Shifting our Thinking About the Prior Knowledge of ELLs

Our students are already coming to us with so many experiences that we can use to relate to the new content. We should view the fact that our ELLs are learning multiple languages as a positive, not a deficit: “Never lower our expectations. They’re already so cognitively advanced because they’re working in multiple languages. That supports their cognitive development. It doesn’t take away from it!”


Authentic Assessments for ELLs

Balancing standardized tests with authentic assessments (speaking samples, writing samples, etc.) will provide teachers with more information that can guide their instruction. Teachers must remember that we should not just be testing content all of the time, but rather we should be observing how our students are acquiring and developing English.

Assessing ELL Students


The word assessment can be a frightening word for educators and students alike. With an increasing pressure on standardized-test scores, sometimes it seems like all we do in schools is test, test, test! However, there has been a small shift lately toward standards-based grading and using more performance-based assessments to gauge how our students are doing in more authentic, meaningful ways. Planning valid, reliable and meaningful assessments can be challenging and overwhelming. Assessing ELL students is even more trickier because there are additional factors to consider to determine what a student really knows and can do. Using assessments that are fair to all students, understand the cultural and linguistic differences of students and are informative for teachers is challenging. Colorin Colorado has some amazing articles and videos to guide teachers when planning for assessments for ELL students.

Using Informal Assessments for English Language Learners


A Shift in Assessments

Image result for assessments

As more schools are moving toward standards-based grading, many teachers are given the opportunity to embed more authentic, task-oriented assessments into their instruction. For ELL students, when these assessments are fair and consider cultural and linguistic differences, they can be really beneficial to the teachers and students. These task-oriented assessments also promote a growth-mindset. This article from TESOL Connections, Making a Paradigm Shift in Assessments, explains this shift and has a wonderful example of a task that assesses speaking in a non-threatening, authentic way.

Math for English Language Learners

Many people assume that math is a universal language because it is numeric rather than language based. However, as high-stakes testing and education reform change how math is taught and assessed, there are many challenges for English language learners. To read more about strategies for helping your ELL students with math read Math is about numbers, so it’s easier for English learners, right?



Fayette County Public Schools – Newcomer Center

I was very excited to read about the proposed Newcomer Center for 6th-12th graders for the 2017-2018 school year in FCPS! According to the Lexington Herald Leader, “Superintendent Manny Caulk said the newcomer center would, for about six months, provide intensive support for students whose families are new to America and who speak little or no English. Some of these students had their education interrupted in their home country because of war, Caulk said. Some of the students have not had formal schooling in their native language. And some students will need help because of the trauma they suffered in their home countries, school officials said.”

Measuring Student Learning through Comprehensive Assessments

As I learn more about assessment and culture in EDU581 at Georgetown College for my ESL endorsement, I am learning about how to ensure that assessments are appropriate for my ELL students and that I am monitoring for content and language objectives. According to Mary Ann Lachat in Standards-Based Instruction and Assessment for English Language Learners, “Assessment and instructional practices in American schools were neither created nor designed to be responsive to the range of diversity represented in today’s ELL population, but current reforms in instruction and assessment are being viewed hopefully as offering more effective strategies for educating English language learners.”

Edutopia has an excellent article  regarding 5 Keys to Comprehensive Assessment.


Sentence Frames

I shared one of my favorite strategies for helping ELLs increase their speaking opportunities this week at our faculty meeting: Sentence frames. Sentence frames, sentence starters and summary frames are all similar concepts that provide students with modeled language to scaffold their oral and written language. Although it is good to do this strategy for all students, ELLs benefit because it models correct syntax and provides a comfortable environment to practice speaking. Sentence frames also provide support to lead to increased academic discourse. There are many, many resources available online, but I chose to share two with my coworkers: this video Using Sentence Frames to Help ELLs and this amazing  Scaffolding Toolbox of Sentence Starters from Heinemann

My suggestions for procedures for using sentence starters are to model aloud how to use the sentence starter, provide opportunities for partner practice (especially through engaging Kagan structures!) and then have a few students share their ideas aloud. This is a perfect strategy to use to review concepts at the beginning or end of a lesson or right before an exit-slip to check for understanding. By providing students with opportunities to practice academic language in a safe environment, they will begin to internalize this language and begin to transfer it to their writing. I am including some examples of pictures of the sentence starters (I also shared these pictures and information on Sentence Starters in To Reach English Proficiency, ELL Students Must Have Opportunities to Speakand I will embed the video I mentioned above.

Examples of Sentence Frames from Pinterest

Inference Sentence StartersMath Sentence StartersSentence Frames

Using Sentence Frames to Help ELLs – YouTube Video