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127. Pathways to Proficiency: Understanding the Diverse Learning Journey of Your ELLs
Episode 12717th May 2024 • Equipping ELLs • Beth Vaucher, ELL, ESL Teachers
00:00:00 00:16:57

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Is there only one pathway to proficiency for our ELLs?

Explore the diverse pathways to English proficiency for your ELL students in this enlightening episode of Equipping ELLs. Host Beth Vaucher delves into the complexities of language learning, challenging the notion of a singular route to mastery. From understanding the unique backgrounds of each student to tailoring instruction to their specific needs, discover practical insights to elevate your teaching. Gain valuable strategies for navigating the multifaceted journey towards proficiency, empowering you to create inclusive learning environments where every student can thrive academically and linguistically. Join us as we unravel the intricacies of language acquisition and equip yourself with the tools to support your ELLs effectively.

And don't miss out on an invaluable new resource for educators dedicated to the success of English language learners: our new on-demand PD platform, Pathways to Proficiency.

One last thing! Are YOU an ELL (or do you know an ELL) that would be willing to share your story on the Equipping ELLs podcast? During the month of June, host Beth Vaucher is sitting down to hear the inspiring stories of language learners, and we would love to hear from you! Click HERE or the link below to apply!



Welcome to another episode of Equipping ELLs. I hope you've been enjoying this series all about raising the bar on the PD we receive and expect from our schools, and hopefully it is encouraging you to advocate for more purposeful and practical PD this upcoming year.

Over the past few months, our team has been working behind the scenes to bring you something brand new. We've been working on an on demand PD platform that will be filled with your most frequently asked questions, with 5-10 minute bite size answers. We want to help you build the foundation, but also gain the practical application right away, all in a few minutes each day. When created this platform, Pathways to Proficiency, I asked myself a lot of questions and did a lot of reflecting. What is our goal as educators of ELLs? What does proficient English speakers look like? Is there only one pathways to proficiency?

In today's episode I want to go deeper on these questions and how I've come to the conclusions I have after much thought and research.

Now, before we dive in, I want you to come to a conclusion on your own. Is there only 1 pathway to proficiency?

Before we delve into this topic, let's first define what we mean by proficiency. Proficiency isn't just about being good at something; it's about mastering a skill or task to a high standard. Whether it's playing a musical instrument, excelling in a sport, or mastering a professional skill, proficiency is the hallmark of expertise.

Here's a definition I came across in regards to what a proficient english speaker would look like: A person proficient in English demonstrates a high level of competence in all aspects of the English language, including speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Proficiency implies a deep understanding of grammar, vocabulary, and language usage, enabling effective communication in various contexts and situations. Proficient English speakers can comprehend complex texts, express ideas fluently and accurately, engage in meaningful conversations, and produce written compositions with clarity and coherence. Additionally, proficiency in English often entails cultural awareness and sensitivity to nuances in language usage across different English-speaking communities. Overall, a proficient English speaker possesses the skills and knowledge necessary to function confidently and effectively in English-speaking environments.

Now, what is great is we are not just talking about your students reaching proficiency, but as we are encouraging our students on their journey to proficiency, we also should be growing in our ability to become proficient in teaching ELLs. Do you feel you are there yet? I know I am still learning and growing.

Let's look at a definition for what a proficient ell teacher looks like:

A proficient teacher of teaching English language learners (ELLs) is culturally competent, adept at differentiating instruction, and skilled in integrating students' cultural backgrounds into teaching practices. They collaborate effectively with colleagues, communicate regularly with families, and utilize assessment data to inform instructional planning. Continuous professional development is a priority for them, as they stay abreast of research and best practices in English language teaching. Advocacy for ELL students' needs is central to their role, as they work to ensure equitable policies, resources, and support services within their school communities. Overall, a proficient ELL teacher creates inclusive learning environments where all students can succeed academically and linguistically.

Where are you on your journey?

Now, onto the big question: Is there only one pathway to proficiency? Do we just start at the beginning and check off each box along their journey to proficiency?

This is what I was always seeking for, but never found. Why?

Let's break this down further. The idea that there's only one pathway to proficiency is a partially true and partially false.

First, we know there are building blocks to learning a language. We know all students will begin with basic survival words and phrases, and then over time, as they develop each domain they will increase their capabilities in their proficiency.

One area though that I don't think we take enough consideration in is that Each individual's journey to mastery is as unique as they are. Each student has different learning styles, backgrounds, and life experiences that shape the way we acquire skills and knowledge.

Each student that enters your classroom might have different cultural backgrounds, different language spoken at home, different amount of education attended previously, other struggles such as trauma, learning disabilities, or lack of basic needs.

Working with ELLs is not overwhelming, it's a joy and a blessing, but what can feel overwhelming is trying to pinpoint what each student needs and where to begin to help them have growth.

This is where multiple pathways comes into play.

Knowing what questions you have about your students can help you know where to begin. For example, if you know they are a newcomer, that is the path you will want to begin with. If you see that your student is very hesitant to speak, that is the pathway you will focus on. Maybe it's not your students that need a new pathway, maybe it's actually you that needs the pathway of planning lessons more efficiently to better meet the needs of your mixed groups. What pathways do you see some of your students needing? Or yourself?

This is really where the growth happens. When you can narrow in your focus, and spend the time needed to meet them where they are at, they will have growth. This is a cycle that can happen in different ways all along their journey to becoming proficient.

now, like I shared we have been working on creating the answers to different pathways for you so you don't need to do any extra work! You can find out more at

Also, I wanted to share that during the month of June, I will be featuring inspirational stories of language learners. Did you grow up speaking a different language, and would like to share your experience with us on this podcast? Or do you know of a former student or friend who would be willing to share their story? Please click the link in the show notes to apply!

As always, thank you for taking the time to be here today. Your support means so much. If you are passionate about equipping ELLs, please share this episode on instagram and tag us at equipping ells or leave a review.





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