Starting a new school year is a frenetic whirlwind of endless preparation, meetings, lesson planning, room arranging – AND – English proficiency testing for the newly enrolled students. I’m so relieved when I have finished testing all the new kindergartners and newcomers that I want to dive right into teaching. I let the classroom teachers know which students qualify for ESL services, I get my schedule approved by the principal. I even manage to send home all those fall Parental Notification Letters with the test results. OK, now I’m ready for the fun stuff.
But wait! I need to slow down and think a little more about the mainstream teachers. I gave them a quick review of the W-APT (our English proficiency screener) scores but was that enough? Do they know how to address their ELLs’ needs in the classroom? Kindergarten teachers are a little better prepared for the challenges of differentiation because they are teaching beginning literacy skills to all of their students. The challenges are considerably greater for teachers in the higher grades in elementary, middle, and secondary school . They are naturally more focused on content objectives and more likely to be flummoxed by how to incorporate language objectives in their lessons. If their ELLs are fluent in conversational English (BICS), the teachers may mistakenly believe their academic language skills (CALPs) are equally well developed.
The ESL teacher can make it a little easier for the classroom teachers even if they don’t have the time for a lengthy conference about their ELLs. They are as pressed for time as anyone else this time of year. A more useful approach is to prepare a chart of their ELL students’ Can Do Descriptors for listening, speaking, reading, and writing. This will give them a quick reference guide to the respective needs of their ELLs. You will be starting the year as a useful ally, and the classroom teacher will have a better idea of their students’ actual language abilities.