Think back to when you were in school. From which teachers did you learn the most? Chances are good that the teachers you learned the most from were quite adept at engaging you during class. For English language learners (ELLs) this point certainly holds true as well. However, educators often have difficulty working with ELLs on meaningfully engaging in classroom activities. Many ELLs must overcome anxiety and the emotional turmoil of moving, living in a new cultural environment, and making new friends. All of this must be done while trying to learn English. The language barrier often pushes students into a state of isolation, further inhibiting their classroom engagement and learning.
The opportunity to step back and reflect on challenges facing schools that are tackling achievement for students with IEPs brings an array of thoughts. Based on my observations, conversations, and consulting experiences across the country over the past few years, I have the following thoughts regarding where we are today relative to moving achievement forward for students with IEPs.
Over the past few years, the Michigan Department of Education, the Michigan State University Office of K-12 Outreach, the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators, and other partners worked to create the MI Excel Statewide System of Support (SSoS). In their role with MI Excel, MSU brought together a cadre of experienced and highly trained educators to mentor and guide Priority and Focus school and district personnel in their pursuit of higher achievement. The work was grounded in the research of nationally known scholars, including Joseph Murphy, William Parrett and Kathleen Budge, Franklin Campbell Jones, Lynn Sharrat, Rick Hess, Brett Lane and Bruce Wellman, all of whom were brought in by MSU to train the specialists and work with school and leadership teams from MI Excel schools and districts.
While we talk generally about "student engagement" as a variable in academic success, we may have differing ideas regarding a definition of student engagement. Engagement in learning has many constructs influenced by both the learner and the learning environment. And the learning environment has many elements, including instructional design and delivery as well as the culture of the environment (safety, reciprocal respect, expectations, supports, and nurturing relationships, to name a few). So, to discuss student engagement we need to identify some specific aspects of engagement.
Michigan has made considerable efforts to prepare schools for the inevitability of online assessments. Since 2012, the Michigan legislature has provided $95 million to support district's technology improvements.1 However, only 262 districts, encompassing approximately 11.5% of Michigan's K-12 students, have provided one-to-one internet-ready devices for students to use in the instructional setting.2 One of the most significant arguments against online assessments in Michigan is that many students, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, have not had the opportunity to utilize these technologies on a regular basis. Past studies have indicated that students living in under-resourced areas are more likely than other students to attend schools with limited access to technology.3 This lack of exposure to technology in schools may be exacerbated to an even greater extent when considering the English language learners (ELLs). Almost 74% of Michigan's students identified as ELLs are also considered socioeconomically disadvantaged.4 The potential for a digital divide is real and great for ELLs. Therefore, effectively integrating technology into instruction is particularly important for classroom teachers who work with ELLs.