Reading Students' Invisible Subtitles

pencil poemOften, English learners disappear in their classrooms and don't feel connected to their peers or teachers. Sometimes they are mislabeled as being disengaged or uncaring. Frequently, they are carrying burdens and hurt we don't know about. These barriers can be crippling – but with skillful teaching strategies, they can be transformed.

As a new high school teacher, Grace Dearborn found out that when she reacted to challenging situations with frustration or anger, it rarely helped. A few years into teaching, she realized that using compassion to teach her high school students school-appropriate behavior created a major shift in classroom dynamics. She started to see happier and more engaged students.   

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Explicit Language Instruction: Why does it matter if students understand how English works?

While the Common Core English Language Arts Standards do not prescribe specific instructional approaches, there are several key shifts that have significant implications for classroom practice. 

  • With a focus on reading increasingly complex texts, students must learn to respond to questions based not on factual recall, but rather on the relationships among ideas and between different texts, and on their interpretation of those texts.
  • Learning to use evidence from text and their own experiences, students must articulate their thinking to demonstrate a depth of understanding, research skills, and analysis.
  • The emphasis on gaining knowledge through higher-order thinking skills means that providing a brief written response or selecting a correct answer from a list of options is no longer sufficient to demonstrate learning.

Each of these shifts has a critical point in common: a lot of language is needed to accomplish the work. To successfully meet academic demands, English learners need an internalized knowledge of written and spoken English – the ability to confidently and adroitly make skillful language choices to express their thinking.

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