ELLs Can Common Core

There is an erroneous idea floating around educational circles. Not everyone believes this, but many do, and some unconsciously allow this idea to affect their lesson planning and teaching. It is the idea that English language learners (ELLs) can’t meet the Common Core (or any) State Standards. As we discussed in my last post about accommodating ELLs, the vast majority of ELLs have grade level knowledge and abilities, the only thing they lack is the ability to express their knowledge in English. They CAN meet Common Core Standards, they simply need to do it in a different way.

In order to assist our colleagues in their instruction of ELLs (because as was also addressed in my last post, the vast majority of the work falls on the general classroom teacher, the ESL teacher is there to assist), a fellow ESL teacher and I developed a reference tool. We took the Common Core State Standards for K-8 (we were at a K-8 school) ELA and the WIDA Can Do Descriptors and combined them into a chart (available via the download button on the left). For those who are not familiar, the WIDA Can Do Descriptors “highlight what language learners can do at various stages of language development” (taken from the WIDA website). In other words, they describe what ELLs are able to do at various proficiency levels to communicate their knowledge in English. 

Within the document you will find a page (there are 358 pages, so I wouldn’t recommend trying to download it to a phone) for each of the CCSS ELA standards. On each page you will find the standard, the cognitive function (I can) statements for that standard, a chart showing the reading/listening and writing/speaking can do descriptors for each of the five WIDA levels (level 6 is considered grade level proficient), and academic vocabulary words relating to the standard. If a teacher has an ELL, he/she is able to look up the standard that will be taught in a given lesson, find the student’s proficiency level in the chart, and read the can do descriptors for how that student can demonstrate competency with that standard. This not-so-little document has unequivocally become the most helpful, most requested, most beloved teaching resource I’ve ever created. 

The good news, if you haven’t already discovered it, is the document is available for download with this post. You can click the download button above to get a PDF version for yourself. Remember, it is over 300 pages long and 2.81 MB in size, so you might not want to try this on a phone. Feel free to download, print, use, and share with your colleagues. All we ask is that you please give proper attribution. While the standards and the can do descriptors aren’t ours, the alignment and formatting are, and it was a lot of work to put together. The bad news is no, there is no document for grades 9-12. I always meant to create it (my colleague was our little people expert, so this is my fault, not hers), but never got around to it. The highest grade I taught after WIDA came to our state was 9th, and I just referenced the 8th grade standards for them. Then a couple years ago I migrated to the college level and haven’t done much with Common Core or WIDA since. 

Since I don’t want to leave you on a negative point, I’d like to share with you about another resource that my middle school colleagues may find useful. I spent most of my K-12 career in middle school (and loved it, I still miss it), and one of the greatest needs my students had was academic vocabulary. I was the ESL teacher who believed my students could understand and use the “difficult” vocabulary if someone just took the time to teach it to them. Hence my new arrivals knew words such as “consequences,” “appropriate,” and “stupendous” before they knew much more basic vocabulary. Since I couldn’t find a way to fit all of the academic vocabulary into general everyday interactions (I may have been known to use behavioral correction discussions as opportunities to teach parts of speech: “What verb did I ask you to use? What verb were you demonstrating? What adverb did I use to describe the verb? What adverb did you demonstrate?”), I developed a program to explicitly teach the CCSS academic vocabulary words for grades 5-8. The program only took about fifteen minutes a day to implement, but by the end of the year my students had learned 150+ academic vocabulary words, and were much less intimidated by standardized tests. I also developed a context clues game to practice these words. There are buttons below to link you to these resources if you think they’d be helpful for your students. Happy teaching everyone, and remember: ELLs Can Common Core!