English learners coming into our public schools at the secondary grade levels face multiple challenges. First, they face a very short ramp to acquire the level of English language proficiency needed to succeed academically and to graduate. In addition, newcomers are in the process of acclimating to their new country, which also entails socialization into a new school environment.
As an educator who has worked with English learners for over two decades, it’s a situation that’s challenging for both students and the educators who support them. Even after an extensive search, I was unable to find ready-made tools suitable for supporting the language development of newcomers and beginning-level English learners in the secondary grades. There were literacy tools to be sure, but nothing that was aligned to ELD standards nor could help with acculturation.
An English Language Development Program Based on the Latest ELD Standards
This was the need and the inspiration as I pursued my National Boards in English Language Development (ELD). Over the four-year period that I worked on my Boards, I researched, wrote, and tested a standards-based assessment and curriculum program focused on the language development needs of beginning-level English learners in the secondary grades. This program was built using a backward planning approach to ensure every standard was covered at the appropriate level, depth, and granularity.
For example, each question in the language assessment is designed to assess knowledge of a discrete standard. Upon a student’s completion of this thorough 75-question assessment, educators can know, down to the exact skill, where each individual student needs more support. Educators can then assign the applicable connected lessons in the program to strengthen the specific language area.
The Right Partner to Bring the ELD Program to Digital Life… and Into Schools That Need It
The next question was how to make this program a resource that any school can use for their English learner population. Students would also be able to use the program anywhere — in the classroom or at home.
To make that happen, I was introduced to the team at Language Tree Online (which has a long history in developing fun, multi-media language learning programs for kids) and the rest is history. Working with Language Tree Online has allowed me to bring this curriculum to life digitally in a way that follows culturally-inclusive pedagogy and is engaging for teenage students. This online resource employs a multi-sensory approach — with video, audio, and visual support — to provide equity of access for all students regardless of their level of proficiency.
In addition to the entry/exit assessments and 28 standards-based lessons in the program, we included online and downloadable classroom activities that can be used in either a small group or for whole-class instruction. The format for the classroom instructional routines incorporates the Gradual Release of Responsibility framework which provides students with modeling, guided practice, and collaborative/independent practice.
Since we launched the Language Tree Online ELD program in 2019, it has been exciting to see teachers from across the country use our online curriculum to support their instruction. Most importantly, teachers are seeing measurable results. We’ve also been getting great feedback from students who tell us that they enjoy using the program and they are improving.
My personal and professional goal is to close the achievement gap for English learners by supporting those students who need it the most. This was my motivation in getting my National Boards in English Language Development. That's also why I continue to work as an English Language Development coach in my district. I’m passionate about helping English learners succeed and look forward to providing more tools and resources to make that happen!