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The End of the Road

It seems that my academic semester has come to a close as quickly as it began 15 weeks ago, and it is time for me to conclude this blog on my future ELL classroom; however, that is not to say that this marks the end of my journey of research and study in the world of ESL. Rather, I have been inspired to further research outside countries, languages and classrooms to ‘synthesize’ the best strategies to empower the best students.

My journey would not have been so eventful if it weren’t for the help of my RSS reader aggregate…thank you google reader! All of the articles I summarized, reflected upon or eluded to on my blog were direct results of my RSS. The RSS did the hard work for me. Instead of Googling each day for ESL articles and other goodies to feed my blog, I simply logged into my RSS once a week and took account of all the great articles it had sifted to find me.

Moreover, I have found myself telling all my friends to open an RSS account as well as a blog. The language of a blog is so different than academic writing, especially in a research format. When blogging, I feel that I can say whatever I want, however I want because it’s my page. Although I could probably write many posts about nothing and great a “cheese sandwich” blog, I found meaty articles to fill in the gaps and used my own, sometimes cynical, observations like spicy honey mustard. And lets face it, who has time to browse through millions of articles every day? No one. I’ll let my RSS deal with all the junk that floats through cyberspace and spend my precious time reading only the articles I chose.

Why? Because I can. I have found a great freedom with my RSS and my blog. The freedom to use my time wisely, the freedom to say what I want, and the freedom to become educated in a high-speed, super-cool, mom-friendly, not-yet-outdated way.

I stumbled across an interesting article, entitled, “Can Roaring Fork Schools close the achievement gap?” that explains the steps taken at a Colorado School District to help merge the gap between their Anglo and Latino students. They had  recorded a significant gap; although never stated exactly what percentage. This reminded me of performance scores that could occur between my Native and ELL students as well as different raced ELL students.

The first step for Roaring Forks District was a $1 million dollar grant from the state to

“be able to lead the way for other districts struggling with achievement gaps between students of different races or incomes” (Redding).

Once the money was obtained the district leaped to action by hiring a team of outside “observers” to help find the holes their students were falling into. Superintendent, Judy Haptonstall said,

“It was like somebody holding up a mirror, It was pretty eye-opening”

After the team of observers wrote the district a 72 page evaluation of positive criticism the district called for a meeting to determine what changes needed to be made to help close the gap. The CADI (Comprehensive Assessment of District Improvement) noted the great techniques that some teachers were using as “islands of excellence”; however, it also pointed out that their biggest problem was that not all teachers were using these techniques. The district as a whole was not unified in their goals and were not sharing the effective ideas they did have with one another.

The answer set nearly all responsibility on the teachers’ laps. They needed to “increase teacher collaboration” and possibly “release students early one day a week” to ensure time to do so. Further, some teachers didn’t have enough training, support or simply weren’t willing to adapt to knew techniques when advised. Thus, even though the CADI advised for change, it would be entirely on the teachers shoulders to adapt to the new techniques asked of them. They needed to be “re-trained” in an effort to have

“a stronger focus on the best practices already being used by the distct’s teachers”

In addition to teachers putting in some extra time, the principals were advised to compose more walk-throughs in the classrooms on a regular basis to double check that teachers were using effective techniques and to share any new strategies he or she witnessed while sitting in on a classroom.

The plan seemed to show improvement, though not enough time has gone by to see the end results of the grant money and re-organization of the Colorado District. I thought that this was a great and simple plan. Basically, share your good ideas and communicate between administrators and teachers and teachers amongst one another to remain focused on the goals of the district as a whole. Not every district will get the luxury of $1 dollar grant from their state; however, they can take the time to talk to one another to better ensure their students are getting the best education they are capable of giving them.

I know that some teachers seem to hoard their successful lesson plans and students begin to make favorites accordingly. But, it’s not about we the teachers; it is about they the students. It’s all about the kids, especially in a newer program like ESL, it’s critical that we communicate what’s working and what is not…how else will we ensure our ELL’s that they are best prepared to walk into the real world? I think this really correlates with what Michelle Williams advised me to do: make meaningful links and “synthesize”.

“Can Roaring Fork Schools close the achievement gap?”

by: Katie Redding

The Aspen Times, Aspen, CO

So far, I have really explored different techniques and issues that will be present in my future classroom as an ELL teacher. However, ESL is not just taught her in West Michigan, or even the expanded United States. No. Rather, English has become a global language to many–including Korea. Korea has a native language: Korean. Korea also has a business language: English. That being said, Korean students are trying to learn English as a means for success even in their own country. Many students are required to take an acquisition test upon enrollment of College or Work. Students are required to score adequately on the TOIEC test and are given so many incentives and hints from colleges, grade schools and future employers that the accuracy of the test is being questioned. Moreover, the increased use of technology is also overpowering the classroom and leaving teachers wondering if the internet is their aid….or their enemy.

To help eliviate all the confusion and fear of the future of ELL in the classrooms of Korea, author Tory S. Thorkelson gives a shout out to the local KOTESOL conference. He brags that the conference is known by worldwide teachers who come to learn the newest techniques, ideas and strategies to help ELL’s in the classroom–sounds a lot like the MCTE conference in Michigan.

I visited the website of KOTESOL just to see what all the famous fus was about. The webpage is very organized and includes a history and mission statement, as I have pasted below.

Korea Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages is a professional organization for teachers of English. Our main goals are to assist members in their self-development, and improve ELT in Korea. KOTESOL allows teachers to connect with others in the ELT community and find teaching resources in Korea and abroad through KOTESOL publications, conferences and symposia, and chapter meetings and workshops.”

Their 2009 Conference is dedicated to improving teachers to improve students learning. The website proudly presents that only 40% of their attendees are from Korea, all other teachers and interested parties fly in from outside countries. I trust the conference is as great as it claims to be because of its obvious size; however, it is hard to evaluate without flying out myself–something that is simply not feasible for a full-time mommy, wife and student!

So, to anyone who knows anymore about Korea and their great conference, feel free to better inform me! Has anyone attended this conference or know more about it? The website doesn’t list any sample forums, so it is hard to know the exact teachings without attending. But, it sounds like they are on to something on the other side of the big pond. Are our educators communicating with their educators?

Is this global language being treated as such with merging ideas and strategies from between ELL classrooms? I see now that my classroom here in West Michigan is only a small speck of ESL as a whole. I think it would be great to have a buddy in Korea to swap lesson plans and ploys with…and another door opens to infinite teaching resources!

“Future of English Language Teaching” by Tory S. Thorkelson.

Korea Times: November, 26, 2008

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/special/2008/11/181_35124.html

I’m sad to say that my busy life kept me from attending the MTCE conference. It sounded like an experience that would have given my teaching dreams a jump start toward the future. Instead, I found myself watching Dora the Explorer with my almost-3-year-old after a long day at work.

Happily, I had the opportunity to substitute an educational interview with ELL & Migrant Director, Michelle Williams from West Ottawa School District. Michelle has recently been added to the ELL team at West Ottawa as their number of ELL students continues to rise. Currently, they have over 1,500 ELL students in grades K-12. Their students begin the program as soon as they are enrolled in at W.O. Moreover, only one Elementary School currently exercises an immersion program. All the elementary students receive some bilingual class time from a ‘specials’ teacher; however, Williams agrees that,

 

“Ideally, I would love to have each and every one of our students become biliterate. Individuals who have a high degree of academic and conversational proficiency in multiple languages have so many doors open to them. Who wouldn’t want this of the students they serve?”

 

I couldn’t agree with her more on this one. If I have learned anything through my research and language learning experiences, it is that bilingual people have a definite advantage and better ability to learn complex concepts—language or other subject. Personally, I would love to become bilingual in Spanish in an effort to better accommodate my future ELL students, as most of them will have a native language of Spanish. Moreover, Michelle noted that not all of her ESL Teachers are bilingual, but all have language acquisition training or a good knowledge of a second language, if they aren’t in fact bilingual. A both sad and encouraging bit of info for me, as I am studying Language Acquisition; however, I think it would be great if all ELL teachers were fluent in their students’ native tongue. Yet, I am glad that I will be eligible for a position even if I don’t miraculously learn Spanish in the next 18 months—which is very unlikely, just ask my Spanish Prof! Lol.

My last question to Michelle during our interview was for advice as a future ELL educator; her response:

“look for connections and ways to integrate content, language and process”. 

Further, she said that making real connections and being a “synthesizer” will help me write the road signs that will guide my students through the gobs of information we will cover each day. Making links to real life experience and usage through the charts of verb endings and tense usage will undoubtedly be a difficult task. But, with process pedagogy and a good mentor like Michelle, this passionate ELL teacher will “synthesize” with “activities that target specific goals” to help my students connect the dots of language acquisition.

 

Personal Interview: Michelle Williams, ELL & Migrant Director, West Ottawa School District, Holland, MI.

November 14, 2008

Although as a future ELL teacher, I will mostly encounter students who need to learn English. They have an origin, and for many of them that origin does not speak English either. Most ELL’s come from families who migrated to the U.S. mere days before entering the classroom. That being said, their studies aren’t the only thing in chaos. Their parents are busy trying to find jobs and struggling to find the cough medicine isle at the grocery store because they don’t speak the predominant language: English.

This story was very true about Lewiston, Maine. They were predominantly Catholic town with 95% white population. However, in the last five years they have become a town of 10% Somalis, sent in by the government. Needless to say, they have gone from 1 ELL teacher, to 22 full-time teachers and 8 assistants to 753 ELL students. The students are mainstreamed for most subjects; however, they are pulled out for math and reading. 

“The kids are doing good at school, Better than us. They have adapted” Farah, a Somalia parent.

 

 But, their parents don’t have the luxury of strapping on their back packs and attending grade school again.

The Adult Education Center offers a GED program as well as an ELL program for adults; however, few adults have the time or money to attend. The government has helped out with lower costs, but not low enough to give the Somalis an equal opportunity for an American education. This is effecting their jobs, their children’s well being, their health and their every day lives. Some Somalis attend a brief course to help with,

   “survival English: how to go shopping, what to say to the doctor, how to talk to your child’s teacher.” Anne Kemper, Center coordinator.

There are few parents who are able to attend enough classes to achieve their GED though, which is preventing them from work and has fueled the unemployment rate of Somalians to 50%. One disappointed factory parent attributes it to the lack of factory and unskilled jobs of today.

“In the 21st century economy, most jobs–even the most menial–require English proficiency”

What does this mean for me as an ELL teacher? Well, more complications. My students might not be in class everyday because they have to help their parents pay the bills. They will surely have different emotional needs than my mainstream students because of the language barrier at home and will struggle much more with their homework outside of the classroom where their are teachers to explain things to them in English. Their parents will also have concerns about their child’s advancement and how they can help, or get help for themselves with English.

ELL’s aren’t just in the classroom, they are roaming the streets, unemployed, confused and waiting for chance to succeed for their family. It is going to take a whole community to help bring ELL’s and their families up to snuff with English and the American way.

Sources: “The Common Thread” By: Kathleen Vail

http://ezproxy.gvsu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=33958695&site=ehost-live&scope=site

American School Board Journel, September 2008

Every time I see a fat ‘C’ on my Spanish test, I’m reminded how much easier it would have come to me if I was 5, and not 23. I joke to my classmates that my 2-year-old daughter has retained more Spanish by watching Dora, than I have in two years of Spanish classes. While Spanish is closing in on us and flipping flopping our language percentages in schools, I feel she needs to know the language and the culture that surrounds her, now! Intertwining Spanish in our school curriculum would give Spanish speaking students a time to teach, to share and to feel purpose in the classroom, while the English speakers benefit with Second Language Acquisition and a cultural understanding of their brown classmates. This would bridge the gap between the two groups of children, much like the Service Learning project I wrote about a few weeks ago.  Which is exactly what’s going on in Canada–naturally, as they ARE the peacemakers. The Forest Grove School District is practicing a TWI (Two-Way Immersion) program to help cross cultural barriers.

Forest Grove has two classrooms for each grade 1st-4th of TWI classes. Their reasoning for starting so early:

 “children are able to absorb and retain information–including learning a second language–best while they are very young.”

In one classroom, they practice learning centers, a typical method of learning for 3rd graders; however, these centers are “literacy centers” and students are paired with the opposite language speaker.  (1 English, 1 Spanish). The centers each focused “on a different skill: comprehension,  vocabulary, fluence or indendent reading”. At one center, the teacher witnesses specific evidence that her program is working. Two students were practicing vocab. with Spanish/English flashcards. The students responded to her,

“If I have trouble speaking in Spanish, she helps me to try the words out, ” said Breanna (English speaker).

“She helps me to learn more English so that in the future I can kow all my words. That way, I can get a better job, ” Erica, a Spanish speaking student reasoned.

These kids are 9-years-old and they already get the seriousness of English langauge lerning. If Erica doesn’t learn this universal language, she won’t go places after graduation. Jobs aren’t usually on the minds of 9-year-old. If I had to guess, Erica is reminded of the relevance each time she returns home to her Spanish speaking parents who are struggling without English.

On the flip side, parents of each langauge are also getting involved. English speaking mothers have enrolled in Spanish classes to keep up with their grade school children, while Spanish speaking parents are learning a little English from their kids, but more importantly they are seeing a future in their children;s eyes.

Children are becoming friends and “at recess, there are no cultural lines–that’s really great to see.” (Martinez, teacher). Unfortunately, this article, “Schools’ bilingual program a hit with students” was in the local Forest Grove paper because the program is on the ballot to be cut this fall.

So, why are we cutting this program?  Voters argue that the cut is

“motivated by fear,”

much like the bill that pulled scholarships from minority college students in 2007, in the US. A club member also states she feels there is “national confusion over immigration rights, it could gain traction here. I hope it doesn’t happen.”

This program has shown amazing progress and potential for English and Spanish speaking students and their parents and community. However, langauge is power in this world. Apparently, that scares the hell out of some legislators; having an equally spoken melting pot might bring new inspiration and ideas to the table. Besides, if you don’t speak American you’re not worth listening to anyway, right?!

 

“Schools’ bilingual program a hit with students” by: Nancy Townsley

The Forest Grove News-Times, Oct 8, 2008

http://www.forestgrovenewstimes.com/news/story.php?story_id=122344256792704700