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How about fully integrating ELLs?

In a growing global community the capital of the Empire State, Albany, embraces its ever-changing diverse population by welcoming more immigrants every year. According to the New York State Comptroller between the years of 2005-2015 over 15,000 people from various countries immigrated to Albany County. These immigrants are broken into two categories, refugees, and immigrants seeking permanent residency. In retrospective, the City of Albany population of foreign-born persons keeps on increasing. According to the United States Census Bureau in 2012-2016 11.9% of the City of Albany population of 98,251 people consisted of foreign-born persons. This leads to a high enrollment of English Language Learners in City School District of Albany. New York State Education Department has reported the enrollment of 1,006 students who are English Language Learners, that reflects as 11.2% of the total student population across K-12. In other words, approximately one out of 10 public school students is an English Language Learner and with an alarming 35% graduation rate. This robust growth in English Language Learners is not only taking place in Albany but the United States in general. According to the Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition by 2025, nearly one out of every four public school students will be English Language Learners.

City School District of Albany (where I live) has demonstrated significant efforts to accommodate English Language Learners in all of its schools. It even has incorporated engaging the diverse community and leading them to success as apart of its curriculum and mission that states,

“We will work in partnership with our diverse community to engage every learner in a robust educational program designed to provide the knowledge and skills necessary for success.” CSDA also created Albany International Center (AIC) at North Albany Academy, which serves only about 175 refugee and immigrant students in grades 6-12.

CSDA personnel highlighted that the current curriculum focuses include differentiation, higher order thinking questions and student engagement, especially for English as New Language and Special Education Students in an interview conducted for this post. These focuses are not surprising given the results of quality instruction and differentiation to engage English Language Learners. In 2009 students who once identified as English Language Learners graduate at a rate of 71 percent. That is clear evidence that shows that if English Language Learners received high-quality programs can succeed.

Sheltered instruction is a popular strategy that aims to accelerate the achievement of English Language Learners to introduce academic content in English. However, sheltered instruction is not differentiated enough to improve students English as a Second Language Skills. It only helps students succeed in the subject matter. Proper differentiated instruction for English Language Learners would consider all of their English as Second Language skills, which include, speaking, reading, writing and listening. Differentiation provides the chance to focus on language development within any lesson. In other words, all teachers will contribute to the improvement of English Language Learners language proficiency. Unfortunately, not all subject teachers receive training in English as a Second Language Instruction, so they are unable to create the needed level of differentiation for English Language Learners to succeed.

Some schools already have English as a Second Language Teachers who are trained in language instruction and differentiation. On the other hand, there are not enough to be present in all subject classes to provide support to subject teachers to meet the diverse needs of the English Language Learners student body. Many depend on pull-out or one-on-one strategies that tend to single out students and does not fully integrate them within a cohort or class.

I think with enough time, collaboration and resources both parties could work together and produce a set of pre-designed differentiated instructional materials such as classroom activities, worksheets, homework, tests that are customized to the existing curriculum that does not only improve language proficiency but also focus on Higher Order Thinking Questions.

Such a project would require a guided professional development for Subject teachers, ENL Teachers, and specialists for them to achieve such an ambitious goal. Luckily the New York State Education Department (NYSED) Office of Bilingual Education and World Languages (OBEWL) supports eight (8) Regional Bilingual Education Resource Networks including the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) to provides such professional development to at-risk schools.

This project would consist of a year-long series of professional development workshops and meetings conducted by BOCES trainer and attended by ESL/ELL teachers and ENL specialists and some selected subject teachers. Topics of hands-on professional development will include:

  • Review of Sheltered and Differentiated Instruction and strategies.

  • Putting Faces to English Language Learners Achievement Data.

  • Review of Higher Order Thinking Questions, and strategies.

  • Ongoing collaborative creation of Differentiated Lesson Plans.

The goal of this year-long Professional Development series is for the participants to create a Toolbox of planned activities that match English Language Learners needs using the school data. Hopefully, subject teachers will be able to utilize and update this toolbox daily with the assistance of ENL teachers. Also, this project should capitalize on activities that promote family engagement by assigning projects that families could participate in and maintain an updated blog or newsletters about this project, just like other initiatives that are taken by districts and schools that aim to involve student families.

The ELL Differentiation Toolbox project could be free of cost as this project could be piloted at schools that match BOCES at-risk requirement. Teachers will be able to attend the Professional Development Training and meetings during Superintendent Days, Professional Development Days and Department Meeting hours.

There are a few possible barriers or challenges for this project to be successful. First is the availability of the selected teachers as there is a possibility of them being already registered for Professional Development training by the district. However, I believe that ELL achievement is a matter of a high priority and the district can select other teachers for the registered training. Second, the fact the immigrant families tend to move from one area to another, and that might hinder the impact measurement of this project as it is to suggested to be piloted in one school before expanding it. School districts could solve this by including the families in the planning process and inform them about the tremendous potential benefits for their children. Last, the success of this project depends on the participation of ENL teachers and personnel, and many of them are hired in short part-time capacity or through partner organizations, so the Professional Development budget might not cover them. School Districts can develop a long-term part-time contract with these teachers to ensure their participation in this year-long professional development.

Given that curriculum review processes could take up to takes five years. It is recommended to pilot this project for five years in alignment with the curriculum and monitor the English Language Learners achievement in the selected subject. If the implementation of this project shows a significant increment in English Language Learners achievement, it could be expanded to other schools once the curriculum review is done.


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