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Evaluating Instructional Materials for English Learners

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Access to high quality instructional materials is an ongoing concern for multilingual learners and the educators who serve them. We know MLs are capable of engaging in rigorous content, but schools and districts often lack adequate support and resources, which may lead to choosing curriculum without considering the needs of language learners. We wouldn’t expect a soccer player to have a good game in cleats that didn’t fit. How can we expect students to learn their best from lessons that haven’t been designed to fit them?

Recently on the Highest Aspirations podcast, we spoke with Crystal Gonzales, Executive Director of the English Learner Success Forum, whose mission is to "increase the supply and accessibility of high-quality mainstream instructional materials that have explicit language supports." 

Crystal shares criteria for evaluating instructional materials with MLs in mind, the importance of ensuring diverse representation in decision-making and more. Listen to the full episode via any podcast app or watch on our YouTube channel. Here are a few starting points for making more equitable access to rigorous content a reality in your school.

Begin with what’s in front of you. 

Ask deeper questions about your students and materials. What language support needs are not currently being met? Where are integrated language supports missing in the curriculum? What materials might be blocking access for MLs?

Tackle a few aspects of the curriculum at a time. 

Evaluating the entire body of instructional material can be overwhelming. Crystal recommends selecting one or two specific areas and adapting the current materials to better support MLs in class. Be sure to involve as many members of the teaching staff as possible. Remember: instruction that is intended for MLs is good for everyone, but what is intended for everyone may not be good enough for MLs. The ELSF website offers free resources and guides for this evaluation process.

Prioritize diverse representation at every level of decision making. 

When forming committees such as an Instructional Leadership Team, ensure that there are representatives from every department so the entire student community is represented.  Research what the process of curriculum adoption looks like and advocate for representation of MLs in these adoption committees.

Here are some resources mentioned in the episode:

Crystal Gonzales is the Executive Director of the ELSF where she collaborates with national experts, organizations, educators and content developers to increase the supply of quality K-12 instructional materials that meet the needs of the growing EL population. Previously, as a program officer at the Helmsley Charitable Trust, she collaborated with national K-12 organizations with a focus on teacher professional development, quality instructional materials, and advocacy for underserved communities. In this role, she worked with EL experts to elevate the needs of ELs among grantees and her grantmaking peers. Crystal began her career as a 4th grade bilingual teacher in Houston ISD. She is a proud native New Mexican and currently resides in NYC.

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