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Using Professional Learning Communities to Implement Evidence-Based Practices for English Learner Students in Alabama

Southeast | August 02, 2022

State Priorities Focused on English Learner Outcomes

Alabama schools are experiencing significant growth in their population of students for whom English is not their first language or primary language spoken at home. The number of English learners (EL) has increased by approximately 10,000 students since 2015. Currently, EL students make up 3.95 percent (33,237 students) of the state’s K–12 population (Alabama State Department of Education, 2021). As Alabama’s EL students continue to grow their proficiency with English, Alabama’s educators are seeking ways to improve achievement outcomes and close the achievement gap between EL students and their peers. With support from the Region 7 Comprehensive Center, the State has been working to develop and implement a Framework for EL Success, improving systems and creating shifts in practice to better meet the needs of EL students and teachers who support them.

To align with the new State initiative, Alabama teachers must use high-leverage instructional practices to help EL students increase their literacy and language skills and achieve academically. To complement these efforts, the REL Southeast has formed the Alabama Research Partnership on Improving English Learner Outcomes with the Alabama State Department of Education and participating districts to provide professional learning to teachers on instructional practices described in the What Works Clearinghouse Practice Guide Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School. The practice guide contains the following four evidence-based recommendations along with "how-to" practices for implementing them with detailed explanations and lesson examples for support:

  1. Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities.
  2. Integrate oral and written English language instruction into content-area teaching.
  3. Provide regular, structured opportunities to develop written language skills.
  4. Provide small-group instructional intervention to students struggling in areas of literacy and English language development.

(Baker et al., 2014)

As the state continues to develop and implement its three-year plan for the Framework for EL Success, the REL Southeast will provide needed practices to teachers as soon as early fall through the Alabama Research Partnership for Improving English Learner Outcomes.

Sustaining the Training Using Professional Learning Communities

Research tells us that teachers need an effective support system to help them implement the evidence-based instructional practices from the Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School Practice Guide. As such, REL Southeast will use the research-based companion document developed by REL Southwest, The Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) Facilitator’s Guide, as a tool to deliver the training and coaching. The state has identified a diverse group of PLC partnership members consisting of 11 district partners and one school within each of those districts. These partners are in both rural and urban areas that span from northern to southern Alabama. The student population ranges from less than 10 to over 200 EL students in each partner school, a majority of whom speak Spanish as their home language. While the context differs among these districts, they have all expressed a strong interest in becoming members of the Alabama Research Partnership on Improving English Learner Outcomes. The REL Southeast will train 12 regional EL coaches and district-level facilitators on how to use the PLC facilitator’s guide to implement the four recommendations. These trainers will work in pairs for nine months to co-plan and train PLC members that consist of 4–5 school staff, including classroom and ESOL teachers, instructional specialists, and school administrators. The REL Southeast will support these PLCs with implementation coaching and support after the nine training sessions have concluded.

Changes in Teacher Practices

Teachers in Alabama have received training over the years on topics focused on EL students, but the systematic process of using PLCs to support implementation may be new for teachers in the partnering districts. With ongoing support from the regional EL coaches and district facilitators, teachers will have the resources and time needed to learn the practices, reflect with their peers, and practice and refine them. They will gain knowledge and skills in using evidence-based practices for EL students with fidelity, ultimately leading to improved outcomes for EL students.

Stay tuned! Learn more about the Alabama Research Partnership for Improving English Learner Outcomes and other REL Southeast partnerships here. We look forward to providing updates and progress on using PLCs to support teachers, and ultimately their EL students, in the coming months.

References

Alabama State Department of Education. (2021). The Alabama framework for English learner success. RMC Research Corporation.

Baker, S., Lesaux, N., Jayanthi, M., Dimino, J., Proctor, C. P., Morris, J., Gersten, R., Haymond, K., Kieffer, M. J., Linan-Thompson, S., & Newman-Gonchar, R. (2014). Teaching academic content and literacy to English learners in elementary and middle school (NCEE 2014-4012). National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/publications_reviews.aspx

Dimino. J. A., Taylor, M., & Morris, J. (2015). Professional learning communities facilitator’s guide for the What Works Clearinghouse practice guide: Teaching academic content and literacy to English learners in elementary and middle school (REL 2015-105). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest. http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs

Author(s)

Heidi Goertzen

Heidi Goertzen

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