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Common Core Standards & English Language Learners

Instructor: Bill Sands
Common Core State Standards provide a nationally recognized outline for education in math and English language arts. Keep reading to learn more about the Common Core's benchmarks and get recommendations for helping English language learners meet them.

What Are Common Core State Standards?

In an effort to provide a more standardized and cohesive approach to education, experts and teachers from across the nation have developed the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). These standards help teachers develop curricula for students of all ages, from kindergarten to high school. Currently, over 40 states have voluntarily adopted CCSS into their education systems.

By emphasizing critical thinking, analytical skills, and problem solving, the standards equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to pursue a variety of future options, including university-level study, workforce training programs, and even entry-level employment. To get an idea of what these standards look like, check out these Common Core State Standards courses, which are aligned with English language arts and math learning objectives for middle and high school students.

CCSS for English Language Learners

CCSS recognize that students who are in the process of learning the English language will need extra time and support in order to meet the standards and satisfy requirements for graduation. Although they have access to such resources, English language learners (referred to as ELLs) should be aware that they will be held to the same English language, literacy, and math learning outcomes as other students. Strategies for helping them meet these objectives are outlined below.

English Language Arts

Regardless of a student's educational and professional goals, effective communication is essential, as are proper reading comprehension and writing skills. Standards for English language arts demand that all students show competent command of topics found in the writing, reading (both informational texts and literature), listening, and speaking content domains.

In some cases, non-native speakers may apply literacy skills in their first language to accelerate academic progress in these areas. For example, ELLs can (depending on their native tongue) use basic vocabulary skills - such as a familiarity with root words and prefixes - when learning new words. At higher levels, students can apply grammar and conjugation knowledge when encountering verbs or employ their understanding of sentence structure. In order to ensure the greatest possible opportunity to meet standards, CCSS recommend that ELLs have access to the following:

  • Qualified teachers and other instructors with experience teaching ELLs
  • Constant feedback and assessments to gauge progress
  • English speakers who are able to bridge any miscommunication or translation issues
  • Coursework that includes pedagogical techniques and other tools to ensure that students will be ready for postsecondary instruction
  • Diverse school environments in which students are immersed in and introduced to a broad range of cultural experiences
  • Inclusive classroom discussions that encourage participation and interaction between ELLs and native English speakers

To get help implementing some of these suggestions, check out this online Resources for Teaching English Language Learners course, which features several useful tips and techniques for instruction.

Mathematics

Fortunately for ELLs, many concepts in mathematics can be expressed visually, as well as through language. Graphs, charts and other representations of data serve as excellent tools for explaining concepts to students who may not necessarily understand the language. Non-native speakers can also apply their own experiences to help understand these concepts as well as the vocabulary needed to explore new subjects.

CCSS note that despite the visual nature of math, instructors should ensure that students continue to develop their language skills. Word problems and lectures may still prove difficult for ELLs. These students will also need to acquire the listening and speaking abilities required to participate in discussions and explain solutions to their classmates. In fact, research strongly suggests a connection between consistent classroom participation and comprehension of not just math, but also key language skills.

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