5 Strategies for Improving Outcomes for English Language Learners

English language learners (ELLs) are the fastest-growing student population in public schools across the country, an evolution that presents both a challenge and opportunity to transform educational practices. Ensuring that all students, regardless of their primary language, have equitable access to quality education is crucial for not only the success of ELLs, but for the vitality of our public schools and communities. 

When schools and districts prioritize and invest in support for ELLs, they foster an inclusive environment that benefits all students, promotes cultural understanding, and strengthens the fabric of our society. Principals and district-level administrators must lead the way with innovative strategies that elevate learning outcomes for ELLs, ultimately enriching the educational experience for everyone.

The Importance of Prioritizing Effective ELL Support

The growing population of ELLs means that educators must find the balance between accommodating a richer cultural diversity in the classroom and addressing ELLs’ unique learning needs. Doing this effectively is not just a matter of equitable policies and standards but of practical, on-the-ground strategies that can make a real difference in the learning environment for ELLs and their peers.

01: Leverage Multilingual Resources and Instructional Diversity

An effective strategy for ELLs involves integrating culturally relevant, real-world content into the classroom to foster a multilingual, multicultural environment. This approach both supports English language acquisition and helps teachers acknowledge and celebrate their students’ cultural backgrounds. For example, incorporating activities around news articles from students’ home countries, world music and art, diverse literature, and bilingual/dual language education models can significantly enrich the learning experience and engagement of not only ELLs but also their English-speaking peers.

The challenge lies in the careful selection and consistent integration of these resources to ensure they align with the diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds of students. Administrators can facilitate this by regularly surveying families to get a clear picture of their students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds, support curriculum design that is inclusive and representative of those backgrounds, and promote a richer, more engaging educational environment. 

02: Prioritize Professional Development for Educators

Implementing job-embedded professional development tailored for teachers of English language learners is critical, especially since many mainstream training programs don’t require teachers to be prepared to instruct ELLs. To fill this gap and provide educators with the support that they need, training should be differentiated and ongoing, integrate cultural competence and the effective use of digital tools that bring diverse content into the classroom, and center around ELL-specific competencies. 

A real-world example of this is currently in progress in Providence Public Schools, whose leaders partnered with engage2learn (e2L) to create and implement a coaching and growth plan designed to help teachers effectively instruct ELLs. To support this plan, e2L and the district collaborated on designing a Multilingual Learners (MLL) Best Practices Rubric composed of leveled, MLL-specific competencies, including language proficiency, vocabulary development, and differentiation and scaffolding. 

This approach has empowered Providence teachers to grow in their skills, seamlessly integrate strategies for ELLs into their classrooms, and improve student outcomes. You can read more about this ELL-focused partnership here.

03: Implement Targeted Learning & Assessment Tools

To track and enhance the learning progress of English learners, implementing leveled learning rubrics and specific assessment tools is key. With these rubrics, teachers can help students engage in self-assessment to identify their own starting points in any given lesson or standard. From there, teachers can assign level-specific activities to help students grow from where they are, rather than teaching to the middle.

Teachers can then use targeted assessment tools that are designed to accurately measure student progress and language acquisition, providing them with valuable data to further their tailor instruction. For example, district leaders can implement regular assessments that not only gauge language proficiency but also provide insights into the academic understanding of the subject matter, allowing for timely interventions and support where needed.

04: Promote Cultural and Linguistic Inclusivity in School Policies

Creating an inclusive school culture that values and leverages the linguistic diversity of the student body is essential. This involves crafting policies that support cultural diversity and inclusive practices that recognize multiculturalism and multilingualism as things to be welcomed, celebrated, and accommodated.

While the benefits of such policies are numerous, implementing them with fidelity can be a challenge. It is crucial for administrators to introduce these policies while creating space for teachers and staff to have their concerns heard and their questions answered. School and district leaders can then lead by example, fostering an educational ethos that values diversity and inclusivity as strengths that enhance the learning environment for all students.

05: Utilize an Advanced Data Analytics Platform to Inform ELL Support

Integrating a comprehensive, adaptive educator support platform like e2L’s GroweLab helps educators and leaders know that their ongoing commitment to improving the learner experience for ELLs is actually having an impact. By using GroweLab's user-friendly data dashboard, leaders can monitor, measure, and correlate student achievement and educator growth data, making it easier to identify patterns, successes, and areas for improvement. 

Using a tool like GroweLab allows for real-time insights into educator effectiveness and student achievement, enabling timely and relevant interventions that address the specific needs and challenges of ELLs. With an advanced data-informed approach like this, leaders ensure that the support educators receive is effective and responsive to the evolving needs of ELLs, ultimately improving language proficiency and academic outcomes.

Building and Sustaining Supportive Strategies for ELL Success

The task of meeting the needs of and improving outcomes for English language learners is complex but essential. By leveraging diverse instructional resources, prioritizing targeted teacher support, implementing leveled learning and assessment tools, promoting inclusive policies, and utilizing an advanced education data analytics platform, school and district leaders have the makings for a successful ELL student population.

As we continue to navigate and meet these challenges, it is crucial that we remain committed to strategies that not only address the immediate needs of English language learners and their English-speaking peers but also prepare all students for long-term success in their schooling and beyond.

You can find more ELL-focused insights, support strategies, and success stories here or by reaching out to e2L.

RELATED: Innovative Partnership Between engage2learn and Duval County Public Schools Promises to Improve Outcomes for ELLs