Student Centered Learning Tasks for English Language Learners

One of our district goals is to create more Student Centered Learning opportunities for all students. Truthfully, I struggled with the concept for most of our first semester. My concern was that my low and mid proficient ELL's would not know the necessary academic vocabulary needed in order to research, learn, and present on a topic.  To try it, I gave my middle school ELL’s an independent student centered learning task loosely based around our area of study, and they blew me away! If you're interested in incorporating student centered learning tasks for your English Language students, definitely give it a try!

student centered learning tasks main image

After researching various strategies such as Reggio, Montessori and Project Based Learning, I decided to create a project that would allow my students to produce content at their individual proficiency levels.  I chose two provocations that complemented our a unit of study on Early Humans, and chose them based on memorable inquiries students had made during various class discussions.  You can see the parameters for the project in the image below.

project based learning task instructions

I shared a sample project with my students to model the desired outcome.  This allowed my ELL's to see the general shape and scope, without giving away any of the content.  Creating this sample was a necessary step for my students to visually process my expectations, which were also shared via rubric.
student centered learning project sample

Although students worked mostly independently, I made sure to schedule one-on-one time during class for "status" meetings.  These quick discussions allowed me to check in on each student's progress without influencing their work.  Some of our discussions included brainstorming a list of potential research key words, certifying the validity of some images and websites, reviewing the concept of BC/AD, and helping choose a medium for delivery.

Below are three projects from my class.  The first is from a newcomer who has been in the US less than two years, the second a long-term mid-proficiency ELL, and the third a long-term high-proficient ELL.  (I should note that these three students chose to use Microsoft OneNote, while others chose to make posters.) While each project is unique and reflects the style and proficiency level of its owner, all the students achieved the desired outcome, and were able to present their learning.

visual of student work
student work 2

student work 3

All of this work was done independently, and truly reflects each student's proficiency level.  A task like this allowed my students to practice their research skills, graphic design skills, and public speaking skills.  My original concerns about scaffolding their vocabulary were addressed during our one-on-one conferences, and since they had a choice of topics and mediums, students were 100% invested and engaged in the project.  They took ownership and were proud of themselves, and immediately asked me what the next project would be.  Have you tried student centered learning with your ELL's? Leave a comment or send me an email- I'd love to hear about it!


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