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Next-Gen Personalized Learning for ELL Students

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By Bonnie Lathram & Tom Vander Ark

Almost 5 million students across the U.S. were English Language Learners in the 2012-13 school year--nearly 10 percent of the overall student population. The number of English Language Learners increased by 60 percent over the previous decade.

Closing the gaps

With the new Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal government has made teaching English Language Learners a priority through stronger accountability provisions and the authorization of additional funding. At the same time that our country is growing in diversity--approximately 1 in nine public school students is an ELL student--schools have to serve students with vastly different backgrounds and needs. English Language Learners face many challenges in school and test results show they are behind their non ELL peers:

On recent assessments, 14 percent of fourth-grade English-language learners were proficient in math (compared to approximately 40 percent of non ELL students). ELL students also have lower graduation rates than their peers. ELL students are less likely to graduate in four years, at approximately 63% (compared to a national average of 82%).


English language learners (ELL) make up nearly a quarter of all California elementary and secondary students. At the local level, 25 school districts serve almost a quarter of all ELL students.

The Migration Policy Institute also reminds us that immigrants make up 13 percent of U.S. residents. Add U.S. born children immigrants and the number nearly doubles to 80 million people and almost a quarter of the population.

Students who are non native English speakers often do not do as well in school as their peers who speak English. This is a problem that the NEA has said is "deeply rooted, pervasive, complex, and challenging."

What does next-gen personalized learning look like for ELL students?

Addressing the growing challenge of diverse learners are new tools and blended learning models. Some applications are specifically designed for ELL, some literacy tools have useful accommodations, some content is automatically leveled. Some Texas districts have adopted dual language strategies. Somenewcomer schools use immersive and collaborative strategies. Some school networks use a variety of blended and intervention strategies to support ELL.

We are conducting an analysis of promising new tools and instructional strategies supporting English language learners and teachers. The culminating publication will feature strategies, tools, policies and supports for students and teachers in the field.

We would like to hear from you about what works. We'd welcome a guest blog from ELL teachers and school and system leaders serving ELL populations (see our guest posting policies).

Following are specific questions we'll be exploring:


  • What specific instructional strategies work well for English language learners?
  • Are there specific strategies that work well for particular student groups: elementary or secondary, refugee students, weak or strong literacy skills in their native language?
  • What strategies works when a cohort has one predominantly native language? Do different strategies work when students have many different native languages?
  • When are dual language strategies most important and effective?


  • What ELL tools and applications are effective?
  • What adaptations to literacy tools are important for ELL?
  • What content adaptations in other subjects are important for ELL?
  • What adaptations to learning platforms and assessments are important for ELL?

Engagement and Professional Learning

  • What do students need to acquire English?
  • How does your organization communicate with ELL students and their families?
  • What do teachers need to support ELL students? What gaps exist and what would you recommend?

Policies and Supports

  • What policies support various English language learners?

  • When and how should dual language immersion be supported/encouraged?
  • What incentives and supports should encourage native language proficiency?
  • What kind of training and certification do ELL teachers need? Basic education teachers?

This project will create resources that focus on implementable tools for teachers and instructional leaders that illuminates what is working at the field level and what gaps are present.

2 ways to share your ideas:

  1. If interested in contributing your story and ideas to the series, please submit a guest blog to [email protected] with the subject line "ELL."
  2. To share your favorite ELL tool, tip or strategy, please tweet us @Getting_Smart using the hashtag #SupportELL.

For more, see:

This blog is part of the Supporting English Language Learners Series with support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. For more, stay tuned for the culminating podcast, infographic and publication.

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