As the year ends, I always find myself looking forward to what is coming at me. How can I make next year work better than this year? What can I do differently?
How can I feel better about what I’m doing?
Education Week’s latest issue focuses solely on English Language Learners. I just finished reading an article about what works and what doesn’t.
They talk about different models (pull-out/push-in, sheltered and bilingual) and say that little rigorous research has been done to determine which of these is best.
While all three main types of ELL instruction have been in use for decades, there is relatively little rigorous research on the general effectiveness of each method, and evidence is particularly scarce on the most effective methods for specific ELL populations, such as young versus older ELLs, or those of different language groups.
But those of us on the front lines know that all principals and superintendents are positive that push-in is best. And then we (ELL teachers) feel like highly qualified paraprofessionals, waiting to find out what the classroom teacher has in store for today. And we become the ELL whisperer, mostly because supervisors who buy into this model neglect to add that essential component of co-planning in order to create the possibility for creating a co-teaching model, in which both teachers are seen as experts, and both teachers take responsibility and an active role in the class.
Researchers have, however, found that what works for kids who grew up here and are what we call long-term ELLs doesn’t quite cut it for students new to this culture, what my first Assistant Principal called “fresh off the boat.”
And why would it? If you know how stuff works, you don’t have to be taught that.
An earlier three-year study by the Center for Applied Linguistics found that the most effective “newcomer schools” provided: flexible course scheduling; teachers skilled and regularly trained in ELL supports; basic adolescent literacy interventions coupled with ELL interventions; content instruction designed to fill gaps in academic learning; and ongoing monitoring of student progress.
The most effective programs also provided significant extended-learning time, including before and after school, on Saturdays, and in summer. They connected immigrant students with family and social services, and provided supports to help students transition to college, careers, and practical life after high school.
The article does contain a list of things that do work for kids, such as small group interventions to work on specific skills, focused vocabulary instruction over several days using different activities, incorporating speaking and writing (instead of just listening to teachers lecture), and structured, ongoing writing opportunities.
I can’t tell you how often I have helped students this week with writing tasks, when they have not had to do any sort of regular writing, or only big project writing, in their classes to this point. There is no teaching of the format, but rather an expectation that if you’re in my class, you have to know how to do this stuff.
It’s logical to assume that a high school student should know how to write, my colleagues think.
And I don’t even think that teachers realize that they are harboring these expectations, or even think they might be unreasonable for students of intermediate English proficiency.
In my last post, I talked about individualism vs. collectivism, and I found this great chart referenced through a role-playing blog.
I have to keep all these things in mind as I try to plan for students who are still coming. They are not like me. And the most natural thing for a person to do is to teach how he or she thinks people learn best. How the teacher learns best.
But these kids are not me.
And they didn’t grow up with these same expectations.
So right now, I’m looking for an army of volunteers, who can help me bring relevance and immediacy to learning English.
And I’m trying to figure out how to meet their needs while trying to still do that “college and career ready” thing.
Got any ideas for me?