How Individual Learner Plans Can Increase English Learner Achievement

by Darlene Davenport, World Language Specialist, and Lisa Clark, ELL Instructional Coach, in Knox County Schools

Two years ago, the Knox County Schools English Language Learner Department introduced an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) for every English learner (EL). ILPs are student-specific plans that provide a detailed profile of individual English learners, including their proficiency levels in different domains, what they are capable of producing in English on their own, and task modifications. ILPs provide these students with the supports they need to be successful. After all, when the language in the content classroom becomes accessible to students, the content becomes accessible. Elizabeth Choi, an EL teacher at Farragut Middle School, shared, “English learners are capable of significant growth if the appropriate supports are in place.”

What We Did

In Knox County Schools in the 2016-17 school year, EL teachers spent a year learning how to draft ILPs, set goals appropriate to a student’s grade and proficiency level, gather and integrate feedback from the student and the student’s content teachers, and track the goals for each student.

After a year of practice, in the 2017-18 school year, EL teachers began to use the plans to drive collaborative discussions about student growth with content teachers. As a collaborative tool, ILPs gave all stakeholders a common platform and language to facilitate discussions about ELs’ success by:

  • consolidating all the student-specific data a teacher needs to successfully provide services to ELs,
  • listing which second-language acquisition strategies content teachers might use to best target specific goals of the language learners in their classroom, and
  • providing a comprehensive list of suggested instructional accommodations and modifications appropriate to the student’s proficiency scores.

What We Saw

This type of focused collaboration led to accelerated student growth toward proficiency, in both language and content. Most importantly, the use of the ILPs increased teachers’ knowledge of their ELs and empowered content teachers to better serve the ELs in their classroom. “One colleague, an ELA instructor restructured her grouping strategies to better support language learners, which improved their access to activities and materials, particularly in class discussions,” said EL teacher Robin Nelson at Central High School. “She found her students were able to more frequently engage in discussion since talking in a small group of peers lowered their effective filter….[she] felt empowered because the ELs’ ILP suddenly made differentiation a much more concrete and doable task.”

As a result of this intentional implementation of ILPs the graduation rate of EL students in Knox County Schools increased to 78.7 percent in the 2016-17 school year, a 2.7 percent increase from the previous year. In contrast, during the same period, the state average of graduated ELs dropped 2.3 percent, from 75.6 to 73.3 percent.

In Knox County Schools, intentional implementation of ILPs for ELs provided a targeted approach to differentiated instruction and a platform for content teachers and EL teachers to collaborate, plan for, and implement instructional strategies specifically tailored to the individual EL’s language needs. As a result, content teachers reported better results in students’ progress towards mastery of content. According to Lori Sumter, an EL teacher at West High School: “Working together, we were able to effectively grow the student in language and content proficiency more quickly, which resulted in the previously at risk student making progress toward graduation.”

What’s Next

Moving forward, Knox County Schools hopes to reach even greater levels of collaboration among EL and content teachers to support ELs’ language and content proficiency. The district also hopes to deepen educator understanding about specific ways ILPs can be used to deepen data discussions. The new school year promises to provide even more opportunities to use ILPs and collaborative planning to accelerate ELs proficiency across language and content, giving them the support they need to succeed.