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Using SEAL Practices in California to Fulfill the Promise of New ELD Standards

Editors note: At Ellevation, we take pride in sharing insights from exceptional practitioners across the country about good instructional models from the field. Here’s an article from one of our subscribers in California, Dawn Addis, a district-level educator on special assignment for English Learner and Intervention programs.

California is one of the most linguistically diverse states in the nation. Over 1 in 5 children (1.4 million) in our K-12 classrooms are learning English as an additional language. In fact, our education system serves more English learners than anywhere else in the US. For too long, English learner graduation rates have trailed far behind those of other students in our state. California must change this.  

To address this rich diversity, we have adopted new English Language Development Standards (2012) and a new English Language Arts/English Language Development Framework (2014). You can think of the standards as the what to teach, and the framework as the how to teach.

Goodbye watered-down curriculum. Hello real-world learning.

Together the new standards and framework represent a hopeful guarantee. The guarantee that our emergent bilingual students will learn English while simultaneously learning grade-level content through English. We are saying goodbye to watered down, out-of-level, rote education. And saying hello to rigorous and self-affirming engagement centered on linguistic and academic development. If you’re wondering, “How do they do that?” you’re not alone.

The good news is that we have many resources. One of the best resources is an instructional model based in Silicon Valley. It is the Sobrato Early Academic Language(SEAL) model designed by expert Dr. Laurie Olsen. Serving Prek-3rd grade children learning English as an additional language, this model shows amazing results.

I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Olsen in person and was immediately awed. My subsequent visit to the demonstration site, Hoover Elementary, was a game-changer. I now know the vast achievement possibilities that exist for our emergent bilingual students. I’d like to take you on a walk-through of Hoover’s classrooms. The point isn’t to convince you of SEAL, but to demonstrate the kinds of practices we can all engage in to ensure that students learning English do so while simultaneously learning grade-level content through English.

CA_SEALRigor - Rigor can be defined as high levels of challenge combined with high levels of support. Walk into any of Hoover’s classrooms and you will see children alive with learning. One particular challenge is for students to add written labels, in English, to their drawings. Supports include their background knowledge (built in and outside of the classroom), anchor charts, realia, native language and a teacher for dictation. In this setting, students stretch their oral and written language skills while engaging in academic learning.  

Self-affirmation - Effective instructional models are powerful, in part, because they affirm the experiences of students, and use those experiences as a focus for language and academic learning. This is exemplified at Hoover in the jobs that are highlighted for a social studies unit. Instead of just relying on the textbook, the work done by parents and local community members is exemplified. This allows children see their lives as important. In addition, they draw from their own backgrounds when expanding their spoken and written English language. Children are proud to tell you about their families and the work they do.

Engagement - Every classroom at Hoover exemplifies student engagement. In one room, students write on whiteboards as part of an interactive writing lesson. In another, children are knee-to-knee practicing new vocabulary. Then you see Scientists, replete with lab coats and badges, discussing and recording their observations. Moving on, a different group jointly constructs sentences for their map project. Everywhere you go students are engaged, using language while learning academics.

Linguistic development - To learn language, students have to use language. Every Hoover classroom you visit is loud, mostly because students are using language. You hear group chants about curricular topics, discussion in a group project and explanations of thoughts. At first, it’s a little chaotic. But then you remember this is how language develops. To learn to speak, read and write, students must engage in speaking, reading and writing. They cannot do just one.

As you can see, the goals of the California state standards and framework can be achieved. It is possible to get students learning English while simultaneously learning grade-level content through English. However, we cannot do it alone. We must look at the best-practice research, view the model programs, and leverage the expertise of our communities. I hope you will join me in doing just that.

Please take a look through the resources below and see which might fit your needs. If you know of a model program, please share it in the comments below. Have a question? Leave that too. Let’s get this conversation going!

More Resources:

ELA/ELD Snapshots -  “Examples of instructional strategies for transitional kindergarten through grades eleven and twelve in ELA, ELD, and other content areas.”

ELA/ELD Vignettes - “[I]n-depth examples of classroom practices, including connections to other disciplines and scaffolding for modifications for all students, including instruction for integrated and designated ELD.”

The California English Language Development Standards: Getting Started - Free, online, professional learning module.

A Deeper Dive into the California English Language Development Standards - Free, online, professional learning module.

Colorin Colorado - A “premier national website serving educators and families of English language learners (ELLs) in Grades PreK-12.”

Ellevation Blog - If you’re reading this post you’re already here. Check out some other posts, it’ll be worth your time!

You can find Dawn posting and pinning to inspire on on her blogTwitterFacebook, and Pinterest.