Multilingual Learner Digital Hearth Series: Part 2

May 17, 2024

Welcome to Part 2 of UnboundEd’s Multilingual Learner (MLL) Digital Hearth Series. This series is a “digital fireside chat,” where we’ll discuss topics that bridge the gap between research and practical application. These chats provide insights into equity-centered mindsets, successful advocacy, and progressive system upgrades that support our schools’ MLLs.

UnboundEd is pleased to introduce a Standards Institute™ Pathway for educators of MLLs in the elementary grades in the spring and summer of 2024, titled Accelerating English Language for Multilingual Students. As we prepare a place for you at this exciting event, we have asked experts in the UnboundEd community to share how they center MLLs. These educators work daily to ensure their MLLs experience grade-level, engaging, affirming, and meaningful — GLEAM — instruction.

Empowering School Leaders: Making Moves to Disrupt Predictable Outcomes for MLLs

The best thing leaders can do for MLLs is provide professional development to their teachers. Teachers in every discipline benefit from strategies to support MLLs. All students benefit when a school community unites to ensure positive outcomes for MLLs. Leaders set the tone for the school community.

In this blog, we discuss ways leaders can catalyze the development of educators so teachers can lead and support an equitable playing field for MLLs. Amy Rudat, Senior Director, Program Design, UnboundEd, is the moderator of this conversation.


Featured experts

Megan Fehr

Dean of Curriculum and Instruction, Lawrence Public Schools

Michelle Hunsberger

ELD Instructional Specialist, Montgomery County Public Schools

Andrea Robinson

Content Specialist for English Language Development, Montgomery County Public Schools

Amy Rudat

Senior Director, Program Design, UnboundEd

What can school leaders do to support MLLs and ensure they experience GLEAM Instruction? What is their role?

Megan: School leaders can provide ongoing professional development opportunities for teachers to effectively plan, scaffold, and differentiate instruction to meet the diverse needs of MLLs. This includes work around writing language objectives that amplify the mode(s) and function(s) of language within a lesson, strategies such as using visual aids, explicit vocabulary instruction, leveraging students’ first language, and offering alternative assessment opportunities to ensure that all students can access and demonstrate understanding of grade-level content.  Additionally, school leaders can collaborate with teachers to deconstruct and reconstruct curriculum materials to better reflect the backgrounds and experiences of MLLs. This can help students feel more connected to the content and increase their learning motivation.

Andrea: School leaders must ensure that MLLs have access to the same grade-level coursework and content as their English-proficient peers. They need to be creative in scheduling interventions, recognizing that this is only appropriate after the first instruction has been provided. They need to recognize that when students do not meet grade-level standards, it is not the fault of students or caregivers. School leaders need to prioritize the needs of students over the comfort of staff. This means ensuring that students receive high-quality, standards-aligned instruction that is culturally relevant. It also means grouping students heterogeneously and providing staff with the necessary training to instruct students with varying levels of English proficiency.

Michelle: Build the capacity of the teachers to scaffold up and understand the detriment to a student’s language development when text is modified with decreased rigor. Also, there are multiple entry points into grade-level texts, and they will look different for different students based on their strengths and needs.

What happens when school leaders put these policies, programs, and strategies in place?

Megan: As a school leader, we continue to build a multi-tiered system in which MLLs and their families feel supported. Our school priorities focus deliberately on improving achievement outcomes for MLLs. As such, professional development opportunities, budgetary considerations, curriculum selection, instructional coaching, staffing decisions, and teachers’ student and professional practice goals are written to include action steps specifically targeting improving instruction for MLLs. By prioritizing the needs of our MLLs and fostering strong partnerships with families and community stakeholders, we have created a school community where all students feel supported, valued, and empowered to succeed.

One key aspect of our success story is the restructuring of grade-level teams to include a certified MLL teacher at each grade-level, grades 1 – 8.  These teachers provide push-in, co-teaching support for tier 1 content, and language acquisition services during two dedicated intervention blocks throughout the day. This team works closely with grade-level elementary generalists and middle school core content teachers, respectively, to design language supports, provide academic guidance around the language acquisition continuum, and suggest social-emotional resources to ensure that students feel welcomed and valued in our school community. 

In addition, a MLL instructional coach collaborates exclusively with our grade-level MLL teachers on a weekly basis to enhance their pedagogical skills and build capacity in supporting MLLs. Overall, our success in creating a supportive environment for MLLs and their families is a testament to our commitment to equity, inclusion, and collaboration. Through co-planning workshops, peer observations, demonstration lessons, and observations and feedback, our teachers continue to gain valuable insights and refine strategies to effectively differentiate instruction and create inclusive learning environments that push students to the edge of their language competencies across all four language domains. 

Andrea: I taught at an elementary school with nearly 500 MLLs in grades K–5. We experienced the most success when our content area teachers (for ELA, math, science, or social studies) collaborated with the English Language Development (ELD) teachers to plan differentiated instruction focused on teaching language alongside content. We mapped out content and language goals, developed success criteria, and then determined scaffolds to support students at varying ELP levels.

The success of MLLs begins with the mindset and expectations of a school leader.  School leaders set the priorities and tone for the learning environment. When leaders and teachers embrace the GLEAM hypothesis to guide their instructional planning and approach, all students can thrive. We encourage you to attend the Accelerating English Language for Multilingual Students pathway at Standards Institute! In this pathway, you will learn about language objectives, instructional strategies, and family support to improve the outcomes for the MLLs in your community.  Bring a team!