By: Rebecca Reumann-Moore, Jeannette Rowland, Rosemary Hughes, Joshua Lin

June 2016


In Philadelphia, a growing and increasingly diverse population of English Language Learners (ELs) is intensifying demands on the city’s public schools as they work to meet the education needs of these students. Districts, charter management organizations, and individual schools can learn a great deal from each other about strategies for creating robust and supportive learning environments for ELs.
This brief highlights key findings about how Philadelphia public schools were crafting instructional approaches to serve their ELs and creating possibilities for teachers to collaborate to strengthen teaching and learning.
This study examined two key questions:

  • What strategies do schools use to strengthen teaching and learning for ELs?

  • How do schools build teacher capacity to serve ELs?

Key Findings

Strategies to Strengthen Teaching and Learning

  • Giving ELs access to the content and skills being taught in general education classes was a priority for both charter and district schools. Schools sought to do this as much as possible, but it was especially common – and easier to do – in classes with students with higher levels of English language proficiency.

  • Across grade levels, sectors, and content areas, teachers were committed to adapting or creating curricula to better meet ELs’ needs. Many teachers found that off-the-shelf textbooks and curricula did not fully meet their students’ needs; while some teachers relied primarily on textbook series and brought in supplementary materials, others created most of their materials themselves.

  • Some teachers struggled with lack of access to resources and the demands of adapting materials for wide-ranging student needs. As a result, they needed to create most or all of their materials. This was especially true for high school and content teachers.

  • Across schools, ESOL staff and/or administrators described a continuous improvement mindset. These schools periodically adjusted and tweaked some aspects of their program, based on assessments of how well they were serving students.

  • Schools developed a range of strategies to provide additional instruction and support for ELs outside of traditional class time. Approaches included support classes, electives, integrating Els into support for all students, homework help, volunteers, and community connections.

Building Teacher Capacity to Serve ELs

  • Many general education teachers lacked training in how to teach ELs. General education teachers working with ELLs do not need to be certified in ESOL instruction.

  • Turnover among general education teachers can strain limited resources for professional development. Two schools provided training on educating ELLs to all general education teachers; however, even at those schools, teacher turnover sometimes introduced a need to replicate this multiple times throughout the year, creating additional professional development needs in a context with limited professional learning opportunities.

  • Across schools, many teachers and EL coordinators reported a lack of dedicated time for collaboration. Though schools may have common planning time scheduled for grade groups or content areas, few have dedicated common planning time for general education and ESOL teachers to collaborate.

  • Despite challenges finding time to collaborate, schools and teachers used a range of strategies to facilitate collaboration to support instruction for ELs.