Focusing on Common Core: English Language Learners

April 29, 2014 Margo Ensz
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“Teachers should recognize that it is possible to achieve the standards for reading and literature, writing and research, language development and speaking and listening without manifesting native-like control of conventions and vocabulary.” 

This statement comes from a brief from the Common Core State Standards on application for English Language Learners, or, ELL students. While one might assume the most attention for ELLs would come in the English Language Arts (ELA) classroom, the authors of CCSS indicate, “Regular and active participation in the classroom—not only reading and listening but also discussing, explaining, writing, representing, and presenting—is critical to the success of ELLs in mathematics.”

How can school and classroom environments support differentiated instruction for ELL students? Teachers can begin to support ELLs while engaging the rest of the class by making their classroom environment suitable for English Language Learners. The emphasis of writing across content area means that ELA teachers are not solely responsible for ELL learners. Teachers can work together across disciplines to encourage consistency in visual learning and classroom practices for ELL students.

An example of an integrated approach comes from Laurel Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, where more than 60% of its student populations are classified as English Language Learners. Principal Frank Lozier explains how Laurel Street’s leadership team works to integrate Common Core standards in both math and ELA classrooms. Lozier says that the old state assessments “rewarded math students with good memorization and pattern recognition skills in ways that the new standards and assessments will not.” Now, Common Core “emphasizes complex word problems, in part so kids realize math’s usefulness in everyday situations. ‘We had our big ‘Aha!’ moment when we realized we needed to shift from an emphasis on teaching isolated math skills to integrated skills because of the tasks that would be thrown at them’ by the Common Core, said Lozier. “The intent is to get the kids to have a deeper and crisper understanding of how math can be used to solve real-life problems.’” Fourth grade math teacher Angel Chavarin emphasizes the importance of vocabulary in the math classroom: “Vocabulary is the pillar to all of this.”

Because language is a key aspect of every subject and assessment, it is also important that ELLs are immersed in literacy-rich school environments where students are immersed in a variety of language experiences that develop foundational skills in English. Check out this great infographic on elements of a literacy-rich classroom and its impact created by Dr. Kimberly Tyson on 

What is the best way to differentiate instruction for ELL students? Should the Standards be differentiated for learners of all abilities? We anticipate this valuable conversation will be a lasting one. 

Additional Resources

English Language Learners & the Common Core State Standards Resources

The Common Core Conversation: ESL Resources

Was this article useful, valuable, or interesting to you? You may be interested in our eguide on School Environment and the Common Core which has an entire section dedicated to differentiated instruction for learners of all abilities. Click below for a free download!

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