Now you’re talking: How an ELD class at Asbury Elementary uses field trips to develop stronger communication skills and increase student voice


Rebecca Tanner


English Language Development

Asbury Elementary

To use field trips and increased opportunities for voice and choice to build students' confidence and communication skills 

Goal Setting and Progress Monitoring, Strategic Space, Strategic Community, Learner as Lead, Teacher as Facilitator



“My students come here for 45 minutes a day, so initially [incorporating personalized learning] was daunting. [...] I had to figure out how I was I going to find the time to do that with the curriculum I need to get through and that’s a call on my end to say no this is important to them and it’s important to me and we’ll make the time.”

-Rebecca Tanner

Rebecca Tanner began teaching at Asbury Elementary as a 3rd grade teacher. During her time in general education, she began implementing personalizing learning (PL) with her students. This year is Rebecca's first year as an English Language Development (ELD) teacher and she's continued to prioritize PL in her work despite the new challenges that an ELD classroom presents. Rebecca sees each section of her class for 45 minutes a day, making it difficult to stray from the curriculum and pilot new practices. However, PL is important to Rebecca and she continues to strive to implement PL practices alongside the EL Achieve curriculum.


One of the major ways that Rebecca infuses PL into her class is through her speaking and listening units. She takes her students on field trips, sometimes to locations of their choosing, to get them out into the community practicing their speaking and listening skills. Students make choices about where they go, who they talk to, and what questions they will ask. Students set goals specific to improving their communication skills and practice these skills on their field trips.

Hear Rebecca talk more about how her students are learning about speaking and listening and what their field trips have been like so far:


Out in the Community

For one of their field trips, Rebecca took the class to the DU campus and let them direct where they went.

While on campus, students chose who they would talk to and where they would go. Throughout the trip, they worked on their speaking and listening skills.

One location that students wanted to visit was the gym. They practiced their writing skills by describing where they went and what they said.

The class also wanted to visit the law library. Very few people are allowed there, but students were able to get in by practicing their communication skills with the librarian. 

Afterwards, the class went to a local Starbucks to continue to practice their skills by ordering their drinks and talking about how the trip went.

Students wrote about how the day went and what they experienced.

The class also visited the Jewish Community Center's Wolf Theater where they watched The Little Prince and did an acting workshop.

The class did a question and answer session with the actors to learn more about the play and acting. Students wrote questions the week before their trip and practiced them together. They gave each other feedback so that they could be confident in their speaking abilities on the day of the field trip.

Everyday Personalized Learning


In addition to their speaking and listening units, Rebecca's class has many other opportunities for voice and choice in the classroom. Rebecca uses the following practices to create a classroom environment more conducive to PL:

  • Personalized goals
    • Students pick goals that guide their learning and push their risk taking. This helps them gain better awareness of their abilities, needs, and strengths.
  • A classroom charter
    • Each classroom at Asbury has a custom charter co-designed by the teacher and students. Together they set classroom expectations and agree to uphold them.
  • Flexible seating
    • Students choose where they're going to sit each day to be most successful in their learning. This also happens in their general education classroom so expectations are consistent.


Hear Rebecca talk more about the other ways that students have voice and choice in her classroom:

"I would say personalized learning is allowing kids to learn in a way that is inspiring, challenging, and meaningful to them. It's giving them a voice in an adult-centered world and giving them a chance to find motivation and inspiration in what they love."

-Rebecca Tanner

Students choose from a variety of seating options to pick a seat that will be most conducive to their learning.

Asbury celebrates its English language learners with this board ackowledging students and staff who speak more than one language.

Students set goals specific to speaking and listening skills and identify ways that they will achieve their goals.

Students' goals are then displayed on the wall to remind them what they're working on.


Student Impact

Rebecca talks about how she thinks PL and PBL have affected her students. She believes they are learning how to collaborate with one another and that they have higher level discussions. She sees her students being more confident in their communicating skills. They are learning how to respectfully debate, disagree, and question each others' thinking to be more critical thinkers. She also thinks her students are excited about their learning and are learning how to make responsible choices.

Student Perspective

Two of Rebecca's students talk about what they like about her class and how they're setting goals. Another student talks about their field trip to DU where he helped get the class into the law library, where few people are allowed to go.

Lessons learned

Rebecca talks about the lessons she's learned in doing this work. She advises other educators to let students direct the classroom as much as possible. She also works closely with her peers to collaborate on new practices and make sure her expectations are consistent with those in students' general education classrooms.

If you want to try this…

  • Be flexible. Everything may not always go according to plan.
  • Step back. Let your students drive the process and make choices whenever possible.
  • Allow the classroom to be loud. If you want students to be practicing their communication and collaboration skills, you will need to be okay with it being noisier.
  • Collaborate with your peers. Reach out to other educators to develop new ideas and learn what has worked for them.
  • Work closely with general education classrooms. Try to incorporate practices that other teachers are using so that school is consistent for your students.

More about Rebecca

Rebecca was born and raised in Wisconsin and then spent 15 years in Northern California, where she started teaching. She has been teaching for eleven years, eight of which have been at Asbury. For the past four years, Rebecca has been working to incorproate PBL and PL into her classes with the help of PL coach, Desi Kennedy. This is her first year teaching English Language Development. 

Rebecca has stated that she never wants to leave Asbury, as she feels her relationships with her friends, students, and parents at Asbury are strong and she will never find a community like this again. Rebecca is married with two kids and lives in Parker, CO. She has been working part-time the past few years, which has helped her find a balance between teaching and being a mom.


Special thanks to...

Thank you to Asbury teacher Rebecca Tanner, PL lead Desi Kennedy, and principal Alicia FaJohn, Imaginarium staff Sophie Gullett and Elisa Bowers, and the students taking ownership of their learning.

A huge thank you to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation whose Next Generation Systems Intiative (NGSI) grant has been instrumental in helping Denver Public Schools design, implement, and study personalized learning.