As more schools and districts explore curriculum focused on college and career readiness, expectations on what learners should be able to do across content areas are rapidly changing. While older curriculum standards were typically concerned with curricular breadth, current standards prioritize depth, focusing on deep understanding of underlying disciplinary concepts and the multiple ways they lend themselves to problem-solving.

This curricular shift also emphasizes the analytical common ground among different disciplinary fields and highlights the importance of communicating content learning, both orally and in writing. As a result, analytically challenging and language-rich academic experiences are becoming part and parcel of students’ day-to-day. Across content areas, students are expected to decipher and make meaning from complex texts, engage in argumentation, explain their thinking and reasoning, as well as problem solve and participate in constructive, productive conversations with their peers.

While these changes have the potential to make content more engaging to students, there remains an accessibility gap for many. As classrooms continue to become increasingly diverse, providing high-quality instructional support to English learners (ELs) becomes critical. However, to meet this need, more effective learning opportunities for teachers to support their students’ linguistic access to content must be implemented.

This professional learning should support educators in shifting their instructional practices away from isolated vocabulary-focused language towards more integrated uses of language across academic content, which is not easy.

Understanding Language at the Stanford Graduate School of Education partnered with Digital Promise to help.

Understanding Language is committed to helping teachers support their students, and particularly their English learners, access and master both the language and content of college and career ready standards. One of the organization’s primary goals is to shift instructional practice through online professional development to create more meaningful learning experiences for language learners.

To this end, Understanding Language has collaborated with Digital Promise to develop the Supporting English Learners micro-credentials, a set of micro-credentials articulating ten critical competencies educators need to understand, address, and better facilitate language learning across content-areas. These ten micro-credentials explore the following:

  • Language Fundamentals – Role of Language in Content Learning
  • Constructive Conversations – Assessing Student Conversations
  • Constructive Conversations – Helping Students Clarify and Support Ideas
  • Constructive Conversations – Creating Effective Conversation Prompts
  • Mathematical Language Routines – Facilitating Student Ideas and Language: Stronger and Clearer Each Time
  • Mathematical Language Routines – Developing Student Abilities to Critique and Clarify the Reasoning of Others
  • Mathematical Language Routines – Designing and Using Information Gap Activities
  • Supporting Student Argumentation – Understanding Structure and Language of Argumentation
  • Supporting Student Argumentation – Helping Students Evaluate Evidence in Arguments
  • Supporting Student Argumentation – Fostering the Language of Argumentation

These micro-credentials are designed to take educators through their instructional practices to recognize the role they play in students’ ability to leverage language to access content. While each of these micro-credentials is unique in its distinct focus, all require educators to reflect on how their instruction influences actual student language use and development – an invaluable skill for today’s educators who lead increasingly complex and diverse classrooms.

Learn more about the Supporting English Learners micro-credentials here.


About Sara Rutherford-Quach

Sara Rutherford-Quach is the Director of Academic Programs and Research for Understanding Language and a Lecturer in the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

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