The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 211 Transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, Host

GONZALEZ: The population of English learners in our schools continues to grow every year; if you’re listening to this, you have probably taught at least a few students whose first language is not English. In many school systems, students who are just starting to learn English are given lots of support through separate programs or classes with teachers who specialize in building language proficiency, but eventually they graduate out of these programs and attend regular classes with everyone else. At that point, they are assumed to have enough of a grasp on the English language to perform as well as peers who have spoken English since birth. 

But in many cases, that assumption is incorrect. While these students — a group we’re calling experienced multilinguals — are probably quite comfortable and fluent with speaking English socially, they may still be unfamiliar with the academic language used in science, social studies, math, and other content areas. There are specific strategies that can make a huge difference in how well these students perform, and that’s what we’ll be talking about in today’s episode. 

My guests are Tan Huynh and Beth Skelton, two educators who have had decades of experience working with English learners. Their brand-new book is called Long-Term Success for Experienced Multilinguals, and it focuses squarely on this particular population, English learners who are well beyond newcomer status, but who still need some scaffolding to reach their true academic potential.

Before we get started I’d like to thank Giant Steps for sponsoring this episode. Learning doesn’t have to end when the school day does. Introducing a brand-new collaborative, inclusive, and engaging way for students to practice, in class and beyond. Giant Steps is a free gamified digital learning experience that boosts collaboration and independent practice. Giant Steps leverages deep learning science and educational research to allow students to play seasonal campaigns, earn experience points, and snag swag to customize their avatars, all while encouraging and motivating learners to practice your current lessons and units. Create your free account today and explore a new world of practice possibilities at

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Now here’s my conversation with Tan Huynh and Beth Skelton about how we can support experienced multilinguals in the classroom.

GONZALEZ: Tan and Beth, welcome to the podcast. 

HUYNH: It’s an honor and a dream to be here. I think I’m checking off one of my bucket lists, to be on your show, Jenn. 

GONZALEZ: That’s, that’s really cool. Thank you. 

SKELTON: Jenn, thank you so, thank you so much for having us. I’ve been listening to Cult of Pedagogy for many years. So this is pretty exciting to be here with you. 

GONZALEZ: So you have written a book, and we are going to be releasing this episode two, a couple of days after the book is out, basically. Tell us a little bit about, well before we get into the book at all, just give me a real brief idea of sort of what you do in education and why you know so much about this topic. So, Beth, go ahead. You start. 

SKELTON: I am currently a presenter, a coach, and a consultant. And I work with educators all over the world and focused on really making education more equitable for our multilingual learners. And the vast majority of the time that I was in the classroom, I was teaching secondary students, and a lot of my students were in this category of kind of intermediate or beyond, and they hadn’t quite exited the program. They needed something but it was hard for teachers to know exactly what to do to help these students leap forward, right. So that was, yes, we work with newcomers but then they get to that intermediate stage. And so that was a lot of the time that I was working with students when I had my own classroom that I, that I worked with this kind of secondary intermediate group. 

GONZALEZ: Got it. Okay, thank you. And Tan, tell us just a bit about your background. 

HUYNH: Currently an international school there. I work in lovely Cambodia at an NGO school, and I work with students who are, we call them multilinguals. I don’t work with, some beginners, and then I work with some kids who are experienced multilinguals. We’ll get to there. But I mostly spend my day just co-planning, co-teaching with teachers all day. 

GONZALEZ: Wow, okay. Perfect. So let’s talk about this group. Let’s get really clear for our listeners. What students are we talking about? You’re talking about what you are calling experienced multilingual learners. So let’s unpack that term a little bit because I think for most people listening, when they hear it, they’re going to say, “Oh wow. I have a lot of those kids.”

HUYNH: Well, the old term that we hope teachers shift away from is called long-term English learners. And the group that we are working towards is not beginners, so kids who are not new to English, not new to their journey. What we’re looking for is specifically kids like me. I was raised in the U.S. I’m so lucky to be a refugee and to have been adopted by America. And so I love American school systems so much that I went to kindergarten twice. And what happened was I, my only education experience was in America. All of my teachers spoke English. I went to the ESL program, and I exited in fifth grade. But then when you listen to me talk, you’re like, okay, he’s really fluent. He’s probably, possibly born here. We don’t need to help him. And this is what happened all the way through middle school and high school. And what happened was in my 11th, my grade 11 year, I went to take the SAT. And at that time, it was 1600 to get a perfect score. 


HUYNH: I took it, and I was like, “Oh, this is going to be fine. My teachers are great. They really took care of me. I’ve had mostly A’s and B’s on most of my exams. I’ve had almost a 4.0 by that time. I’m going to be fine.” I had every single award, distinguished, honor, this and that, dean’s list, whatever, I got it. And then I got my score back: 910. I was like, “Wait, you get a, you get a 600 just for putting your name on.” Like, how did I get a 910 and I have an almost 4.0 GPA? And this is, and then the sad thing was, this really limited my opportunity to apply to college that I wanted to because there was a certain GPA that you had to apply, you had to get to earn the, to apply or they wouldn’t even look at you. And I couldn’t apply for scholarships because I didn’t have that high SAT scores. And so now my options of schools were limited and my options for scholarships were limited. And thank goodness I applied to a school and I loved my school, Dickinson College. They didn’t look at my SAT scores. Thank goodness. So they just look at my experience, my interview, my references. And that’s, that’s how I was able to go to Dickinson.

But this, my experience is representative of so many experienced multilinguals because when we don’t teach, when we don’t make content comprehensible for them, and when we don’t structure language that they know how to communicate specifically, this is what happens. Doors close on them and paths become truncated and options become limited. And this happened to me again when I was taking the Praxis test in my senior year of college. I was about to be a teacher for Teach for America, and they said, okay, this is your enrollment to Teach for America is conditional if you pass the Praxis test. Oh, not a problem. Again, I was on distinguished honor roll, the dean’s list in college. I got all these awards and I took the test. It came back. I opened the envelope not even, no fear at all, and I looked at my score. I was two points away from math, like the basics for math. Two points away from failing. And one point away from English. I was like, “How is my English one point above the minimum score for English?” Even though, by this time, I was in school all the way to college. What happened? And I don’t have a learning disability or a learning, a special learning need. How did this happen?

And so this is why Beth and I work together to, to create this book, to write this book for teachers who are looking at students who on the surface they look like they get it because of their social language but when you look deeper down, they need so much support. And in this book, we hope to, to share the conditions to help them become successful. 

SKELTON: Yeah, and I would suggest that some of the students don’t experience the advantages that Tan just talked about. They often aren’t the award winners and the honor students, and so teachers start to see them as, well, they’ve been in our system since kindergarten or first grade. They’ve been learning English that long, and now you’re in seventh grade, eighth grade, ninth grade, and you’re still classified as an English learner. There must be something wrong with you. And so that, that link comes with a lot because they’re still classified as English learners. Now Tan exited the program in fifth grade. Many of the students that we’re talking about are still in the program for all kinds of reasons. States require them to have a certain level on an English language proficiency test or they have to score at a certain level on the state test so that they don’t have the experience that Tan had 20 years ago. They have to have certain scores in order to exit as an English learner. And so when teachers see that, then often that deficit label comes, the deficit mindset comes with them and they aren’t actually getting the awards and things that Tan was getting. And they’re also not getting maybe the academic language support that we know that they still need. 

HUYNH: And sadly, this is what happens. So I’m on the, I’m on the privileged spectrum of, of experience multilinguals who have these awards, who’ve persevered through all of this. But there are kids who what, this will happen, they get taken out of an elective of their choice. Imagine if a kid comes to school and all they love is just design. All they love is just art. They come to school to be in drama. And they say, “Mm-mm. Because of your English scores, you’re out.” You’re pulled out. “Wait, but I’m born in America. My family speaks English with me at home. I can’t even speak, I can’t even read Spanish, for example.” Right? 


HUYNH: “Why am I in this English course,” right? And now this will happen. “Oh well, we don’t really know. Maybe you have learning support needs.” And then they are taken out of another course to get more English. And yet, where were they saying maybe, actually it’s not them. Maybe it’s the conditions that they find themselves in. And our focus is sharing teachers, not finger pointing at teachers to say this is what, this is what they need. We’re saying, this is what they do need to create, to experience success academically. 


HUYNH: It’s very different than how do we help them move socially? The first two years is all social language. How do we get them to sound like historians? To sound like mathematicians? To sound like chefs? To sound like physicians? That’s where we’re trying to get them to be. 

GONZALEZ: And that’s, and having read the book, that, that is my impression of the main gist of what you’re doing, is the gap here is academic language. It is not English and what you’re saying is the social stuff, which they’ve got down pat usually at this point. But it’s that academic language. And so we’re going to be getting into all the specific supports that you’re suggesting. Let’s talk for just a second before we move on though about the, the difference between the terms. Because you’re saying you really would like to change the way that we refer to this group of kids from long-term English learners to experienced multilinguals. So let’s talk about, about that. 

SKELTON: Well, the current term in the field is a Long-Term English Learner, and so there’s some issues with that. First of all, this idea that long-term is something bad. We talk about anybody that’s invested a lot of time and energy into honing a craft or a skill, that’s a positive. So someone that spends hours and hours a day learning to play the piano or play tennis or create a craft, we’re like, wow, that’s so awesome. But when it comes to learning English, if you take a long time, and we know it is a long-time process, suddenly it’s a negative. The other problem with the term long-term English learner is that it focuses only on English, and we know that these students are coming to us with at least one other language if not multiple other languages. So often our students are coming in from countries where they have their home or indigenous language. They have the language of the community that they’ve been living in. They may come with three or four languages before they ever add English on. And so by only focusing on English, again, the deficit of you don’t have this, therefore there’s something wrong with you.

So we wanted to flip all of that, and we’re taking the term multilingual because our students have more than one, so multi. They already have more than one language. And then focusing on the word experience, that you have experience. You have experience being in the U.S. or in the, an English medium school. This is a school that has English as a language of instruction. It doesn’t mean that we can’t add other languages or that we can’t use the home language in the classroom but basically the teachers are speaking English as their medium of instruction. So whether that’s in the U.S. or around the world, these students have been in this system for at least five years, so they have experience. We don’t have to teach them how to open their locker or how to get to the cafeteria. So lots and lots of experience. They have friends. They are in the community. They have experience there. We, they have experience being a student. They have figured out how to either not get called on, how to silently sit in the back and not get noticed. Or they have experience knowing how to get their needs met in whatever way that is.

So we’re focusing on the benefits of the fact that they’ve been at least five years in our systems and that they have at least one other language that they already have at some level of proficiency. So it’s just flipping it, trying to help everyone’s mindset shift from this deficit base of what you don’t have and that it must be taking a long time to you have a lot already. We’re going to build on that. And then just a sidenote on long-term. The average, according to lots and lots of research from Colliers research to Cummins research, the average time to gain academic proficiency is five to seven years. So if our students are, we’re calling them something like long-term as if there’s something wrong with them and they’re really only here for five or six years, that’s the average. It’s like we should start looking at students that are faster than that as gifted and talented is what I would say. 

GONZALEZ: You know, I’m sure you’re going to hear this plenty, and you’ve probably already heard this, but so many teachers I think are going to come to this information and say, all kids need this. Many of our native English-speaking kids do not have academic language proficiency. And so these are not necessarily just things we have to apply to these experienced multilinguals. They’re probably strategies that all of our kids will benefit from anyway. 

SKELTON: One of our colleagues actually coined the term or uses this term academic language learners. So she says all kids are ALLs, that’s Sarah Ottow. She’s like A-L-Ls, all kids are alls. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah. That makes perfect sense. So let’s get into this, this instructional framework that you lay out in the book. Why don’t we just start with a description of what that looks like and then we’ll get into some specific strategies that teachers listening are going to be able to apply right away. 

SKELTON: So we start with an instructional framework to put this all together in a package. And it’s really based on Wiggins and McTighe’s understanding by design. And so we’re starting with an assessment and then looking at the daily lessons to build up to that assessment. And the only, like, twist is we’re making sure that language is a focus on each of those parts. So this is an address to all core content teachers and specials teachers and anyone who works with the students can follow this framework. And we give the metaphor of an orchard instead of “can’t see the forest through the trees.” It’s about the orchard. And the reason is, is that an orchard produces fruit, and if you look at the big picture of the orchard, that’s like our final assessment. Like where are we going? What’s the end product? And that’s our summative assessment. And each tree in that orchard would be like an individual lesson plan. And we’re looking at what conditions do we need to create so that every tree in that orchard has the conditions for success?

And so those conditions, those inputs that you need, that would be like our comprehensible input: The sun and the rain and anything that you’re feeding them. That is that input that we have to think about in the classroom. How are we making the lessons comprehensible? And then the output, the fruit. How do we get to the fruit, right? And that would be our speaking and writing. What kind of output and how do you support that output in the classroom? So that’s like a big picture overview of the whole book from assessment to individual lesson plans and planning for that comprehensible input and then supporting the academic output. 

GONZALEZ: Right. I was thrilled to see that you were going with Wiggins and McTighe and backward design because I just, from the moment I learned about that sitting in a PD, I thought, “That’s it. That’s, exactly. That makes so much sense.” And my teaching forever changed after that without even attempting to read their book, which was a lot harder to get through. It’s such a great book but it’s, uh, anyway. I tried to use it in a beginner methods class and they lost their minds. It was too, too much. Anyway. So, okay, so in the spirit of backward design, the first thing that you recommend is that teachers start with planning the assessment and designing the assessment. So how, with multilingual learners in mind, with experienced multilingual learners, how do we make our assessments more equitable? 

HUYNH: Well, let’s first start with why it has to be equitable. Let me give you a sentence from a recent, actually yesterday’s science class. So hypothesize what would happen if the concentration of oxygen that was consumed inside the glass cylinder increased? Isn’t that a tough sentence? 


HUYNH: That’s just one instruction, right. And we are fluent English speakers, and we’re like, wait, what? That’s kind of difficult. And so when we don’t, when students encounter a sentence like that, it becomes not a science test, it becomes a reading test. 


HUYNH: If a kid who doesn’t understand the word “hypothesize,” that’s a problem. If they don’t know the word “concentration” and they Google that, that’s going to be like, oh, focus? What does that mean? 


HUYNH: And the word “consumed” and the word “glass cylinder” and the word “increase,” all these words now add up to a reading test. 

GONZALEZ: Right. It’s not about the content. 

HUYNH: Exactly. 

GONZALEZ: Yes, okay. 

HUYNH: Right. So it’s like, oh, can you understand this question, and now try to answer it. So what we recommend is actually there are many things. We can add synonyms behind. For example, “hypothesize,” we can keep the word hypothesize because we want students to encounter academic rigorous words. But instead of it, behind hypothesize, we say, “produce a guess” or “make an educated guess.” Or what would happen if the concentration, meaning the amount, so after the word “concentration” you put the word “amount.” And after the word “consume” you would say “use” and after the word “increase” we went “more.” So now students have these words that the sentence is still there. It’s intact in every way. It’s just now the synonyms behind make the sentence more accessible for them so they can understand the instructions. That’s one. 

GONZALEZ: So putting, we have our question as it’s originally written for a science test, for example, an assessment. Instead of changing the question, what we’re doing is adding in parentheses synonyms beside some of the key terms so that when students are reading it, they can better understand that original question. 

SKELTON: And if I could just add to that, we also encourage the fact that if the students had been in that classroom, they may, the teacher may have explicitly taught the word hypothesize. So I’m not going to add anything to that because I explicitly taught it to all students and they should know that when I say “hypothesize,” I mean to make an educated guess and I want this sort of structure or formula. The teacher may have taught that. Then they’re not doing any amplification. But if the word “concentration” is assumed, we didn’t actually teach this in class, then yeah, put a synonym behind it. So it’s really, each teacher is doing, there’s no right or wrong way. It’s just you don’t over-scaffold because I taught that specific word. They know oxygen. We’ve been working with the elements. So I’m not going to do anything with oxygen. But if it’s an assumed word that everyone is assumed to know the word “consume,” maybe I want to put “use up” or something like that after it. 

GONZALEZ: Right. So it’s just really thoughtfully kind of interrogating this question and saying either have we taught this vocabulary word well enough so that students really get it, and we practiced it and they’ve used it a lot in class. If not, if there’s just some other kind of higher level wording here, can I add a quick little definition next to it basically so that they can understand it? And you all make this point over and over again that the mistake a lot of teachers make is they’ll see a difficult question, for example, and they’ll say, oh, I have students who aren’t going to understand it. Maybe they can just skip that question or we can just make it an easier question. And so the tendency is to reduce the load on students who could probably handle it with just a little bit of extra help. 

HUYNH: And that’s where the equity comes in. Our book is really about okay, instead of lowering the expectations for these students, we’re saying, we’re going to keep expectations high, but we’re going to give you different paths to get to that mountaintop. What Beth really talked about, the word “assume” is such an anchor word for what we’re working with when we’re working with multilingual students, experienced multilinguals. Teachers are, common teachers in middle school and high school are so focused on their content and they’re experts in their content that they forget to teach the language behind that content. They assume that a student like me who’s social and who’s outgoing, who participates in class, understands the content and is able to sound like a scientist.

What they have to do is instead of assume is they have to move to intentional instruction where they say, I’m going to focus on how to make this question understandable for you, like how to make it comprehensible for you. And then I’m also going to scaffold this so that you can produce an answer like a scientist would answer. So without going back to that same question, hypothesize, what would happen if duh-duh-duh-duh, what I did was I sat next to students who needed it, and I gave them the word “concentration” and I told them the word “consume” or actually I really said, can you Google the word “concentration? Can you Google the word “consume”? Let’s look at which one makes sense. Let’s put them into, from your heritage language, that’s Khmer and Chinese, and then they restructure the sentence to understand it. When they’re about to give me the sentence, they said the sentence, they wrote the sentence out. And I said, okay, try to say this. When you have a hypothesis, you must start with the word “if.” If the, and then I say, here’s the next thing. You want to use as many words in the sentence in your answer as possible.

So students would then look at the question and say, which word do you think we should use? And I said, maybe “concentration” and the word “oxygen” and the word “consume.” So now I help them with the words, the sentence. Let’s start with “if.” What should we go with next? Kids would go, “If the concentration of the oxygen was consumed inside [inaudible] increase,” now what would happen next? And that’s all they needed because what would happen is sometimes they would write the answer and just say, here’s the answer but that’s it. There’s no explanation behind it. And that’s what we want students, teachers to do. How can we make, how can we scaffold the instruction so that students sound like scientists? 

SKELTON: And if I can add on to what Tan just did, is another big piece of the book, and that is about learning strategies. So he actually taught the student how to use the question stem in their answer. And so that’s a learning strategy. And we encourage teachers to actually instruct that, teach that. So not everyone has Tan with them all the time, right, but if the teachers are actually instructing, here’s how you can use that question in, that question in your answer, that’s a learning strategy they can take from history to science to math. They can use that all the time. We have just boosted their ability to answer in any content area and in life, like later in life when I have to fill out a job application, I know how to take those words from the stem and respond. So it’s a gift that we’re saying, that’s the gift that we want to give them is the strategy to use outside of class rather than making them dependent on us to always do the work. We’re also encouraging teachers to teach them the strategy to use on their own anywhere they are. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah, I noticed in your example you had the students Google it themselves and you supervised that, but yeah. You put it in their hands to do it. 

HUYNH: I think in our field, we are always saying how do we put ourselves out of a job? 


HUYNH: And the way we do that is to give them strategies that we’re using to help them understand and say, hey, I just showed you this strategy. What can you do in the future? Can you use this in another class? I would simply say, “The strategy I just did is this. You Googled words you don’t understand. You put it inside, you annotated the question. You can use this in another context when I’m not there so that you can be successful for the long term.” This is what happens. Students just float by. Experienced multilinguals just float by. They, of course they don’t graduate to higher levels of English because they’re, they’re used to getting by, but they’re not explicitly taught how to move to that next level from social to academic language, academic English. 

GONZALEZ: So we’re still on the assessment piece, and we’ve only done one of the strategies. You differentiate in the book too between two different kinds of assessment. So if we’re planning the final assessment, we’re looking at either sort of a final exam type of a thing or a performance, performance-based assessment, a project or a presentation or something like that. So Beth, what we’re talking about first is scaffolds that we can put onto the sort of final exam type of an assessment. So the first one you gave me was just some synonyms that can be plugged in with the question to help students understand the question. What are some other things that we can give our students to scaffold?

SKELTON: I’ll just give one really super easy one that teachers can do. Final exams might be coming up by the time this drops. So this might be super easy, and that is we’re really good about asking two-part questions. Things like “Identify the most significant factors that contribute to climate change and explain their influence.” So this is a classic kind of question. We’ve got two parts. We want them to identify and explain. And we’ve got multiple factors, right. So one super easy thing is break that into two chunks. Part 1, identify the most significant factors that have contributed to climate change. Period. Out. Leave a box and let them identify, and that’s a simple list, right. And then the second kind of box or chunk, say “Explain how one factor influences climate change” or something to that effect so that students are really focused on each piece. How many times have students not scored as high as they possibly could simply because they didn’t answer both parts of the question? 


SKELTON: And it was a 10-part question and suddenly now they only have three points because they only listed the factors. And I know that there are teachers out there that say, well I’m trying to teach them to read the question completely. Yes, they read the question completely but there is no problem. We haven’t changed the rigor. I haven’t changed the expectation. I’ve simply chunked the question. So these are the kinds of things that we’re encouraging teachers to do. And when they see that and they see the difference in response patterns and that kids are able to show more about what they know, most teachers say, “You know what? I’m going to do that for everybody. That’s not just for my experienced multilinguals. This is a strategy that’s probably going to be better for everyone in the class. It’s one of those all strategies.”


SKELTON: So there are lots of those kinds of ideas of chunking or adding visuals to the test. If you’re expected to figure out the fulcrum point for a math problem, and they’re using a screwdriver as the example and you have to figure out the fulcrum or whatever in a math, why not put a picture of a screwdriver in there so that they can determine what part we’re talking about, just so I have a visual of it, so I know what that screwdriver looks like? Those are the kinds of things that we’re suggesting. It didn’t lower the rigor. You didn’t change the question. I didn’t ask an easier kind of math problem. I just added a visual for the student so that they are, they’re not lost about what I’m asking. 

GONZALEZ: Right. Two other things I want to just make sure we put in there to help teachers that are listening. You’ve got sentence starters and word banks, like more help just not, you’re not giving them the information but you’re showing them how to get it into words as a response. 

SKELTON: Tan has a really great saying about the word banks. They don’t tell the students which words to use or which order to use them in or where to put them. It just limits choices from the hundreds and hundreds of words that they have been exposed to in the seven or eight content courses that they’ve had that year. And says, it kind of gives them a limit and says, “The words that you need are here.” And that’s all we’re giving them. And teachers can choose which words that go in the bank and how much support. It also helps with spelling, which is, you know if you are learning other languages you know it’s like, oh, it’s that long ch-word. Right? Is it chromatid? Is it chromosome? Right, it’s that, and it’s just helping them to like, oh yeah, it’s that word, going in on choosing it. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. Great. So those are some things that we can do for like an actual sort of just-answer-the-questions kind of an exam. And then we have performance assessments or performance-based assessments. And so Tan, you were going to talk about that. First of all, what are we talking about when we talk about performance assessments? 

HUYNH: A performance assessment is basically anything that’s long term that students have to work on over a series of days, weeks, or possibly a month. Here’s an example: A lab report, an essay, a biography. So these, anything that students have to produce, a presentation. They, it’s not just one-day activity. It’s multiple days where one section is added to the mix, and it’s cumulative.

Here’s an example of one, which is, so my eighth-graders are writing about natural disasters, and they have to — for history class. They have to pick a natural disaster. They have to talk about the causes, the effects, the mitigation strategies that were there in place at the time of the disaster, and the future mitigations that they recommend after their research. Now imagine if we just, if the teacher just said, “You have three weeks to research a natural disaster. Make sure you talk about the effects and the mitigations.” And that’s it. Well, that is some instruction but it’s not the clearest we can provide them.

So what we would do is we would sequence, what we would do is we would sequence. I’m going to give you a master’s degree in English language instruction in two sentences. Ready? One, sequence, one, identify the content students have to communicate. Two, sequence the order of which those ideas come in place. So in my essay, in the report, students have to first talk about the introduction. In an introduction, we’re going to give them prompts. Say, when did it happen? What disaster was it? Where did it happen? When did it happen? Very briefly talk about how many people were affected and how much damage did it cause? That in the introduction, look at the prompts. So clear for students. And when we do that, students are not going to say, well, I don’t know what to write about for the introduction. The introduction already has the sentence, not sentence starters but the prompts and the guiding questions for them.

Then we move to the causes. Instead of saying, what caused the natural disaster? We’re going to say, what was the science behind the natural disaster? If you’re looking at a hurricane, what causes a hurricane? There’s a cold front and there’s a, there’s a cold front and there’s a hot front, and together they form over the ocean. And then we look at the cause, the effects. And we don’t just say, tell me what happened. We say specifically how many people were affected, the cost to the communities, lives that were affected. And we very specifically, we say, what happened on that day? That’s the primary consequence. And then we say, what happened after that first day? So this means in terms of months, in terms of years. And so with that specificity, students are being more successful. They know where the teacher wants them to go. But notice how they’re, the teacher’s not giving them the answer. The teacher is, the teacher is saying, here are the things I want you to find. Go find them.

And so we’re, I know that we sometimes can encounter pushback of saying, there’s too much hand-holding here. But we actually, I actually call on Dr. Brené Brown when she said, “Clear is kind.” When we are clear with students, we’re not asking teachers to make the essay on natural disasters easier for kids. We’re not saying, have them write less than 1,000 words. We’re not saying, go color a picture book with natural disasters and make a video. No. We’re saying, you can write this essay that’s 1,000 words, and we’re going to help give you clear instructions for you to know what content to produce in what sequence or order the ideas that you’re going to produce that in. 


HUYNH: That is equity. 

GONZALEZ: And the thing is, the thing to keep reminding people is that what we are talking about right now is helping students do better at demonstrating learning of content. And you say this over and over in the book, these assessments should not be reading and writing tests. We should be testing them on their knowledge of the content, and that scaffolding helps. The sequencing you’re talking about, by the way, I’m trying to sort of picture this. Would it be sort of like a table that they complete? Or yeah, like an outline that they, you know, almost like guided notes that they fill out? Would they then take that and transfer it to a nicely written like basically throw off all the scaffold at the end and just have like an essay question? 

HUYNH: The teacher can do one of two things. For that example, the teachers that I work with, they just created a document that said, here’s the outline. We’re giving you the different parts. We bolded the introduction, causes, effects, dot dot dot. And then they gave them a list of things to find. Or they, for students that might need it, they might have introduction with those prompts and below those prompts a box for students to write in. 


HUYNH: Their answers. 


HUYNH: And then we teach students to copy and paste those and move it over. 


HUYNH: That’s it. 

GONZALEZ: So they’re still doing all the writing, they’re just getting a little bit of help with the structure of it. 

HUYNH: Right. 

GONZALEZ: And so, okay. So we have a good assessment created and we’ve built in supports and scaffolds to help students do well on that. Then in the spirit of Wiggins and McTighe, of backward design, now we start working back to planning the lessons that are going to result in success on this final assessment. What is your approach to that in this book for the experienced multilinguals? 

SKELTON: Well, it’s going to sound very similar to what you just heard with the assessment piece. You’re looking at every lesson and thinking, first of all, how does it help support getting the students to success on the lesson. But you’re also looking at the language in each lesson. And so this actually was born out of an experience where I was working with a teacher in a physics classroom. And he had planned an amazing hands-on very experimental lesson for all the students, and there were like nine languages I think in the classroom. And so I heard kids, as they were designing their own tool to measure the focal point using convex lenses, they were asking each other in all kinds of heritage languages throwing around the classroom. They were speaking English, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Urdu. I heard all these languages just flying around the classroom. And so as they’re talking to each other, they’re building their tool to measure the focal length.

And at the end of this fabulous experimental class, the teacher came in and said to the students, explain what you learned about finding the focal length. Great prompt. And one of the students, an experienced multilingual, said very fluently, “It gets closer when it gets bigger.” Or no, yeah, “It gets bigger when it gets closer.” That was it. “It gets bigger when it gets closer.” Now, I am not a physics teacher, and I have a language focus when I’m listening. And I’m thinking, what’s “it”? And what’s “bigger”? And how did you show, like I just was completely lost.

So the teacher, and this is where our content teachers are, and I think rightly so, he understood what the student was saying and was excited that the student got the content. Right? Totally excited. And responded to that content. So afterward we talked about it, and I said, “This was the student’s response. Does that sound like what you would want for a scientific response?” And he said, “Well, I’d like to hear convex lens and I’d like to hear “focal length” and I’d like to hear, but he got the content.” I said, “Absolutely. Now let’s get, let’s help him to sound like a scientist. What could we do differently? Or how could we support that?” And so together we looked at what is the language in this lesson and how do I support that lesson? And that sort of created this process that is in the book.

And that is I asked the teacher if this student had sounded like a scientist for a ninth-grade, like, top of the line science student that would be awesome on the final, what would that, what would that response have sounded like at the end of your class period? And he said that whole response, which I’m not going to attempt and I wrote it down. And then we looked at what was, beyond vocabulary, what was in that lesson? What was the structure? How did the student structure the explanation? And then we looked at, how are we going to teach that language of vocabulary and sentence structures so that the kids are successful at the end? And what we ended up doing is just adding a little piece to that. Explain what you learned about finding the focal length. He’s like using the precise vocabulary that I’m going to put in a word bank.

And so we just quickly dropped a word bank on the white board, and then he added a quick sentence frame for them to fill that in. And then every student in the class, they turned to their partner and talked, and we both listened, and they were very, very close to what he hoped to get. And those were two little scaffolds that came out of, literally it was five minutes of “What do you want them to sound like at the end of the lesson? And how can we make sure that we give the support they need to get there?” And it was this small tweak that changed the language development, nothing else about the experiment, the hands-on, the content. All that stayed the same. It was just adding that language focus in. 

GONZALEZ: So the process that you outline in the book, it’s almost a mini backward design for a lesson. It’s look at the design or write the exit ticket prompt as you would, what do you want them to know at the end of the lesson? Then, and we call it all this on my website dog-fooding where you’re — as a teacher — you’re doing the, it’s from tech, from eat your own dog food. Do your lesson yourself as a student and see how it goes. So you write the model response as the teacher how you would want a student to write it, and then unpack that for what kind of language is there. And so what you all call these are integrated objectives. It’s, you know, you gave an example where the before version of a prompt is explain what you learned about finding the focal length. The after with the integration of language says explain what you learned about finding the focal length using precise vocabulary in the word bank. So the teacher just provides that extra scaffolding. Can we hear a couple of other examples of before and after? 

SKELTON: Well, well sure, and we’ve been hammering hard on science, and this is nothing against science teachers. It’s just the fact that science has so much new vocabulary that that’s where the examples came from. 


SKELTON: But in the book we have examples from every core content area as well as design and art. So we really give models for all kinds of lessons. But here’s one for our humanities teachers out there. A classic might be something like compare the social inequality in 19th century France to the reality of 21st century Western society. So we’ve been, we’ve been learning about 19th century France, and now we’re going to do a compare. So that’s, that would be a classic. Like, I want to hear what you say and the kids would write a quick exit ticket from the, what they learned today. But maybe what we need is that we’re going to add that language piece. How are they going to compare? This is where it’s the assumed language. Well, they know how to compare. Well actually maybe I have to teach some comparative language. Like, using the comparative language structures of both, just like, or another similarity. Because I really want them to focus on the similarities in this. I’m not asking them to contrast. I just want them to see what the similarities are between that 19th century France and modern society, Western society. 

GONZALEZ: You’re just specifying. You want that comparison language. 


GONZALEZ: And giving examples of those in the prompt. 

SKELTON: Right. And I didn’t know that from the social studies teacher until I asked them to write out like the model response. So as a language person coming in, I have to rely on the content teacher to give me that content and language together. Because I am not a historian, and I’m not that specialist, so I rely on them to say, this is what it should sound like for my 10th-grade student, for my eighth-grade student, for my sixth-grade student. They tell me what it should sound like at the highest level, then I can help teach that language. And I can make the awareness, and that’s what we’re trying to do in the book is say, here, maybe you don’t have a language specialist sitting with you to plan with you, but here’s what you’re looking for. For our math people out there, a classic would be, “Describe how the graph has been transformed.” So we’ve been doing graph transformations. Great. Perfect prompt for math. But how are they going to describe that? They need to use phrases like “by a factor of” or “by a certain number of units.” So that’s what I want in my answers that they’re getting specific. The graph wasn’t flipped, right? It was, it was, right? How was it transformed by a factor of or by a certain number of units? 

GONZALEZ: So you’re saying, “I want to see this language in your answer,” yes. That’s helpful to all students, absolutely. So we’ve got this structure of creating an exit ticket prompt. We’ve got specific scaffolding in there saying to students, “This is the kind of language I want to see in your response,” okay. So then we have to actually make that happen at the end. So we’ve got the lesson now, and this is the last thing we’re going to talk about before we wrap up. What can teachers do when they are actually teaching to structure it so that students are successful on that exit ticket? 

HUYNH: What they have to do is if they can just look at their instruction through two lenses. One, the first lens is comprehensible input. How can I make that lesson understandable, comprehensible for students? How can I make the words, the new words, comprehensible for students? Then how can I structure the output for students, the kind of language I want students to use? Let’s give an example from ninth-grade science from yesterday. So my teachers are teaching solubility. Imagine a graph, XY graph, and then there’s a line all the way through up. And what she did was she said, “Above the line, this is something that is, we call that super saturated. It cannot melt anymore. Below this line, we can keep melting things. We call that unsaturated. That line is called the, is saturated. Anything on that line means everything can melt, but it can’t melt anymore.” So the teacher just drew that, labeled it for kids. She color coded it and made it so comprehensible. She added a few questions. She said, “Okay. Let’s look at 60 degrees. At what point would we go up, will 60 degrees hit that line of saturation? Let’s look over to the left, oh. It’s 120. That is the solubility.” And she said, “Now, I’m going to give you a question. I want you to, I’m going to model for you the kind of language I want you to write. Don’t just write the answer. Saturated, unsaturated, that’s not enough. So this is what I want you to do. Always start your sentence with the word “at,” then give me the amount of grams. So at 110 grams of potassium nitrate, then give me the degrees, at 40 degrees, the solution is, then add is it saturated or unsaturated? And then say, because it is, is it above the line of saturation, below the line of saturation, or on the line of saturation? That’s it. So she just really modeled the kind of language she expected because she did not want, oh, “saturated,” “unsaturated.”

GONZALEZ: Right, right. 

HUYNH: Because we cannot tell if students are actually learning. 


HUYNH: So by, if we, if we can see our instruction through comprehensible input, comprehensible output structuring the language output, those are the conditions that students are going to be successful because we are no longer assuming that they get it just because we taught it. We are now almost ensuring their success by being super clear and super intentional. That’s where the equity is. 

GONZALEZ: Remind us again of the title of the book before people head off so that they can go look for it. 

SKELTON: “Long-Term Success for Experienced Multilinguals.” So we’re playing with long-term and making it a positive. It’s their lifelong success. 

HUYNH: If they go to Corwin, we’ll give them a code, SAVE20, like S-A-V-E and the number 20, and they’ll get 20 percent off. I know that this is 20 percent off of shipping and the price in the U.S. I’m not sure if it’s outside the U.S. But you can give it a try, people from all around the world. 

GONZALEZ: That’s right. Okay, good. SAVE20. And if people would like to connect with you online, what’s the best place for them to do that? 

SKELTON: Probably just through my website,, gets you to me. 

HUYNH: And same thing and people think I live on Twitter. So it’s @TanKHuynh on Twitter, but I don’t. 

GONZALEZ: Okay. And I’ll be providing links to those places on the website also. Thank you both so much. I think this is going to help a lot of people and a lot of students. 

SKELTON: Thank you, Jenn. It’s been a pleasure. 

HUYNH: It’s been an honor, Jenn. Thank you so much for advocating for this community of students. Thank you. 

GONZALEZ: Yeah. And we’re going, we’re not going to have any more of these surprise SAT scores. 

HUYNH: Never ever again. No more, no more doors closed. No more paths blocked.

For links to Tan and Beth’s book and a full transcript of our conversation, visit, click Podcast, and choose episode 211. To get a bimonthly email about my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, courses and products, sign up for my mailing list at Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.