Interview with Cynthia, a 12 year old EL from Syria

Interview with Cynthia, a 12 year old EL from Syria

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Voices from EL: Q & A With Bridhya Battarai

Voices from EL: Q & A With Bridhya Battarai

See our interview with high school senior and EL  Bridhya Battarai from Washington Tech High School in St. Paul Minnesota.

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Guest Blog: A Content Teacher’s Tips

Guest Blog: A Content Teacher’s Tips

We asked one of our content teacher users about her thoughts on teaching ELLs. We know teachers are busy and often live in the moment. Read her thoughts on better understanding her students.

      By:  6th grade English Language Arts Teacher, Mrs. Jennifer Chomer

The support you are looking for may or may not ever be provided by your school district and/or administrators.  You may want or even need an extra hand in the classroom, time to meet with the ELL teacher, attend a conference or two…but the support just isn’t coming. Try to remember this…keep the E-L-L in your mind.

“E” stands for EVERYONE feels out of place at some point in their life.  It feels as though everyone is “getting it” but you.  Everyone knows everyone…but you feel like you are the stranger.  Everyone knows the routine but it is new to you and you simply cannot get the hang of it.  Just remember that for those students who are considered ELL’s…they feel this way throughout their entire school day.  EVERYONE can empathize…EVERYONE can make someone else feel at ease.  You just need to be that person.  Smile, use a calm voice, don’t worry if they didn’t do the homework, don’t seem to understand…don’t look at you when you are teaching.  Believe me…they are trying, they are hearing you and they are learning.

“L” stands for listen.  Not just to their voice/tone but to their body language.  Notice when they are nervous, upset, happy, etc.  They are students who want to be noticed, just like anyone else in your class.  Listen to what they seem to be saying to you and to others in your class.  Most times, ELL students just want to listen to you…listen to how you treat others (which can be noticed by not just knowing the language…but by your tone of your voice.)  Pay attention and LISTEN to what they seem to be thinking or feeling.  Often times a smile, a glance their way…or some form of appreciation from you to them can go a long way.

“L” Learn….learn from them!  Yes, it is true they are in your class to learn…but what an opportunity it is for the class and you to learn from them.  Find out how they learned your subject matter in their country.  Is it different?  Do they recognize technology you are using?  Strategies, etc.  Learn from them and allow them the chance to show others.  We can learn  a lot from others…if we just put aside a few minutes during our lessons to ALL learn.

Sometimes the best support in a classroom is the support we give to each other!

How to define Educational Benefit, and how much is enough? Endrew v. Douglas County School District

How to define Educational Benefit, and how much is enough? Endrew v. Douglas County School District

Special education is at the steps of the Supreme Court. In Endrew v. Douglas County School District, the Supreme Court is charged with deciding the question: How much educational benefit are districts responsible for providing in order to fulfill the FAPE Requirement of the IDEA?


The IDEA stands for the Individuals with Disabilities Act. It requires that all students be provided a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) which is defined as, “special education and related services” that (A) have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge; (B) meet the standards of the State educational agency; (C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in the State involved; and (D) are provided in conformity with the individualized education program required under section 1414(d) of [Title 20 of the United States Code].” If the district is unable to provide FAPE, then the parents have the option to place their student in a private program after seeking other solutions with the district. They can then seek reimbursement from the district for the student’s tuition.

In this case, parents of an autistic child were unhappy with the lack of success their child had experienced under previous IEP’s. They then decided to place him in a private program that dealt specifically with his disability. They requested reimbursement under IDEA, but were denied. The district claimed to have provided some educational benefit to the student, and therefore was not required to reimburse the parents.

A large part of the discussion has been surrounding the term,  “de minimis. In latin, it is an adjective describing an action that has had so little effect that it is hardly noticeable and changes nothing. In this case, the parents are arguing that their student was provided de minimis educational benefit by the district. The district on the other hand, argues that the IDEA only requires “some educational benefit” though there is no definition of ‘some’. The US 10th district court has agreed with the district. They claim that they have no jurisdiction to determine what “some” should mean, and so de minimus is enough educational benefit to meet FAPE.  

This case does not have a hearing date, yet. Until we know the date of the hearing, and if there will be a 9th Justice at that time and who it will be, it is hard to make a guess to the outcome of this case.  Regardless, the implications of their decision will affect the most vulnerable of our students. It is imperative that they rule in a way that protects the rights these children have to an equitable education.

Rights of the English Language Learner

Rights of the English Language Learner

English language learners are guaranteed multiple rights under a variety of national laws and rules, executive orders and Supreme Court rulings.  One of the most important and versatile pieces of legislation to protect ELLs’ rights is the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

While it may seem obvious today that schools typically receive federal funds, and denying access to English Language education would be discriminating based on the grounds of national origin, it wasn’t always so obvious.

In the 1970’s, President Nixon made a series of statements on the issue of equality in education. Specifically, in 1972 he proposed the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, which would provide more specific instruction to schools regarding desegregating, and language instruction. His proposal called for school authorities to “take appropriate action to overcome whatever language barriers might exist, in order to enable all students to participate equally in educational programs. This would establish, in effect, an educational bill of rights for Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Indians, and others who start under language handicaps, and ensure at last that they too would have equal opportunity.” However, congress failed to take up this bill during that time.

It wasn’t until 1974, when a group of Chinese speaking students brought suit against the San Francisco United School district for refusing to provide English language instruction. They were placed in school and expected to perform at the level of native English speakers without any additional language preparation. Seeing that the only students who were affected were Chinese, they took their case to court. The Supreme Court ruled in  Lau v. Nichols (1974) that refusing to provide adequate access to English education to ELLs violated the Civil Rights Act by discriminating on the grounds of national origin. This decision spurred congress into taking up the EEOA as part of the reauthorization of ESEA.

Even after the passing of EEOA, students were not always granted their rights under this law. In 1981, a case was brought before the US Court of Appeals. A father of two children, Mr. Castañeda, argued that the school district of Raymondville, TX was discriminating against his children on the basis of national origin and race by not providing sufficient educational programming to help them overcome their language barriers, and thus were not allowed the same educational opportunities as other students. In Castañeda v. Pickard, the court ruled that his children were discriminated against, and that bilingual education had to meet 3 criteria:

  • The bilingual education program must be “based on sound educational theory.”
  • The program must be “implemented effectively with resources for personnel, instructional materials, and space.”
  • After a trial period, the program must be proven effective in overcoming language barriers/handicaps.

Even today, students are often left behind, regardless of the protections provided to them by law. Students often need access to more than just bilingual education. They may need extra emotional or psychological assistance, or have learning needs beyond the typical classroom. Schools find themselves in the position of being able to offer only one kind of assistance. Below is a list of federal resources and texts that may be useful in obtaining resources for your students and fighting discrimination:

Title III: Language Instruction for English Learners and Immigrant Students

Title III: Language Instruction for English Learners and Immigrant Students

Title III is called Language Instruction for English Learners and Immigrant Students. Its purpose is to ensure that ELLs obtain a high level of English proficiency and meet the high academic standards set by the SEA. It also serves the purpose of assisting teachers, LEAs, SEAs, administration and other educational staff “develop and enhance their capacity to provide effective instructional programs designed to prepare English learners, including immigrant children and youth, to enter all-English instructional settings” and to encourage parent and community engagement in the ELL community.

    • Appropriations for 2017-2020 are predetermined:
      • FY17: $756,332,450
      • FY18: $769,568,267
      • FY19: $784,959,633
      • FY20 $884,959,633
    • These funds are awarded to the SEA based on a formula grant. The SEA may set aside up to 5% of the awarded funds for the following purposes:
      • Establishing a statewide assessment for placing and exiting ELLs.
      • Preparing teachers and principals
      • Technological assistance
      • Providing rewards to LEAs that either meet high goals, or have drastically improved the progress of ELLs toward state proficiency goals.
      • Planning, evaluation, coordination and administration of subgrants.
    • SEAs must apply to the Secretary of Education to receive Title III funds. On the surface, this may appear to allow politics of a state to enter into funding for ELLs. For example, it is theoretically possible for a state administration with a strong anti-immigration policy to refuse to apply for these funds as a way of deterring the U.S. Dept of State from settling refugees and asylees in their state. However, this has never occurred. All 50 states, and all territories receive Title III aid, with the exception of the freely associated states (Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Palau).     
    • This policy is consistent with the Supplement, not Supplant Policy:  Title III, Section 3115 (g): “SUPPLEMENT, NOT SUPPLANT — Federal funds made available under this subpart shall be used so as to supplement the level of Federal, State, and local public funds that, in the absence of such availability, would have been expended for programs for limited English proficient children and immigrant children and youth and in no case to supplant such Federal, State, and local public funds.” Federal legislation outside of the ESEA, such as the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, and Supreme Court decisions such as Lau v. Nicols mandate a minimum level of resources to be allocated by SEAs and LEAs to ESL education. In order to ensure compliance, Title III states that these funds cannot be replaced by the grants provided in Title III.
    • Subgrants from the SEA to LEAs MUST be used for the purpose of teaching English to ELLs. 2% of these funds may be used for administrative costs, but the remaining funds must be used for the following purposes:
      • Developing and implementing new educational programs and academic content for early childhood, primary and secondary school programs.
      • Expanding and Enhancing existing educational language programs through innovative, highly focused local activities.
      • Implementing school-wide updates to language instruction programs, and the operation of said programs.
      • Similarly, implementing LEA-wide updates to language instruction programs, and the operation of said programs.
    • Finally, the Secretary of Education must set aside funds for 5-year, competitive grants to Institutions of Higher Education. These grants must be used to develop professional development programs for ESL educators and administrators.
SLIFE Talk with Dr. Andrea DeCapua

SLIFE Talk with Dr. Andrea DeCapua



Our team had a chance to listen to Dr. Andrea DeCapua’s talk at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Dr. Andrea DeCapua is the national expert on SLIFE who coined the term, Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education. As you may know, SLIFE is a top priority for LessonPick. In a state like Minnesota where 47% of ELLs are considered refugee youth compared with the 14% nationally (MN Dept. of Ed 2016), we need to stay vigilant on supporting teachers in the classroom and strengthening a pipeline of aspiring ELL teacher leaders. This slide captures the different learning paradigms between SLIFE and U.S. classrooms. SLIFE possess different values, world views, and conceptualizations of what learning means. Building a strong inclusive learning environment for SLIFE will challenge all educators to reconsider what public education means in this country and what values we expect our children growing up to uphold. Stay tuned for LessonPick’s in-depth interview with the one and only Dr. Andrea DeCapua.



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