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Questions about Multilingual Learners with Dr. Ayanna Cooper: Part 3

Ayanna_CooperTo celebrate National Bilingual/Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month, we sat down with ANet’s resident expert, Dr. Ayanna Cooper Director of Multilingual Learners / English Learners, to talk about what we can do to better serve our linguistically diverse students. This is part of a five-part series with Dr. Cooper throughout April.

You've shared critical information. So, now that we know about the civil rights implications, what is our approach to provide support for multilingual learners? 

ANet’s approach to supporting linguistically diverse students centers around data before differentiation. The data-first approach is important since we have to know as much as we can about the community and context before strategizing and prioritizing areas in need of support. This approach is centered around federal and state obligations which help to provide the big picture. Oftentimes, the focus is on strategies and differentiation with little or no data to reference. Here are two examples of how the data before differentiation approach undergirds this approach.

Math Support

I was recently asked if I had any math resources for teachers who teach English learners. I asked two follow-up questions: what grade level and what are the students' level of proficiency? Without answers to these initial questions, any recommendations/resources would be simply guesswork/random compared to resources that were more intentional and aligned to the students’ needs and content being taught. The coach and I continue to support with data before differentiation questions. 

Other answers needed to support this request would be;

  • The grade level
  • The content standard
  • The program model associated (e.g., English development, dual language, bilingual education etc.)
  • What high-quality curriculum is being taught 
Building Capacity 

During an And Justice for English Learners book study session, a group of educators were discussing Chapter 3; Conversations Beyond the Rubric. This particular group of school-based educators are responsible for supporting English learners at an intermediate level of English proficiency. This chapter centers on the need for more dialog around what is expected from students compared to what’s accepted from students. What started as a vibrant discussion eventually led to more pauses and silent reflection. I wondered if they had come to the realization that affirms 1) the need to understand and use data more efficiently and 2) a shared sense of responsibility (Staehr Fenner, 2013) for supporting their students. If we are not clear on how to best use the data we have, then knowing how best to teach content concepts to linguistically diverse learners can leave educators and their students more frustrated. 

I’m interested to hear how our data before differentiation approach would be beneficial for your learning community. What conversations have you had recently around supporting linguistically diverse learners in content area courses? 

 Fill out the form to ask any questions about ML/EL students.


Cooper, A. (2020), And Justice for ELs: A Leader’s Guide to Creating and Sustaining Equitable Schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin

Staehr Fenner, D. (2013). Advocating for English learners: A guide for educators. Thousand     Oaks, CA: Corwin

Zwiers, J., Dieckmann, J., Rutherford-Quach, S., Daro, V., Skarin, R., Weiss, S., & Malamut, J. (2017). Principles for the Design of Mathematics Curricula: Promoting Language and Content Development. Retrieved from Stanford University, UL/SCALE website:
Math Language Routines 

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