What School Leaders Need to Know about English Learners
Chapter 1: How Can a Good Understanding of English Learning Transform Your School?
1. Foster a school culture that values and welcomes multiple languages and cultures.
- Provide training for all teachers on language and culture, and fostering multilingualism.
- Get rid of "English only" policies
2. Ensure that all teachers are appropriately trained and empowered.
- Hire and empower well-educated TESOL professionals.
- Equip all those who teach ELLs with skills to further language acquisition in their classes.
- Five Things Teachers Can Do to Improve Learning for ELLs in the New Year, by Kristina Robertson
- Preparing All Teachers to Meet the Needs of English Language Learners: Applying Research to Policy and Practice for Teacher Effectiveness, by Jennifer F. Samson and Brian A. Collins
- Six Key Strategies for Teachers of English-Language Learners, produced by the Alliance for Excellence in Education
- “Equipping Classroom Teachers for English Language Learners”, by Ji Young Kim,, Colleen Walker and Priscilla Manarino-Leggett, in the TESOL Journal, Volume 3, Issue 4, pages 722–734, December 2012
- Preparing Teachers to Work with ELLs in Mainstream Classrooms, by Luciana C. de Oliveira and Mike Yough, Information Age Publishing and TESOL Press
3. Create school schedules conducive to meeting ELL needs.
- Acknowledge that ELLs at different levels will need to be in or out of different content classes.
- Ensure that intermediate- and advanced-level ELLs continue their language learning through sheltered content classes, or with teachers trained in language and content learning.
- Prioritize the TESOL professional’s time with ELLs when creating the school schedule.
Back to Top
- Schedule teaching blocks of sufficient duration to make language learning
Chapter 2: What Do You Need to Know About TESOL?
1. There are many legitimate varieties of English spoken all around the world. We should
value these differences, and not hold ELLs to an artificial and uninformed “native
- Hire teachers and TESOL professionals who represent a variety of Englishes and
who have a variety of accents.
- Hire TESOL professionals who can act as resources on questions of dialect,
correctness, and academic language standards.
2. There are many acronyms in TESOL, and they are helpful in understanding the world
of English language learning and teaching. Use acronyms correctly to increase
- Provide accurate labels on jobs and programs.
3. The global spread of English has sometimes caused some harm. Understand the
potential for harm in your particular context, and work to turn possible harms into
Back to Top
- Ensure that children without previous exposure to English and/or with limited
formal schooling can achieve full proficiency and college readiness in your school.
- Value home languages and cultures, and encourage families to maintain and
- Provide translation services for parents so that children are not acting as
- Hire a well-qualified TESOL professional who can train and support content
teachers as they teach academic content to ELLs.
Chapter 3: What Does It Mean to "Know English"?
1. Language is a system, but its function is communication. Ensure that ELLs are receiving
instruction that enables them to communicate in English.
- Hire TESOL professionals who have been trained in communicative language teaching,
and who can train content-area teachers in fostering communicative language skills.
- Understand that true communicative language development often is hindered
when TESOL professionals are given curricula to cover from the general education
2. Common perceptions of correctness are frequently based not on real language use, but on
artificial, prescriptive, grammar rules. Ensure that ELLs experience a program that seeks to
develop real language competence in reading, writing, speaking, and listening, rather than
one which focuses on passive knowledge about grammar or spelling rules.
- Hire TESOL professionals who have been trained in communicative language teaching.
- Allow the TESOL professional to select the curricula for pull-out ESOL classes.
3. English has a large vocabulary, and poses some particular areas of difficulty for learners
(e.g., phrasal verbs and articles). Ensure that all teachers understand some of these
difficulties, and are prepared to help ELLs as they learn.
- Hire TESOL professionals who can help all teachers understand the particularities of
the English language, and work with them to identify links between their content areas
and the development of English language skills.
- Ensure that the TESOL professional has ample time with ELLs at low proficiency levels to develop foundational language (BICS).
4. In addition to acquiring social language (BICS), students must acquire academic language
(CALP). Ensure that academic language is a developmental focus in all classrooms.
- Hire TESOL professionals who can collaborate with content-area teachers to identify and teach academic language pertinent to their subjects. (Science, math, social studies, and Common Core State Standards resources are available online.)
- Help all teachers to see themselves as agents of language development for
5. Language is inextricably linked to culture. Help all teachers to become aware of cultural
knowledge that ELLs may not have.
Back to Top
- Provide professional development on the topic of language and culture
Chapter 4: How Does Someone Learn English?
1. Language that is used for real communication is largely acquired through use, not learned passively as an academic subject. ELLs need the appropriate opportunities, conditions, and time to acquire English.
- Ensure that ELLs are in classes where language that students hear and read is comprehensible.
- Ensure that ELLs have ample opportunities to speak and write using language at their current level. This is often accomplished through appropriate use of pair/group work
in content classes, coupled with pull-out ESOL instruction.
- Ensure that ELLs are allowed the time needed to acquire a language: normally 1–2 years to develop social language, and 5–7 years to develop academic language.
Ensure that tests accurately assess what they are intended to assess (language or content), and do not penalize ELLs for normal language development.
2. There are many popular myths about language learning. Foster a school climate in which all teachers and families have an accurate understanding of language acquisition.
Back to Top
- Create systems so that all teachers have information on the ELLs in their classrooms, including their language levels and appropriate language expectations.
- Create a school culture valuing "quality over quantity" where the use of English is concerned. Teachers should not worry about the use of other languages, but should ensure that English language use is accurately targeting language development needs at the different proficiency levels.
- Provide orientation for parents of ELLs on the importance of maintaining and developing the first language.
3. Some children are simultaneous bilinguals, that is, they are acquiring two first languages.Foster an awareness among teachers that this is a long-term advantage, and that short-term language delays in either language, or differences in language usage, are not problematic.
- Provide professional development for all on some characteristics of bilingualism.
- Encourage bilingual TESOL professionals to maintain consistent usage of the language of instruction, at the ELL’s proficiency level.
- Allow students to use multiple languages (code-switching, or translanguaging) in appropriate ways and contexts. See Ten Ways to Make your School Language and Culture Friendly online.
Chapter 5: How Does Someone Learn English in School?
1. K–12 schooling is an optimal place and time to acquire an additional language. However,
a school context that fosters language acquisition requires intentionality. ESOL classes,
content classes, leveled placement, and curriculum all work together to provide a rich
environment for language acquisition. Hire well-qualified TESOL professionals who can
orchestrate these various dimensions of a successful ESOL program.
- Ensure that the ESOL teacher is a TESOL professional who has the appropriate
communicative competence, linguistic knowledge, theoretical knowledge, and
methodological competence to teach ELLs at all levels of proficiency.
- Ensure that the TESOL professional has a key voice in decisions pertaining to all
aspects of the ESOL program.
2. The principles of language acquisition are relevant to all parts of the school day, in
all classrooms and social venues. Ensure that all teachers and staff understand the
principles of language acquisition.
- Provide school-wide professional development on the principles of language
acquisition. See Brown’s Principles of Language Acquisition online.
3. All teachers need to create classroom environments in which the content is meaningful,
and the classroom experiences include authentic, interactive tasks.
- Provide school-wide professional development on creating meaningful, authentic,
and interactive learning tasks.
- Provide opportunities for the TESOL professional to collaborate with content
teachers to ensure that classroom activities are good learning experiences for
ELLs at various proficiency levels.
4. There are a number of different models for acquiring a new language during K–12
schooling. Be familiar with the model used in your school, and what is required for
Back to Top
- Read about the various models in this chapter.
- Work with your TESOL professional to ensure that your chosen model is
Chapter 6: Where Can an ELL Best Acquire Language and Learn Content?
1. There are many factors to consider when scheduling classes for ELLs, including previous education, language level, and interests. Work with your TESOL professional to
personalize each ELL’s class schedule according to the student’s particular needs.
- Consider multiple sources of data, including the home language survey; language proficiency; educational background; and parent, teacher, and student input.
- Ensure that the TESOL professional has a key voice in placement decisions.
2. ELLs at different levels of proficiency have vastly different needs. Provide learning experiences which address these different needs.
- Personalize schedules for ELLs, rather than providing the same schedule for all ELLs in a specific grade.
3. All testing and assessment procedures need to take into account an ELL’s language proficiency level.
- Select appropriate resources and implement procedures for accurate language proficiency assessments.
- Provide school-wide professional development on differentiating academic content assessments for ELLs.
4. There are a number of different types of classes that can meet the needs of ELLs for both acquiring language and learning content. Be familiar with concepts such as
“coteaching”, “newcomer/intensive” classes, and “sheltered instruction.” Design an effective overall model, similar to the placement chart in this chapter, for your context.
Back to Top
- Work with your TESOL professionals to identify the characteristics of your student and teacher populations, and design a placement model for your context.
- Provide specific training for content teachers who may need to provide sheltered instruction or instruction for newcomers, or who may co-teach with a TESOL professional.
- Sheltered Instruction
- Newcomer Programs