All in now: 8 imperatives for energizing inclusive classrooms and driving higher outcomes for English Learners


Vietnamese. Hmong. Arabic. French/Haitian Creole. Chinese. These are among the top languages that nearly 10 percent of our students, or about 5 million, first learned to speak. An amazing 400 languages are spoken among students in US public schools, and the majority is Spanish speakers, around 73 percent of the PreK-12 English Language (EL) population.

It’s no secret that a gap persists between many ELs and immigrant students—academic performance for ELs is well below that of their native-English speaking peers. It’s equally troubling that fewer than 1 percent of public school teachers are ESL instructors, just one for every 150 EL students. And despite a national increase in the overall graduation rate, the dropout rate for foreign-born and immigrant students remains around 25 percent, compared to 15 percent for non-English learners.

As the educational system strains to support our doubly-challenged English Learners, it’s becoming more critical to ensure your PreK-12 curriculum, professional development and assessment can accommodate them. Curricula that incorporate proven core, specialized, and supplemental programs can help ensure college and career readiness, and drive the graduation rate higher.

ESSA’s EL provisions

Schools and educators will be held increasingly accountable for not only EL preparation and test success, but holistic EL development. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides greater support for ELs with provisions that include English Language Proficiency (ELP) standards, guidelines for an annual ELP assessment, and inclusion of ELs in state accountability systems. ESSA defines an “English Learner” as an individual who, among other things, has difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language that may be sufficient to deny him or her the ability to meet challenging state academic standards. ESSA calls for assessing all students who might be ELs within 30 days of enrollment, and provides options for delaying EL students’ participation in accountability system while they are still learning English.

Coming years will see the states firming up long-term goals and interim measures of progress for increases in the percentage of ELs who make progress in achieving English proficiency. ELs will be assessed in reading/language arts, math, and science. And, assessment scores of former ELs within EL subgroups will be tracked for up to four years, to encourage continuous improvement in EL education.
In addition, funding opportunities from Title I and Title III will be afforded schools and districts who can significantly improve the achievement and progress of ELs, and increased funding will be offered to districts that are performing poorly.

Eight ways to reach, inspire, and propel ELs

Addressing the problems and solutions for helping ELs stay in school and reach high school graduation is a complex calling. EL populations will continue to grow. Here are 8 key areas to consider in supporting these EL students. Direct your ELs—no longer categorized as “Limited English Proficient”—toward academic success and provide unlimited opportunities for lifelong achievement.

  1. Ensure all EL students gain access to the core curriculum, to assure state standard success. In the past, ELs were provided content-free tasks isolated from chances to hear and learn language from other students and teachers within subject-area classrooms. This has evolved to supporting content-rich activities that simultaneously develop conceptual understanding of content and language use. ELA standards call for increasing cognitive demands and provide greater opportunities for students to speak, read and write about the content they’re learning.
    Research-based and proven effective methods and core curriculum help EL students grasp ever-increasing layers of language complexity and ideas, concepts and relationships. The newer comprehensive, parallel print and digital programs support stronger EL development and biliteracy. Maravillas, Spanish Language Arts program, supports students as they become bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural. Instructional plans, themes, skills, strategies, and test preparation mirror those of the core Wonders program. Containing a wealth of authentic literature ranging across the Spanish-speaking world, Maravillas gives students equity of access to rich texts and rigorous instruction.
  2. Apply purposeful grouping. Flexible and fluid grouping structures, both homogeneous and heterogeneous, can elevate students’ language proficiency and literacy skills. Small groups can allow EL students to become more comfortable and confident through close peer engagement. Many times, grouping students with similar abilities adds efficiency to learning, especially when they’re struggling in a certain area. Other times, grouping learners with different subject skill levels or various stages of EL competence makes sense. Consider creating individual classrooms for late-entry newcomers, especially secondary grade levels.
    Monitor conversations and encourage collaboration, to help escalate language acquisition. For example, Number Worlds is designed to support discourse by building academic language and creating context before lessons begin. Math activities are an excellent way to give English Learners and struggling students practice listening to each other. Lessons conclude with Reflect, which connects the day’s learning to the broader standards-based goal and the weekly Key Standards. Students see how each piece fits in the overall body of mathematical knowledge, and teachers can listen to students’ responses to inform future instruction.
  3. Use explicit instruction where needed, but avoid drill-and-kill methods. ELs need more than rote learning. Use a plan of instruction that is structured and rigorous for EL learning, embedding explicit instruction of core concepts into meaningful discussions. Writing instruction should create meaningful opportunities to communicate, rather than simply producing text via mechanical exercises.
    Explicit methods such as Direct Instruction (DI) involve well-paced practice that has a powerful impact on student learning. DI not only teaches foundational knowledge and basic skills, but improves both basic and higher-order understanding, helping ELs learn how to generalize, a key aspect of deep learning. Intervenciones tempranas de la lectura is a DI program allowing teachers to give Spanish-speaking early readers skills and strategies that research shows are critical for reading success. An integrated curriculum takes students from alphabetic principles all the way to fluency and comprehension skills.
  4. Provide integrated scaffolding strategies. Apply scaffolded instruction by systematically sequencing prompted content, tasks, and teacher and peer support until students can apply new skills and strategies on their own. School curricula should incorporate two types of targeted supports that work in tandem to ensure access to robust, deep learning: integrated, point of use scaffolding and strategies for unlocking immediate lesson understanding; and designated or intensive support that is connected to lessons. ELA programs like Open Court Reading drive phonemic awareness through explicit lessons designed to scaffold and support ELs as the develop the necessary foundational skills to become beginning readers.
  5. Deliver differentiated instruction, through individualized learning opportunities. Assess and observe students’ academic learning and performance using automated diagnostic and formative assessments. Use data from diagnostic and formative assessments to continually assess learning and make data-driven decisions and modify instruction to meet ELs’ developmental, emotional and learning needs. Wonders for English Learners offers instruction specifically designed to create learning experiences that inspire confidence, increase student engagement, and build language skills. Lessons emphasize building speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills to improve both academic and social language and accelerate progress in the core classroom. All instruction connects with core Wonders content, providing a seamless pathway for students to access content at their proficiency level, build understanding, and engage in the core classroom.
    Digital media and principles of universal design for learning (UDL) provide the ability to adjust instruction to individual student abilities and requirements. Emerging learning technologies like Thrive enable teachers to amplify and extend relevant instructional time for ELs, and digital tools like Reading Labs 2.0 can expand practice opportunities. Special supports such as after-school programs, mentoring, 1:1 instruction, technology tools and alternative learning environments help reduce the number of ELs at-risk.
  6. Provide strong visual support, hands-on manipulatives and digital interactive learning activities. Strong pictorial support is important in making math lessons comprehensible and ensuring students gain the language to understand instruction and express a grasp of abstract concepts. Charts, graphic organizers, models, drawings and illustrations provide important visual references for building comprehension, especially for math and science. Manipulatives allow EL students to construct physical models of abstract ideas and content, building students’ confidence and making difficult subjects captivating and enjoyable.
    Building Blocks embeds mathematical learning in PreK-8 students’ daily activities—from designated math activities to circle and story time—to relate informal math knowledge to formal concepts. Providing a solid foundation for future math study, Building Blocks offers interactive, high-tech activities and low-tech, hands-on manipulatives.
  7. Develop strong, consistent teacher support in best strategies and methods for addressing EL students. Enrich professional development to offer practical, research-based information, methods, resources, and strategies needed to teach, evaluate, and nurture EL students. Select curriculum programs that contain embedded, online professional training. Encourage teachers to acquire additional certification or a degree in ESL or bilingual education. Create a new focus on staff input and collaboration. To ensure teacher and student success, McGraw-Hill Education offers online courses and in-person training for programs, giving our teachers a deep knowledge of effective implementation strategies and instructional practices.
  8. Build bridges over the cultural divides. You can better cultivate a learning mindset for ELs when you value diversity in the classroom. For example, a campaign developed by the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) and supported by McGraw-Hill Education themed My Name, My Identity focuses on a name being more than just a name—and a mispronounced name being the first of many slights ELs experience in classrooms. Take time to recognize and incorporate cultural studies as part of the curriculum, to raise awareness and respect for diverse populations.

MHE’s vision is to unlock learning and close the academic performance gap for each student, providing equitable learning for all including, English Learners through a portfolio of core, intervention and supplemental programs in both English and Spanish, that ensure access to rich, robust content learning while honoring language and culture.

To request a consultative strategy session and discover options for EL curriculum programs, please reach out to your representative or visit

By Dawn Haskins-Powell

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Posts from the McGraw-Hill Education Social Media & Content team.

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