Different…but Lots in Common

As a way to better serve the needs of our English Language Learner (ELL) population, NYSED adopted the proposed amendments to the CR Part 154 Regulations in September, 2014. While I was contemplating the changes and imagining how these changes will affect (all!) educators who may struggle still with the challenges of the CCLS, a short but profound little article by Aileen Jackowsky, contributing writer to the Syracuse Post Standard Sunday paper, caught my attention. She states:

“We are different but we have much in common” All I really need to know about how to be human I learned from people with “disabilities”. Courage was not something I learned in graduate school but from people who told me what it is like to be labeled “developmentally disabled” or “mentally ill” or “chemically dependent.” This is what I learned: We are each different. We look different, do everyday things in different ways, have different goals and are at different points in achieving them. We have different things we are really good at, and different ways of thinking about the same things. For a variety of reasons, we communicate in different ways. Our stories about our family struggles differ, some more than others. We are all the same. We all want to be loved. We all fear pain and seek joy. We communicate whether we speak or not. Everyone has eyes; some people look at others as if they were invisible, and some persons who are blind have extraordinary vision. We all have ears, although not all of us can hear and many of us don’t listen. We all grew up want to be “successful.” Everyone makes mistakes. Put-downs hurt…

In the same way that students with disabilities (SWD) struggle and perhaps are looked at differently, there are striking similarities to our ELLs who struggle and are looked at differently, particularly the ELL students with interrupted formal education (“SIFES”), many of whom come here from refugee camps having experienced various hardships. For students with disabilities there are 13 classifications. Most ELLs will not fall into these classifications; nevertheless many times they are classified with a ‘perceived disability’ due to not being able to speak English well enough yet. There is a great article on Differentiating Instruction For ELLs by Karen Ford (from ColorinColorado), that addresses some of the instructional aspects of this classification misperception. She begins by stating:

Each student comes to school, not only with unique academic needs, but also with unique background experiences, culture, language, personality, interests, and attitudes toward learning. Effective teachers recognize that all of these factors affect how students learn in the classroom, and they adjust, or differentiate, their instruction to meet students’ needs. …

So the concepts of finding courage, looking different, having different goals, communicating in different ways, facing struggles, etc. are complicated enough for ELLs… now toss in the Common Core Learning Standards! Without proper training and support, often times regular classroom teachers have a very difficult time reaching the needs of their ELL students. Since the CCLS was introduced in 2010, there has been a heightened awareness of this and a fury of changes coming out of Albany. The Blueprint for Success is one such “framework” that is beginning to change the culture on how New York State is speaking to these struggles. In addition, a powerful, yet still incomplete document The Bilingual Common Core Initiative (BCCI) called “The Progressions” is another tool out of NYSED that aims to strength bilingual education all across the State. The Common Core Standards were created for a monolingual population and as such, the performance of ELLs could continue to lag well behind their English proficient peers. The BBCI compensates for some elements that the CCLS do not address, and provides classroom strategies and pedagogical practices that can help target instruction, design instruction, and differentiate instruction. Patricia Velasco, Ed.D from Queens College NYC, who is helping to roll out these language initiatives says, “We all have a part to play in this new environment and even though many of the elements [sic] are crazy, we decided to move ahead and be part of something bigger than ourselves.” That is courageous.

If you want to learn more about the CCBI or the Blueprint or ELLs, check out the RBERN Albany website, that now has a new name “Office of Bilingual Education and World Languages” (OBE-WL). Also, Mid-State RBERN offers a workshop entitled: ELLs, The Progressions, and Differentiation. This workshop offers an understanding of the NYS Bilingual Common Core Initiative (goals, background, context, terminology) and discussions on how the progressions can help target instruction for particular populations, design instruction in different classroom settings, and differentiate instruction for language programs (NLA, HLA,WL).

Doran_Sally_150pxSally Doran

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