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Accessing Content: Language and Instruction

** Dutro, S. & Kinsella, K. (2010). English language development: Issues and implementation at grades six through twelve. In F. Ong (ed.), Improving education for English learners: Research-based approaches (pp. 151-207). Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education. Available for purchase at


This chapter presents the authors’ vision for a comprehensive, standards-aligned English language development (ELD) curriculum for adolescent English learners (ELs). The authors begin with a discussion of the diversity of backgrounds, experiences and proficiency levels of ELs and the linguistic challenges they face. The authors emphasize that schools and districts must reconsider how ELs are placed in intervention courses and urge that secondary school courses in all content areas be designed to focus on language elements and should be available to ELs even once they reach higher levels of English proficiency. The chapter includes detailed descriptions of approaching language instruction as well as specific examples for use when implementing ELD, such as building vocabulary knowledge and functional language.


Olsen, L. (2010). Reparable harm: Fulfilling the unkept promise of educational opportunity for California’s long term English learners. Long Beach, CA: Californians Together. Available at


Based on new survey data, this report highlights the large number of long-term English learners (ELs) (i.e., English learners who have been in U.S. schools for at least six years without attaining English proficiency) in California’s secondary schools. The author presents a brief history of national and state policies toward ELs and discusses the systems and practices in California’s education system that have allowed so many students to become long-term ELs. The report then explores the characteristics of these long-term ELs in secondary schools and explores distinct challenges facing this population. The author concludes with both instructional strategies and larger policy recommendations for a more responsive approach for long-term ELs.


Frey, D. & Fisher, N. (2009, February). The Release of Learning. Principal Leadership, 9(6), 18-22. Available at


This article outlines the instructional strategy of a gradual release of responsibility (GRR) by teachers to students that aims to have students take more responsibility for their own learning. Steps in this strategy include explaining why students are learning the content, using guided instruction to ensure students take on cognitive work, and working on collaborative tasks, all to ensure students ultimately are able to apply what they have learned and demonstrate their understanding. The authors then outline how principals can guide teachers in this process through ongoing feedback as to whether students in classrooms are meeting specific learning goals.


Schleppegrell, M. J. & Achugar, M. (2003). Learning language and learning history: a functional linguistics approach. Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, 12(2), 21-27. Available at


This article argues that, by examining and reframing the way that content is created through particular linguistic choices, students can better gain access to grade-level content. Using content from history courses as an example, the authors outline activities that teachers can use to help students understand and analyze the language in textbooks, thus giving the students the tools to master content.


**This document is considered a priority reading.