RTI for ELLs: “Our Kids” or “Their Kids”

by H.Parris-Fitzpatrick

Last week we presented at a NYC Conference for the CEI-PEA Children First Network.  The theme was RTI for ELLs and the audience consisted of both teachers and administrators who work with ELLs, but who are not Bilingual or ESL educators.  This audience analysis is a critical piece of information as it points to future trends in ESL pedagogy and the growing demand for information about our students.  

I can’t speak for everyone, but in my past experience, ELLs were not the center of the local or national education agenda.  In most districts, the ESL program was tucked away in a corner of the building and the responsibility for the academic success of ELLs rested primarily on the shoulders of the ESL teacher.  As an ESL professional, I shouldered this responsibility with pride and knew “my kids” needed me to navigate through the school system.  The ESL teacher still facilitates many things for their students; however, now there appears to be some relief on the way.

Call me Pollyanna, but we addressed a room full of teachers who were not trained in ESL methodology and they were warm and compassionate and eager to learn about how they can help “their kids”.  This is a big shift in school culture and I have some theories about why this has happened, but I’m not going to address that at the moment.

What is important to note, is that ELLs in education is a hot topic.  People want to know more about the instructional needs of ELLs.  The emphasis on literacy that is at the core of RTI, has brought to light this diverse population that is an equally important part of the general student body.  

So how can RTI help?  What exactly does it mean? In brief, at the Tier One level, RTI is a reminder to all content area teachers that academic tasks should be tiered and scaffolded for ELLs and that direct and explicit academic vocabulary instruction is required in order for them to be successful.  It is a reminder that teachers must monitor content and language comprehension.  It is an acknowledgement that we are all English language teachers.

As mentioned in a Practicioner’s Brief from The National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCREST), intervention designed to improved literacy for ELLs is multifaceted. In “A Cultural, Linguistic, and Ecological Framework for Response to Intervention with English Language Learners, the authors highlight the need for comprehensive teacher training, http://www.nccrest.org/Briefs/Framework_for_RTI.pdf “less than 20% of the 56% of public school teachers in the U.S. who have at least one ELL in their class are certified to teach ELLs (Waxman, Tellez & Walberg, 2004). Thus, most teachers lack the training, expertise, and experience in teaching reading and other subjects to ELLs.”  

So, how do we address this need and maximize this time in the spotlight? The article provides guidelines that all districts need to consider when implementing RTI for ELLs

It is indeed ironic that this focus on ELLs comes when there is rising hostility regarding immigration and when economic times have depleted resources and programs. Yet, with every crisis, comes opportunity.

As ambassadors for our English Language Learners we are in a unique position.  People are ready to listen.  Get the word out.

 

Esparza-Brown, J., & Doolittle, J. (2008).  A Cultural, Linguistic, and Ecological Framework for Response to Intervention with English Language Learners

 

 

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