You just received your ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 Scores! Now What?

Contributed by Audrey Shemesh

Let’s go Data Mining! I want to share with you what we are doing in my county and hope that it will be as helpful for you as it has been for me. 

I am a K-5 ESL teacher in Western NC. I have just completed my 3rd year in this role after teaching  regular education for 10 years (Grades 2, 3, 4). Last year, I served about 40 students (K-5); 75% as an ESL Teacher, and 25% as a Tier (MTSS) Intervention Title 1 support instructor. 

Our ESL department is strongly supported by our director. After each teacher was provided with her/his school’s ACCESS scores, we were given the following document of questions from the director :  

For each grade level, answer the following questions… 

What is your percentage of students who met ESSA Growth? 

(See ELP Progress Value Table*). 

What instructional practices produced this result at the grade level?

What outside (macro) factors need to be considered?

What is a possible action plan?

Next, the team of ESL teachers got down to serious soul searching. We spent about 1 hour analyzing the data and reflecting on our practices with students. We talked about what we needed to emphasize more next year, such as introducing some GLAD methods with our students. We also discussed the need for explicit test preparation and planned to meet in the fall to decide how and when this instruction will take place. In my opinion, the teacher data discussion time was extremely helpful.

After our meeting, I shared this report with my administrators, including the instructional coach. While all of this information was fresh in my mind, I also created an individual  WIDA “Can Do” report  for ELs who needed additional support. This way students’ plans are ready to go in the fall. 

Furthermore, I filled out a WIDA Can Do Descriptors Name Chart with the roster of ELs in each class. I met with each content teacher so she/he was aware of which students were ELs, along with the EL classroom modifications and accommodations based on ACCESS data. Then, I put this information straight into ELLevation and shared a copy of the Can Do Descriptors with my administrators and Instructional Coach. In addition, whenever we get new students, I update my WIDA Can Do Descriptors Name Chart, as well as create an individual student plan for each new EL. 

My sample is provided here:

ESL Data Discussion Chart, Core and Supplemental Support 

These are the notes and generalizations I made as I was reviewing the scores. Since I am the only ESL teacher in my school, I collaborated with a teacher from another school whose EL numbers are similar to mine. 

This list includes some of the options we could think about as we make our action plans for next year. 

For example: 

  • Professional Learning Community collaboration
  • Co-teaching with planning
  • Did ESL instruction align with classroom instruction? (preview and/or deepening support)
  • Systematic and sequential (RS , Language for Learning)?
  • And Intervention/ Enrichment block?
  • Master schedule?
  • Native Language support?
  • English Language Development in the classroom?
  • Was there ELD goal setting?
  • Families as Assets?
  • Teaching the domains vs teaching “the language of”
  • How did I evaluate the kids?
  • Stepping up to English Proficiency

This process really forced me to reflect deeply about each child, grade level, and school. It gave me an additional layer of accountability to my director, the principals, and ultimately to myself. The data analysis helped me talk to my principal about groupings, co-teaching, and even the need for some GLAD P.D. for our faculty!  Self-reflection and program examination, on paper, definitely leads to better teaching. I give myself a B+; next year I plan on achieving more!

*Taken from NCDPI, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Amendments submitted to the USED on February 3, 2019. 

Digital Playlists for Online and Hybrid Instruction

Contributed by Joy Hamm

It may be a daunting task for your English Learners and their families to face a new semester (or year) of online learning. One possibility that may help are digital playlists which are versatile for online or hybrid classrooms.  

What is a Digital Playlist?

This term was carried over from the music world and into the classroom to refer to personalized or differentiated, student-driven instruction and has gained popularity due to the shift to online instruction. Digital playlists contain sequential tasks, which students complete primarily on their own. In addition to individualized tasks, digital playlists embed mini-lessons for face-to-face or synchronous online video instruction. See the following link from The International Literacy Association* for more information. 

 Here is an example I created: Digital Playlist on Sensory Details


Clarity: The tasks are ordered and clear for all students to follow as they work on their own. 

Versatility: Digital playlists can be uploaded to Google Classroom, Canvas, or any other district platform without having to recreate new material. They are usually differentiated for a variety of student choices which provide versatility within the learning process and products. 

Flexibility: Students have flexibility to decide if they want to complete the tasks in one sitting or break it into smaller chunks until the assigned due date. Furthermore, if the digital playlist takes about 45-50 minutes to finish all tasks, the teacher can choose which sections will be completed face-to-face or via synchronous online video lessons, as well as how many days students have to work on the individual tasks. 

In conclusion, as you contemplate the best way to engage your English Learners this school year, I recommend considering digital playlists as a method for clear, student-centered instruction. 

 Frequently Asked Questions: 

1. Will this increase my workload?

Start with something manageable. Can you take some of your lesson plans and add links or documents along with simple directions for students? I am taking my lesson plans and converting them into student digital playlists with a few simple edits and additions! The pretty icons aren’t necessary. However, if you like the images on the example playlist above, check out* for millions of royalty-free icons, free of charge (there is a brief sign-up first). 

2. What if my students don’t have a computer? 

Most families have smartphones! One idea is to show students how to access the digital playlist documents using the Google Drive phone app.

Another idea is to print off the digital playlists and any of the document/activity/assessments that are linked. The paper copies work the same way as doing the tasks online. Students can access the videos by typing the link information into their family’s phone. They can also send you pictures of their completed work by taking pictures and sending work to your email or sharing via Google Drive. Another idea is to help families download a free scanner app on their phone and then have students scan their work to you in a timely manner. 


Noun Project. (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2020, from
Putman, M. (2018, June 08). ILA’s Blog. Retrieved July 24, 2020, from

Metacognitive Strategies

Contributed by Luisa Palacio

Metacognition refers to the act of reflecting about one’s thinking processes. Flavell and Wellmann (1977) define metacognitive strategies (as cited in Herrera, S.G., & Murry, K.G. 2005) as the ability to discern the difficulty of a task, and knowing how and when to use specific strategies. Metacognitive strategies are important for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) students to use because they allow CLD students to take control of their own learning by reflecting, monitoring, and evaluating their thinking processes.

There are several actions that teachers can bring into the classroom to encourage understanding and appropriate use of knowledge in order to develop listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in CLD students. Teachers can implement metacognitive strategies when they ask students to self-monitor their learning. Teachers should ask students to reflect on how they are doing, and recognize the strategies they are using and the knowledge they accessed while they were building knowledge. CLD students need to connect new information to their previous knowledge and relate what they are learning to the known information. Through the use of metacognitive strategies, students will realize that it is easier and more meaningful to access information when it is processed and organized than to use random information when solving problems.

Teachers should encourage “inner dialogue” in students. Teachers should identify students’ learning styles and work along with students in order to set students’ preferences and needs. When students know their learning styles they can create a plan where they take responsibility and control in the learning process by planning, monitoring, and evaluating the process and its outcomes.

Metacognitive strategies call for students’ active involvement in the learning process. It is the teacher’s responsibility to scaffold the process, and to provide students with the tools they need to succeed in the use of the strategies. ESL teachers should support and promote the use of metacognitive strategies because they help students regulate language learning processes by setting goals and evaluating students’ production and comprehension before, during, and after an activity is completed.

Herrera, S.G., & Murry, K.G. (2005). Mastering ESL and bilingual methods: Differentiated instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Remote Learning Resources for English Learners

Contributed by Lisa Sibaja

During this age of remote learning, I’ve learned a great deal from our state-wide PLC for English as a Second Language. The ESL Support Team recently had a Twitter Chat about Differentiating for ELs During Remote Learning on Monday, April 27. Larry Ferlazzo tweeted a great idea: sharing an image during live chats, labeling it, and then asking students to write about it in the chat box.

The tweet by @LarryFerlazzo reminded me of a resource I learned about a few years ago: Project Zero by Harvard University. The project developed eighteen routines or strategies to encourage critical thinking among students by using artwork, illustrations, photographs, political cartoons, etc. These strategies can even be used with music, poems, literature or non-fiction texts. Here is a chart that shows how to utilize these routines to meet ESL objectives by connecting them to WIDA Can-Do Descriptors, the NC Standard Course of Study, art examples, and graphic organizers. By providing images, students can often better understand content and concepts. Sometimes a germ of an idea is all it takes to inspire us or advance our instruction.

Please connect with other ESL teachers across NC and beyond by joining us. Here are some ways you can connect to NCDPI ESL team, ESL Teacher Network, and ESL Support Team:


Artful Thinking. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2020, from

Can Do Descriptors. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2020, from

Larryferlazzo (2020, April 27). I will often share an image during our daily live video classes, label it, and encourage students to write about it in the chat box. Students can also write the sentences in Spanish & I or a peer tutor will translate it. [Tweet].

Three Tips For the Student Experience

Contributed by Tori Mazur

It took 11 steps to record a video in Seesaw.  That’s what we noticed in 2017 when analyzing what our kindergarten students needed to do (user flow) when using the app in our elementary school digital learning environment.  (Note: app developers consistently make changes to an interface over time so the number of steps involved in 2020 is slightly different.)

Basic Flow of the steps to post video in Seesaw from the persona of a student
Screenshot originally part of a graduate paper for N.C. State (Mazur, 2017, unpublished).

It seems so simple once they get going and learn the steps involved, but we found success in breaking those steps down in the classroom.  Going at a slow pace, checking that we were on the same page (figuratively, of course), and discussing what notification/pop-up messages may mean and how to react to them.  That’s going to look different now.  It’s actually quite amazing how quickly they learn the flow.  So why take the time to break down how many steps are involved in an edtech product that allows students to show what they know?

All Design Begins With Empathy for the User

During this time of teaching from and learning at home, we have to keep the user experience (UX) at heart.  How well students, parents and educators can navigate the barrage of app-ortunities right now is key in how successful our attempts are at communicating, connecting and learning.  As educators of English learners, we have even more obstacles with language on top of user flow issues.  Here are my Top 3 Tips from my experience over several years as an Instructional Technology Facilitator.

Tip 1: Know What Device Your Users are Using

Poll Question with text cut off
Screenshot of a message sent with clipped imagery through Talking Points

This may require a simple poll, but it’s so important to know as you design learning.  The experience of the Chrome Operating System in a school of Chromebooks will likely feel different to your students using an iOS device at home even if you are using the same digital resources.  If you are designing slides from a desktop and your students only have access to a smartphone, you may need to adjust your aspect ratio for a smaller screen.  Knowing what our students have access to isn’t just about whether they have internet or not.  I use Talking Points for parents who only have access to SMS texting and I have no idea if images even come across. When we find out, we can make the experience as smooth as possible. The last thing we want when do connect to students, is to give them a reason to be frustrated and disengage.

COVID-19 Case in Point

I polled the small number of families in my Talking Points class.  I thought I was so smart, creating a visual with icons from in case families were unclear about what I meant by mobile versus desktop.  Then I saw how the image posted and half of my labels were cut off.  Good thing I included them in my description for translation.  Remember, not all products translate text on images, which are often not read by screen readers either.

Tip 2: Once You Know, Test It Yourself

Once you know whether you’re targeting mobile, desktop or a combination in the homes of our families, that’s not enough.  Many products have a preview feature or you may want to temporarily download a mobile version of the app because they will present menus and choices very differently.  If you have created a Google Site, take advantage of the Preview buttons for both portrait and landscape.  At the very least, test it out to see just how different your page looks across devices.  User Experience Designers often compete for screen space on mobile versus desktop versions of the same product.  Ever searched for a feature hidden in the navigation menu, or what some people call the Hamburger?  (More about mobile navigation menus here).  If you know where things are hidden, you can spend time with students and families on navigating the interface and buttons.  This will set everyone up for success sooner rather than later.

COVID-19 Case in Point

Zooming with a newcomer student, I joined the call from my phone to demonstrate visually how to pinch the screen to expand and shrink it.  When sharing my screen, I knew that the image I was displaying may still be too small for her iPad (see Tip 1).  I wanted her to be able to zoom in and out as needed.  While demonstrating, I asked her to repeat the words with me along with the gestures.   Maybe she already knew how to do that based on home experiences, but with Entering levels of English Proficiency in speaking and listening, I could not take that for granted. 

In our next Zoom session, I showed her the navigation choices in Epic so she could Explore, Search and check the Mailbox for books to read and listen to on her own.  Taking the time to walk her through the menu is well worth a lesson in itself. 

Tip 3: Be Predictable

In the “Before Times”, we had our procedures in places.  Maybe not in the first 100 days, but by mid-March students knew what was expected.  I had only been at my new school as an ESL Teacher for four weeks when we were sent home.  Even students I only met with a handful of times knew that we started with a circle and a talking piece.  They knew what to expect each time we walked into my classroom.  Our routines provide structure and stability.   This is so important while learning from home, so design your lessons with predictable structures.  Are they used to Google Docs?  Continue using that format, but check what it looks like on a phone! Any graphic organizer/table you insert may still not be on the page. (See Tip 2).

COVID-19 Case in Point

When meeting with my newcomer on Zoom, I share my screen with the same Agenda format and Language Objectives on a Google Slides as I had been doing in the classroom.  Providing that familiarity hopefully lowers her affective filter, but also helps her brain process information on her screen.   My presentation Redesign Slides for Student Minds, adapted for the TALGS Conference earlier this year, focused on creating slides to ease cognitive load for students because “people learn better when multimedia messages are designed in ways that are consistent with how the human mind works and with research-based principles.” (Mayer, 2003).  We should be as consistent in our design as our building-based routines because interface consistency has been shown to have positive effects on learning and long-term retention (Johnson, 2010).

We don’t know how long we will be teaching from and learning at home.  But keeping our students’ user experiences at heart can help center our work and offer some comfort in consistency, by design. 

Johnson, J. (2010). Designing With the Mind in Mind: Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Guidelines. Morgan Kaufmann.
Mayer, R. (2003). The promise of multimedia learning: using the same instructional design methods across different media.  Learning and Instruction. 13(2), 125-139.


Contributed by Vivian Simmons.

David Valente is the writer of an article on online tools and teaching remotely. Valente is the Coordinator of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) Young Learners and Teenagers Special Interest Group. He works for Nord University, in Norway and he is also Editor for the Children’s Literature in English Language Education (CLELE) Journal.

In his post, he talks about three simple steps to help teachers focus on their teaching goals while purposely engaging students. While this article aims at an elementary school audience, some of these steps can be modified and adjusted to any grade level:

  1. Plant seeds of early independence
    Online teaching is the perfect way to start helping elementary school students do things for themselves. Varied choices such as drawing or singing can encourage early independence in a fun, engaging way. If teaching online and using tools such as, this could be a great chance to practice some group activities and conversations among students. If a conferencing tool is not in use, choice boards could be an excellent way to enhance student independence.
  2. Focus Attention using WALTs
    Start the lessons with sentences like “We Are Learning To…” Outlining the purpose of the lesson is ideal for helping students feel a sense of accomplishment. Creating videos to post on school pages and mentioning the content and language objectives for the session are excellent ways to help students make connections.
  3. Incorporate playful, personalized practice
    When planning lessons, do not forget to include activities that will make connections to students’ lives outside of the classroom. Making connections will not only make the lesson creative but also fun and enjoyable.

From Personal Experience:
As an ESL teacher for K-8 students, and recently becoming an ESL/DI Lead Teacher in the county, teaching students and working on administration duties is on the agenda. At school, the administration gave us directions to set up private Facebook pages (per grade level), which parents can only access by request. Teachers are using different resources to keep the learning going. For instance, some teachers are using the Facebook private page to post links to Zoom meetings. Some are posting links to sites like Khan Academy, and others are creating videos ahead of time to teach a lesson.

Creating these videos has been both challenging and rewarding. At first, it was difficult deciding what to do and how to contribute to online teaching. Also, given the new responsibilities, it was imperative to find a quick, useful way to teach to set up the daily routine. The answer was: video recording. QuickTime Player is an app that allows voice and screen recording. It is easy to preview vocabulary and work on listening, speaking, reading, and writing activities using this app.

Food for Thought:
To sum it up, here are some reflecting points to share:
Disclosure: NOT advertising any sites or apps.

  • Even though times are difficult, we are fortunate to have a job still and do what we love.
  • Be flexible with yourself and the students. Think about the due dates set and the amount of information sent. Remote learning and teaching are new for ALL of us, and some families still do not have devices or internet service. Less is OK for now.
  • Check-in on students. A phone call can do wonders and will strengthen positive relationships.
  • Send frequent emails or announcements but do not overcommunicate. Keeping families informed is a must right now, but do not flood them with tons of information. It is not about quantity, but quality.
  • Stick to just one mode of communication (email, ClassDojo, Class Tag, Talking Points, Facebook closed pages) to give parents and students a sense of consistency.
  • Start small and keep things manageable.
  • Provide support and feedback for students. If unable to get a hold of some families, communicate with the school administrations as they can provide guidance.
  • Watch tutorials or webinars (simple K12, Cassie Create abilities, Saddleback, Edmentum) if you need guidance or would like to work on your Continuing Education Units (CEUs) or credentials.
  • Reach out to peers and ask for help if needed, simply to get a consensus of what is working for others.
  • Take a break and rest: try learning a new language with different apps like Duolingo, for example.

Find David Valente’s full blog by clicking the following link:


Valente, David. “Supporting Every Teacher: Teaching Children Online, Avoid ‘Edutainment’ but Don’t Lose the Fizz!” World of Better Learning | Cambridge University Press, 20 Mar. 2020,

Digital Learning – Let’s Keep It Safe!

Contributed by Neera Bhat There are many web 2.0 tools that are powerful for teaching and learning. These tools may require above-average tech skills for a teacher and extra monitoring for parents to assure safety in teaching and learning. This blog provides useful tips for the parents and teachers to ensure a safe and meaningful experience for the children.

It is vital to have rules. These rules may differ among teachers or households. Having rules, upholding them, and enforcing them can help your children beware and know right from wrong.

For Parents:

The children require education on internet safety. It starts by creating strong passwords for the programs they will be using. Logging-out is also a must after they are finished using the program. They must be cognizant of the fact that they must not meet or reply to any stranger online, let alone share any personal information. Also, clicking on links within the links may mean trouble, so beware of any weblinks.

Parents need to set boundaries on time and device use on the internet by monitoring the amount of time children are on the internet and what they can do while using the internet and device. This will keep the children safe and cautious while online. Having a good relationship with children can be helpful, but it is imperative to monitor the use of the internet. It can be as simple as installing tracking software on the kid’s devices or checking the history of use periodically.

For Teachers:

As teachers, we know not all students have the same level of maturity. Therefore, it is crucial to teach how to use technology safely and effectively. The students must know that there are laws in place regarding internet use. They cannot create accounts if they are not the right age and must check the terms and conditions on the website.

Students should be taught to keep personal information (full name, address, date of birth, phone numbers, passwords) private. These must never be shared in emails or text messages. They should be taught not to believe everything they read online. It would be a good idea to evaluate the website’s reliability and cross-check information.  

Using good manners is favorable at all times, whether online or offline. Students must treat others with respect online and report any cyberbullying concerns (someone posting annoying or embarrassing or threatening comments) to an adult.

Here are some useful links for learning more on this topic:

5 Tips to Support ELs during COVID-19

Contributed by Joy Hamm

Whether your district has decided to send packets or Chromebooks home with students, your ELs now face the task of completing content work on their own. Here are some tips to help ELs and their families embrace the challenge. If you are the only EL teacher in your district or serve more than a hundred students, focus on the ones you know need daily or weekly support and make their home-school experience more equitable. 

1. Text families– Apps such as TalkingPoints will translate messages back and forth in various languages.  Ensure that your EL parents understand school requirements and have the tools needed to complete work (computers, hotspots, packets). Share information about free meals, answer questions, and discuss the family home-school schedule.  

2. Time management– Encourage parents to support their children by providing structure such as a specific work area, daily schedule, and completed homework checks. Another suggestion for time management is setting a timer. If an assignment is completed within a reasonable time frame, the child gets a reward of free time or a special activity. 

3. Chrome extensions/useful apps– Advise parents to download apps on their phone or add chrome extensions on Chromebooks to assist their children with translation, read-aloud, and summarizing support. Click here for some useful chrome extensions. 

4. Content class access– Ask content teachers to add you to their Google Classroom or online learning sites. If students have paper packets, take pictures of each handout and upload to Google Docs. This will help with tip #5. 

5. Screen sharing platform– Video platforms such as Google Meet and Microsoft Teams allow you to virtually assist a student or group of students with specific content assignments. Once you have access to the content teacher’s online materials or have saved photos of paper copies, you can share your screen and guide students through math problems, science and social studies texts, etc. Students are able to ask questions in real time and even collaborate virtually.

Does My English Learner Indeed Have a Disability?

Contributed by Ambar de Mejia 

I recently came across a TESOL article by Solange A. Lopes Murphy. She is an associate professor from the College of New Jersey in Ewing, New Jersey.

In the article, she talks about learning disabilities and language difficulties. the poignant question is: which one does my student exhibit? It can be both, which can compound the problem.

            When educators misidentify a student with a learning disability, that can affect the students’ process in a negative way. Dr. Lopes Murphy lists four behaviors that do not show a disability. Most educators thought they did:

  1. difficulty with reading comprehension
  2. difficulty following directions
  3. lack of appropriate behavior in the classroom
  4. lack of attention when instruction is being delivered

     To distinguish between a disability and a language difficulty, Dr. Lopes Murphy discusses five steps educators and stakeholders need to follow to narrow down the decision. Throughout the process of exploration, documentation is indicated. 

Step 1. Knowing the Learner – country, background, circumstances.

Step 2. Conducting Assessment of Instructional Context – how instruction is delivered and what type of instruction is being delivered.

Step 3. Understanding Characteristics of Language Acquisition That Mirror Learning Disabilities – includes a limited list of difficulties shown in students with disabilities and students with language limitations, which for the latter will disappear with language acquisition.

Step 4. Separating a Language Struggle from a Disability – includes an inventory of behaviors, peer analysis, and assessment of language progress.

The article is not long and is well worth the read!

Newcomer Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE)

Contributed by Neera Bhat

Arriving from different countries, students enroll in US schools throughout the school year. These students have varied educational backgrounds. Some students that enroll are on par with their peers. They adapt and excel in academic achievements; however, some students may have interrupted formal education where they may have missed years of formal education. Some students may not even be academically prepared in their native language or have the content knowledge of a grade level. Such students are defined as, “students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE) are English language learners who have experienced interrupted education due to war, civil unrest, migration, or other factors; who have never had the opportunity to participate in any type of schooling before entering school in United States; or who have experienced limited education in their home countries due to lack of resources or trained teachers, the type of schooling they participated in or circumstances.”(DeCapua & Marshall, 2017)

Colorin Colorado – a bilingual site for educators and families of English language learners has an article that is a wonderful guide on understanding who SIFE/SLIFE students are, possibly which countries they are coming from, what would be some of their unique needs, etc. It helps the educators with measures they can take at their schools to help these students adapt and learn. It also lists some strategies for teaching SIFE students. As a teacher of newcomer/SIFE students this article has been my guide. The link to this article is:

The one thing to remember as an educator of SIFE students is that it is important to focus on their strengths more than their challenges. SIFE students can be great at problem solving, motivated and very resilient. They come with strong family ties. These strengths can prove very helpful when providing them with small classes that focus on both academics and social-emotional growth.

There are many different models being used for educating SIFE students such as Newcomer Programs, stand-alone models, integrated ESOL models and extended learning opportunities. (Custodio, B., & O’Loughin, J.,2017)

Resources for the SIFE Students:


Custodio, B., & O’Loughin, J. (2017). Students with interrupted formal education: Bridging where they are and what they need. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

DeCapua, A.  & Marshall, H. (2011). Breaking new ground: Teaching students with limited or interrupted formal education in U.S. secondary schools. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press ELT.  

Robertson, K., & Lafond, S. (n.d.). How To Support ELL Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFES). Retrieved February 28, 2020, from

SupportEd. (2020). How to Serve your Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE) – SupportEd. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Feb. 2020].

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