Best Teaching and Professional Practices for Elementary School English Language Learners: An Analysis of Two Successful San Diego Schools

The academic achievement gap for language learners is a main focus in the age of academic accountability. More than ever, it is vital that every demographic group meet the expected performance goals set by the state of California and local school districts. When a group or demographic of students is under performing, schools embark on a program of remediation. Due to under performing scores, much of this focus and effort has been aimed at students classified as second language learners in the elementary school level. More specifically, these English Language Learners (ELLs) have been targeted for quite some time as a group that is not meeting state requirements and needs improvement. Districts have implemented special programs and encouraged classroom-teaching methods that would ideally work to establish a systematic way of delivering instruction. This would thereby improve academic scores and language for this demographic of students. However, a problem exists in that many districts do not have a working curriculum and the majority of teachers lack training or know-how when teaching second language learners. Many use the same style or methods utilized with fluent English speakers and find discrepancies in learner outcomes. In light of this, schools and administration are focusing more on best instructional practices where the content is presented in a clear, concise way to the students and teachers are adequately trained. Although the challenges are daunting, a few San Diego County school districts have shown sustained growth over time with ELLs by the inclusion of instructional best practices and targeted BEST TEACHING AND PROFESSIONAL PRACTICES iv instruction. An in depth investigation at these schools showed that at the forefront of their instruction is the focus on professional development and placement of quality teachers who work to improve the lives of these learners. By focusing on good teaching and effective professional practices, we are one step closer to practices to truly eliminate the achievement gap. This direct focus on language that is targeted, deliberate, and professionally planned may help second language learners academically and in everyday life.