Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

February 20, 2018
by Larry Ferlazzo

“The Importance of ‘White students having Black teachers’: Gloria Ladson-Billings on Education”

The Importance of ‘White students having Black teachers’: Gloria Ladson-Billings on Education is the headline of my latest Education Week Teacher column.

In it, Gloria Ladson-Billings’ responds to the question: What impact can having more teachers of color have on our schools & what needs to be done to make it happen?

Here are some excerpts:

February 20, 2018
by Larry Ferlazzo

Grading English Language Learners – A Perspective From Two Teachers

Note: This article complements one written by one recently posted at Colorin Colorado and written by Diane Staehr Fenner, Jill Kester, and Sydney Snyder. That piece is titled The Five Pillars of Equitably Grading ELLs. Larry will be joining Diane for a free Webinar on Equitably Grading ELs that will take place on March 19th. You can register for it here.

Larry Ferlazzo and Katie Hull Sypnieski are teachers in the Sacramento City Unified School District and authors of several books on teaching English Language Learners.

Grading English Language Learners – A Perspective From Two Teachers

By Larry Ferlazzo and Katie Hull Sypnieski


Our Overall perspective on grading

We must begin by saying that grades have seldom been an issue in our classes – whether they were ELD/ESL, mainstream, intervention, or advanced courses.

Because of that experience, we are often bewildered by the amount of energy, pressure and angst about them that we see among many teachers and administrators.

We view grades as information.  They are one of many forms of communication we use with students and their parents, and definitely not the most important kind.   As Rick Wormeli says, they are not rewards or punishments.

We view grades as, in many ways, the lowest level of communication between students, parents and ourselves. As its Latin word root suggests, they are “steps toward something.” Assessments, however, are an entirely different kettle of fish.  Its Latin roots mean to “sit beside” and to assist.   Whereas a grade is just a letter, continuous assessments (both teacher and student-initiated) and reflections on their meanings provide directions for a student’s journey– assisting them to adjust both their routes and their destinations.

We emphasize building upon our students’ assets instead of their deficits. That doesn’t mean we ignore or minimize challenges they are facing.   It does mean, however, that we focus on leveraging both their academic and non-academic strengths, like perseverance, critical thinking ability, appetite for learning, and success in outside-of-school venues, towards targeting needed areas of academic improvement.  As most teachers know, highlighting past examples of student success and the steps that made it happen can go a long way in helping them find the appetite/desire to applying those qualities again and again – especially to further a high-interest goal.

Just to be clear, even though some might consider us “easy” graders because of our perspective, we also feel confident – and proud – of our students’ results on “high-stakes” assessments, such as state tests and International Baccalaureate – supervised Oral Presentations and Essays.


Grading For English Language Learners

This portion of our article is divided into two sections:

  • How we handle grading in our English Language Development classes
  • How we handle grading ELLs in our mainstream classes



We base our grading structure in ELD classes (where students are all Beginner or Intermediate ELL students) on a Course Of Study that we helped our district develop a number of years ago.

Our slightly modified version (taken from the work of Thomas Guskey and others) looks like this:

Grading Guidelines

35%– Product Criteria (quality of student work)

  • Daily Assignments
  • Homework
  • Essays/Projects

35%– Process Criteria (how students do their work)

  • Collaboration/working with other students and teacher
  • Daily participation and effort
  • Daily attendance
  • Perseverance and grit

30%–Progress Criteria (evidence that students are progressing)

  • Academic language development
  • Demonstrated growth in speaking and listening
  • Demonstrated growth in reading fluency and comprehension
  • Demonstrated growth in writing proficiency



First, we must say that at this time, our own District does not offer grading guidance to mainstream teachers who have ELLs in their classes. We hope that will change in the near future.  To our best knowledge, our state of California also does not provide guidance in that area.

In addition, our experience is in middle and secondary schools, and we will focus most of this section in those areas.

However, based on guidance from other states and districts – as well as the federal government – and based on our own experiences, we offer the following thoughts and advice:

Federal guidelines make it clear that it is the responsibility of high schools to create a pathway for a student who enters high school as a Beginner to be able to graduate in four years (which is a particularly challenging timeline since it takes four-to-seven years to gain proficiency in academic English).   They must graduate with the prerequisites to enter college.  They must be able to attain success in the school’s “standard instructional program.” We can’t see how that is possible without a system of differentiated instruction and  differentiated grading for ELLs in our schools.

The federal government also provides clear instructions that accommodations on assessments must be made by states’ Departments of Education on any assessments administered to ELLs.  Though those guidelines only specify state assessments, it doesn’t appear to us much of a stretch to believe that teachers should follow them in their own classes, too.  We’re not experts, but we wouldn’t be surprised if a Civil Rights complaint to the Department of Education would result in the same opinion.

The districts and states that we have found to have specific grading policies for ELLs in mainstream classes appear – in various degrees – to have some key points in common:

  • It is the responsibility of the teacher to make content and assessments comprehensible to ELLs.
  • No student should be retained because of English language challenges.

These policies point out the difference between being “equal” and being “fair” and make it clear that treating ELLs “equally” by treating them the same as English-proficient students is not “fair” and could even be unlawful.

Guidance from the state of Indiana offers an example of a “fair” assessment for ELLs:

If a student is struggling with sequential vocabulary, they may not be able to write an essay on the water cycle. However, if given the opportunity to do a hands-on type of assessment through experimentation or pictures, the same student may be able to demonstrate knowledge of that content, confirming for the teacher their knowledge of science, not their limitations in English.

Accommodations during class could include differentiation strategies such as providing more time, allowing access to cellphone translation, providing needed background knowledge though home language materials,  offering similar texts at different lexile levels, giving students writing frames and sentence starters, pre-teaching key vocabulary, speaking at a slower rate, and recruiting peer tutors or in-class language “buddies” – just to name a few.

Larry spent nineteen years as a community organizer prior to becoming a teacher.  As an organizer, he recognized that “we live in the world as it is, not as we would like it to be.”  That doesn’t mean we have to be cynical, but it does mean that as we continually strive towards how we should treat all ELLs, we also have to recognize that because of time pressures, lack of professional development, and just plain overwork, some mainstream teachers might not be able to provide the differentiated instruction needed by ELLs.

In those situations, we believe that it’s critical for teachers to at least recognize that ELLs are faced with the sometimes overwhelming task of learning academic content and the English language simultaneously, and show compassion and support when it comes to giving them a letter grade.

We should always strive towards creating the world as we would like it to be. However, that doesn’t mean we should act oblivious to how the world is at the present time.

Another option some districts use is to apply Pass/Fail grades to ELLs in content classes or to provide letter grades indicating accommodations were made (though those notations can appear on report cards, they may not be able to be added to formal transcripts).


The lives of many of our English Language Learners, who have been uprooted from their home, culture, and native language through no choice of their own, can be very difficult.

Let’s not make it harder.  Instead, let’s demonstrate good sense, compassion and respect good educational practice. Let’s treat them as we would like our own children to be treated if we had been uprooted to a new country, a new culture and a new language.





February 20, 2018
by Larry Ferlazzo

Ed Tech Digest

Four years ago, in another somewhat futile attempt to reduce the backlog of resources I want to share, I began this occasional “Ed Tech Digest” post where I share three or four links I think are particularly useful and related to…ed tech.

You might also be interested in The Best Ed Tech Resources Of 2017.

Here are this week’s picks:

Web-based teaching can improve science understanding for struggling pupils is from Eureka Alert. I’m adding it to The Best Research Available On The Use Of Technology In Schools.

HOW TO USE QUOTES IN YOUR BLOG POSTS is from The Edublogger. I’m adding it to The Best Tools For Creating Visually Attractive Quotations For Online Sharing.

BLOGGING WITH HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS: ROSLYN GREEN’S STORY is from The Edublogger. I’m adding it to The Best Sources For Advice On Student Blogging.

Late last year, Twitter began testing a “bookmark” feature where you could save tweets you wanted to read later (instead of having to “like” them with the heart icon).  It became available on my Twitter Mobile app last night and seems useful.  I’m not sure, though, how widely available it has become.  I’m adding this info to The Best Resources For Beginning To Learn What Twitter Is All About.

Jury is still out on personalized learning approaches taking hold in California and across the country, research finds is from Ed Source. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Understanding “Personalized Learning”

ThinkFluency is a new app to help assess student reading fluency. I learned about it from David Kapuler. I’m adding it to The Best Resources On Reading Fluency (Including How To Measure It).

Modern Chalkboard offers a lot of resources for Smartboards.  I also learned about it from David.  I’m adding it to The Best Sites For Smartboard Resources (& For Other IWB’s).

February 20, 2018
by Larry Ferlazzo

March 1st Is World Book Day In The UK – Here Are Related Resources

DSC03849-004 Suzy Hazelwood via Compfight


April 23rd has been declared “World Book Day” by UNESCO, though it’s celebrated on the first Thursday of March in the United Kingdom.

You might be interested in The Best Resources For World Book Day — April 23rd or First Thursday Of March (Depending Where You Live).

February 19, 2018
by Larry Ferlazzo

Around The Web In ESL/EFL/ELL

Five years ago I began this regular feature where I share a few posts and resources from around the Web related to ESL/EFL or to language in general that have caught my attention.

You might also be interested in The Best Resources, Articles & Blog Posts For Teachers Of ELLs In 2017 – So Far. and The Best Resources, Articles & Blog Posts For Teachers Of ELLs In 2017 – Part Two. Also, check out A Collection Of My Best Resources On Teaching English Language Learners.

In addition, look for our next book on teaching ELLs, which will be published in the Spring of 2018.

Here are this week’s choices:

Schools’ Civil Rights Obligations to English Learner Students and Limited English Proficient Parents is a very useful site from the U.S. Department of Education.

Subtly is a browser extension designed to assist people learn English while watching videos.

I’m adding this first tweet to The Best Video Clips Of Sneaky Critters — Help Me Find More – they’re great for having ELLs watch them and then describe what they saw:

I’m adding this tweet to The Best Resources For Teaching Common Core Math To English Language Learners:

This tweet would be good to teacher “over, under, around” to ELLs:

I’m adding this tweet to The Best Resources For Learning About The Importance Of Prior Knowledge (& How To Activate It):

This would be a good video to show ELLs and then have them describe what they saw (you might also be interested in The Best Fun Videos For English Language Learners In 2017 – Part Two):

February 19, 2018
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Do I let the kid in, and maybe the gunman behind her?”

School Shootings Put Teachers in New Role as Human Shields is an article in today’s New York Times, which focuses on the questions in most teachers minds these days.

Here’s an excerpt:


You might also be interested in:

When did it become a teacher’s job to stop a bullet for your child? appeared on the PBS News Hour.

The Best Articles & Videos Showing How Parkland’s Teens Are Responding To Tragedy

Florida School Shooting Tragedy Resources, Including Advice On Talking With Students

February 19, 2018
by Larry Ferlazzo

Quote Of The Day: “…Marjory Stoneman Douglas High really could be the last school shooting in America”

The New Yorker has just published How the Survivors of Parkland Began the Never Again Movement.

Here’s an excerpt:


I’m adding it to The Best Articles & Videos Showing How Parkland’s Teens Are Responding To Tragedy.

And, as an addendum, teachers and their students might be interested in this opportunity:

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