This Spotlight centers on improving outcomes for English Learners, with insights on multilingual students in postsecondary education, research on how classroom social interactions accelerate English learning, and evidence-based advice on better lesson designs for English Learners in mathematics classrooms.

See our Multilingual Learners of English E-Bulletin for more resources.

EducatorsAddressing the Needs of Postsecondary Language Learners

WestEd and Student-Ready Strategies conducted interviews with college-level Multilingual Learners of English (MLEs) in Texas and California. The students provided three crucial insights into how to best serve them.

MLE Students Value a Culture of Care

A sense of belonging is key to academic success. MLE students who feel accepted and respected have the confidence to navigate challenges. MLE educators should give students ample intentional opportunities to connect with each other and with the school.

MLE Students Balance Life and School

MLE students are more likely to be employed full-time and to be supporting dependents compared to their non-MLE peers. Instructional strategies that provide MLE students with extra time and support are best, as is treating MLE students with reassuring patience even when they have conflicting responsibilities.

MLE Students Anticipate the Future

MLE students hope to improve English-speaking skills to pursue a new career or move up at work. Faculty can create pathways between ESL coursework and academic and workforce programs, and tie ESL coursework to specific disciplines.

Read more on MLEs in postsecondary education.

Why Social Speaking Matters to English Learners

Aída Walqui, Director of the National Research and Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners, shares a painful truth: “If you walk into an English language development classroom, you will find only a handful of students, if any, speaking. In fact, students in such classrooms are rarely ‘invited’ to speak freely and are more often admonished for their ‘incorrect’ grammar or vocabulary.”

Quality Interactions, which allow students to mix socially, inspire them to find meaning behind language, and motivate critical thinking, are a better way, says Walqui. Teachers can help by organizing group interactions around topics and materials chosen to appeal to a particular group of students. “The more enticing and comfortable the social entry points … the more opportunities for students to make learning connections, think critically, and derive meaning—all within a safe web of support,” writes Walqui.

Read more on Quality Interactions and English Learners.

How to Engage English Learners in Mathematics

It’s not enough to teach just the method for solving problems, says Dr. Haiwen Chu, co-principal investigator at the National Research and Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners. Dr. Chu’s field research on English Learners in mathematics reveals the real key is helping students understand math concepts.

“Overall, we want English Learners to understand not just how to do something, but why, when, and under what conditions to apply or adapt those mathematical procedures,” says Dr. Chu. “All students are capable of deep and generative conceptual understanding if we offer them opportunities to explore and deepen their knowledge.”

Learn more about lesson designs that simultaneously boost English and math learning.

Subscribe to the E-Bulletin

Stay informed about WestEd’s research, resources, services, events, and career opportunities by subscribing to our E-Bulletin. Our March 2024, Volume 2 issue examines research and shares resources to help educators better serve multilingual learners of English. You’ll find:

  • Summer Professional Learning: Elevate Your Practice with Leading Research
  • Systemic Improvement Plan for English Learner Success
  • Quality Interactions Are Crucial, Especially for Those Learning English
  • How to Engage English Learners in Mathematics
  • How English Learner Research is Informing Teacher Development
  • Developing Educator Expertise for a Multilingual, Intercultural Future
  • Student Voices: Lessons From Multilingual Learners
  • Supporting English Learner Students With Cognitive Disabilities
  • WestEd at NABE

View the March 2024, Volume 2 E-Bulletin.

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