adoption. Typically included in many English language arts programs are materials for ELD. Sometimes these materials clearly distinguish between integrated and dedicated ELD instruction; other times they do not.
It is imperative that before investing district resources, those responsible for selecting instructional materials recognize essential elements of the two types of ELD instruction that English learners require: 1) integrated ELD instruction meant to assure access to grade-level language arts instruction, and 2) dedicated ELD instruction meant to grow students’ proficiency in English (Dutro & Moran, 2003; Ellis, 2008; Genesee, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian, 2006; Celce-Murcia, 2007; Goldenberg, 2008; Saunders & Goldenberg, 2010; CDE, 2012). Recognizing the essential elements of each type of ELD can be trickier than it seems.

In our review of the ELD components within ELA programs, we generally find that integrated ELD is more thoroughly addressed than dedicated ELD. Sometimes the essential elements of dedicated ELD are absent. In this article, we raise five questions informed by research to guide districts in evaluating materials for dedicated ELD instruction.

1. Is there an articulated scope and sequence that builds along a continuum of English proficiency?
Look for a carefully mapped language build for each phase of English proficiency, progressing from the early through late Emerging/Beginning phase, then to the early through late Expanding/Intermediate phase, then to the advanced uses of English that bridge to full proficiency.

Language teaching and learning during dedicated ELD should be organized according to a research-based scope and sequence of language knowledge that includes foundational vocabulary and linguistic patterns and uses thinking skills mapped to grade-appropriate expectations (Saunders & Goldenberg, 2010; CDE, 2012). Instruction should focus on language that students are not likely to learn outside of school or efficiently pick up on their own, that will not be explicitly taught in other subject areas, and that is essential for academic learning, classroom participation, and real-life communication.

Throughout the dedicated ELD program, language should intentionally build from the early phase of each proficiency level to the late, or exiting, phase of that level. For example, the language at the end of the Emerging level should lead seamlessly into the language taught at the beginning of the Expanding level. It should increase in nuance and complexity across the academic year and from one grade level to the next. This continuum should be laid out transparently, aligning to proficiency descriptions in ELD standards and expanding into and from the grade-level performance demands of the CCSS or other state standards.

2. Do the lessons actually teach – or merely use – the language described in the scope and sequence?
Let’s say a program lays out a plausible scope and sequence of language learning by proficiency level. The next question is whether that language is actually being taught. There are three major pitfalls to look out for.

The first is the assumption that varying language input will result in equipping students for improved language output. An example of this is a program that relies on providing the teacher with explanations and prompts differentiated by proficiency level. This may ease student comprehension in the short run, but it does not ensure students will be able to express their understanding through speaking or writing. Language is not acquired through input alone; it requires using, exploring, thinking about, and playing around with options for speaking and writing (Ellis, 2008).

Language learning is accelerated through explanation and meaningful practice (Norris & Ortega, 2006; Ellis, 2008). The second pitfall occurs when this concept is not truly understood. Many programs confuse providing language supports with providing language instruction. Supports such as word banks, graphic organizers, writing templates, and sentence frames are insufficient without instruction in the form of modeling, discussion, and ample opportunities for student practice. A dedicated ELD program should include explicit language instruction in which students are shown how to use vocabulary and linguistic patterns to communicate their thinking, as opposed to simply hearing the language used or practicing it in ways that are rote or disconnected from meaningful communication (Ellis, 2008; Saunders & Goldenberg, 2010). 

The third pitfall is relying solely on the demands of literacy instruction to drive language instruction. Deconstructing text to illuminate how language is used is tremendously important and appropriate as part of integrated ELD. The danger in relying on the same text for dedicated ELD is that the language taught is determined by grade-level content rather than by students’ assessed proficiency level and a clearly articulated scope and sequence of language knowledge (Ellis, 2008). This can result in shifting the focus away from building language at students’ assessed proficiency levels during dedicated ELD time, leaving crucial language learning unattended.

3. Are students taught language that will support them in fully participating in academics and real-life contexts?
English learners must learn the language not only to participate fully in grade-level academics, but also to effectively interact in a range of contexts in and outside of the school day. The development of socio-academic language includes both academic and conversational purposes, norms of social usage, and pragmatics: knowing how to communicate appropriately in different situational contexts. This aspect of language is strongly informed by cultural contexts and includes tone of voice, cadence (e.g., voice rising when asking a question), register (formal or informal; academic, social, or intimate), and discourse styles (CDE, 2012; Council of Chief State Schools, 2014; WIDA, 2012).

In the Application of Common Core State Standards for English Language Learners, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers state that in addition to learning the language needed to fully access grade-level content, English learners must be taught the socio-academic language needed to:
  • Engage in a variety of language experiences.
  • Participate in classroom discourse and interaction.
  • Develop communicative strengths in language arts (2010).
As the California English Language Arts/English Language Development Framework states, “content plays a key role in designated ELD since it is not possible to develop advanced levels of English using texts and tasks devoid of academic content language. However, designated ELD is not a time to teach (or reteach) content [emphasis added]” (CDEF, 2014, Ch.2, p. 115).

In addition to preparing ELs for grade-level academic work, dedicated ELD is students’ sole opportunity to learn critical language knowledge that is not embedded in or extracted from specific subject-matter work (Genesee et al., 2005; Goldenberg, 2008; Celce-Murcia, 2007; Dutro & Moran, 2003). Developing language exclusively – or even predominantly – from English language arts texts, topics, or skills misses the opportunity to teach and practice other high-leverage language. Dedicated ELD is the one designated time in the instructional day for English learners to accelerate learning the language they need not only for academics, but also for productive classroom participation and real-life interactions.

Dedicated ELD is meant to build students’ working knowledge of English so that it may serve as a bridge for expressing their thinking vis-à-vis grade-level work and social purposes.The language taught and practiced in dedicated ELD should be high leverage and portable. It must support a wide range of communicative tasks, such as asking for clarification, making comparisons, expressing cause and effect relationships, sequencing events or processes, making requests, and explaining a point of view. This means the language is useful and relevant not only in grade-level subject matter work but also beyond lesson topics and texts; for example, it supports students in building successful interpersonal interactions.

4. Do assessments focus on accuracy, complexity, and fluency of language use?
English Learners and the Department of Education: Equality, access, and advocacy
Donna Smith, Director of Research and Communications
Laura Jasso, Associate – Elementary Services
“Every child should be able to receive the very best that our country has to offer, regardless of his or her circumstances of birth.”
– Kevin Kumashiro, 2017

While public education is largely guided by state and local agencies, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) plays an undeniable role in influencing public education. We have an obligation to understand how federal policies impact our student populations.

Bilingual Education Resources

Do you teach in a Spanish bilingual or two-way immersion classroom?
E.L. Achieve provides resources to support your students’ learning:
Ways We Express Our Thinking Poster and Student Cards (English & Spanish versions)
Upper Elementary (3-6) Discussion Cards (English & Spanish versions)
Secondary Discussion Cards (English & Spanish versions)
Primary K-2 Discussion Cards (English available; Spanish coming soon!)
2017 Symposia

English Language
   Development Materials:
   Five questions to answer
   before adopting

2017 Summer
   Leadership Seminars

2017 Advanced Institute

NEW: Introduction to
   E.L. Achieve Webinar

E.L. Achievement Project

Bilingual Education

Coming Soon: Primary
   Discussion Cards in Spanish

Coming Soon: Student
   Guide to Expository Writing

English Learners
   and the Department
   of Education:
   Equity, access, and
2017 Summer Leadership Seminars

The five-day seminars for teachers and administrators build district capacity for effective implementation.

June 5–9

• Elementary SysELD
• Secondary CM
• Administrator Strand

N. California
June 19–23

• Secondary CM
• Secondary SysELD
• Elementary SysELD
• Elementary CM
• Administrator Strand
S. California
June 26–30

• Elementary SysELD
• Administrator Strand
July 31 – August 4

• Elementary SysELD
• Secondary CM
• Administrator Strand

Registration will begin this spring. Please visit our Events page for updates.


2017 Advanced Institute

This three-day Advanced Institute is for teachers, coaches, and others who have attended a five-day institute and are looking to deepen their knowledge through further study and guided practice.

June 5–9

• Secondary ELD

Contact to register.
NEW: Introduction to E.L. Achieve Webinar
March 28, 2017
10 a.m. – Noon (PST)

E.L. Achieve is dedicated to assisting educators in equipping English learners for academic achievement. We work in partnership with school districts nationally, employing a district capacity-building model that initially provides intensive services, support, and guidance, while preparing district, school, and teacher leaders to take charge of their improvement process.
We’re offering a simple way to learn about a partnership with E.L. Achieve. This webinar opportunity is for district teams – central office administrators, site principals, district and site coaches, and teacher leaders – to further their learning about E.L. Achieve’s approach.
After your district team participates in the webinar, the next step is to schedule a meeting with E.L. Achieve's Director of District Support. Our District Support Team will work with you to plan for implementation and schedule your institute. Our goal is to ensure that your investment in professional learning is realized through the increased academic achievement of English learners.

For information and to register,
visit the Events page.

E.L. Achievement Project

E.L. Achieve is establishing a nonprofit! The mission of the E.L. Achievement Project is to enrich the quality of services provided to English language learners through research, scholarships, and family engagement. 

Look for updates and information on how you can help, coming soon!
Primary Discussion Cards in Spanish

These are tools to scaffold whole-class and small-group conversations. By weaving purposeful, modeled, and guided practice throughout instruction, the Primary (K–2) Discussion Cards help equip English learners with the language skills and confidence needed to talk about what they know and to learn from each other using conversational roles:
• Compartir una idea (black)
• Hacer una pregunta (green)
• Elaborar ideas (gray)
• Explicar mis ideas (red)


Student Guide to Expository Writing

The purpose of this guide is to help all students in the upper grades, especially ELs, balance the demands of organizing their ideas into coherent text and finding the right language to express them. The writing and language support is directly mapped from the 3–6 Common Core State Standards. The high-leverage, portable language patterns will serve students across all content areas.
Look for these new items on our
website this spring. For information, email
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