Understanding Language

    Kenji Hakuta and Martha Castellón present the challenges and opportunities
    for English Language Learners

    If you were a surfer, the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards would comprise something like an enormous wave generated by a perfect storm of conditions. The education policy environment at the national level combines decades of effort at standards-based reform, attempts to link academic content development with second language development in English, and political gridlock over the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Whether you like it or not, here comes the wave, and the choice that faces you and your school and district colleagues is how to ride it.

    The Understanding Language initiative, co-led by Kenji Hakuta of Stanford University and Maria Santos of Oakland Unified School District, has been investigating the particular demands on language use that are inherent in the new standards, with serious implications for ELLs. In this article, we will address what the new standards might mean for teachers of English Language Learners — both teachers of English Language Development (or English as a Second Language) as well as the many teachers of academic content, such as literature, history, science, or math, who teach ELLs. We will also address what this new wave would mean for school and district leaders and how educators can best capitalize on it.

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