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English Learner Expertise: Not Just for Specialists Anymore


With a majority of English learners (ELs) born in the United States and the proportion of EL students within the overall student population growing dramatically, providing the best possible education for English learners has become an issue of increasing urgency. 

 Traditionally, regular subject matter teachers generally simplify instruction and reduce expectations for English learners (ELs). EL specialists bear most or all of the responsibility for improving these students’ language skills: subject matter teachers generally have little or no expertise specific to working with EL students. Teachers who do receive professional development focused on EL instruction generally receive only a few days of workshops with no follow-up. 

A new model in which all educators develop expertise in English learner instruction is being advanced. Professional development guides teachers toward providing “high challenge, high support” lessons, which give English learners intellectually challenging experiences and provide the supports needed for them to develop English language skills and academic content knowledge simultaneously. 

The Quality Teaching for English Learners (QTEL) initiative at WestEd was developed to put this model into action. QTEL provides systemwide professional development and coaching to help teachers in every discipline offer high-caliber instruction for secondary students who are learning English as a second language.