4 Best Practices for Supporting Spanish-Speaking English Learners

By: | 09/02/2021
Category: Instruction
Spanish-speaking English Language Learners (ELLs) bring a wealth of assets to the classroom. Learn four best practices that help Spanish-speaking multilingual learners grow, learn, and shine.

As of fall 2018, Spanish was the home language of 3.8 million public school English Language Learners (ELLs), representing 7.7 percent of all public school Grades K–12 students.

In this post, we’re sharing four best practices for working with Spanish-speaking ELL students that any teacher can use in their classroom, as well as pertinent i-Ready features (including some new ones!) that our educators can incorporate into their instruction this fall.

1. Use culturally responsive materials and practices to celebrate and engage ELLs.

Multilingual learners represent a broad spectrum of experiences and communities, and they bring unique linguistic and cultural assets to the classroom.

The culturally responsive piece of this best practice can take numerous forms, but two that have been found to significantly improve learning outcomes are learning content that feels relevant and real to students and partnering with families.

Age-appropriate materials that reflect students’ lived experiences boost engagement with learning, which plays a crucial role in learning gains.

We also know that students’ families are key resources for any educator, so finding tools that help promote clear and consistent communication is important and worth the effort. Indeed, the positive effects of good parent–teacher communication on students’ academic lives and personal well-being can be profound.

How does i-Ready support this ELL best practice?

  • Culturally and linguistically responsive lesson content that includes representations of Latino and Hispanic cultures gives learners a chance to identify with the people and concepts they’re reading about and to be the “cultural expert” on some things that their native English-speaking peers might find unfamiliar.
  • i-Ready comes with a wealth of resources for communicating with families in Spanish (as well as other languages), including videos, data trackers, a family guide, posters, and checklists. This year, we’re adding tech support in Spanish as well. We’re always expanding what we offer in languages other than English to help educators partner with families, no matter what their home language is.
“Age-appropriate materials that reflect students’ lived experiences boost engagement with learning, which plays a crucial role in learning gains.”

2. Understand and leverage students’ home language.

Teaching a second (or third, or fourth) language should make use of the student’s existing ability to speak and write in their home language.

In short, second-language acquisition fits new words and patterns into the student’s existing linguistic framework, rather than creating that framework from scratch.  It’s this first-language framework (in this case, Spanish) that we want to understand, so we can use it to students’ advantage. But most teachers in the US don’t speak Spanish—they can’t do this alone. It’s crucial to have some insight into students’ Spanish skills. This is the framework on which they will build their understanding of English. For example, if a student can already conjugate verbs in Spanish, English conjugation will come easier to them than if they couldn’t.

How does i-Ready support this ELL best practice?

  • New for the 2021–2022 school year, our digitally based Assessment of Spanish Reading for Grades K–6 was developed by native speakers and delivers student data through user-friendly reports.
  • The i-Ready Oral Reading Fluency Assessments in Spanish for Grades 1–4 are also new for the coming school year. Packaged with the i-Ready Assessment suite, these assessments provide critical data points to illustrate students’ Spanish reading fluency and progress toward reaching grade-level expectations.
  • Finally, almost all of our English-language i-Ready Personalized Instruction lessons contain Spanish-language (in addition to English-language) glossary definitions. This enables Spanish-speaking students to use their home language as a tool to understand unfamiliar English words.

Students striving for biliteracy in Spanish and English and the educators who teach them can rely on
i-Ready resources in Spanish to meet learning goals.

Read More about i-Ready en Español

3. Provide opportunities to learn math in English and Spanish.

As most teachers know, math has its own academic language that can be opaque to students who are not taught it explicitly. Scaffolding within English-language math lessons is one way to surmount this issue, but we know that Spanish fluency—including academic language fluency—is not only an asset for students, but it also correlates with stronger reading gains in English.

How does i-Ready support this ELL best practice?

  • The adaptive Diagnostic for Mathematics is now available in both English and Spanish for students in Grades K–12, allowing educators to better understand their mathematics content knowledge and skills, independent of English-language proficiency.
  • i-Ready offers Personalized Instruction lessons for Mathematics in Spanish, providing a one-to-one correspondence between English and Spanish instruction. For the 2021–2022 school year, most Mathematics lessons will be available in Spanish for Grades K–6.
  • To support instruction in Spanish, Tools for Instruction for Mathematics in Spanish for Grades K–8 provide structure and guidance for differentiated small group or individualized instruction, or to review prerequisite skills during whole class instruction.

4.  Grow students’ Spanish reading skills.

To best support emerging bilingual students in learning English, educators should also support them in learning their home language. Research has shown that ELLs who are literate in Spanish are able to learn English faster than Spanish-speaking students who are not literate in Spanish. This is especially important for young learners who are still building foundational skills in Spanish reading and writing.

How does i-Ready support this ELL best practice?

  • Authentic Spanish-language online Reading lessons help the youngest learners develop their Spanish literacy skills. i-Ready provides research-based instruction with Phonics lessons for Grades K–2 to provide support in letter learning and decoding skills, and new lessons for the 2021–2022 school year provide support in Phonological Awareness for Grades K–1 and Reading Comprehension for Grades K–2 in Spanish.

Final Thoughts

These are, of course, just a few of many ways to successfully support students whose home language is Spanish. The most important piece of the puzzle is the bigger picture: Every student can succeed if given the opportunity and the support they need. Best practices can only go so far—the most powerful force in a young learner’s life will always be their teacher’s ability to see and believe in their success.

The Curriculum Associates product suite was designed with ELLs in mind and is based on research-based best practices from organizations such as the Council of the Great City Schools and the English Learners Success Forum.

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