ELL Teacher Shares Strategies for Teaching Common Core

By Get It Right

How do you teach college- and career-ready standards to students who are still learning English? One educator explained his tactics in an online conversation with the Learning First Alliance on June 14.

Larry Ferlazzo, a high school teacher, blogger and author of numerous books on topics for teachers, joined LFA Executive Director Richard Long on social media site Blab to give a firsthand look at how Common Core State Standards and the move to higher standards are actually playing out in classrooms in his Sacramento, Calif., high school. 

The issue is particularly relevant because the number of English language learners (ELLs, also called dual-language learners) in the United States is significant and growing: about 10 percent of the K-12 student population are classified as ELLs, totaling about 5 million students. Some of these are second generation, others are older students who need social and emotional supports having survived trauma before their journeys to the U.S., and some age out of the K-12 system before becoming proficient in English. Researchers estimate it takes five to seven years for ELLs to become proficient in English and there is a sizable population of students classified as long-term ELLs, who have been in U.S. schools for at least six years but are not yet proficient in English.

Layering Common Core State Standards on top of these challenges might seem like an impossible task, but Mr, Ferlazzo says there are opportunities within the challenges.

“It’s not all bleak—because in a lot of schools, like my own, teachers embrace ELLs,” he says.  “The challenge is to see that strategies that are used to teach ELLs are beneficial to everyone.”

For instance, exercises related to college- and career-ready standards often task students to identify patterns, analyze information, and solve problems. These lessons can be communicated without mastery of the English language, Mr. Ferlazzo says.

Further, California and Arizona require all teachers to be certified to teach ELLs, and those teaching tactics benefit all students and help teachers hone their skills, he says.

One challenge, he notes, will be supporting teachers who are teaching to higher levels under Common Core and college- and career-ready standards. Mr. Ferlazzo co-authored a book, “Navigating the Common Core with English-Language Learners” in part because there was so little information on the topic, he says. 

An archived video of the conversation is available on YouTube.