In the latest EdVoices podcast episode, we chat with EdReports multilingual learner lead, Margaret Overbagh-Feld, who shares her expertise around the importance of supporting multilingual learners during a materials adoption process. Margaret offers best practices for districts to help ensure teachers have access to resources that support the full community of students in their classrooms.

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Jess Barrow  00:07

Hi, I’m Jess Barrow and this is the EdVoices Podcast. Today we are joined by Margaret Overbagh-Feld and she is our multilingual learner lead at EdReports. And we’re going to be talking about how districts can really prioritize multilingual learners as part of their curriculum adoption process. Margaret, thanks so much for joining us today. Do you want to say a little bit about yourself?

Margaret Overbagh-Feld  00:33

Hi, Jess, I’m excited to be here. I am Margaret Overbagh-Feld as Jess mentioned, and I am the multilingual learner lead at EdReports. I work in our academic office doing all things multilingual learner having to do with high quality instructional materials.

Jess Barrow 00:51

Well, I think we’re talking to the right person for today’s topic. I would love to start with getting some of your thoughts on why it’s so important for districts to consider the needs of multilingual learners as as part of an instructional materials adoption process, particularly from the very beginning, right, like not necessarily thinking about it, once materials have been chosen.

Margaret  Overbagh-Feld 01:16

Yeah, that’s a really great question. So multilingual learner enrollment in K 12 schools has increased by 28% since the year 2000. And so there are now an estimated 4.9 million children in US public schools learning the English language. And millions of these students spend much of their days in general education classrooms, often teachers who aren’t specifically trained to work with them. And so it’s really important to have high quality instructional materials that include high quality supports for these multilingual learners. Especially given that they’re the fastest growing student population in the country. It’s estimated by that by 2025, one out of every four children and classrooms across the nation will be a multilingual learners student.

So something that districts want to think about when they’re adopting is to think about not just the students that are in their classrooms right now. But also what will those classrooms look like in the future adoption processes don’t happen every year, a lot of districts do them every six or every 10 years. So considering that this student population is likely to grow in all states and districts considering adoptions, we really want to look at where the multilingual learner supports are. From the get go, there are some some districts do this already, especially given performance gaps on state standardized tests. So yeah, we want to be really sure that we’re not missing anything and materials for this group of students that

Jess Barrow 02:47
Yeah, that makes so much sense and to think about the fact that this is a growing population, but we already have a lot of students who have these needs in our classrooms. What would you say in terms of, so it makes sense why? Why districts need to think about this in terms of students needs. Can you talk a little bit more about what research tells us about? How like the role materials play in supporting multilingual learners to actually learn?

Margaret Overbagh-Feld 03:20

Research tells us that integrated content and language learning is key. You want to integrate use learn the language in service of the content, it used to be like, back in the day that language classes Well, language was learned separately from content. But research has evolved. And we’ve learned over time that using that learning the language that students will use to learn the content is the most important piece. So if you’re learning about the Civil War, what language you need to know to learn that will help you learn both the language and develop language skills as well as learn the content in that content area class. So we want to have those two things together. We’ll also want to consider language learning as an integrated part of the curriculum not as an afterthought, it really is important that language learning is part of the design process for materials. And that it’s not that a set of materials is created in a way and then there are few supports overlaid on top of it. And so it really makes educators rethink how we will reach these students like in order to understand if your materials are meeting this bar of integrated language and content learning. You really need to consider this piece from the beginning of your adoption process when you’re also considering the content.

Jess Barrow 04:57

If you think about these things too late, you might have already narrowed your field to programs that don’t really have the supports or who, who don’t have the supports designed in a way where you can really integrate them into the, into the content.

Margaret Overbagh-Feld 05:14

Absolutely. And I think that’s how sometimes schools and districts will choose materials that are the best of what they’ve narrowed down to, which might not be the best out there for multilingual learners. So if you start thinking about them at the beginning of the process, you’ll be sure not to fall into that trap.

Jess Barrow 05:33

No, that’s really helpful. I mean, you’ve even through talking about this, you’ve kind of illuminated a best practice already. In terms of thinking about this at the beginning of your process. I wonder if you in mind to talk a little bit more about what are some other best practices that districts can take as part of as part of their selection and implementation process to make sure that they’re not only getting, you know, high quality standards aligned materials, but they really offer those integrated supports for multilingual learners?

Margaret Overbagh-Feld 06:04

Yeah, absolutely. I think local context is really important. You want to analyze the current state in your district and incorporate any local priorities as part of your review criteria. So this is important in any adoption, but especially so for multilingual learners. Because multilingual learners aren’t a monolith, you want to kind of consider who is actually in the classrooms in your district. So you’ll want to establish additional review criteria beyond that alignment that you’re just talking about. That will inform your investigation of instructional materials and supports not just for multilingual learners as a whole. But for those multilingual learners who are in your classrooms. So for example, a lot of supports are available. Support materials provide information for students who speak Spanish, whether it’s translated materials or supports to help them connect language to content, which is great, but only great if the students in your district are majority Spanish speakers. So Spanish is by far the most common language spoken by multilingual learners in the US, it’s more than 75% of the multilingual learner population. But in total, multilingual learners speak more than 400 different languages, and many districts have hundreds of different languages spoken in the classroom. And I know I’ve been in classrooms that were there, each student has spoken. Practically each student has spoken a different language. So you want to consider like, who the students are, that you’re working with and who they aren’t, and how those supports will fit in with what you need to do in your context. Another thing to consider are local priorities and how they intersect with multilingual learners student needs. So for example, if student writing is a district priority, or an instructional focus, you want to be pay particular attention to how materials are supporting multilingual learners, in writing from the beginning to the end of a writing task.

Jess Barrow 08:08

Those are two great examples of things that might be really difficult might be different from district to district in terms of what you want to focus on and how to consider that local priorities, ensuring those are infused into your process, and that you really get a good a good understanding of your own landscape. What what’s another best practice that we might want to share with districts?

Margaret Overbagh-Feld 08:32

On your adoption committees, you’ll want to include some teachers and educators with deep multilingual learner expertise, the knowledge of supports that actually will help students reach full and complete participation in the grade level task with their English speaking peers. And what those look like is really important. And so you need someone who can really, like interrogate the claims of publishers and ensure that something that says it is a support is actually a support that’s going to reach the content objective of a given lesson or unit or course of study.

Jess Barrow 09:14

That’s such a good point, because I think it’s, it feels very straightforward to think about, like, Oh, I’m doing a math adoption, obviously, I will have math educators as part of my committee. But I think it might be feel less obvious, especially if things haven’t been done like that in the past, in a district to think about what’s what other expertise do I really need on this committee that aligned with my local priorities and very likely that could be some multilingual learner knowledge and expertise, whatever that might look like in the educators in your district. And then I know we talk a lot about like, here’s what we need to do at the beginning of an adoption. It’s so important to lay that foundation what are some things that you might suggest around like once materials are selected, what can districts do to make sure that those materials are really serving the students needs?

Margaret  10:12

Yeah, so, districts will really want to invest in a long term implementation plan that includes ongoing curricular curriculum aligned professional learning, related specifically to the multilingual learners supports and materials. Having more than just like a brief overview of new materials is of course very important for teachers in general. But for multilingual learners supports having a strong implementation plan as part of your process is really fundamental in creating the conditions in which these materials can be used well, and therefore helps all students to learn and grow. And when you consider multilingual learners supports, and offering access to the content. One of the reasons why they’re super important is because there actually aren’t a lot of teachers teaching multilingual learners who are certified in teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Actually, there are only only 10% of teachers who have at least one monthly language learner in their classroom, are certified in ESL, versus the huge large number of students who are active who are multilingual learners, and all of the other courses and teachers and educators that multilingual learners interact with during the day. So you have largely in the content areas, a lot of teachers who end up with multilingual learners in their classroom for whom this kind of instruction is new. And so if you have an implementation plan that includes the educative piece of the materials, then you’re able to show teachers why it’s so important to use certain supports, maybe even where there are gaps in the materials where other supports may be needed. And so adopting new materials can be really overwhelming for a teacher. And there are so many new pieces. Really understanding the why behind a lot of it can be an extra, extra bonus for understanding the best way to implement materials.

Jess Barrow 12:24

I feel like one thing were often pushing with districts and educators in general is how important it is to really give those supports whenever you have any new materials, because you’re learning a new program, but this is this is something to consider along with that, you know, not only do you need to simultaneously account for teachers being new to the field and to be being new to the materials. So it’s both those things really need to be integrated and connected to the content they’re actually going to be teaching.

Okay, well, Margaret, I feel like obviously, we could we could spend a lot of time on all the different things districts can do. But I think really analyzing the current context and the local priorities. meaningfully engaging educators and ensuring that you have multilingual learner expertise on your committee, and investing in those long term implementation plans that directly speak to multilingual learners supports within the materials are three key ways that districts can start to prioritize these students. I can imagine being a district especially if, let’s say your your population of multilingual learners students is growing or it’s new, or it’s something that you haven’t necessarily thought about in an adoption before it could feel a little overwhelming to suddenly have this really crucial new component to consider.

What are some resources that might be available and you know, to help educators do this, particularly within an adoption process, or as they’re, as they’re putting together their selection process?

Margaret Overbagh-Feld 14:10

Yeah, there are a few resources out there that could be really helpful in this. In 2022, we worked with some partners in California, including the English learner success forum, to put together pilot tools for multilingual learners success in math in this particular project was based in middle school math for multilingual learners, but a lot of the indicators and criteria that we came up with are applicable to all content areas. And those review tools include deep knowledge of the content and best practices for multilingual learners. And they are publicly available, the CalCurriculum website so if a district is looking to adopt materials with a multilingual learn lens, they can take a look at those tools, which actually are already being used in California districts in their adoption process to do a lot of what we just talked about, consider a local priorities. Consider from the list of high of assets of high quality instructional materials for multilingual learners, like, what are the most important things for you and your local context and take a look at them. So that’s a really great place to start. I just mentioned the English learner success forum or ELSF. And they have guidelines for curriculum developers in different content areas that provide ideas for which kinds of multilingual learners supports and components and best practices to include in materials. So that could provide another great list of what to look for in materials. We also have some great information in our EdReports, current reviews, in to two places that you could find them and our version 1.5 tool in indicator 3Q, which looks at multilingual learners supports found in materials, and indicator three s looks at how home language is used as an asset and materials. And we are currently working on enhancing and deepening that information to give more nuanced and more detailed information to the field around what supports are available for multilingual learners in materials. And finally, at reports has teams in the field to our technical assistance, we’re doing our technical assistance work with districts to support them in ways to prioritize multilingual learners as part of their adoption process.

Jess Barrow  16:44

Thanks for sharing those. And just just so the, the listeners know, we will link to all of these in our show notes. So anything that Margaret referenced from a study or stat or a resource you can find in our show notes, so that you’ll have easy access to that. But it sounds like there’s a lot out there already. But we know, you know, we know we want to have even more and that hopefully in the future, we’re going to be able to provide even deeper and more detailed information around those supports really soon. Well, I feel like as we’re wrapping up, Margaret, we’ve talked a lot about the curriculum supports that multilingual learners students need access to, especially if they want to be able to access the content that can help them learn and grow. But before we end, I feel like we haven’t touched on is something that’s equally important. And could you talk about why it’s so important to have a commitment to an asset based mindset when we’re thinking about students who are bringing other languages into the classrooms? What do we mean by that? And why is it important?

Margaret Overbagh-Feld  18:00

When students come to our classes with little experience in English, we have to remember that the language they do have is a foundation to build on and so are the experiences that come from their, from that language. So, multilingual learners often miss out on educational experiences when teachers look at them with a deficit mindset, or considering what they don’t have, rather than what they can do with what they bring to the classroom. And so while materials are important, a program will never be at its best, unless educators are willing to embrace this idea that language, any language is an asset and a resource. And so having this philosophy as a foundation will make it more likely that a program you choose is successful, and how you implement it really works well with the students in your classroom.

Jess Barrow  18:57

You know, my mom came to the United States when she was 11. And she didn’t speak a word of English. And she talks so often, even now, years later, she’s lived in the United States a long time about those early years where she was in school and having to learn a language and having to learn the content. And so much of those memories include not only what she was learning, but how teachers approached her and how they really did approach her from you’re bringing something to us, you’re adding to our classroom, and not just about like, here’s what you need to learn to, you know, assimilate here and be here. So, I feel even though that wasn’t my personal experience, listening to my mom growing up, has really made me have a perspective on what it might mean or feel like to be multilingual learner in a classroom and how important it is to have that asset based mindset for anyone who’s working with students. Okay, Margaret, thank you so much for sharing all of your knowledge today. And I’m excited to add all these links and get this out into the world and let other other folks hear all of your expertise and about the work that we’re doing at EdReports and how we’re hoping to support districts to make sure that these students are really prioritized as part of selection.