Designing and Planning Programs for ELL Students

The charter law regarding development and implementation of an ESL program is very vague. Whereas district schools have to specify ESL, bilingual, or dual language programs, and account for exact minutes of instruction, charter schools need only provide their ELL students with access to the general education curriculum. This does not mean, however, that charter schools should not be purposeful in creating robust programs for their ELL students that provide them with meaningful learning experiences.

The two large questions that should guide the overall development of your ESL program are:
  1. How do you get your ELL students to reach English proficiency (including proficiency on the NYSESLAT)?
  2. How do you get your ELL students to meet the core standards set forth by the New York State Education Department?
  3. What impact will the Common Core Standards have on the the program design for ELLs?

In addition to the supportive school structures you already have in place, you want to create a rigorous program for your ELLs. The following is a list of things to consider when developing your instructional program for your ELL students. The list is not exhaustive, but can provide a helpful foundation for developing your program, designing and choosing curriculum, identifying personnel, and designing enrichment opportunities. Even if your school does not currently have many ELL students enrolled at the present, you may want to use this guide to create a plan for how your school will support ELL students as your ELL population grows in the future.

  • In which classes will you place your ELL students? Intermixed among non-ELL students? Or do you have a large enough population that you could create a class for your ELLs?
  • If you have an ESL teacher(s), will he/she have a self-contained class? Or work with students through a pull-out/push-in program?
    • If pull-out/push in, when will the ESL teacher work with students?
    • Some schools have the ESL teacher push-in to support ELL students during literacy periods. Other schools have the ESL teacher pull ELL students out during literacy and work with them on the same content in smaller groups. And still other schools do not allow the ESL teacher to pull students during literacy at all.
  • Who will be responsible for the administrative tasks and functions of your ESL program? The ESL teacher/coordinator? Another teacher or administrator?
    • How will you allow time for the person to complete the administrative tasks?
  • Who will be responsible for collecting and analyzing data about your ELLs?
  • How will you evaluate your ELLs throughout the year to monitor growth?
  • How will you ensure that your ESL plan is being implemented consistently throughout your school/classes?
    • Administrators of successful ESL programs often do the following:
      • Look for evidence of core standards in teachers’ instruction and classrooms;
      • Involve staff in conversations around core standards and what they mean; and
      • Provide time for common articulation around instruction and student data.

  • Will you use the same curriculum for all students?
  • Will the ESL teacher use the same or different curriculum as the content/classroom teachers?
    • Some schools opt to have their ESL teachers use a separate but complementary curriculum, while others have the ESL teachers supplement the grade or content’s pacing calendar with ESL strategies and materials.
  • Will your create your own curriculum?
    • Who will create it? Coaches? Classroom/content teachers? The ESL teachers? A team of people?
  • Will you purchase a commercial curriculum for your core curriculum? For ESL intervention or newcomers? For your enrichment programs?
    • Who will have input into which curriculums you purchase?

    • Some schools purchase commercial curriculum for their pull-out ESL programs, and for afterschool and Saturday Academy programs. They look for curriculum that supplements and enhances their school's core curriculums and pacing calendars.
  • What classroom resources will you purchase to support your ELLs?
    • Who will have input into which resources you buy?
  • How will you evaluate your curriculum to ensure that it covers all standards?
    • What is essential for your students’ learning?
    • How do you create independent analytical thinkers and problem solvers?
  • How will you integrate higher order thinking skills and tasks into your curriculum? Specifically:
  • How do you identify struggling students and intervene faster?
    • Many schools report success with monitoring data, not just state test data but formative data, as frequently as they can. They then use the data to inform and adjust instruction and modify the instructional day and afterschool programs.
  • How do you respond when you realize you have to create an intervention for a student?
  • What do you do doing the day? After school?
    • Some schools have Academic Intervention Service (AIS) teachers who are out of the classroom and work with small groups and individuals on targeted skills. Some schools also structure their after school and Saturday Academies to meet the specific needs of groups of students who need work on similar skills.

  • Who will work with your ELL students? An ESL certified teacher? Or highly-qualified common branch/content area teachers?
  • Will you hire an ESL certified teacher? If not initially, at what point should you? For example, after what percentage or number of your student body are ELL students, you will hire an ESL teacher?
    • Some schools with fewer ELLs have combined resources to support their students. For example, schools have shared an ESL teacher, or a school with fewer ELLs has hired another school’s ESL teacher to provide after school enrichment for their ELLs.
  • How will you provide professional development for your common branch/content area teachers around effective ESL instruction? For your ESL teacher?
    • Some schools hire full or part time coaches or lead teachers to provide instructional and professional development support for their teachers, or bring in experts to conduct professional development. If your school cannot afford a coach or expert, can you hire a coach or host a professional development workshop with other schools in your area?
    • Important topics for professional development are dissecting core standards, analyzing and using data, and how to teach higher order thinking skills.
  • Will you provide extra class support to your teachers who have or work with ELLs? (i.e. smaller classes, a teaching assistant, additional prep periods)
  • Will you provide common articulation periods for your ESL and common branch/content teachers?
    • Successful ESL programs often have time built into the schedule for grade and content level teachers, and incorporate ESL teachers into the discussion. These programs often devote a significant amount of time to discuss student data.

  • How will you provide your ELL students with access to extracurricular and enrichment programs?
    • Some school include their ELL students in all extracurricular and enrichment programs. Other schools have found success with providing programs to specifically meet the needs of their ELL students.
  • Will you have after school or Saturday programs explicitly for promoting your ELLs academic success?
    • How will you provide differentiated enrichment for your struggling ELLs and your “cusp” ELLs (students that are close to being Advanced or Proficient on the NYSESLAT)?
    • One strategy is to incorporate small-group instruction for these students during the instructional day. These small-groups would work on strategic skills specific to the particular students. Another strategy is to offer a specific afterschool or Saturday Academy for these students to provided more targeted instruction.
  • Will your enrichment for your ELLs be through arts/sports/music? Will it be continued academic reinforcement?
    • What curriculum or program will you use? Content enrichment? Intervention programs?
    • Who will teach your enrichment programs?

Additional Resources

Common Core Learning Standards - Posted in May 2011 by the New York State Department of Education, the timeline and Webinar highlight resources and information that charter leaders should begin to review and incorporate in the school's program design.

Addressing Diversity in Schools: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy - This brief by the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems discusses how culturally responsive teaching can effectively address the instructional needs of diverse student populations. , or available at:

English as a Second Language Learning Standards and Performance Indicators - Created by the New York State Education Department Office of Bilingual Education, the ESL learning standards help teachers understand what ELL students should be able to achieve and demonstrate at each grade as they progress toward English proficiency.
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