What the Research Says on Improving Instruction for English Learner Students


March 2018


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Our librarians recently compiled this list of studies that educators can draw from to improve practices for teaching students learning English.

From the U.S. Department of Education

Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School (2014)

This practice guide from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the What Works Clearninghouse (WWC) provides four recommendations that address reading and content area instruction for English learners.

Each recommendation includes extensive examples of activities that can be used to support students as they build the language and literacy skills needed to be successful in school, including examples of how the recommendations align with Common Core and other contemporary state standards. The recommendations also summarize and rate supporting evidence. This guide is geared toward teachers, administrators, and other educators who want to improve instruction in academic content and literacy for English learners in elementary and middle school.

Effective Literacy and English Language Instruction for English Learners in the Elementary Grades (2007)

This IES/WWC practice guide provides five evidence-based recommendations for improving the reading achievement and English language development of elementary-level ELL students. The target audience for this guide is a broad spectrum of school practitioners such as administrators, curriculum specialists, coaches, staff development specialists and teachers who face the challenge of providing effective literacy instruction for English language learners in the elementary grades. The guide also aims to reach district-level administrators who develop practice and policy options for their schools.

Other Research and Resources

Effective Reading Programs for Spanish Dominant English Language Learners in the Elementary Grades: A Synthesis of Research (2012)

This review synthesizes the research on a variety of English language reading programs that are used with Spanish-dominant ELL students at the elementary school level, including some “proven” and “promising” whole-school and whole-class interventions. The findings support a conclusion increasingly being made by researchers and policymakers concerned with optimal outcomes for ELLs and other language minority students: Quality of instruction is more important than language of instruction.

Effects of Academic Vocabulary Instruction for Linguistically Diverse Adolescents: Evidence From a Randomized Field Trial (2014)

This study included a randomized field trial to test an academic vocabulary intervention designed to bolster the language and literacy skills of linguistically diverse sixth-grade students from homes where English is not the primary language. The effects were generally larger for students whose primary home language is not English and for those students who began the intervention with underdeveloped vocabulary knowledge.

Framework for English Language Proficiency Development Standards Corresponding to the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards (2012)

This framework is designed to help states revise, revamp, or rewrite their English-language proficiency standards so that they align with the Common Core State Standards.

Improving Content Knowledge and Comprehension for English Language Learners: Findings From a Randomized Control Trial (2017)

Supporting the reading comprehension and content knowledge acquisition of English learner students requires instructional practices that continue beyond developing the foundational skills of reading. In particular, the challenges English learners face highlight the importance of teaching reading comprehension practices in the middle grades through content acquisition. Read the study abstract.

Reading Instruction for English Learners in the Middle Grades: A Meta-Analysis (2017)

This study synthesizes the last two decades of experimental and quasi-experimental research on reading instruction for English learners in grades 4-8 across content areas to determine the overall effectiveness of reading instruction for upper elementary and middle school English learner students and how the magnitude of the effect varies based on student, instructional and study characteristics. Results suggest the benefit of developing and refining high-impact approaches to reading instruction for English learners that can be delivered across content areas and grades. Read the study abstract.