English Learners and Dependent Readers: An Unexpected Advantage (Part 1)

“My high kids will be fine. But I can’t imagine what my ELLs and my SPED kids are going to do with this.”

We hear this consistently from teachers all around the country during Inquiry By Design’s curriculum institutes. Based on the increased level of complexity in the texts and considerable rigor of the accompanying tasks in our units of study, it’s a valid concern—but one rarely borne out in practice.

There are several reasons why English language learners and SPED students actually embrace and thrive within the structure, design, and challenge of the Inquiry By Design courses.

  1. They are used to things being hard. Everything is hard, so this new difficulty is not a shock to the system, as it often is with those high-achieving students who have learned how to “play school.” English learners and dependent readers often have an easier time achieving a growth mindset.
  1. The sessions are structured in a way that spirals students through independent work, pairs or small groups, and whole-group collaboration. This spiraling structure creates a variety of access points for understanding, and is not surprisingly, a common strategy used by learning specialists and ESL teachers. It is also a recommended SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) practice. The structure is familiar to ELLs and SPED students and scaffolds them incrementally toward understanding. Students unfamiliar with this structure are often chomping at the bit to just get to “the answer” and move on.
  1. In his article Performative Literacy: The Habits of Mind of Highly Literate Readers, Sheridan Blau (2003) identifies seven traits of highly literate readers. One of them is a “Willingness to suspend closure—to entertain problems rather than avoid them.” Blau goes on to explain that expert readers “are more willing to endure and even to embrace the disorientation of not seeing clearly, of being temporarily lost.” So wouldn’t it logically follow that because our ELLs and SPED students are not in the habit of coming to quick conclusions, they may ponder a text’s ideas more deeply and be more willing to probe gaps in understanding, rather than rushing in to plug them. Inquiry By Design teachers often express surprise and delight over what their struggling readers put forth in discussions.

Come back next week for more on the unexpected advantage offered to English learners and dependent readers through the Inquiry By Design courses of study.

And share a story about how your own ELLs and dependent readers have responded to IBD texts and tasks.