Teachers of English Learners with disabilities: Join WestEd for a three-day virtual institute on Navigating Learning and Instructional Acceleration for English Learners with Disabilities, August 2–4, 2022.

The online institute addresses the needs of practitioners who seek support for providing high-quality instruction for students at the intersection of English language learning and disability.

During the three days, participants develop skills for instructional planning in the classroom. They will learn how to use asset-based, future-oriented practices to accelerate learning and, simultaneously, gain a better understanding of students’ unique and diverse needs. Teams will be guided in taking a deeper look at high-quality instruction using a variety of supportive frameworks.

WestEd Senior Program Associate Silvia DeRuvo facilitates the training. Silvia has been committed to equity in education for students with disabilities and struggling learners throughout her 30-year career. With WestEd since 2005, she has worked extensively with schools and districts to implement inclusive practices to support students with disabilities and those classified as English Learners.

In this Q&A, Silvia shares why working to support better outcomes for English Learners with disabilities is meaningful to her, what she likes best about training teacher teams, and more.

Q: In what way is this work personal to you?

This work reflects a large part of my teaching career. As a special educator in California’s Central Valley, I primarily taught English Learners with disabilities. I studied speech and language impairment in college, so the focus of my classroom instruction was always on rich language development in the context of the content. Developing language in the primary language or English was an embedded goal in all the lessons in my classroom. I loved seeing my students work cooperatively and engage in deep conversations with each other as they developed their language skills.

I was an English Learner. My family immigrated to the United States as refugees from Europe in the late 1950s. I was born here, but English was not spoken in our home. We spoke German and had a strong and rich culture that permeated all areas of our lives. My parents were not literate in English, which restricted their understanding of the education system here and their ability to support us in our education. In our schools, we didn’t celebrate our culture and, at times, faced prejudice because we were German. I never wanted my students to feel they couldn’t celebrate who they were and the culture they brought to the classroom.

Q: As a prerequisite to doing this work, educators must respect the diverse cultures of English language students. Can you talk about the importance of asset-based practices in supporting English Learner students with disabilities? 

Asset-based instruction capitalizes on the home language, knowledge, and culture the student brings to the classroom. Charo Basterra, a guest speaker from our Summer 2021 Institute, shared that she brought her cultural experience into the classroom like a suitcase. That suitcase is set aside and never opened in a classroom that is not asset-based. But that suitcase is opened, explored, and shared in an asset-based classroom as an integral part of that classroom community. Asset-based classrooms recognize that English Learners come to the classroom not just speaking a different home language but with rich cultures, prior experiences, knowledge, and schooling.

Asset-based instruction utilizes students’ home language, culture, and experiences in planning their direct English language instruction. The teacher supports the lesson with instructional practices and resources that enable students to learn English and grade-level content simultaneously.

Q: What can participants expect to learn at the institute?

Participants will learn how to embed rich language development into their lessons, focusing on quality interactions in which students develop their English language skills in authentic ways. We’ll spend time analyzing and “tuning” lessons to ensure that they encourage quality interactions in which students exchange ideas, ask questions, and discuss content-area concepts. Teams will practice planning their instruction to promote sustained oral interactions. These teams will have an opportunity to collaborate using lesson plans to identify how to use Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles in their instructional planning and the High Leverage Practices in Special Education to inform lesson design and individualized student adaptations.

Q: You’ve been helping teachers implement effective instructional practices for quite a while. What do you enjoy most about facilitating the institute each summer?

I love the breakout rooms where teachers work together on lesson plans that focus on student needs while ensuring rich English language development. The breakout rooms help participants learn from other teachers who are also working to meet the needs of English Learners with disabilities in their classrooms. Their enthusiasm for learning and collaboration is contagious.

The Navigating Learning and Instructional Acceleration for English Learners with Disabilities Three-Day Virtual Summer Institute will take place August 2–4, 2022. Teachers, special education teachers, English language development teachers, administrators, and other support personnel working with English Learners with disabilities are welcome.