Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey ENGLISH LEARNERS —The School Leader’s Guide
What should principals know about English learners? Plenty! The English learner population is rapidly increasing in our schools, and while we have learned a lot in the last few years, there is still much to do!
Fisher & Frey organize their research into five important big ideas to support principals getting started.
1. Learn More. English learners are a diverse group with a wide range of abilities and skills. Start with what they do know through a home language survey, assessment of their English proficiency, and be familiar with the language proficiency standards.
2. Do More. “English learners are doubly challenged, as they must learn English while learning in English.” Provide a quality instructional program that allow them to listen, speak, read, write and view. Fisher and Frey’s Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility is an effective framework for all of our students and especially our English learners. I do. We do. Ya’ll do. You do.
3. Assess More. Large scale and small scale assessments should be utilized to measure growth and determine an instructional focus. Consistently monitoring their understanding will give a better picture of the whole child and allow us to utilize their strengths for the next steps. A note of caution here. Students’ progress should be compared to their true peers, defined as those with “similar language proficiencies, culture, and experiential backgrounds” (Brown & Doolittle 2008).
4. Teach More. If our English learners are not making progress in a strong instructional core, do not “wait for them to fail.” Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI²) with English learners requires intensification of time, expertise, group size, assessment, and family involvement in a tiered approach. A principal’s job is to ensure they receive the level of support needed for progress.
5. Involve More. Students will need a greater understanding of what they should know and be able to do. Teachers and principals will need to continue to participate in professional development to learn more about current research and best practices. Instruction also improves when teachers are given frequent opportunities to collaborate with like colleagues and specialists. Finally, deepening relationships with families and “finding ways to make our schools more like home (Frey, 2010) helps each of us to have appreciation for each other and to build a sense of community and commitment.
Fisher and Frey commented, “Although the complexities of teaching English learners can be daunting, it is well worth the investment.” The critical conversations principals have with each of the shareholders to prompt thinking and support of best practices makes a difference. Education is essential for all of our English learners.