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Response: Common Core & ELLs -- Part Two

(This is Part Two Of a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)

Louise Oppedahl asked:

Because the language acquisition process is largely absent from the Common Core Standards, and teachers must use these standards, how can ESL teachers use them to teach our English Language Learners?

In Part One of this series, I shared links to helpful resources along with responses from responses from educators Diane Staehr Fenner; William and Pérsida Himmele; Debbie Arechiga; and Julie Dermody.

Today, along with comments from readers, I have two special contributions: one from the Understanding Language team at Stanford and the other a joint response from educator/authors Maria G. Dove and Andrea Honigsfeld.


Response From Understanding Language

Understanding Language aims to heighten educator awareness of the critical role that language plays in the new Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. The long-term goal of the initiative is to increase recognition that learning the language of each academic discipline is essential to learning content:


At first glance, it may appear that the Common Core State Standards have little to say about language acquisition. In fact, although the points are not always spelled out explicitly, the new standards have sweeping implications for English Language Learners. The division between language and content learning is not as sharp as is often assumed, and the Common Core raises the demands for ELL language acquisition in various ways. The new standards call for students to participate in sophisticated language practices specific to each discipline--making and supporting arguments, for example, and reading complex texts. To achieve these standards, ELLs must not simply develop general English proficiency; they must also learn the sorts of academic language and practices that are used in each discipline and subject area. (If this sounds unachievable, take heart! No one comes to school knowing this academic language, so all students must learn it.) Because language and content are inseparable, ESL teachers should collaborate closely with subject-matter teachers. In the process, subject-area teachers can become more sensitive to the language practices of their disciplines, and ESL teachers can extend their understanding of the language competencies students need.

One resource may be especially helpful in this work. The Council of Chief State School Officers has recently released a framework relating ELP development to the Common Core standards in Mathematics and English Language Arts as well as the Next Generation Science Standards. This document teases out the various language competencies called for by the new standards, broken down by subject and grade level. This document could be a useful tool for ESL teachers, and especially for guiding collaborations with other teachers in these subjects.


Response From Maria G. Dove and Andrea Honigsfeld

Maria G. Dove, Ed.D. is Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the MS TESOL Program in the Division of Education at Molloy College, Rockville Centre, New York, where she teaches courses to preservice and inservice teachers on the research and best practices for developing effective programs and school policies for English learners. Before entering the field of higher education, she worked over thirty years as an English-as-a second language teacher in public school settings (Grades K-12) and in adult English language programs in Nassau County, New York.

Andrea Honigsfeld, Ed.D. is Professor in the Division of Education at Molloy College, Rockville Centre, NY. She teaches graduate education courses related to cultural and linguistic diversity, linguistics, ESL methodology, and action research. She received a Fulbright Award to lecture in Iceland in the fall of 2002. She offers staff development primarily focusing on effective differentiated strategies and collaborative practices for English-as-a-second-language and general-education teachers. Her coauthored book Differentiated Instruction for At-Risk Students (2009) and coedited four-volume Breaking the Mold of Education series (2010-2013) were published by Rowman and Littlefield.

Maria and Andrea have a best-selling co-authored book, Collaboration and Co-Teaching: Strategies for English Learners (2010) is published by Corwin Press, and their new book entitled Common Core for the Not-So-Common Learner: English Language Arts Strategies for Grades K-5 will be out in early 2013:


The CCSS in ELA will be a challenge for ESL teachers to implement with English language learners (ELLs). These standards establish what all students should know and be able to do in the areas of reading, writing, speaking/listening and language regardless of academic and linguistic diversity. The CCSS does not provide the specific strategies or differentiation needed as to how districts can help ELLs (or students with disabilities) meet these standards. The language-acquisition process for English learners (ELs) is also indeed absent from the CCSS. Yet, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) may also be viewed as an opportunity to incorporate language-learning principles into overall ESL curricula using the standards as a guide or framework. Here are some approaches to consider:

1. Since school districts must align their literacy curricula with the ELA CCSS, they could capitalize on their ESL teachers' expertise to incorporate the necessary strategies for accommodating the language and learning needs of ELs. In this way, there is a whole district or school effort to foster the advancement of these youngsters.

2. Another aspect to consider is the design of the CCSS grade-level standards, which state the end of year expectations yet also allow for ease differentiation of instruction. Each grade-level standard is based on the same anchor standard, and ESL and content teachers may adjust their teaching based on the proficiency level of a student by looking at the level of skill for each standard one or two grade-levels below the current grade level of the student and adjusting their skill expectations. Using this backmapping strategy, all teachers can work on developing English learners' skills according to the CCSS with their English-language proficiency in mind.

3. Finally, just as it is certain that classroom and content teachers should also be assisting ELs as with all students in developing their language skills as the CCSS dictates, by the same token, ESL teachers can no longer only be concerned with their students' acquisition of English language skills. Content-support and content-connections will be much more feasible if ESL teachers become familiar with grade-level content information and skills and make a carefully planned effort to incorporate those into their instruction.


Responses From Readers

I've used Storify to collect some readers responses sent on Twitter:


Thanks to Understanding Language team members, Maria, Andrea, and to readers for contributing their responses.

Please feel free to leave a comment sharing your reactions to this question and the ideas shared here.
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