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Promising Practices for Accelerating Learning in English Language Arts

In any school year, there are students who miss learning opportunities or struggle to master the content, concepts and skills within a specific subject area. To combat this, schools and districts in Colorado and across our nation are strategizing ways to provide students opportunities to "catch up" or recover the content, concepts, and skills unlearned during the previous school year.  One way, in particular, is through accelerated learning.  Accelerated learning is an intervention strategy that provides students with extra time and support to address unfinished learning. The information in this module was developed to provide flexible, evidence-based guidance for schools and districts to consider as they develop and implement strategies to address unfinished learning in reading, writing, and communicating or English language arts. 

Reading, Writing, and Communicating is a Recursive Process

Acquiring English language arts knowledge and skills is a recursive learning endeavor where students revisit concepts again and again as they learn to read, write, and communicate and read, write, and communicate to learn. Students read, write, speak, and listen from elementary grades through high school, but do so at increasing levels of complexity as they refine their grasp and mastery of English language arts concepts with increasingly complex texts. In reading a text, recursive processes may include rereading earlier portions of text in light of later ones, looking ahead to see what topics are addressed or how a story ends, and skimming through text to search for particular ideas or events. In creating a written composition, recursive processes include moving back and forth among the prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing stages of writing, which contradicts the traditional, formulaic, and sequential manner prescribed to student writers decades ago.

Understanding the recursive nature by which the Colorado Academic Standards for Reading, Writing, and Communicating are constructed underscores an essential principle: learning in English language arts does not progress for students in a strictly linear way. Meaning, the skills students need to deconstruct the meaning conveyed through textany media, print or non-print, used to communicate an idea, emotion, or information—does not occur in a step-by-step sequential progression. While each student must learn the foundational skills necessary to access (i.e., comprehend) various texts, mastery of reading, writing, and speaking about texts requires practice through multiple exposure. Reading, writing, and communicating as a recursive process essentially means that K-12 students will continuously engage in the investigation, evaluation, analysis, and synthesis of texts to derive at authorial purpose using a wide range of content, concepts, and skills to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the human experiences as expressed in and through texts.

Things to Consider in Planning for and Implementing Accelerated Learning Opportunities in ELA

**Accelerated learning does not mean speeding up or compressing content. Instead, accelerated learning focuses on embedding instruction and support for concepts and skills that have not yet been mastered during grade-level learning. Through accelerated learning, teachers integrate new concepts and skills and weave in the prior knowledge needed to master them. For example, an 11th grade English language arts teacher begins a unit on argumentative writing. The Grade Level Expectation (GLE) for all 11th grade students is to show mastery in "Writing thoughtful, well-developed arguments that support knowledgeable and significant claims, anticipating and addressing the audience's values and biases." This requires students to know, understand, and demonstrate the following: 

  • Selecting appropriate details to develop and support a strong thesis.
  • Considering audience when composing arguments.
  • Identifying audience needs and thoroughly addressing and analyzing counterarguments.
  • Relying on and using credible sources pertinent to the topic, claim, and argument.
  • Monitoring and assessing the extent to which the author's personal beliefs and biases influence their reaction to and analysis of the viewpoints and logic of others.
  • Identifying and evaluating of false premises, assumptions, and analogies

However, gaps in students' learning prevents them from fully mastering the aforementioned skills and concepts. Specifically, gaps that connect back to the content, concepts, and skills students should have mastered by the end of the 9/10 grade ban. The teacher does not abandon the teaching of 11th grade level concepts and skills outlined above, but instead, infuses the concepts and skills from the 9/10 grade ban in the Colorado Academic Standards for Reading, Writing, and Communicating as instructionally appropriate, using to data (e.g., formative assessments), in order to meet the needs of his, her, or their 11th grade students. The 9/10 grade ban skills to address for example, may include: 

  • Reteaching how to compose a strong thesis statement;
  • Evaluating how authors monitor their own biases to minimize or eliminate their personal biases from their arguments; and/or, 
  • Analyzing the purpose, question at issue, information, points of view, implications and consequences, inferences, assumptions, and concepts inherent in thinking

Formative classroom assessments and diagnostic tools provide essential information to guide instruction for accelerated learning. Combining them with frequent monitoring of student needs and progress creates a strong foundation leading toward academic success.

Effective Accelerated Learning Opportunities

The most effective accelerated learning opportunities are targeted and individualized for small groups of students. The most effective curricula for accelerated learning will be aligned to standards. It will include lesson plans with options to individualize instruction, thereby, meeting the needs of students. These approaches enable teachers to tailor instruction to students who struggle to master the content, concepts, and skills within the standards, those who are high achieving, and everyone in between.

To accelerate learning within the classroom, it is important to use current data from high quality, evidence-based screeners and diagnostic and formative assessments to determine where students are in their learning. Teachers can scaffold instruction up, which is highly encouraged, as opposed to bringing content down to meet current grade-level expectations. Teachers should use modeling and explicit instruction, incorporating differentiation strategies to meet diverse student needs. Teachers should also use or carve out intervention time to provide targeted instruction on specific skills.

For school leaders in particular, implementing a school-wide strategy and schedule for tutoring that ensures all students have extra time built into their school day and that does not interfere with grade-level core instruction has proven to be an effective strategy for addressing unfinished learning. Accelerated learning tutoring programs have been found to be effective at all grade levels, kindergarten-12th grade, if delivered in high doses several times a week and for an extended period of time (e.g., 30-minute sessions three times a week over 10 consecutive weeks).

Schools can also collaborate with partners – including community-based organizations (e.g., Boys and Girls Clubs), public libraries, and tribal nations – to build on existing programs that can support English language arts to reach more students and achieve stronger shared outcomes. Think about sharing classroom reading lists and/or writing assignments and projects with community partners so students have access to support outside the typical school day.

Designing for Equity

Being mindful of individual student needs is critical to ensure English language arts instruction is equitable and appropriate for all age groups, learning abilities. and language proficiencies. Therefore, teachers should attend to best practices for emerging bilingual students, adolescent literacy, secondary students who struggle with writing and elementary students. All learners have the right to hear the voices of their heritage in the literature and informational text they encounter. They must be given the opportunity to speak with the voices they choose in the writing they create. Classroom and school libraries must also be inclusive of race/ethnicity, culture, and all perspectives that reflect the richness of the human experience.


■ Adopt evidence-based methods of teaching English language arts across the curriculum. A way to accomplish this is through disciplinary literacy. Essentially, provide academic enrichment learning opportunities that provide options for students to use English language arts standards in social studies, fine arts, science and engineering, civics and physical activity.

■ Gain ideas about how to establish accelerated learning programs for literacy and review recommendations for effective accelerated/expanded learning time from the Education Trust.

■ Use ongoing formative assessment to drive instruction for individual students or small groups with common needs.

■ Provide opportunities for educators to collaboratively plan English language arts experiences, establish learning goals and outcomes for students based on multiple sources of data, and adjust learning opportunities based on the diverse needs of students.

■ Ensure students remain with their peers in core subjects to build academic knowledge and vocabulary and boost comprehension. 

■ For learning on grade level, start with high-quality curriculum aligned to the Colorado Academic Standards and pull content from prior grades to support unfinished learning.

■ Prioritize the most essential prerequisite concepts and skills needed for current and upcoming grade-level content.

■ Consider partnering with community-based organizations offering summer learning opportunities and after-school tutoring. In summer learning and after school tutoring partnerships, ensure content learning experiences are seamlessly connected with on-grade-level curriculum. Certified teachers at the district level working in these programs could serve as instructors or mentors and provide training for the community based organization’s staff.

Questions to Consider while Planning for Accelerated Learning Instruction

The Colorado Academic Standards identify the student expectations for year-end mastery of the skills and knowledge in each discipline.  As we consider these student outcomes, we need to be aware of the instructional implications inherent in the Standards.  Teacher behavior precedes student behavior, so we must be deliberate in our planning and classroom practices to achieve the desired student learning outcomes.

1. How do you know your curriculum is aligned to the Colorado Academic Standards for Reading, Writing, and Communicating?

2. Do your lesson plans have grade-level formative assessments embedded? If so, how are you using the data to inform instructional next steps? 

3. How are you using assessment data to inform your instruction? (i.e., reteach, differentiation, small groups for students with common needs)

4. How many times are students being given the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of standards over the course of a unit? 

5. What tier 1 interventions are you currently employing in your classrooms? How do you know they are effective? 

6. How are you engaging or leveraging parents/families in the academic progress of students? 

**It is important to note that accelerated learning for gifted and talented students looks different in the classroom. What is described above is using acceleration to remediate existing learning gaps students display.  

NOTE: The contents of this page was created by a collaborative effort with the Oklahoma Department of Education, the Louisiana Department of Education, EdResearch, Colorín Colorado, IES: What Works Clearinghouse, and the Education Trust .

Next Module: Promising Practices for Accelerating Learning for Students with Disabilities