End of semester blues? Ha! I’m loving the opportunity to assemble my professional portfolio as I prepare to student teach next semester. It’s been so much fun to look back at all I’ve learned over the course of my graduate degree.
This post includes a copy of a paper I wrote for an ESL Pedagogy class. In it, I was asked to come up with the best way to serve a group of 50 Spanish-speaking students and 50 students from the Middle East who had suddenly arrived at the elementary school I “work” at. I think this plan really shows my understanding of the different services available to English-language learners and my depth of knowledge about best practices in this field. I loved researching this paper, and I hope you enjoy reading it, too!
Click below to read on!
Providing An Education To Diverse Students: An Instructional Plan To Serve Central American and Middle Eastern English Language Learners
University of North Texas
Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, an exemplary elementary school in Anytown, Texas, has recently learned of two influxes of English-language learners that will require placement in the school’s programs. The school will have a group of 50 Spanish-speaking students from Central America and a group of 50 students from the Middle East, a diverse region with many different cultures and languages. While each group has its own needs, both sets of students will require specialized instruction in English in order to reach their full potential at Jefferson Elementary School. In order to best serve these populations, it is the recommendation that the school form both a two-way dual language program (Spanish-English) and several sheltered English classes as part of our ongoing bilingual/ESL programming.
Placing Students In Programs
To place Spanish-speaking students into the two-way dual language program, and to place Middle Eastern students in the sheltered English program, state protocols will be followed. Families of students new to the district will be given a home language survey that asks about the languages the child speaks to assess whether students should be placed in the dual-language program (Texas Administrative Code, 1977). The previously-established Language Proficiency Assessment Committee (LPAC), which must consist of “a professional bilingual educator, a professional transitional bilingual educator, a parent of a limited English proficiency student, and a campus administrator,” will then review the information surrounding the English-language learner and make recommendations about the language proficiency level, academic achievement, and class placement of the student (Texas Administrative Code, 1977). The LPAC will then notify the student’s family in writing about the placement and ask the family to approve the placement in the Spanish homeroom of the two-way dual language program.
Two-Way Dual Language: Promoting Spanish and English
Implementing the Program
Both students who speak English and Spanish at home may participate in this two-way dual language program. The program will have a group of English speakers and a group of Spanish speakers; these groups shall be fairly equal in number (Center for Applied Linguistics and The Education Alliance, n.d.). The group of Spanish speakers will be determined by the assessments given; all students who are English-language learners will be given a place in the dual-language program in order to fulfill state law (Texas Administrative Code, 1977). The number of English speakers in the program will be equal to the number of Spanish speakers identified. English speakers’ families will apply for a spot in the incoming kindergarten group. If the number of applications exceeds the number of spots available, the students will be chosen by lottery. Those students chosen will receive written confirmation of their acceptance into the program and must confirm in writing that they will accept the spot. There will also be a wait list for those not selected. These policies are in accordance with other school districts nationwide (Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, 2015; Coppell ISD, 2015).
This policy only applies to incoming kindergarten students. No English-speaking students will be admitted to the program past the first year unless they transfer from a comparable dual-language program or have demonstrable significant experience in both English and Spanish. Spanish-speaking students may be admitted at any grade as determined by the LPAC and assessments.
This program will be the two-way dual language program, so it will be K-5 at the elementary school as that is the minimum for a dual-language program (Center for Applied Linguistics and The Education Alliance, n.d.). The district will have the ability to expand this program at higher grade levels in the schools that this elementary feeds into. As per the Texas Administrative Code, the program will start in kindergarten (1977).
The program will follow the Gomez and Gomez two-way model. Key components of this model include equal amounts of instructional time in Spanish and English, a schoolwide language of the day, language arts instruction in the student’s native language in early grades and in both languages daily in later grades. Some strategies that are particularly important to the Gomez and Gomez model include bilingual partners, which promote language growth, and interactive word walls, which are student- and teacher-initiated and provide context to vocabulary growth (Gomez and Gomez Dual Language Enrichment Model – PK – 5, 1999).
The two-way dual language program is a full-time immersion program, so students will take all subjects in the program. Students will be in groups (e.g., the Red Group and the Green Group) composed of equal numbers of Spanish and English native speakers. These groups will be together for academic instruction and elective enrichment; students will take language arts in their native language for the first two years of the program (Center for Applied Linguistics and The Education Alliance, n.d.; Dual Language Training Institute, 2015).
The students will be pre-split into two groups by the grade level teachers, in addition to having home-language homerooms. These groups will not change throughout the year except in extreme cases (e.g., bullying after interventions fail). Students will start the day in their bilingual groups for morning work, and will then switch into home-language homerooms for instruction in language arts. Students in second through fifth grades will remain in their bilingual groups for this instruction and will receive half of their language arts instruction in English and half of their instruction in Spanish each year. Mathematics is taught in English; science and social studies are taught in Spanish. These subjects are taught in the bilingual groups in all grade levels. Students are split into language homerooms for special areas, but sit English-speaker, Spanish-speaker at lunch (Dual Language Training Institute, 2015).
In order to be prepared to teach in the two-way dual language program, teachers will attend Dual Language Education training. Through the Gomez and Gomez Dual Language Institute, teachers will attend a three-day workshop about the basics of the dual language program. This training shall take place over three consecutive days prior to the start of the school year. Throughout the school year, teachers in this program will attend additional trainings on the model, to be held on professional development days. These trainings will include the use of bilingual learning centers, bilingual partners, language arts, Language of the Day, project-based learning, and journal writing. Administrators will also attend trainings before the start of the school year. Staff from the Dual Language Institute will also perform walkthroughs to observe how the program is being used (Dual Language Training Institute, 2015).
Non-dual-language teachers will be educated about the dual-language program and taught about the goals. They will learn about whole-school initiatives, such as the language of the day and phrase of the week and will be expected to participate to the best of their ability.
The two-way dual language program will require the use of several materials beyond the norm for each grade level. Each set of dual-language classrooms will need a wide variety of both English- and Spanish-language books in order to provide meaningful literacy in both languages. The classrooms will require additional paper in order for students to make a student-generated alphabet to hang on the wall; they will also need materials to support subject-specific centers (e.g., Spanish language vocabulary puzzles, English math activities, Spanish science notebooks) and learning (Gomez and Gomez Dual Language Enrichment Model – PK – 5, 1999).
While there are many decisions program administrators will have to make to ensure success of this program, perhaps the most important is having a strategy in place to assist students who are unable to cope in a two-way program. In order to exit an English-language student into an English-only (regular) homeroom, teachers must prove that interventions to help the student have failed. This can be shown through multiple parent-teacher conferences, RTI plans, and individualized plans to help the child succeed that have not resulted in grade or behavioral improvements. Agreement between the principal, teachers, and parents is necessary. Alternately, a parent may request the removal of a child from the program, but the child will be unable to re-enter the program at a later date.
Exiting a Spanish-language student must be done in conjunction with and after consultation with the LPAC, teachers, principals, and parents. There may exist circumstances that require the movement of a Spanish-language student from the program into a sheltered ESL program. For example, a child who requires specialized instruction (e.g., special education) may be placed in a more appropriate classroom environment, but the child will continue to receive bilingual/ESL services in accordance with Texas state law.
STAAR decisions will be made by each student’s LPAC (TEA Student Assessment Division, 2015). STAAR Spanish may be appropriate for most Spanish-language students who are fluent in Spanish and capable of taking their exams entirely in Spanish. This test will be used for students who can most accurately show their knowledge through a Spanish-language test (although there is not a Spanish-language STAAR for every content area). However, in some cases, it may be more appropriate to administer the STAAR L to students, particularly if they do not have an advanced high reading rating in TELPAS (TEA Student Assessment Division, 2015).
TELPAS will be used at all grade levels to test the English speaking ability of all English-language learners. TELPAS ratings will be used to track progress and to inform which STAAR test is most appropriate for students. In kindergarten and first grade, TELPAS is holistic and informal, based on observations, while in upper grades, TELPAS involves benchmark exams, writing samples, and listening and speaking assessments. TELPAS is used in conjunction with ELPS in order to assign proficiency-level descriptors. These proficiency-level descriptors will “serve as a roadmap to help teachers tailor instruction to the linguistic needs of ELLs” (Educator Guide to TELPAS, 2011, pg. 6).
In order to get the word out about this two-way dual language program, each school should send a letter and email to all kindergarten families who provide information at kindergarten orientation (kindergarten round-up). This letter should provide information about the program, frequently asked questions, achievements of the program, and information about how parents can sign up. This letter should also include the home language survey required to initiate the LPAC process as well as a form for parents to submit that indicates the required written approval for students to participate in the two-way dual language program (Texas Administrative Code, 1977).
Additionally, representatives from the district’s bilingual and ESL department, along with school representatives, should be present at the kindergarten round-up in order to provide information about this program and to answer questions. These representatives will also have materials available to advertise the program. These materials will include brochures explaining the dual-language model, touting the benefits of enrolling in dual-language, and featuring district families who participated in the program.
All parents will be provided information at the kindergarten round-up and will have the opportunity to speak with district personnel who will answer any questions the parents may have. These personnel will have talking points and brochures and will be able to reassure families that dual language programs are a form of enrichment that promotes bilingualism (Smollin, 2011). Bilingualism has been proven to increase cognitive function, improve multitasking, and fight diseases such as Alzheimer’s (Dreifus, 2011). The school will set up a webpage that addresses frequently asked questions and that promotes the benefits of bilingualism; personnel at the kindergarten round-up will direct families to this webpage. All parents will also be mailed a letter to inform them of the opportunity to participate in a two-way immersion program. If this results in insufficient applicants, school bilingual staff will market the program to families in areas common to the neighborhood: parks, supermarkets, etc. Staff may also go door-to-door to inform families of the program and tell them about the benefits of bilingualism.
Research has shown that many Latino families find there to be a divide between school and home due to perceived lack of respect (Golan and Petersen, 2002). In order to involve parents — a most crucial involvement due to the ways they can influence students — schools using this dual-language program should strive to maximize parental involvement through activities that celebrate the students’ heritage.
In order to show parents that the school does indeed promote “a positive, equitable, culturally and linguistically responsive school environment,” the school must establish a few cultural and linguistic constants. The teachers can promote this environment by supporting and establishing these constants. First, there must be a school “language of the day,” widely advertised on signs around the school and at entrances. This language must be Spanish every other day. This signifies the language that will be most dominantly used in dual-language classrooms. Each week, the school will select a Spanish phrase of the week, to be read and translated daily on the morning announcements. Daily, the announcements should provide context for this phrase (is it serious or fun? Where would someone use this phrase?) The phrases will be posted on a prominent bulletin board (e.g., on the way to the cafeteria) and teachers can point out the phrase as they lead their class by it.
Teachers can also promote a positive and equitable community by making a sincere effort to connect with parents. Greeting parents, inviting communication, and learning about parents’ background can increase student success by engaging parents (Golan and Petersen, 2002).
The school must also implement ways to respect Latino culture and make it accessible to all students. The school must highlight this culture year-round and treat it as a culture to be admired, not a novelty or a perfunctory acknowledgement. One way for teachers and parents to work together is to have teachers form cultural after-school clubs and solicit parents’ expertise and contributions. For example, a school could form a weekly after-school ballet folklorico group. This group could be sponsored by several teachers and supported by parent volunteers, allowing the volunteers to contribute meaningfully to costuming or choreography. The group allows parents to share their culture and shows school support and respect for the culture, particularly if the group is able to perform around the community and/or at PTA meetings.
Sheltered English as a Second Language Instruction: Supporting Middle Eastern Students
Implementing the Program
Students who are identified as English-language learners from the Middle East will be a part of this program. Additionally, should English-language learning students from other regions arrive, this program may be adapted to them. These ELLs can receive English-language instruction no matter what their home language is (e.g., Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi). These students will be determined first by their home language survey and then by the recommendation of an LPAC, as per state law (Texas Administrative Code, 1977). Students at any grade level who are determined to need services by the LPAC will be provided services, regardless of when they enter school. The LPAC will determine at what point it will be appropriate for the ELL to exit the program and begin to receive regular instruction (Texas Administrative Code, 1977).
Sheltered instruction is designed to make grade-level content accessible to English-language learners; the program also teaches English (Campos Acosta and Parra, n.d.). The classes are not pull-out or push-in classes; rather, these students will spend all day in their classrooms (save for special areas, lunch, recess, or other all grade-level activities) and will abide by the schedule each teacher sets for him or herself (Campos Acosta and Parra, n.d.). Each class will teach mathematics, language arts, science, and social studies; these subjects will be accommodated so that students can learn regardless of their English proficiency, and these subjects will also allow students the chance to learn English so that they can join mainstream classes after they exit the program. Students will exit the program only after the LPAC recommends they do so.
The program will use the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) in order to implement the program successfully. SIOP is a collection of 30 parts of sheltered instruction that can be assigned to the following categories: preparation, building background, comprehensible input, strategies, interaction, practice/application, lesson delivery, review and assessment (The Education Alliance, n.d.). SIOP is a strategy to help teachers ensure they are providing the most effective education they can to a very specialized group of students (Wallace, 2004). The most important part of sheltered instruction, however, is the way that teachers scaffold learning for students; this makes it possible for them to succeed in mainstream classes once the LPAC determines students can be exited from the program (Wallace, 2004). SIOP helps instructors plan the scaffolding of their students and focus on the instruction, with assistance in planning and assessment as well (McGee, 2012). For example, SIOP helps teachers “use speech appropriate for students’ level of proficiency” by making them aware of “teacher talk” that might isolate students. To plan a lesson free of “teacher talk,” a teacher could video herself teaching the lesson to a fake audience and go back and analyze the understandable vocabulary and places for student participation, then edit the final lesson to remove some of the jargon and to insert more student participation (Wallace, 2004).
Teachers of these sheltered instruction classes should have the training necessary to be ESL certified in the state of Texas. While teachers need not be bilingual to teach sheltered instruction, they should be able to become certified to teach these students. Teachers of these sheltered instruction courses should also be trained in sheltered instruction for no fewer than three full days prior to the start of school; these three days should include discussion, participation, education about SIOP, and education about how to facilitate English language acquisition. Teachers should also attend trainings throughout the year on prescheduled professional development days, and they may be coached by SIOP specialists after classroom observations (Campos Acosta and Parra, n.d.).
In order to use SIOP effectively, teachers need access to several specific types of materials. For example, the “practice/application” stage requires teachers to provide hands-on activities for their students, which means teachers must have access to many different types of manipulatives (State of Maine, n.d.). In order to adapt materials to students’ levels, teachers need ways to differentiate learning. For example, teachers may need highlighting tape to draw attention to high-frequency words in readaloud books, or they may need an increased copy count or smartboard in order to effectively use graphic organizers (State of Maine, n.d.). Students also need realia, or hands-on items that illustrate new vocabulary, in order to support growth (Campos Acosta and Parra, n.d.).
Students in this program also have a great need for comprehensible input, so teachers must have access to photographs, film clips and other visuals in order to help students understand their directives (Campos Acosta and Parra, n.d.). These visual aids can also help students more richly understand text they are interacting with or things they are learning in science or social studies.
As in mainstream classrooms, teachers will need access to things like dry erase board and graphic organizer paper in order to assess learning and to make learning accessible for students (State of Maine, n.d.). Teachers will also need space and materials to create interactive word walls and classroom libraries, much like mainstream classrooms (Campos Acosta and Parra, n.d.). In these classroom libraries, teachers must have access to culturally diverse books in order to build students’ desire to read and to build their self-esteem. Books that reflect the culture of the students as well as the languages of the students should be present in this library.
School and district officials must also decide whether paraprofessionals can be provided for the sheltered ESL program. A bilingual paraprofessional fluent in one of the major languages spoken by students in the program (e.g., Arabic) is able to support instruction by using the language to activate students’ background knowledge, by helping to label the classroom in languages, and helping the teacher provide primary language support (Wright, 2009).
The school will offer professional development opportunities in ESL, sheltered instruction, and SIOP to all teachers. Teachers will be encouraged to pursue additional certification in ESL, and the school will provide training about SIOP that is open to all teachers as SIOP provides a solid foundation for all education, not just ESL education (Campos Acosta and Parra, n.d.). Furthermore, teachers will be educated about the cultures of the students and will be expected to show respect to all cultures at all times.
As in the two-way dual language program, TELPAS will be used at all grade levels to test the English speaking ability of all English-language learners. TELPAS ratings will be used to track progress and to inform which STAAR test is most appropriate for students. In kindergarten and first grade, TELPAS is holistic and informal, based on observations, while in upper grades, TELPAS involves benchmark exams, writing samples, and listening and speaking assessments. TELPAS is used in conjunction with ELPS in order to assign proficiency-level descriptors. These proficiency-level descriptors will “serve as a roadmap to help teachers tailor instruction to the linguistic needs of ELLs” (Educator Guide to TELPAS, 2011, pg. 6).
The LPAC will determine which STAAR test is most appropriate for students in the sheltered English program. Students who qualify as refugees and who are in their first year of school in the United States may be exempt from taking the STAAR examinations (TEA Student Assessment Division, 2015). Students may also qualify for the STAAR L, which is a linguistically adapted test for students who don’t yet have an advanced-high rating in TELPAS and have been in U.S. schools for three years or fewer (or five years or fewer if a qualifying refugee) (TEA Student Assessment Division, 2015). If the STAAR L is not appropriate for students, they may be eligible to take the STAAR with some linguistic accommodation (TEA Student Assessment Division, 2015).
Much like the dual-language program, information about the sheltered English program will be available at kindergarten round-up as well as information about the ways that parents can get involved. However, the sheltered language program targets a very different type of population than does the dual-language program. Therefore, it must be advertised in different ways and in different places.
The program administrators will work to develop informational flyers that talk about the structure of the sheltered English program and tout the benefits of it. These flyers will be translated into many different Middle Eastern languages and will be passed out at the kindergarten round-up. However, not everyone who will require these services will be entering kindergarten; not everyone entering kindergarten will have the wherewithal to attend the round-up. Consequently, these flyers will be available at social services agencies, in neighborhoods, at places of worship, and through Refugee Services of North Texas.
These flyers will also be available at registration, but they will not be alone. The program will also send translators to registration to assist with the process and to help parents understand the services their children will be receiving. At this registration, there will be copies of the home language survey, as required, but the school will be careful to ensure that there are also translated copies as well. The translator will help parents understand why they are filling out the survey and will help them grasp the importance of the sheltered ESL program.
There are many activities the school could participate in to demonstrate support of the students’ home cultures. By affirming these cultures, the school has the ability to involve parents and families and to make students feel like the school is an environment where the whole student is cared about.
Much as the two-way dual language program must work with the school to create a place where heritages are treasured, not discarded, teachers in this sheltered instruction program must also make a concerted effort to respect the heritages of their students. This may be more difficult as Middle Eastern students are likely to come from many different countries with many different languages, traditions, holidays, and religions. One way that teachers can help support these differences is to institute an annual “country study.” Each ESL classroom will research a chosen country, preferably one represented by students in the class, and will prepare a presentation on the history and culture of that country. Students will bring in realia, if possible, and food to share. Students, families, and school faculty/staff will be invited to go on a tour of each of the classrooms’ countries and share in the culture that is presented. This will be an attitude of mutual respect and community while allowing students to have fun and to hone their research and speaking skills. This activity can also be grown to involve every classroom in the school — a school “World Fair” where each classroom researches a country and presents to others, involving all English-language learners as well as English-proficient students. This activity also draws on the firsthand knowledge of parents, which puts them in a position of authority and empowers them to share their country with others, as opposed to feeling like the United States is being forced on them constantly.
Another important way the school can involve these Middle Eastern parents is through a family night for all families in the program. Program administrators will work to create invitations that are accessible to the families (e.g., translated into their home language, sent home through different means). The family night may be held at the school but may also be held at a location closer to the families’ locations. Each family night can have a theme and will involve food. Some family nights will be informational in theme, allowing parents to learn important things about their child’s education and the role they can play, while other family nights will be fun and centered around a theme (bingo night, math learning night) that allows parents and children to grow and have fun together. Regardless of the content, each family night will have several translators in attendance so that the language barrier becomes less of an issue (Robertson, 2014).
Providing Resources to Students and Families
These programs will rely not only on the support of the school district but also on several different community resources. Teachers in this program are eligible to apply for a grant from the Denton Public School Foundation, and school coordinators will work with teachers in order to help develop ideas that could be supported by grants (e.g., books in Spanish or Farsi, literacy support) (Denton Public School Foundation, 2015). The program will also be supported by Councilman Kevin Roden’s Mentor Denton initiative. By working with Councilman Roden, the school will establish partnerships with area volunteers in order to support students (particularly at-risk students) and the program in various ways through mentorship and man hours (Mentor Denton, 2015). Teachers will also be eligible to write DonorsChoose grants and crowdfund the resources they request for their classrooms.
In the City of Denton, there are many social service agencies to help with nutritional and medical needs, as well as other needs that may arise as a result of poverty. The Denton Independent School District has partnered with Interfaith Ministries to provide school supplies, a new backpack, two sets of school clothes, and a pair of shoes to students below the poverty line (Apple Tree, n.d.). Interfaith Ministries can also assist with other needs. Parents can receive help with meals through many area food pantries, including Our Daily Bread and First Refuge. Through the Health Services of North Texas program, parents can receive help with medical issues at three clinics in Denton; fees are on a sliding scale (2014). First Refuge Ministries also provides a health clinic for those in need that costs $10, plus laboratory and testing supply fees as needed (Medical Clinic, 2015). First Refuge also provides counseling services for mental health needs, also for $10 (Counseling Ministry, 2015). Families needing dental care can receive it through Denton Dental Mission; the group requests a $10 donation but will not turn anyone away for not having the money (Denton Dental Mission, 2015). Additional social services can be accessed through the United Way of Denton County, Inc.’s website.
Additional services are available to students who are considered refugees. They are eligible for help from Refugee Services of North Texas, which can help both families that come together and children who cross the Texas border unaccompanied (Refugee Services of North Texas, 2015).
Both Central American and Middle Eastern students will face challenges as they strive to learn English in Anytown, Texas. It is the hope of Thomas Jefferson Elementary School that through our dual-language and sheltered English program, these students will be best served and supported to meet their full potential. Through passionate teachers adhering to either the Gomez and Gomez or the SIOP model, these students will learn English as well as academic skills that will serve them well for life.
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