Like the teachers who teach them, English Learners are faced with what feels like a daunting task every day. Whether born in the U.S. or not, whether they have any prior schooling or not, whether they have literate parents at home or not, they are expected to advance their content knowledge in another language while simultaneously learning the form and function of that language.

Let’s face it – it’s a tall order to fill. Yet English Learners (ELs) and the teachers that are dedicated to them show up every day to do just that.

In my 19 years working with English Learners, I have been consistently amazed by their tenacity – their sheer willingness to give learning try after try despite the challenges so many of them face in learning English. As teachers of English Learners, we are presented with a myriad of challenges ourselves, but armed with the right tools we can overcome those obstacles to empower our English Learners. They show up every day hoping that we will; we can’t let them down.

A Growing Population

Did you know? – Students who are acquiring content while they are acquiring English as an additional language constitute the most rapidly growing segment of the student population in the United States. While the sheer numbers of ELs continues to rise, the achievement gap in both English Language Arts and Mathematics has either remained the same or widened. Sadly, the numbers tell a clear story. However, those of us who teach ELs every day can attest to the fact that those numbers don’t reflect the small victories that these students and teachers achieve every day in the classroom. The question then is: How can we reach and teach English Language learners so that they are empowered to turn these small victories into larger gains?

Reaching English Learners

English Learners as a population are extremely diverse, which makes teaching them particularly challenging. Fortunately, despite their diversity and the challenges we face in teaching them, there are some concrete things strategies we can use to ensure that every day is a personalized experience where learning can take place anytime, anywhere.

Connect with the Families of English Learners

With any student population we aim to foster the connection between school and community. To this end, we strive to ensure that we offer every opportunity for families to feel connected to their child’s school.

For families of English Language Learners, this can be an even more challenging task. Keep in mind that a portion of your EL parent population may be illiterate so events like Family Reading, Math, or Science Nights should be tailored to offer strategies and ideas that they can learn and grow from as well.

Parents of ELs often come from countries in which teachers are so highly revered that parents are intimidated by them. In these cultures, it is believed that education is best left to those highly revered ‘experts’. Asking parents who hold such beliefs to partner with us may be an unfamiliar and uncomfortable concept for them. In this case, it’s crucial to first reinforce how essential their role is in educating their child, make them comfortable in doing so, and then empower them by providing strategies and ideas they can use daily at home.

Teaching English Learners

Teaching starts with Formative Assessment of Language Acquisition. Before we begin talking about instruction, we must ensure that teachers are equipped with accurate assessment data. This data enables us to group students for English Language Development (ELD) and content area instruction. Attempting to teach without accurate, actionable data would be like flying a plane through dense fog with no instruments to guide you.

While states are required to assess the language acquisition levels of ELs annually, teachers can leverage more personalized assessment to achieve greater outcomes. Utilizing the formative assessment process – specifically classroom-based formative assessments – can be part of the daily effort to advance an ELs progress in the four domains of language.

Let’s Do It!

Tools such as WIDAs CAN DO Descriptors or your state’s own ELD Standards can be a great starting point for the creation of a quick Language Proficiency Formative Assessment. Or contact us at for a free sample!

Do you have some great ideas for reaching and teaching English Learners?