Part 2 of Implementing the Common Core with ELLs

Criteria for Curricular Materials Labeled as Appropriate for ELLs

How to determine whether instructional materials support ELL's needs

Although the CCSS were not originally written with ELLs in mind, there are several tools available for those educators who wish to evaluate the degree to which curricular materials that are said to be CCSS-aligned are actually appropriate for ELLs. (It’s worth a mention that many curricular materials that claim to be aligned to the CCSS in actuality may not be, so I recommend always proceeding with caution.)

Since ELLs are not a monolithic group, I suggest that you take a deep look at these materials and adapt them as necessary to make sure they’re a good “fit” for the ELLs you work with. Remember, one size definitely does not fit all with ELLs due to the diversity of ELLs even within linguistic and cultural groups.

You and your colleagues most likely work with your ELLs on a frequent basis, and all of you have your own set of unique observations regarding your ELLs’ backgrounds, strengths, and needs. For this reason, it would be beneficial for you to collaborate with ESOL and content teachers to share these observations when using or adapting the four tools described below.

  • The Council of Great City Schools’ A Framework for Raising Expectations and Instructional Rigor for English Language Learners provides a three-step, in-depth “user’s guide” to evaluate and select instructional materials for ELLs. It was informed by Student Achievement Partners’ Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET) and the Publishers’ Criteria. The three steps, supported by useful tables and scoring sheets to guide you through this process, are outlined below.
    • Step 1: Evaluate materials based on overarching considerations relative to your ESL/ELD philosophy and delivery model.
      • Confirm that materials have been designed and validated for use with ELLs.
      • Confirm that the philosophy and pedagogy related to English language acquisition establish high expectations.
      • Confirm an explicit and substantive alignment of materials to the Common Core.
    • Step 2: Evaluate materials based upon nonnegotiable criteria related to ELLs.
      • For ELLs, non-negotiable criteria revolve around maintaining grade-level rigor, building knowledge while acquiring and building academic language (in English and/or other languages), and cultural relevance.
      • The ELL-specific non-negotiable criteria seek to identify materials that provide ELLs with the necessary rigor in language development, provide ELLs with full access to grade-level instructional content, integrate scaffolding for ELLs without compromising rigor or content, provide ELLs access to text that increases in complexity, with intentional connections between ESL and ELA instruction, all anchored in the CCSS.
    • Step 3: Evaluate remaining options via a close review of additional considerations, using a district-specific or grade-by-grade rubric to identify and select the materials that best meet your specific requirements.
  • WIDA’s Protocol for Review of Instructional Materials for ELLs (PRIME) is designed to provide guidance on instructional materials that specifically correlate to the WIDA English Language Proficiency Standards, which support the implementation of the CCSS. PRIME offers a process to determine the ways in which key components of the WIDA ELD Standards are represented in instructional materials such as textbooks and online resources. Even if you teach in a state in which the WIDA ELD Standards are not used, you can adapt this protocol for your own unique context. The 14 PRIME criteria, grouped under four areas, are:
  1. Performance Definitions (linguistic complexity, vocabulary usage, language control/conventions)
  2. English Language Proficiency Standards (presence of WIDA ELP standards, representation of language domains)
  3. Levels of English Language Proficiency (differentiation of language, scaffolding language development)
  4. Strands of Model Performance Indicators (language functions attached to context, higher order thinking, coverage and specificity of example topics, accessibility to grade level content, sensory support, graphic support, and interactive support).

Each of the 14 criteria are supported by several yes/no guiding questions to discuss with a partner or group with a space to add justification in support of each “yes” response. A list of instructional materials that have already been reviewed by WIDA-trained correlators is available on the WIDA website.

  • The CCSS Lesson Plan Rubric, developed by Colorín Colorado bloggers and DSF Consulting staff Diane Staehr Fenner and Sydney Snyder, is a tool to determine the extent to which lesson plans based on the CCSS meet the educational needs of ELLs of varying proficiency levels. It is a quick check, framed around standards alignment, the three Shifts in the CCSS for ELA & Literacy, and assessment that teachers can use on their own lessons or on lessons developed by others to gauge how well lesson plans meet the needs of ELLs.
  • Assessing Alignment to the Common Core State Standards, curriculum review tools developed by AFT, can be used to evaluate a curriculum frame­work, a set of curriculum maps, or a published pro­gram to be used in implementing the curriculum. There are two review tools – one for English Language Arts and another for mathematics. The areas the ELA and mathematics tools measure are: alignment with the CCSS, format and structure, the learning continuum, instructional resources, research-based instructional strategies, indicators of student mastery, and instructional plans. While these tools have not been specifically developed with ELL resources in mind, high-quality curricula for all students must meet these criteria. Users can adapt them for this purpose by adding components that address their ELLs’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

I hope you have the chance to explore these tools more in depth to see which might be most helpful for you to evaluate the materials you’re using with ELLs. Please let me know if you know of some tools that weren’t mentioned here!

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About the Author: Diane Staehr Fenner is founder and president of DSF Consulting, a woman-owned small business that supports English learner (EL) achievement by providing technical assistance, professional development, research, and curriculum design to districts, states, and organizations. She earned her Ph.D. in Multilingual/Multicultural Education from George Mason University with an emphasis in Literacy. In addition to her work on policy and practice issues at the national, state, and local levels, she has an extensive instructional background in K-12 education, including ten years teaching and assessing ELs in Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia as well as experience teaching English as a Foreign Language through a Fulbright Scholarship. Dr. Staehr Fenner is an author of many works in the field of EL education. She authored the well-received Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators (Corwin, 2014). In addition, she writes a popular blog for Colorín Colorado and has recently published articles on EL education for ASCD and the International Literacy Association. She is the lead author of Evaluating ALL Teachers of English Learners and Students with Disabilities: Supporting Great Teaching (Corwin, 2015) and Preparing Effective Teachers of English Language Learners: Practical Applications for the TESOL P-12 Professional Teaching Standards (2012). She frequently presents on the topics of EL advocacy and collaboration, teacher preparation of ELs, and practical strategies for implementing College and Career Ready Standards for ELs at state, national, and international conferences.