Teacher Shadowing from a Teacher’s Perspective

Teacher Flora

Diana Schneider, an education program specialist at the U.S. Department of Education, helps a student with work. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Diana Schneider, the U.S. Department of Education employee who visited my classroom during ED Goes Back to School Day,  proved to be a wonderful thought partner to me the entire time. We have a lot in common: we both were English Language Learners and we share a passion for helping students develop their English language skills, while also fostering a respect for their heritage languages and cultures. Diana definitely showed this passion when she co-taught a few lessons with me throughout the day. She helped me add layers of connections and critical thinking to our reading tasks and also forged relationships with my students who continue to talk about her to this day. Diana even volunteered to help chaperone a future field trip so that she could sustain these newfound relationships with our 3rd graders.

I hope that Diana saw how much collaboration goes into being an ESL teacher and how much job-embedded professional development schools provide nowadays. I’m glad that Diana could experience a professional development session as well as a grade-level planning meeting. Hopefully, these experiences captured how teachers use every spare moment to learn from each other and grow their practice.

I’m glad that Diana was able to see the multiple reading levels of the ELLs with whom I work and the amount of differentiation that goes into planning lessons that target their varied interests, decoding abilities, and comprehension skills, while also ensuring that all students are challenged to think critically. Diana noted that even lunch duty was infused with inquiry and academic discussions with the students. Every minute was used purposefully and it was wonderful to share that experience with her.

It would be great for Diana to also observe the ways in which I co-plan and co-teach with my entire 3rd grade team. I am extremely fortunate to collaborate with three dynamic and flexible general education teachers, each of whom has their own unique style of planning and teaching. We often experiment with different approaches and try to tailor our instruction to the needs of the different students in each classroom. Diana saw some parallel teaching, but didn’t get a chance to observe the team teaching or station teaching that I have done.

Students benefit from seeing skills modeled in two different ways or from getting more individualized support from targeted grouping when two teachers are present and both viewed as resources equally capable of leading instruction. I think that ELLs benefit from positive co-teaching relationships and inclusive settings that foster language and communication development.

diana


Flora Lerenman, an ESL teacher at H.D. Cooke Elementary School, teaching a student. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

In 2014, there are still too many ESL programs in which general education and ESL instruction are far too separated. Collaboration ensures that teachers are partnering to meet all students needs together.

The field of ESL is growing and the Office of English Language Acquisition at ED has the potential to spearhead national innovation and research in best practices while advocating for our ELL students that have been historically marginalized. The ED Goes Back to School experience allows for teachers and policy-makers to collaborate on certain issues that require seeing student learning in action in order to debrief what student and teacher needs truly are — Diana and I were able to talk afterwards about what she saw and it caused me to think more critically about what ELLs need and what is possible for them.

Flora Lerenman is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at H.D. Cooke Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

Teaching English Learners: A New Educator’s Practice Guide from the What Works Clearinghouse

We have better, stronger evidence about teaching academic content to English learners than we did a decade ago. That’s the conclusion of a new guide for educators from the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse. The guide — Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle Schoolrecommends four practices for instructing English learners and provides advice on how to carry out the practices, including sample lessons. The guide is geared to a wide spectrum of educators who are not necessarily specialists in instructing English learners: classroom teachers, content-area teachers, special education teachers, administrators, para-educators, and instructional coaches.

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To produce the guide, the What Works Clearinghouse engaged a panel of eight distinguished education researchers and district-based curriculum experts to review and rate the research evidence, develop the recommendations, provide concrete examples of the recommendations in action, and summarize tips for successful classroom implementation.

The guide offers four recommendations. They are: 1) Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities; 2) Integrate oral and written English language instruction into content-area teaching; 3) Provide regular, structured opportunities to develop written language skills and 4) Provide small-group instructional intervention to students struggling in literacy and English language development.

Each recommendation is accompanied by tips on carrying out the recommendations.  For example, to implement the first recommendation, the guide suggests choosing brief, engaging informational text that includes academic vocabulary and selecting a set of academic vocabulary words for in-depth content instruction. The guide recommends teaching the vocabulary using multiple modalities and word-learning strategies—such as context clues, word parts and cognates—to help students independently figure out the meanings of words. Each of these suggestions is amplified by even more detailed guidance and lesson plans that further illustrate the recommendations in action.  A “Putting It All Together” section at the end of each recommendation incorporates all of the “how-to-steps” into a lesson cycle, to be implemented over a few days, that demonstrates the lesson in its entirety.  All in all, the guide has over 20 supplemental activities for instructors. And because the panelists are familiar with the difficulties of implementing new practices, each recommendation is followed by a section called “Roadblocks and Solutions,” which anticipates potential hurdles and offers advice on how to get over them.

This guide is one of 18 Educator’s Practice Guides published since 2006 by the What Works Clearinghouse.  Each guide addresses a practical education topic related to classroom instruction, school organization, or keeping students on track. Other recent guides have addressed teaching math to young children and writing instruction in the early elementary grades.

Be sure to register for our May 1 (3pm EDT) online presentation and discussion on the guide with panel members Scott Baker, Nonie Lesaux, and C. Patrick Proctor.  The hosts will discuss the recommendations and answer your questions. Register here.

Vanessa Anderson is a research scientist and project officer at the What Works Clearinghouse

English Learners an Asset for Global, Multilingual Future

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News.

Over the last several days, 230 American men and women competed against and socialized with athletes from 87 other nations at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The Olympics are not only a test of individuals’ athletic prowess, but also a test of nations’ good will, collaboration and diplomacy — and ability to find a common language.

As the late Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

To provide our children an excellent education, and to keep America competitive economically, we would do well to heed his words.

Today, a world-class education means learning to speak, read and write languages in addition to English.

In an interconnected, interdependent global economy, we must prepare our children for a future in which their social and economic success will depend on their ability to understand diverse perspectives and communicate with people from other cultures and language groups. This isn’t a matter of getting ahead — it’s a matter of catching up.

It is common for students in other countries to be required to study two or three languages in addition to their own.

In our country, we have a valuable yet untapped resource within the estimated 4.6 million students learning English — the fastest-growing student population in our schools. These students come to school already speaking a variety of home languages, most commonly Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic or Hmong.

These languages are significant not only to our economic competitiveness but also to our nation’s security. The heritage languages our English learners bring to school are major assets to preserve and value.

Many schools and communities across the country have established programs to encourage mastery of multiple languages. In effective dual-language classrooms, English learners and English-proficient classmates are provided opportunities to learn academic content while simultaneously becoming proficient in both languages.

That’s why our department is encouraging innovations in education of English learners, in part by making it a priority in the federal Investing in Innovation (i3) program.

The extraordinary opportunities — and needs — of our English learner population were the focus of the three-day National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) conference, which convened last week and drew over a thousand participants.

There, leaders from our department described the department’s commitment and met with international leaders to improve cross-border educational coordination.

Educating speakers of other languages in English, and encouraging mastery of multiple languages, has long been important to America’s competitiveness — and will be increasingly vital in the years to come.

We challenge our schools and communities to invest in our future leaders with biliteracy and multiliteracy skills.

Arne Duncan is U.S. secretary of Education. Libia S. Gil is assistant deputy secretary of the Office of English Language Acquisition in the Department of Education.

Every Child, Every Day, Whatever It Takes!

Michael Yudin Meets Student

Michael Yudin, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) talks with students in Sanger, Calif.

Earlier this week, Sanger Unified School District (Sanger, Calif.) had the opportunity to host Michael K. Yudin, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), and what a great day it was! I met Michael several years ago when I was invited to share the Sanger story while I was in Washington, D.C., to celebrate being recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School. After a two-hour conversation with a large group of Department staff, the conversation continued with Michael and a small group of others for another two hours.

That day’s conversation was centered on our efforts to transition into a Professional Learning Community district and the outcomes of that effort. The staff were very interested in the journey we were on and in particular the outcomes.  Michael, in particular, was truly impressed by the broad-reaching significant improvements and outcomes made by all students, including students with disabilities, in academic achievement, graduation rates, and scores on accountability testing. Michael told me he had to visit Sanger to observe directly a district making dramatic and meaningful improvements in student outcomes.

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ED-Funded Training Helps Displaced Welder Find Calling as Bilingual Teacher

A few years ago, José Grimaldo found himself at a crossroads when he lost his job as a welder at a factory in Illinois. With three children and a wife to support, what was he to do? Grimaldo, like many others who have found themselves jobless during the recent economic downturn, decided to go back to school.

Initially, he began working towards a degree to become a social worker. During one class project, he volunteered in a local school and found himself in a classroom with young students.  There, Grimaldo realized how much he enjoyed working with children and applied for a position as a teacher assistant in a special education program. He worked in this capacity for several years until he began to yearn for his own classroom.

Grimaldo soon decided to abandon his plans to become a social worker, and he enrolled at Illinois State University to study for a bachelor’s degree in education. However, much to Grimaldo’s dismay, he soon learned that most of the education courses were offered only during the day, which posed a problem since Grimaldo was working full-time and could only attend classes at night. Not one to give up easily, he discovered the Bilingual Paraprofessionals in Transition (BPT) program at Illinois State University and quickly enrolled.

José Grimaldo teaches bilingual special education at Foreman High School in Chicago

José Grimaldo teaches bilingual special education at Foreman High School in Chicago

The BPT program follows a grow-your-own model that recruits individuals already working in high-need schools as paraprofessionals or teacher assistants and enables them to take on-site course work and supervision leading to certification and/or endorsements in bilingual/English as a second language (ESL) education. The BPT program is funded by a National Professional Development (NPD) grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA). NPD is the only federal grant program that targets professional development exclusively for education personnel who serve English learners.

NPD-funded projects provide participants with tuition assistance and a network of support while completing their program of study. To date, the NPD program has achieved tremendous outcomes with 6,828 pre-service teachers having completed programs that led to teaching credentials; 6,239 in-service teachers having completed programs that led to bilingual or ESL certification; 8,412 in-service teachers having completed professional programs that did not lead to bilingual or ESL certification; and 115 bilingual paraprofessionals having completed associates degree programs.

Since Illinois State’s first NPD grant in 2007, the university’s BPT program has graduated 57 paraprofessionals and all of them have gotten jobs as teachers. More will graduate in May.

The impact of the BPT program on the lives of students and teachers alike has been exceedingly positive, as Grimaldo can attest. Despite working long days as a teacher assistant and then staying after work to take classes, Grimaldo never once complained, said George Torres, director of the BPT program.

Grimaldo graduated cum laude in the spring of 2011 and now teaches bilingual special education at Foreman High School in Chicago. He credits his own struggle as an English learner (EL) with his ability to understand the challenges that ELs face in the classroom as well as in their community.

He said he feels that his choice to live within the same community where he teaches is important. He often sees his students while out doing errands, and his students see that his commitment to them extends beyond the classroom.

Grimaldo’s accomplishment is important, not only because he has found an important and rewarding profession, but because he is helping to solve one of our country’s biggest educational challenges: recruiting teachers who look and sound like our students. According to a 2008 study by the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than 22 percent of our nation’s students are Hispanic, while just over 7 percent of our teachers are.

Asked how his experience in the BPT program has affected him and his family’s life, Grimaldo said, “I feel that I am setting a good example for my children – Joanna (20), Joseph (18), and Jonathan (11). My wife, Ana, is also working toward a degree in this program. She will graduate this spring. Our children state that they feel proud of what we have and will continue to accomplish, and that we inspired them to continue their education.”

Earlier this week, ED announced the award of nearly $24.4 million for 73 grants to improve instruction for English learners. Click here to learn more.

Anthony Sepúlveda is an education program specialist in the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA)

English Learners Key to a Multi-lingual STEM Workforce

Future U.S. competitiveness will depend on how well we prepare our students and provide them the proper skills to be college and career-ready, especially when it comes to careers in the STEM fields.  In the K-12 education setting, this means providing ALL students, including English Learners (ELs), access to a high-quality STEM education.  Unfortunately, recent data indicate that ELs often do not have the same access to quality STEM instruction as their non-EL peers.  To highlight effective practices and resources for promoting EL achievement in the STEM subjects, ED’s Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) recently hosted a one-day forum entitled, “High-Quality STEM Education for English Learners”.

Held in Washington, DC on July 11, the forum was attended by more than 65 participants who listened to presentations from individuals representing research, practice, professional organizations, and business in the STEM fields.  Notable speakers included Congressman Rúben Hinojosa (D-TX) and Michelle Shearer, the 2011 National Teacher of the Year.

One big take-away from this forum is that perceptions about English Learners need to change.  Rather than seeing English Learners in terms of their academic underachievement, we need to see them as an untapped resource for developing a multi-lingual STEM workforce that has the potential to keep the U.S. competitive in an increasingly competitive global economy.

Congressman Rúben Hinojosa opened the meeting by sharing a motivating and inspiring personal story about his own experience as an English Learner growing up in 1940’s south Texas. Hinojosa highlighted his work to support greater educational opportunities for residents of south Texas and his efforts to support and strengthen minority-serving institutions (MSIs), especially in south Texas, in hopes of creating an education pipeline for students living in the mostly agrarian region.

During the forum I shared several key findings from the recently released Civil Rights Data Collection biennial survey.  The survey’s Part I findings show that English Learners are still being denied access to the kinds of classes, resources, and educational opportunities necessary to be successful in college and career.  Among other things, the data shows that English Learners have lower rates of enrollment in Algebra I, which is a critical gateway course for other advanced math and science courses that act as hurdles that slow or halt a student’s progress towards a college degree.  The data also show that English Learners tend to enroll in advanced placement math and science courses at lower rates than their non-EL peers.

During her remarks at the forum, National Teacher of the Year Michelle Shearer, who teaches chemistry in Frederick, Maryland, shared some effective teaching practices she has used with deaf students that teachers can use with EL students such as using examples when teaching a new concept, using visuals, making lessons relevant to students’ lives, and validating students’ use of their native language. She spoke enthusiastically about her teaching experiences and emphasized that besides the basic 3Rs, students will need the 4Cs: critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, and communication skills.

Besides teacher education and effective practices, other presentations focused on data collection, data analysis methods and research; parent, family and community engagement; and the potential impact public/private partnerships can have for reforming and transforming STEM education for ELs.  Those interested may view the presentations online at http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/meetings/stemforum/.

Rosalinda B. Barrera, Ph.D. is assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the U.S. Department of Education.