On February 13, Education.com hosted a webinar with Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner, co-author of Unlocking English Learners’ Potential: Strategies for Making Content Accessible. Along with Heather Anderson, 2016 Oregon Teacher of the Year, Dr. Fenner led the session through a host of practical ways to help English Learners (ELs) succeed in the classroom.
1. Know your ELs
There is great diversity among ELs. Before you can successfully plan instruction and scaffolds for students, you must learn more about your specific students’ strengths and areas of growth. Begin by assessing your ELs’ level of proficiency in English and gather information about your students’ ability to read and write in their home language. If your students are new to the United States, try to connect with parents to determine what educational experiences they had in their home country.
In addition, it helps to find time to connect with you EL students and gain a better sense of their experiences, their likes and dislikes. As Dr. Fenner stressed on the webinar, it’s important to operate from an assets-perspective and start with getting to know all the things our EL students can do.
Watch Dr. Fenner discuss the importance of knowing your ELs:
2. Identify needed language and/or skills
When planning for individual lessons, consider the academic language and skills your students will need in order to effectively participate in the lesson. Think about language demands at the word, sentence, and discourse level. Consider vocabulary, syntax, structural, and sequencing skills. After identifying which language and/or skills students will need, it is time to plan your lesson and corresponding supports for ELs.
Dr. Fenner on the power of academic language and how it affects ELs:
3. Plan the lesson
Most likely, you will be planning lessons for ELs at varying levels of English proficiency. To help meet the needs of all ELs, consider scaffolds that you can provide for beginning, intermediate, and advanced students. Use the chart below for ideas about how you can support students at all levels of EL proficiency. The scaffolds for all levels provide great ideas too!
Dr. Fenner on planning lessons for ELs:
4. Select and develop appropriate materials
When planning a lesson, think about what are the most appropriate materials to use with your ELs. In the webinar, Dr. Fenner presented various criterion for selecting materials, including connection to content learning objectives, age appropriateness, multi-modality supports, home-language support, and availability for access beyond school. She provided a checklist to use, which can be seen below.
After planning which materials you’ll use, think about how you can adapt these materials for use with ELs. For example, you could have students start with a short passage before moving onto reading an entire text. You could also pre-teach vocabulary or provide a visual glossary to accompany the introduction of new words.
Dr. Fenner briefly discusses preparing materials for EL lessons:
5. Make adjustments
During the webinar, Dr. Fenner discussed the importance of providing and eventually removing scaffolds as students develop fluency. As Dr. Fenner said, the goal is to “use and lose scaffolds.” As your ELs make their way through lessons, assess how they are doing and adjust the scaffolding and materials that you provide them in response to their needs.
Dr. Fenner on the benefits of collaborating on lessons for ELs:
What steps do you take when planning and implementing lessons for ELs? Whatever your current process is, consider how you can incorporate some of Dr. Fenner’s ideas into your approach.
Watch the entire webinar below:
By Lily Jones, former kindergarten & first grade teacher, instructional coach, curriculum developer, and teacher trainer. Throughout everything she does, Lily hopes to make learning fun for both teachers and students.