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Using Data to Plan ELL Instruction in Indiana Classrooms

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are a teacher in Indiana, then you are accountable to meeting the needs of English Language Learners. This lesson discusses some strategies for using data to plan ELL instruction in an Indiana classroom.

Data and the ELL Student

As someone who cares tremendously about meeting the learning needs of every student in her class, Helen, a fourth grade teacher in Indiana, has become especially curious about her ELL students. These are students who are known as English language learners.

Helen realizes that there are more and more ELL students in Indiana classrooms, and she wants to find the best ways to teach these students how to communicate and learn in English. As with all of Helen's students, she understands that the more data, or meaningful information, she has about these learners, the better equipped she will be to meet their needs.

Helen learns that when it comes to ELL students, it is crucial to collect data about:

  • Basic interpersonal Communication Skills, sometimes called BICS. These are the skills, usually in oral language, that children use to talk informally, socialize, and communicate their fundamental thoughts and needs.
  • Cognitive Academic Language Proficiencies, shortened to CALPS. As Helen learns, even students who communicate fluidly in informal situations sometimes struggle with more academic language associated with reading, writing, and other areas of instruction. CALPS take longer to acquire, and it is important for Helen to use data to help her plan meaningful instruction in CALPS for her ELL students.

Formal Data

Some of the data Helen collects on her students is formal, meaning it comes from standardized tests and other official measures. For example, at the beginning, middle and end of the year, Helen administers standardized tests mandated by her district for all students in reading and math.

These assessments let Helen determine what her ELL students' strengths are, where they really struggle, and what their next instructional steps might be. Helen can also use this data to measure individual student progress in English as well as the content areas, and to note patterns among the ELL students in her school.

Informal Data

Much of the data Helen collects is also informal, meaning that it comes from observing students' daily interactions, talking with them in the context of the classroom, and analyzing their work samples. Helen finds informal data on ELL students very helpful because it is not collected under pressure, and she often feels it gives her an authentic picture of a student's capacity.

When Helen collects informal data, she is often able to use it immediately, picking up on a point of confusion in the next day's lesson, or pulling a small group of students to work on vocabulary or grammar as needed.

Keeping the Standards in Mind

Of course, Helen does not make all of her curricular and instructional decisions based on student performance, interest and needs. She is also accountable to external standards. However, she believes that she can use student data to help her work toward meeting the standards in ways that will be truly meaningful to her students.

The Indiana Academic Standards

Indiana, Helen knows, does not use the Common Core State Standards, a set of college and career readiness standards that have been adopted in 41 other states.

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