CTE supports English language learners

My educator service began over a decade ago, with the most amazing opportunity to teach in a bilingual third grade classroom. In accordance with a federal consent decree, Denver Public Schools (DPS) must meet the needs of our multilingual learners. I was trained to ensure my students experienced Integrated Content Language Development (ICLD); rigorous, content-based instruction scaffolds to support all learners. Shared strategies and intentional instruction are critical for English language and career development.

My students thrived when they could be critical thinkers, creators, and when they were given freedom and support to talk academically. And it was not just happening in Spanish; they were sponges for the terminology in English with supporting scaffolds.

I remained in close contact with many of these students throughout my educational journey. By the time they became juniors and seniors, I was serving as an administrator and career and technical education (CTE) director in a working-class community high school in the heart of Denver, Colorado. The Mile High City, which serves 90,000 students, provided 18,701 college and career education classes in 2020–21. In addition to recruiting to grow my school’s programs, I wanted to share the opportunities that CTE offered with students I had taught in Spanish over the years. I knew they would thrive in CTE because it was so hands-on.

As I began reaching out, I was surprised to learn that students identified as still needing to master English experienced barriers in accessing CTE and other opportunities. Our secondary school scheduling places CTE classes and English language development classes in the same elective block.

CTE SERVEs multilingual students.

Many of our bilingual students were demonstrating proficiency to earn a Seal of Biliteracy upon graduation, proficient in two or more languages. Open doors to CTE, combined with the gift of language, increase opportunities for valuable education and employer connections. When faced with the challenge of access, the Multilingual Education Department (MLE) was determined to make a win for our multilingual learners. We wanted to support teachers in understanding that CTE classrooms are the ideal place to learn language. MLE created so many amazing resources. We just had to take the supports they had and look at them with a CTE lens.

S: Student talk that is frequent, accountable and structured

  • Clear expectations and modeling of academic language
  • Techniques to ensure equal participation (collaborative structures, turn-taking, roles, choral response)
  • Strategic grouping
  • Opportunities for students to discuss in home language, when appropriate

E: Explicit instruction and modeling of the academic language needed

  • Target language for instruction, such as academic vocabulary (word level), grammatical structures or academic phrases (sentence level), and academic conversation skills (discourse level)
  • Descriptive feedback is provided, both on the use of academic language and on the content, throughout the lesson.

R: Rigorous grade-level content

  • Connection to personal experiences and prior knowledge, and building of background knowledge
  • Differentiated sentence frames, sentence stems, and questioning
  • Wait time and opportunities to process with a peer
  • Multiple exposures to important ideas, reviewing/summarizing main points
  • Home language materials provided when needed

V: Extensive use and interaction with visual resources

  • Pictures, photographs, videos
  • Gestures
  • Realia
  • Graphic organizers, diagrams and charts with color-coding
  • Digital technology
  • Modeling procedures and exemplar work

E: Respectful, equitable and encouraging learning environment

  • Clear and consistent rituals and routines
  • Modeling of encouraging, enthusiastic and effort-based learning
  • Validation, respect and encouragement of varied cultural perspectives and use of home language(s)
  • Culturally responsive practices

Our CTE classrooms are the perfect place for English language learners because our work is so hands-on. Whether students are reading blueprints or using high-level technical language, ensuring our students can speak and read the world of their work gives them a competitive edge in the work- force and grows our economy.

At DPS, the many diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds that our students bring to the classroom enrich our schools. DPS (n.d.) believes every student’s home language and culture are assets that [when] combined with our English language skills, help students achieve success in school and life.”

Elina Martinez Medina is an educational specialist in Denver, Colorado. Before working as a CTE specialist in Denver Public Schools, she was a high school administrator and bilingual elementary educator for over a decade. Medina works to ensure CTE programs create equitable opportunities, particularly engaging students in high-wage, talent pipeline growth in trade skill work. She received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from University of Denver. She is the proud mother of two adult sons and a teenage daughter. Medina currently resides with her daughter and her two pups. Email her.


This article originally appears in Techniques, in print, in April 2021.