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Establishing New Paths to Educational Advancement and Prosperity for Older English Language Learners

Teacher: Caitlyn Castillejo/Kristen Cacciatore
School: Charlestown High School

The Challenge:
“Older English language learners often come to CHS with enthusiasm and dreams of getting a high school diploma. However, given the graduation requirements and their own time constraints, these students become uninterested in school, have other commitments, and, particularly because of their age, ultimately drop-out without guidance, support, or future plans. Since September 2017, 46 students ELD 1 or 2 have dropped out of our school; of those 46, 78% (36) were 17 years or older. Additionally, 43 students ELD 3-5 have dropped out; of those, 60% (26) were 17 years or older. Age, then, is a prominent factor for ELL students who are dropping out.

Therefore, we used this grant to investigate why this population was disengaging from school and then learn and test out best practices to address the students’ needs and keep them engaged.”


What did your team do about it?:
– Sent a group to visit a highly successful program for older EL students in New York City in order to learn best practices
– identified a cohort of students for our study populations
– designed a survey to assess student thinking about learning all domains of English in all of their classes
– analyzed the student data and discovered that our study group most valued the domains of speaking and listening.
– Adapted a discussion strategy learned at the NYC Internationals Network conference implemented across all content classes to teach and practice these domains more regularly and cohesively.
– Worked together to identify implementation ideas and create learning tools
– Implemented our strategies at least once per week in every class


Impact on Students:

In each of our classes, the number of collaborative speaking and listening tasks increased.
Many students recognized the common learning tools and associated strategies being used in several of their classes
The willingness of all students to speak in English in class increased markedly and speaking became a normal part of our class routines.
One older EL student, who reported in the original survey that he didn’t speak English much in math or science class, remarked on several occasions that he noticed and liked the increased focus on English speaking in science and math. “I like Tuesdays because of discussions” was one representative comment to his physics teacher, referring to the card-based discussions occurring in the class every week.


Teacher Leadership and School Community:

Working across content teams with educators on the SEI team benefited each educator on the team by:
– Allowing us to speak about students across contents and develop more holistic views of a students English language development.
– Increasing our repertoire of strategies for teaching speaking and listening English to students in our content areas
– fostering development of strong collaborative relationships with each other that we can leverage to support students in the future on other initiatives
We hope to report on our work to our SEI colleagues and other teachers and administrators when we return to work, or perhaps in September


What’s Next?

A current focus of our inquiry in how we can adapt this work to our situation now, with schools closed. Can we modify these tools and strategies for online learning in a way that supports older EL students, who may be particularly affected by extended working hours or other obligations now?

Another challenge we addressed early on was how to calibrate our strategies so that they had common features but were flexible enough to adapt to our individual content areas (Humanities, Physics, Math).

As stated, we plan to report on this work to our colleagues with a focus on the success of our model across content areas. We will invite and encourage our SEI colleagues to join in and contribute to the continuation of this work next school year and beyond. Also, some of this work could be useful as part of the district’s recently announced Kaleidoscope partnership.


Helping Others:

The focus of our strategy was to make explicit the different forms and functions of academic discourse and help students learn to adapt language across content areas to different tasks. We adapted a participation strategy from the Internationals Network and created 5 color-coded laminated cards, each with 3-6 sentence stems, that provided students with an academic language scaffold and mandated practice and participation. Students had to select what kind of comment was relevant to the task (Ask a question, Press for more information, Make a Connection, Answer a question, and Retell an idea to check understanding), practice in English with a peer, and be ready to make a whole-class contribution. We hope to encourage the rest of our unit at Charlestown to utilize these cards and implementation strategies, and they could be shared more broadly.