If you are a Texas teacher, you know about the ELPS (English Language Proficiency Standards). Well, at the very least, you have heard the acronym and you have probably attended a training or two with ELPS in the title.
The question is, "What can the ELPS do for you and your students?" Believe it or not, I really don't think the ELPS were created to add one more thing to the already long list that teachers have to do!
Think of your TEKS (content standards) as a mountain that you must hike with your students. Your goal is to get all of your students to the top of that mountain. The problem is that your hikers all show up with varying degrees of gear and equipment. Some are new to hiking while others have many experiences on this type of terrain. Some show up completely decked out in REI or Patagonia gear while others arrive in flip flops.
In the context of a classroom with English language learners, the ELPS represent the equipment that native language speakers "should" already possess as they being their hike towards the content. With those students, a teacher might not need to spend as much time accessing prior knowledge, building background, and developing vocabulary. She can set her sights on the summit and move forward, pausing occasionally to help her hikers adjust to the uniqueness of this particular climb.
The English learners, however, may not bring all of the equipment that those native speakers bring to the trailhead. Remember, it is highly likely that THEY DO HAVE hiking equipment. It might not be from REI. It might look different. They may not even realize that some of the items in their home could be used for hiking (hello? biliteracy transfer? :)). It is the role the guide/teacher to ready her hikers before beginning the hike so that the hike goes as smoothly as possible and all of the hikers make it to the top.
The ELPS really can help us ready our students for our content lessons (reading, math, science, P.E., etc.). As you plan your lessons, think about what "equipment" a native speaker would bring to that lesson (background knowledge about a topic, a variety of descriptive words, ability to speak in the past tense, etc.). Then, consider how you might provide a scaffold to your English learners so that they too could access the same content.
Graphic organizer? Sharing in cooperative groups? Using prior experiences to build meaning? Language frames? The ELPS are like an equipment catalog for teachers. When you know your students' language proficiency levels, you can identify which of the standards you will need to use for supporting your students. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), you cannot plan a scope and sequence for using the ELPS like you can with your content standards. Which ELPS (equipment) you use on a given day for a lesson will depend upon the specific objective (mountain) and your students' current language levels (how much equipment they currently have or lack).
So that is my little analogy. At this point, you may be telling me to "go take a hike"! My hope is that you would find the ELPS to be a resource for you rather than one more annoyance of being an educator. I would love to hear your thoughts!