Moving Beyond Figuring It Out on Your Own: Preparing and Developing Linguistically Responsive Teachers

Today’s blogger is Meghan Bratkovich, Doctoral Candidate in Teacher Education and Teacher Development at Montclair State University, a contributor to the special issue of The Educational Forum on linguistically diverse students. See this month’s free article from that issue of The Educational Forum.

“How did you learn how to do this?” 

I had just observed a high school math teacher, highly effective by about every formal and informal measure, teaching a lesson to a class of English language learners (ELLs). Due to a shortage of credentialed bilingual teachers, Mr. Erickson, a self-described monolingual, had been identified to teach a section of bilingual geometry. As much Spanish as English rattled around the classroom as students excitedly reasoned through the differences between lines and line segments, actively debating their way through the classwork.

Though little in his prior education or experience had prepared him for this task, Mr. Erickson was managing to teach geometry under these constraints, and teach it well.

“I don’t know, I guess I just figured it out on my own,” Mr. Erickson said, breathing a heavy sigh. “I don’t even know if it’s what I should be doing.”

“What if you hadn’t agreed to teach this class?” I asked.

“They’d probably be sitting at the back of some mainstream classroom, not understanding anything,” he replied.

Every school has its “Mr. Erickson” among the teachers who are willing to go above and beyond, the ones who will work with students with whom they can only imperfectly communicate—the teachers who always seem to make it work. We also probably know the other teachers—those Mr. Erickson referenced—who are so unsure of how to help a struggling ELL sitting at the back of their class that they do nothing, which is exactly what they’ve been or feel prepared to do. The teaching of ELLs is too important to fall solely on the shoulders of good teachers who feel un- or underprepared.

Teachers looking to build or improve their teaching of ELLs can see this special issue of The Educational Forum as their invitation into an established community of inquiry seeking to make sense of the complexity of teaching ELLs and strengthen teaching practices. The community shares knowledge and research geared toward helping teachers feel as prepared to respond to the needs of their language learner students as they feel to teach their content. Collectively, the reviews, studies, and commentaries in this issue point to the need for linguistically responsive teachers—those who can teach academic content in ways that are comprehensible while simultaneously attending to and furthering the development of students’ language skills.

Teachers beginning their journeys into teaching ELLs might be drawn to Athanases and Wong (2018), who offer evidence that can help teachers to tailor their practitioner inquiry, systematically study their students, and develop an asset-based orientation that fosters inclusive practice. Individuals seeking research-based ELL writing programs can look to Haas, Goldman, and Faltis (2018), who provide a deep dive into transdisciplinary best practices for writing at middle and high school levels.

Those looking to better understand the broad landscape of research on how teachers learn to teach ELLs can look to literature reviews from Villegas, SaizdeLaMora, Martin, and Mills (2018) and Lucas, Strom, Bratkovich, and Wnuk (2018). These reviews provide readers with a succinct synthesis of research studies conducted to date, condensing decades of research and helping to situate, contextualize, and explain the anecdotal experiences that teachers like Mr. Erickson live every day in their classrooms.

Lastly, de Jong, Naranjo, Li, and Ouzia (2018) provide pathways for teacher educators and teacher leaders to support teachers in building their confidence and competence around their ELL teaching practices. The authors emphasize that transforming education for ELLs necessitates preparing the preparers and inclusively brings teacher educators, administrators, and supervisors into the cultivation of a linguistically responsive approach to education.

It is vital that all teachers feel confident and competent teaching ELLs. However, no teacher should be forced to figure it out on their own, to needlessly reinvent the wheel, or to start from scratch. Students deserve better. Teachers deserve better. This special issue offers multiple entry points into conversations and communities striving for better, practical, and pervasive understandings of linguistically responsive teaching to ground teacher leaders and teacher educators, prepare and support teachers, and ultimately serve students.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the special issue of The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through June 30, 2018.

Getting Political About Teacher Preparation for Multilingual Learners

Today’s blogger is Kathryn Strom, California State University, whose essay (co-authored with Tamara Lucas, Meghan Bratkovich, and Jennifer Wnuk) on professional development opportunities on ELL for inservice teachers appears in The Educational Forum.

Recently, I attended a superintendent “Listening Forum” with executive leaders serving districts in the East Bay of San Francisco.

One superintendent, who headed a district with a large migrant worker population, described observing a downward trend in attendance across her district among specific groups. Latino students and, in smaller numbers, other groups of immigrant populations, were not coming to school.

When she and her team spoke to principals, teachers, and parents to find out what was happening, they were told that undocumented families were avoiding their public schools due to fears of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests, which had risen in 2017. In response to this story, several other superintendents shared that they were grappling with racially charged speech and acts toward the same groups of students. While these types of incidents had occurred in the past in their districts, the superintendents collectively agreed that since the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, they had skyrocketed.

These stories reflect a national trend. In the month after the 2016 election, the Southern Poverty Law Center (2016) conducted a survey of more than 10,000 teachers. More than 90% reported a negative impact on their school climate, and 80% said their historically underserved students exhibited heightened anxiety.

While we might like to pretend that education is solely about the enterprise of learning and is unaffected by what is happening outside the classroom, stories like these demonstrate that it is not. Our educational systems, curricula, and classroom pedagogies are not somehow separate from the rest of the world, nor are they neutral. They are shaped by multiple external factors, including historical conditions, policy makers with specific political agendas, and current societal trends. Schooling and teaching are profoundly political, and perhaps nowhere is that more visible than in the education of multilingual learners, also known as “emergent bilinguals” or “English language learners” (ELLs).

As Lucas and Villegas (2011) detailed in their Linguistically Responsive Teaching Framework, the teaching of multilingual learners has important historical and sociopolitical dimensions that teachers need to understand to effectively educate these students. For instance, the United States has long valued English over other languages. This has resulted in multilingual students having limited access to dual-language or bilingual programs, and has led several states to mandate that multilingual learners would be taught exclusively in English—policies that contradict a large body of research on quality second-language instruction. Furthermore, teachers of multilingual learners need to understand their own possible biases and how these may translate into low expectations or deficit views of their linguistically diverse students—which, in turn, may influence their instructional decisions and interactions with these students.

Many initial teacher preparation programs in the United States now offer at least some coursework focused on instruction for multilingual learners. However, as shown in the recent review of literature regarding preservice preparation for second-language learner instruction by Villegas, SaizdeLaMora, Martin, and Mills (2018), most programs do not offer sufficient experiences to develop “sociopolitical consciousness,” or understanding of how social and political issues affect the education of multilingual learners. Similarly, in Lucas, Strom, Bratkovich, and Wnuk’s (2018) recent review of professional development opportunities for teachers of multilingual learners, the researchers found little evidence that inservice teachers engaged in learning aimed at increasing their understanding of how the current political context, societal divisions, and their own deep-set beliefs about language and diversity may influence the learning of their multilingual students.

As a country, we are more polarized than perhaps at any other time in recent memory. Already a politically fraught area in education, the instruction of multilingual learners is being further affected by the mainstreaming of xenophobia as part of an ethno-nationalist presidential administration. Across the professional continuum, teacher candidates, beginning teachers, and veteran teachers need learning opportunities not just about quality instructional practices; they also need sustained opportunities that explicitly address how the political climate and potentially their own internalized understandings of language and second-language learners impact their multilingual students.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Kathryn Strom’s essay with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through May 31, 2018.

 

References

Lucas, T., Strom, K., Bratkovich, M., & Wnuk, J. (2018). Inservice preparation for mainstream teachers of English language learners: A review of empirical literature. The Educational Forum, 82(2), 156–173.

Lucas, T., & Villegas, A. M. (2011). A framework for preparing linguistically responsive teachers. In T. Lucas (Ed.), Teacher preparation for linguistically diverse classrooms: A resource for teacher educators (pp. 55–72). New York, NY: Routledge.

Southern Poverty Law Center. (2016, November 28). The Trump effect: The impact of the 2016 presidential election on our nation’s schools. Retrieved from https://www.splcenter.org/20161128/trump-effect-impact-2016-presidential-election-our-nations-schools

Villegas, A. M., SaizdeLaMora, K., Martin, A. D., & Mills, T. (2018). Preparing future mainstream teachers to teach English language learners: A review of the empirical literature. The Educational Forum, 82(2), 138–155.

Five Reasons Your English Language Learners Should Be Using Adobe Spark

When I first started teaching English Language Learners (ELLs), the classroom was a very different place. I had a chalkboard and one teacher computer. Fast forward seventeen years and even on campuses with the most limited technology resources, I can piece together enough computers or iPads to provide my ELLs with engaging lessons using any number of apps and sites. One app my students and I have fallen in love with is Adobe Spark (https://spark.adobe.com).

Here are five reasons to use Adobe Spark in your classroom.

The ELPS or English Language Proficiency Standards in Texas require that our lessons address both receptive (reading and listening) and productive (writing and speaking) language skills for ELLs every day. With Adobe Spark, your students can record their own voices to narrate videos they create using images from the app’s built-in library. Students can listen to their own and other student’s video presentations without all of the pressure of standing up in front of a class.

Intrinsic motivation in language learning can be nurtured through activities that allow for authentic use of English with a specific audience in mind. Many students tell me that their first year in school was filled with frustration and isolation because they could not communicate their deepest thoughts and feelings to their teachers and peers. Adobe Spark allows students to tell their own stories using images, music, and their own spoken words.

Speaking a new language can be very difficult without ever speaking the language! That sounds obvious, but in my experience, I see ELLs go through entire school days without saying a single word in English. Some teachers shy away from calling on ELLs because they don’t want to put them on the spot. Adobe Spark allows students to take their time thinking about what they want to say and to record their words as many times as it takes to be happy with the quality. When we can lower students’ affective filters by taking away the pressure to perform on the spot, students will be more successful.

Differentiation is a must with our classrooms becoming more diverse each year. The number of ELLs in our classrooms and communities is consistently rising each year. As an ESL campus specialist, I see teachers struggling to meet the needs of their students when the range of ability levels in a single class can be vast. Adobe Spark makes student-driven storytelling accessible to all of your students.

Free and easy accounts make Adobe Spark an irresistible choice for the classroom. If your school is one of the many that has jumped on the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) bandwagon, your students can sign up by clicking the “Continue with Google” button. Once they agree to the terms of use, they are up and running immediately. Since students don’t go anywhere these days without their earbuds, most will already have a microphone to record in their own pocket or backpack!

The true beauty of Adobe Spark is that it can benefit and empower all your students, not just your ELLs. Using technology tools in your classroom is a great way to engage students who may otherwise tune out another teacher-centered lecture. Twenty-first century literacy skills go beyond traditional text and trade books, and we must define what counts as knowledge by modeling a respect for digital literacy in our classrooms. This tech tool allows for creativity in student work beyond what can be produced with the minimalist pencil and paper of yesterday’s classrooms. Our future leaders and active citizens must think creatively if they are going to find and solve the problems of tomorrow’s world. We as teachers must keep in mind that we are not preparing our students for the world we know today but for the future we want tomorrow.

Faith Kane is the campus ESL Specialist at McCollum High School. She is a technophile using technology to empower students in her ESL Reading classes.

Teacher Education for English Language Learners: What We Know and What We Need to Do

Today’s blogger is Adrian D. Martin, New Jersey City University, whose essay (co-authored with Ana Maria Villegas, Kit SaizdeLaMora, and Tammy Mills) on preparing future teachers to teach ELLs appears in The Educational Forum.

In many respects Cecilia is a typical third grader.

She enjoys spending time with her friends, loves her family, and dreams about the possibilities for her future. Cecilia’s favorite class is art, where she creates masterpieces with watercolors, paints, brushes, scissors, glitter, and glue to adorn her bedroom walls. She hopes to one day become an art teacher and inspire boys and girls to create masterpieces of their own.

Yet in September 2017, her hometown of Corozal, Puerto Rico, experienced the widespread destruction and devastation of Hurricane Maria. Although Cecilia and her immediate family survived this tragedy, their home and her school suffered significant damage. As a result, Cecilia’s family decided that it would be best to leave Puerto Rico and live with relatives on the mainland United States.

The challenges of this major transition were compounded when Cecilia enrolled in her new school in Cleveland, Ohio. Although she had some instruction in English as a second language while in Corozal, Cecilia struggled to understand Ms. Williams, her new teacher; and as the only speaker of Spanish in her class, she experienced difficulty in communicating with her new peers. For Ms. Williams, teaching Cecilia was challenging. Like many mainstream teachers, Ms. Williams was a monolingual speaker of English and lacked professional experience with linguistically diverse students. Because Ms. Williams had never studied a second language, she had no personal insight into Cecilia’s experience learning English as a second language. Without preservice preparation or ongoing professional learning experiences to teach English language learners (ELLs), Ms. Williams struggled to identify ways she might aid Cecilia’s academic progress while simultaneously advancing her English language development.

Given the increasing number of students who speak a language other than English at home and are emergent speakers of English, along with the trend to place ELLs in mainstream classrooms, it is imperative for teacher educators to develop a teaching workforce that possesses the knowledge, skills, and dispositions conducive to the affirmative inclusion of ELLs in mainstream classes. Unfortunately, research suggests that ELLs are often marginalized in schools and classrooms, and that many mainstream teachers, despite best intentions, are unresponsive to these students’ academic, linguistic, and socio-emotional development. From a social justice perspective, such an approach to educating ELLs is not only negligent, but also antithetical to the aims of education in our democracy.

Yet despite this urgent problem, little is known about ongoing initiatives within preservice teacher education to promote teacher learning for linguistically diverse students. To address this knowledge gap, the article I co-authored with Ana Maria Villegas, Kit Saiz de la Mora, and Tammy Mills on the preparation of future mainstream teachers for today’s linguistically diverse classrooms offers a systematic review of existing research on this topic. Our critical appraisal of the empirical literature published since 2000 synthesizes the findings from 21 studies to identify the nature and outcomes of learning experiences provided to preservice teachers for teaching ELLs. Using the central tasks for learning to teach at the preservice level proposed by Sharon Feiman-Nemser to guide our analysis, we identified a variety of learning activities teacher educators are using to engage preservice mainstream teachers in learning to teach ELLs. Specifically, the review paints a detailed portrait of how teacher educators can help teacher candidates interrogate their beliefs about ELLs and how to teach them, develop their skills for learning about these students’ out-of-school experiences, and build their practices as linguistically responsive teachers.

To be sure, had Ms. Williams—and other teachers like her—been provided with professional preparation to teach ELLs along the lines depicted in the studies we reviewed, she would likely feel confident in her ability to support Cecilia in learning academic content while developing English language skills. Struggles to determine how to modify instruction, scaffold classroom activities, and promote a linguistically inclusive classroom would have been mitigated by professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions to engage in a linguistically responsive, affirmative, and sustainable pedagogy. Thus, our literature review serves as an entry point for teacher educators, education researchers, professional development providers, and other stakeholders in the field of education committed to supporting students like Cecilia, who struggle in schools due to linguistic differences.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Adrian D. Martin’s essay with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through April 30, 2018.