Putting Dynamic Language Learning Progressions to Work

Teachers in the Middletown (NY) City School District have been working with learning progressions, and are beginning to put them into practice.

The Dynamic Language Learning Progressions (DLLP) describe ‘high leverage language features’ – pathways that students move through as they develop academic language while learning English.  For example, students master the use of simple sentences before they are about to effectively construct compound sentences.  The real value of the DLLP lies in their formative assessment structure, identifying a clear focus for contingent teaching.  The DLLP can tell teachers which language skills need support in a very clear and measurable way.

The dual language program teachers (Spanish and English) spent a few hours working together to construct profiles of their students using the DLLP, and then using those profiles to create a contingent teaching plan.  Teachers each brought samples of student writing and/or student oral response, concentrating on a student who was struggling or not making the progress they wanted to see.  Although the progressions are designed for students learning English, they also used the process with the children who are learning Spanish as a second language.

One student’s profile clearly indicated her written skills were far more developed than her oral skills.  This confirmed what the teacher sees as this student is reluctant to speak in the classroom.  With the help of her colleagues, the teacher developed a plan to engage her in more conversation during the guided reading block, since she is more willing to speak in small groups.  The student will also be given the opportunity to write out her responses before being asked to participate orally in class.  These scaffolds build on her strength in written language and should help her carry them over into speaking.

A second student was selected for focus by two teachers, and both DLLP profiles highlighted lagging development in the stamina progression.  Again this made sense to the teachers, who reflected that he is able to complete high-level work with support, but does not work to the same level on his own.  The contingent teaching plan includes pairing with a more independent student for peer editing and providing a checklist on his desk that lists the process steps for writing.  Both teachers acknowledge that the student has shown increasing maturity during the year and may just ‘grow into’ this skill before the year is over.

We asked teachers to reflect on this activity, and specifically on the potential for the DLLP to provide new or different information on their students.  Overall they agreed that the progressions provide specificity by breaking down language elements into specific, identifiable areas that they can impact instructionally.  They take some of the guesswork out of working with students learning English.  By pinpointing individual strengths and weaknesses you can set specific goals for each progressions.  In the words of one participant, “We generally have a good idea of where each student is, but this provides you with more specifics on how to help students move from one level to the next.”