Inspiring and Supporting English Learners with Adaptive Tools

As our country’s ever-evolving demographics change, this month we are focusing on the growing population of English Learners (ELs) across the U.S., and the support tools currently available to support their success. Diagnostic and instructional resource development organization Curriculum Associates is a great example of a company integrating supports for ELs into its products.

Why EL Work Is Important

While we know generally that the EL student population is growing, we dove into the data to get a better sense of the urgency in making targeted efforts to better support these students. According to the U.S. Department of Education data collected in 2009-2010 and 2014-2015, the percentage of EL students increased in more than half the states, and increased over 40% in five states. By 2014-2015, there were over 4.8 million ELs in the country – which equates to roughly 10% of the total K-12 population. More staggering is the rate at which this population is expected to grow; according to the National Education Association, ELs are the fastest-growing student population group and are expected to comprise an estimated 25% of the public school student population by 2025. While ELs represent all races and ethnicities and over 400 spoken languages, a vast majority (more than 75%) of these students are Hispanic and Spanish-speaking.

In keeping with its founding mission, Curriculum Associates believes in making classrooms better places by offering assessment and instructional tools (such as i-Ready Diagnostic, i-Ready Instruction and Ready Classroom Mathematics) that meet learners where they are. They also embrace an asset-based philosophy, focusing on the richness that populations of students like ELs bring to learning and striving to leverage what different learners can bring to the classroom.

For all educators and providers of support tools, it’s important to look at the unique challenges ELs face and the broad spectrum of needs they may have. By taking a personalized approach with EL students, educators can get to know their strengths and abilities and better assess their students’ needs. Culturally responsive teaching practices and being able to support language development in conjunction with core instruction become vital to the success of EL students.

Growing EL’s Beyond Proficiency – Connecting EL Needs + Instructional Actions

Curriculum Associates considers it a priority to ensure ELs achieve academic success and considers the needs of English Learners from the start when developing their products. Their approach is all about collaboration – when they’re creating anything new, be that lessons, curriculum, or products, there is someone from the EL team at the table from square one, ensuring there is a focus language acquisition. Claudia Salinas, Vice President of English Learning, shares, “When we sit side by side, it allows us from the beginning to think about our English Learners and their needs.”

The EL Team perspective is all in the details… and none are too small! A team member may provide input on whether a sound does or does not transfer appropriately to English – this insight informs what could be more difficult for an EL student and then guides the product developers’ decisions in features such as the products’ emphasis on or repetition of certain sounds. The team provides expert advising on where they may see differences in how learning is expressed in each student.

How i-Ready Supports EL Achievement

So how do the tools offered by Curriculum Associates help EL students specifically? By integrating a combination of language development strategies, culturally responsive teaching principles and strategic scaffolds, their product suite identifies and provides the exact level of instruction at which students can thrive and grow.

Adaptive diagnostic tools identify areas of greatest need and assist teachers in translating assessment data into personalized instruction. Teachers receive clear results and data-based insights into what the student is and is not able to do and the appropriate next steps regarding the placement of a student and where to focus instruction.

i-Ready Instruction places each student on a personalized online lesson path based on diagnostic results, and embeds language support tools specifically helpful for EL students such as multiple representations of material, engaging visual supports to coincide with audio, and flexible audio supports to coincide with any words on the screen, real-time instruction and feedback, pro vocabulary development activities, and strategic scaffold supports for Spanish speakers.

Curriculum Associates advocates for the use of strategic scaffolds with lesson planning for EL students. This is to say they avoid the norm of over scaffolding instruction such as emphasizing the correct answers too quickly and easily. Instead, strategic scaffolds provide for productive struggle where learners are more challenged to use the skills and knowledge they already have to discover an answer to a new problem. For example, Spanish-speaking EL students might be presented with scaffolded instruction in which they are exposed to words that look and sound similar in Spanish and English and instruction will emphasize the Latin roots of words to explain their meanings.

In time, i-Ready’s assessments and diagnostic capabilities become useful in re-classifying EL students. In a video highlighting the the use of i-Ready with ELs, Amy Boles, Director of Educational Services for Oak Grove School District shares, “i-Ready has been really instrumental in giving us some kind of a benchmark around academics for our EL students so if they’re on-level or above then we’re seeing that we can utilize i-Ready to re-classify our students to ‘English Proficient,’ and so we’ve been able to re-classify a lot more EL students with the data from i-Ready, which has been exciting to see.”

EL Gains Shown in i-Ready Data

Perhaps one of the most encouraging pieces in this work is the data showing significant success made with ELs. Not only did the 87,000 ELs who took the i-Ready Diagnostic show promising growth, but they also showed greater gains than that seen by the nearly one million native English speaking students receiving i-Ready instruction.

ELs At Home – How Connecting to Family Can Make Bigger Impact

Classroom work that carries over to the student’s home can improve the academic gains students are making. Knowing this, CA has made it a priority to develop relationships with families in an effort to bridge EL products and practices from the classroom to the home. All parent letters that i-Ready generates are available in Spanish. These family letters explain the math or reading lessons being taught, and include conversation starters and ways to practice at home. Additionally, many of their instructional videos are offered in Spanish.

In addition, CA incorporates Culturally Responsive Pedagogy into their approach and materials. Dr. Mark Ellis, Ready® author and industry-leading scholar in mathematics education, acknowledges that each student brings their own unique way of quantitative thinking and reasoning, as well as interaction and communication style that can serve as a foundation to build their understanding of mathematics. He describes in a recent whitepaper that Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching (CRMT) “is more about considering how to engage all students in meaningful learning; while this may include modifications to lessons, is also includes thinking about norms and routines you establish, connecting parents and community to students’ mathematics learning, and supporting every learning in developing a sense of ownership of mathematics.”

The EL population is complex and essentially stands as a representation of the diversity within as well as the future of our country. Our education system has to address their needs, integrate their languages, and capitalize on their strengths and abilities. Curriculum Associates is one organization demonstrating a willingness to innovate its products in response to the needs of this ever-growing and evolving population.

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