Preparing Teachers to Meet the Needs of ELLs

As states begin to implement the Common Core, there has been an increased focus on English Language Learners, or ELLs, in the classroom.  An estimated 25% of children in America live in households where a language other than English is spoken.  How can “regular” classroom teachers support the needs of these students?  A new report by the Center for American Progress tries to answer this question.

The report leaves aside the argument over pedagogical aspects of teaching ELLs (immersion versus native language instruction, etc.), and focuses on the “foundational knowledge about ELLs that might serve general education teachers…these include the importance of attending to oral language development, supporting academic language, and encouraging teachers’ cultural sensitivity to the backgrounds of their students.”  The authors argue that these areas should be “purposefully and explicitly integrated” into teacher preparation, certification, evaluation, and development to improve ELL outcomes.

The report also summarizes key findings drawn from other literature on promising practices that all teachers can use when working with ELLs, and examines gaps in policy and practice.  They compare five key states (California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas) to help identify essential knowledge and skills that can be used to address these gaps.  Specifically, the authors recommend that consistent, specific guidelines on the oral language, academic language, and cultural needs of ELLs be addressed in:

  • Reauthorization of ESEA
  • Revisions to NCATE standards
  • State regulations
  • Teacher preparation programs
  • State certification programs
  • Teacher-observation rubrics
  • PD linked to teacher evaluation


In a related piece of news, the U.S. Department of Education announced last week the award of nearly $24.4 million for 73 grants to improve instruction for English learners. Located in 28 states and the District of Columbia, the grants support a variety of professional development activities for teachers and other educational personnel who work in in elementary and secondary school classrooms with English learners.

The grants are awarded to higher education institutions that partner with local school districts or state education agencies, and are dispersed over five years.  The majority of the grants include PD for science and math teachers of ELLs.  “These funds will help upgrade the content and instructional skills of new and veteran teachers working with English learners, as well [as] provide career ladder programs for paraprofessionals,” said Rosalinda Barrera, assistant deputy secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition.

To read the report from the Center for American Progress, please visit

For more information on the DOE grants, please visit