FIP For All: Reaching English Language Learners

Jon Rowley, Grade 2 and Grade 3 teacher at E.D. Smith Elementary School

Jon Rowley, Grade 2 and Grade 3 teacher at E.D. Smith Elementary School

How can the formative instructional practices you’re already using help you meet the needs of all of your students, including those with diverse needs? Follow us as we learn a little bit about one teacher’s journey.

Jon Rowley, who is now in his 11th year of teaching Grade 2 and Grade 3 at E.D. Smith Elementary School, discovered exactly how uncertainty feels when he was assigned an English Language Learner (ELL) to his third grade classroom.

“My first reaction was to think there was someone else more qualified to handle an ELL. I felt completely unprepared and was concerned that I would not be able to meet his needs, considering we spoke different languages. I wasn’t sure how I would explain things to him or teach him how to read or write in English,” Jon said.

Despite his concerns about his own ability to teach this new student, Jon welcomed the student into the classroom and tried to focus on helping him adjust to being comfortable in a new setting, a new country. “My first—and only—goal for a while was to make sure he didn’t become frustrated,” Jon recalls. From that point, Jon could begin to build on academic instruction. “It is amazing how much information an ELL student can pick up just by observing you every day. Sometimes it may seem like they are making little to no progress, but they’ve been submersed into a new world and are absorbing the environment around them at all times.”

If you’ve been using formative instructional practices in your teaching, you may actually know more about reaching every student than you think. After all, the core components of FIP are effective for all students. Of course, these strategies must be applied with different considerations for each learner, depending on areas of strength and need. That’s why the FIP Your School Ohio team has been working to create a series of modules called Reaching Every Student, which includes three separate online learning courses related to the needs of gifted students, students with special needs, and English Language Learners.

Jon teaches in Oakwood City Schools, a district that has embraced formative instructional practices. He quickly learned that the way he needed to provide effective feedback to his ELL was a little bit different than how he might provide it to an English-speaking student. “With typical students,” Jon notes, “there is immediate feedback in various forms. With ELL, much of the communication and feedback is nonverbal. Explaining things required explicit visual cues.” You’ll see examples of teachers responding to some of these differences in our recently released module Formative Instructional Practices: Reaching English Language Learners. You will also have the chance to consider some of the ways you can alter instruction to better meet the needs of your students.

Working to meet the needs of different students may not always be easy, but it is definitely worth the effort. “They may not be fluent by the time they leave your classroom, but seeing them communicating and succeeding in their classes a year or two later is very rewarding,” Jon remarks. “Each day will be a little easier, for you and for them.” As your ELLs learn and grow in their new environment, you will also grow as an educator when you stretch yourself to move their learning forward.