Teachers share what they need to support English learner students

A recent EdSource webinar, “Supporting English learners: What do teachers need?” allowed educators to share their experiences with professional development as well as the support they could use to best serve students.

California has the largest population of English learners in the U.S. with two in five public school students speaking a language besides English at home.

Last summer, Marina Berry, a first-grade teacher at Lodi Unified School District, participated in an intensive three-week professional development program developed by the San Joaquin Office of Education that focused on advancing proficiency amongst long-term English learners and provided an opportunity to learn and apply practices designed to accelerate language and literacy development. Participants were given lessons plans that they were able to tweak before eventually creating their own.

Berry appreciated that the hands-on, in-person experience allowed for collaboration with peers and the chance to work directly with students.

The training model was for fourth through eighth grade students, but Berry said it may be expanded to grades 1-8 in future years.

Nicole Thompson, a fourth-grade teacher at Pajaro Valley Unified School District, took part in a Good to Great professional development training last year focused on math instruction for multilingual learners. The program spanned a few months with sessions taking place regularly.

Thompson said she gained knowledge on how to help students to better access grade-level content, collaborate academically with their peers and review and revise their work.

Her biggest takeaway was that “we as educators should always keep really high expectations for our students no matter their language level or the subject matter.”

Thompson appreciated how personal the training felt with coaches using details of participants’ classrooms in their lessons and meetings took place in small groups.

Both Berry and Thompson agreed that as they try to juggle various responsibilities, time is the thing they and colleagues need more of to best support English learner students.

Elvira G. Armas, director of the Center for Equity for English Learners and affiliated faculty in the School of Education at Loyola Marymount University, referenced Oxnard School District’s English learner master plan, a guiding document for teachers and other school staff and leadership that promotes alignment and coherence across the local educational agency.

Armas also discussed the findings of report In Search of Equity for English Learners: A Review of the 2021–2024 Local Control and Accountability Plans, of which she was a co-author.

Findings include “notable mention of Long Term English Learners (LTELs) and Newcomer students, yet limited descriptions of programs, actions, and services that respond to differentiated EL needs; conspicuous absence of differentiated growth targets to close the achievement gaps for Els; privileging of content standards independent of English Language Development standards resulting in multiple and disconnected professional development versus integrated and coherent professional development for educators of English Learners; and conventional approaches to family engagement that reduce opportunities for ‘co-powerment’ to lead and monitor LCAP development and implementation,” according to the report.

There are recommendations for the state as well as LEAs in the report.

Natalie Tran, professor of education and director of the National Resource Center for Asian Languages at California State University, Fullerton, said that it’s important to support monolingual teachers in addition to multilingual educators. Tran added that teachers should learn students’ backgrounds and experiences and find ways to connect that to their learning experiences.

Parent perspective

According to Laura Barbosa, a parent of an English learner and the vice president of the District English Learner Advisory Committee for San Leandro USD, parents are asking for a genuine effort to involve them. Barbosa added that using more conversational language as opposed to academic language in school communications could be helpful.

Parents are also interested in establishing follow-up and accountability for parent requests or feedback; after-school supports for students; having more multilingual counselors, intervention specialist and special needs paraprofessionals; and increasing resources for teachers.

Bridging the gap between students, parents and teachers so educators are aware of a student’s English proficiency and it’s a group effort to make advancements was also a point of discussion.

Overall, promoting multilingualism is important to ensuring students are proud.