November 28, 2017

By Jose M. Aldaco

In Waterford Unified School District, located just outside of Modesto, CA, 63% of our student population is Hispanic, and 30% of our total students are ELLs. Research shows that if ELLs are not reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade, then the likelihood of them graduating from high school dramatically drops. This is the primary reason why we work hard to provide all ELLs equal access to education and the tools they need to achieve success.

While a majority of our ELLs speak English, their parents are first- or second-generation immigrants who speak Spanish, meaning students do not have exposure to English at home, and overall, have limited knowledge of how the language functions. We call these students “language deprived,” since the only opportunities for clear English language modeling they receive are at school. Here are a few ways we’ve been able to increase student engagement for these students and other ELLs in the Waterford District.


1) Offer constant language interaction.

Young people require multiple opportunities to listen and interact with proficient English speakers in order to successfully learn the language. Additionally, it is with and through language that students learn, think, and express information, ideas, perspectives, and questions. Since we know that, in many cases, school is the only place where students hear proficient English, we need to make sure each lesson has maximum effect, allowing each student to hear every word spoken in the classroom.


2. Use visual aids and teacher-led reading activities.

To help our ELLs, teachers focus on modeling and having students use complete sentences, utilize academic language appropriately, and employ sentence stems to promote students’ use of complex language. Teacher-led close reading activities also play a role in the acquisition of academic language. English learners benefit from visual aids, as well. For this reason, we equip all classrooms with LCD projectors and document cameras and provide Chromebooks to students, which serve to support staff in the facilitation of learning. 


3. Create equity with a classroom audio system.

To reach every student regardless of where they are seated in the classroom, we implemented a variety of Lightspeed classroom audio systems, including two-way pods, Redcats, and Topcats, in every 4th- through the 8th-grade room. The audio systems allow students to hear clear language modeling and crisp pronunciation from the teacher. Our teachers use the audio systems to amplify their own voices, and students utilize the system during presentations and during in-class participation opportunities, which helps build their English skills and confidence when speaking a new language. Since the implementation of the audio systems and clear language modeling, teachers report that students are more attentive and follow instructions more clearly—because they can hear and process enunciated words appropriately.

Our hope is that between our teachers and our English-speaking students, ELL students will have excellent role models as they develop the language skills they need to be successful in our society.

This article is an excerpt of a recently published eSchool News article. See the full story here.

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ARTICLE: ELL Specialist: These are "My Tech Essentials" 

CASE STUDY: Oregon District Provides Student Equity and Invests in ELL Students


Jose Aldaco

Jose Aldaco

Jose M. Aldaco is the Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services and Director of Personnel for the Waterford Unified School District in Waterford, CA. Follow him on Twitter @AldacoJaldaco or email him at

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