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Tips for Back-to-School Success in the Classroom with English Language Learners

The new school year is either already upon you or quickly approaching--perhaps too quickly! Hopefully you were able to rejuvenate over the summer and are now ready to tackle the challenges ahead while making a huge impact with your students. Whether you’ve had English language learners in your class before, or this is the first time, it’s important to know some small steps you can take to help these students start the year strong.

  1. Get to know your ELL students. Understand their language levels and abilities, their home language, and cultural considerations. If your district has Ellevation InClass, you will be able to see all of this information with a few simple clicks. If you aren’t using Ellevation InClass, thats fine, too. Your ELL teacher should have all of this information and will more than likely be eager to share it with you! If you aren’t able to access state or consortium guidance, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has a one page overview describing language proficiency across language domains.

  2. Turn your classroom into a language haven. A literacy rich environment is an invaluable place for all learners--ELLs and native English speakers alike! A classroom with visible, meaningful text allows for students to engage with reading constantly. These visual supports will help ELLs learn the language expectations of the classroom. Display routines, important terms, relevant books and magazines and more to connect and build on language. You’ll be amazed by how often students refer to your purposeful postings and how these visual supports help to improve confidence. Houston Independent School District put together this great list of teaching resources that can help you set up your classroom.

  3. Collaborate with your ELD Teacher/Team. The beginning of the year is a busy time for everyone. I remember during my time as an ELL teacher that I always felt as though I was bothering the classroom teachers. And while classroom teachers are very busy, that’s not an excuse to put off working together to better serve students. Collaboration might not happen unless you schedule time to meet, so send an email to your ELL teacher and plan for 15-30 minutes to start talking about your students and their service needs. If you have Ellevation InClass, you can use the notes feature to collaborate digitally with an ELL’s team of educators.

  4. Set Goals. We’re all familiar with SMART Goals, SLOs (Student Learning Objectives), and more, but how about setting some professional goals for yourself? Maybe you’d like to have an organized classroom. Maybe you crave more professional learning opportunities. Maybe you have a goal around ELLs such as tapping into more diverse texts or providing students with clearer scaffolds. Whatever those goals are, write them down (using this template) and find a few steps to making them happen. Post those goals where you will see them, and refer to them often.

As challenging as it may have been, I always loved the excitement of the beginning of the year. And, the long hours in my classroom all seemed worth it once the students came streaming in through the door. They only have one year in their grade level- how can you make that year the best it can be? What are some tips you have for starting the school year off right?