May 16, 2023

ELT courses for today’s more diverse classrooms

Author: Molly Belmont
Source:  NYSUT Communications
students at phillips avenue school
Caption: Students at Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverhead, NY.

New York state is home to an increasing number of English language learners. According to the New York State Education Department, in 2021–22, 10 percent of K-12 students in the state are ELLs, up from 8.8 percent in the 2015–16 school year.

NYSUT’s Education & Learning Trust offers teachers new strategies for reaching these students, assessing them accurately, and celebrating their contributions to our classrooms.

Here, we have identified three courses to help bridge language gaps and ensure equity for all students. Courses are offered asynchronously online, and each is worth 5 CTLE hours.

Respect student experiences

Being a good teacher starts with knowing your students. Teachers may know ELL students attended school previously but have no idea what that experience was like for them. For instance, how frequently did they attend? Did they go to school all day? How many students were in their class? Were the students in their class all the same age? Was their schooling interrupted? In “Culturally Responsive Classrooms” ELT instructor Carmen Vazqueztell, a member of United University Professions – Empire State Chapter, teaches educators how to learn from the students in front of them, and create an environment where everyone feels comfortable, regardless of their proficiency in English. “Don’t look at students as half-empty glasses, but as half-filled glasses. Identify their strengths, and start there,” said Vazqueztell.

Academic vs. Social Language

Just because a child speaks proficient English does not mean that they have mastered the language needed to help them succeed at school. In “Academic Language for English Learners,” ELT Instructor Areli Schermerhorn, member of Syracuse Teachers Association, helps educators distinguish between social and academic language and how to promote academic language development in the classroom. “Academic language is basically the language of school,” said Schermerhorn. “It can refer to content specific vocabulary such as ‘evaporation’ and ‘condensation’ when discussing the water cycle in science. It can also involve having conceptual understanding of the role of connecting words like ‘although’ and ‘except.’ English learners often learn social language first. They can carry a conversation demonstrating proficiency in English. As a result, teachers may mistakenly believe that the students can handle grade level academic tasks without support.”

Assess students equitably

Assessment is a valuable tool for educators; it helps them determine how students are progressing toward their goals. However, too often, educators use the wrong type of assessment to measure students’ headway. In “Equitable Assessment: Implications for Instruction of English Learners,” Vazqueztell explains the difference between diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments and shows how to use them appropriately, and how to avoid bias. “A biased assessment won’t accurately measure a student’s understanding of the content,” she said. During the final unit, Vazqueztell shows teachers how to modify assessments to make them more accurate. “We don’t want to water down the content,” she said. “We want the same academic rigor, but we want to find accessible ways for students to demonstrate their understanding of the materials.”

Learn more about NYSUT ELT offerings at