Academic Language
The implementation of the Minnesota K-12 Academic Standards for English Language Arts Multi-tiered Systems of Support provides an opportunity for educators to be more intentional and explicit in addressing the language needs of students. Minnesota believes that the “Achievement Gap” in part is due to insufficient opportunities to practice and receive feedback on the language necessary for college-  and career-readiness. Developing language sufficient to navigate the school setting, and engage in higher-order thinking and academic content applies to ALL students.

Leadership and Implementation teams will want to explore the extent to which students have the language skills necessary to succeed in college and career settings. To accomplish this, an approach grounded in data, and which identifies and teaches students who require a more intentional approach to developing academic language, is needed.

Within any school, some students will need more and some will need less explicit language instruction. Identifying students who need more instruction is not a simple task. Teams should not assume that any student with a variation of English or other primary language arrives with language deficits. Schools that intentionally and systemically focus on developing language skills and structuring opportunities to practice language skills across the school day will foster better academic performance for all students.

Specifically, teams should not assume that English Learners, American Indian, African American, students with disabilities, or students who come from low socio-economic environments have gaps in language. The importance of personal identity and the assets of bilingualism must be considered in the context of supporting academic language development. Personal identify and assets of bilingualism are discussed further in the explanation of language development and professional development opportunities in the Installation: Academic Language section.

Exploration begins with an awareness of students’ language performance, their needs, and corresponding opportunities to use language throughout the school day. Next steps in exploration include a deeper analysis in the scaffolding of language, as well as on the frequency and specificity of feedback. This analysis should apply to core instruction, tiers of intervention, and specialists who provide language services. Leaders need a comprehensive picture of their existing school supports and student performance prior to action planning.

To begin the process of Exploration, a brief primer on language development, language for navigating school, language of academic thought and content areas, and connections to the state English Language Arts Standards is provided.


Relationship of Academic Language to the ELA Standards

The 2010 Minnesota K-12 Academic Standards for English Language Arts have a strand dedicated to language development. These anchor standards articulate what students need to be able to do with language in order to meaningfully engage with the content standards. Students need extensive opportunities to practice and improve their language skills. They need facility with various ways of structuring a sentence so they can effectively communicate an idea at the phrase, sentence, and extended-discourse levels. This will help them engage meaningfully with the concepts, manipulation, and extended thinking required in the content standards.

In addition, students need to understand how language can carry a variety of meanings in both informal and formal situations so they can assess context and audience to make informed choices in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It is important to bridge students’ existing language experiences to formal experiences. Again, bilingualism can be an asset in mastering academic language.

Students need sufficient exposure to how formal academic language is used in school and workplace settings. ALL school staff can contribute to creating an additive impact across the school day to help students rapidly acquire and expand their conceptual understanding, and build increasingly complex and deep understandings of abstract ideas. Language standards should not be “taught” as a separate from the other standards; instead, they should be embedded in all content areas and social interactions.