George Lucas Educational Foundation

Tailoring Instruction to Support English Language Learners

Setting up a self-contained classroom for English language learners bolsters academics and helps students reach fluency faster.

December 7, 2023

At P.S. 249 in Brooklyn, New York, over 20 percent of the students are English as a New Language (ENL) learners, many of them newcomers to the U.S. The school’s diverse population includes children who speak Spanish, Haitian Creole, Arabic, Urdu, Bengali, Ukrainian, and Georgian, and many start kindergarten with little or no English. When principal Elisa Brown first came on board in 2000, the school was using a pull-out model to serve these learners. She quickly noticed that by the time students were picked up from their various classrooms and brought to the specialized language learning teacher, they were getting minimal instruction time—maybe 10 minutes per day. And often, what they were learning was not connected to what was being taught in their regular classroom. 

Brown decided to implement New York state’s English as a New Language program, formerly known as English as a second language (ESL), throughout the school. In the ENL model, the content is taught in English using specific instructional strategies by a teacher who is certified to teach English to speakers of other languages (ESOL). This way, students receive a full day of instruction in the regular curriculum, but with support from a teacher who is specially trained to work with language learners. Strategies include using academic vocabulary in different contexts often, using routines for tasks and assignments so that students can anticipate what’s coming up, and using lots of gestures and pictorial cues to help students understand what’s being said. The school now has a designated ENL classroom with an ESOL-certified teacher for every grade level, starting in kindergarten and up through fifth grade. 

The switch to the ENL model has paid off—the school says the majority of kindergartners who start at the school with little or no English reach proficiency by the third or fourth grade and test out of language learner status. And the data for P.S. 249’s ENL classes in each grade level is similar to the data from the rest of the grade-level classrooms. Not only are multilingual students thriving academically, but they are reaching fluency and moving into the regular classrooms at a much higher rate than before. 

Schools That Work

P.S. 249 The Caton School

Public, Urban
Grades PK-5
Brooklyn, NY

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Filed Under

  • English Language Learners
  • Literacy
  • Teaching Strategies
  • K-2 Primary

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