Friday, June 17, 2011

Just the beginning...

            At the start of this blog, I wanted to increase my pedagogical knowledge concerning English as a Second Language  (ESL) instruction. Throughout my college experience, I have found my ESL instruction to be inadequate in a real classroom; however, in the 4~ weeks I have committed to my blog, I have lifted one of the many veils hindering me in the ESL field.
            Along the way I have collected a number of new methods and strategies when working with English language learners (ELLs), but what I also discovered resides in the specialization of ESL. Being an ESL teacher requires more than just a bachelor’s degree in English education with an English for Students of Other Languages (ESOL) endorsement. Being able to effectively and successfully reach ELLs requires a number of things from teachers: attitudes, accurate understanding of ELLs’ cultures and linguistic difference, support from the administration and community, and lastly an enclosing pedagogical knowledge of instruction and methods specialized for ELLs.
            Even though my study of ESL instruction has not completely close my pedagogical gap concerning ESL instruction, it has informed me of what it takes to close that fissure.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Like Everybody Else," Right?

Reeves, J. (2004) “Like Everybody Else”: Equalizing Educational Opportunity for English Language Learners.  TESOL Quarterly. 38 (1) 43-66.

            Equal educational opportunities. All teachers, administrators, and parents should desire their students and/or children to have a realistic opportunity to take advantage of a school’s educational opportunities; however, grasping a hold of these equal educational opportunities would seem more difficult to some students than others. In her “’Like Everybody Else’: Equalizing Educational Opportunity for English Language Learners,” Jenelle Reeves argues that English Language Learners (ELLs) do not receive the same educational opportunities as mainstream native English speaking (NES) students. Reeves advocates that English Language learners need not just real educational opportunities, but “authentic and participatory” (62), which do not require ELLs to normalize into a “white English-speaking monolingual” (62) mold (Reeves, 2004).
            In her research, Reeves examined three teachers with ELLs in their classroom at Eaglepoint High School. By ignoring the diversity of ELLs, she discovered two products of inequalities relating ELLs:
            1. ELLs have a restricted access to course content
            2. ELLs are inaccurately assessed, and graded.
                                                                                    (Reeves, 2004).

            The major problem Reeves found during her research that contributed to the products of inequality resides in ELL education, teacher attitude, and the standardization of course and state exams (Reeves, 2004).
            ELL education and teacher attitude goes hand in hand. One of the reasons why teachers have an ignorant perspective of ELL is due to the lack of their second language acquisition education. For instance, in her research, Reeves (2004) noted the teachers holding the misconception of students being eligible for “equality of educational opportunities only after gaining full English proficiency” (60).
            Concerning the standardization of course and state exams, Reeves notes the teachers, at least the teachers in this high school, do not have control over ELLs grades or whether they pass the class. At the end of the course, students take a state end-of course (EOC) exam, and if the student passes the exam, the student passes the class. In addition, student who struggle in the mainstream classroom, ELLs especially, receive a “modified” grade, which defers and/or heavily restricts them from pursing a college path.
            Reeves (2004) formed a valid point: “access to opportunities [must be] authentic and participatory, and authentic and participatory educational opportunities should not require the normalization of students into white English-speaking monolinguals” (62).  Instead of selecting an educational model, Reeves expresses the need for an equal educational opportunity process that involves the entire community, various alternative ways to frame student success, and holding high expectations for all students (Reeves, 2004). 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Not in My Classroom!" A Cause for Concern

Walker, A., Shafer, J., & Liam, M. (2004) “Not in My Classroom”: Teacher Attitudes Towards English Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom. National Association for Bilingual Education Journal of Research and Practice, 2 (1), 130-160.

            “Not in my classroom!” I shiver and cringe every time I hear the statement, especially when the statement concerns culturally and linguistically diverse students. In the article “’Not in My classroom’: Teacher Attitudes Towards English Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom,” Anne Walker, Jill Shafer, and Michelle Liam surveyed 422 K-12 teachers and interviewed six English Language Learner (ELL) teachers about their attitudes concerning ELLs. Walker et al discovered an alarming amount of negative to neutral attitudes mainstream teachers held towards ELLs. Through their research, the authors uncovered a number of factors contributing to mainstream teachers’ negative and neutral attitudes; moreover, through their research, Walker et al question mainstream teachers’ ability to teach ELLs and, consequently, the broken inclusive ideology. Walker et al  (2004) calls for the “professional development efforts in helping teachers effectively teach ELLs in an inclusive setting” (156), which requires comprehensive, appropriate, and long-term instruction.
            In Walker et al’s research, the author identified five factors or themes that contribute to the teacher’s attitudes:

            1. Time and Teacher Burden: Walker et al report many teachers feel overwhelmed with preexisting demands place upon them. Taking on demands concerning ELLs causes the survey teachers to fell like they have too much on his or her plate (Walker et al, 2004).

            2. Lack of Training: “Estimated that 88% of K-12 teachers nationwide have no training in [English as a Second Language (ESL)]” (142), Walker et al find many teachers have a sense of failure, frustration, and ill preparedness when working with ELLs (Walker et al, 2004). However, the authors note teachers with little ESL training want ELLs in their class, acknowledges the need for diversity, and believes mainstream teachers need to accommodate ELLs instructional needs (Walker et al 2004).

            3. The Influence of Negative Administrators Attitudes: In their article, the authors also discovered administrators’ negative attitudes to have a great amount of influence; for instance, a principal of a school deals with serious behavioral problems and when a principal holds a negative attitude towards ELLs, the negative view produces serious ethical issues. One example the authors give relates to free breakfast and speaking English. One school’s policy withheld the free federal breakfast from ELLs who were caught speaking their native language (Walker et al, 2004). Clearly, the negative attitudes of administrators have a shocking effect. 

            4. Malignant Misnomers about Effective ELL Education: Concerning this factor, Walker et al discuss various myths about effective ELL education. For instance, 15% of the teachers interviewed thought minimizing an ELL second language improved their English acquisition. In addition, 7% of the teachers surveyed believed ELL should be fluent in English after only one year of ELL instruction (Walker et al, 2004).

            5. The Ideology of Common Sense: Alarmingly, the authors report 51% of the teachers had a resistance to their own professional development concerning the education of ELLs. Walker et al (2004) note survey comments like, “Teachers don’t need specialized ESL training; common sense and good intentions work fine” (145). Nevertheless, Walker et al (2004), citing Banks, Calderon & Carreon, and Morgan, state “most experts in ELL education would agree, common sense and good intentions are important in working with ELLs, but the complexity of the job requires a broad range of knowledge in second language acquisition, linguistics, multicultural education and ELL pedagogy” (146).

            In “Not in My Classroom,” Walker et al have noted an alarming mind set in teachers survey in their study. The authors point to the myths and misconceptions of ELL education as having a perversely effect on teachers. In their study, the negative attitudes do alarm Walker et al; however, it is the neutral attitudes that truly frighten them. If the negative views of teachers spawned from the five factors or themes mentioned above, then Walker et al worry teachers with neutral attitudes will fall into a negative mindset. As stated above, Walker et al mainstream teachers need professional development in comprehensive, appropriate, and long-term ELL instruction for an inclusive model to work (Walker et al, 2004); however, they are worried the changed need in ELL instruction will come too late for many ELLs. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Amazing Dual Language Education

Collier, V, P., & Thomas, W, P. (2004) The Astounding Effectiveness of Dual Language Education for All. National Association for Bilingual Education Journal of Research and Practice. 2 (1), 1-20.

            The achievement gap. A academic gap separating disadvantaged students from becoming successful in America’s school system (please note, the “achievement gap” can refer to not just cognitive gaps, but social, racial, sexual, and economical). In the education profession, teachers hold the responsibly to close the achievement gap and ensure all students academically stand at grade-level or above grade level; however, assisting every student to the grade-level or above standard can be a overwhelming task, especially for English Language Learners (ELLs).
            In Virginia P. Collier and Wayne P. Thomas’ article “The Astounding Effectiveness of Dual Language Education for All,” Collier and Thomas examine 23 different and diverse school districts under a dual language enrichment program. As the title of the article indicates, the authors discovered one-way and two-way dual language programs to close the academic achievement gap by 70%-100%+ by the 5th grade. Analyzing the information collected over an 18-year period, the authors clearly advocate for dual language education programs, not just for ELLs, but also for every student.

First, Enrichment and Remedial
            In their article, Collier and Thomas make a clear distinction between enrichment programs and remedial programs. The enrichment model, or the enrichment dual language schooling, helps ELLs completely close the academic achievement gap between students’ first and second language; moreover, the authors also note the closing of the achievement gap for all categories of students (Collier & Thomas, 2004).
            Simply stated, “remedial programs only partially close the gap” (Collier & Thomas, 2004, pg 1). The researchers consider the following remedial programs: intensive English classes, English as a second language (ESL) pullout, ESL content/sheltered instruction, structured English Immersion, and transitional bilingual education (Collier & Thomas, 2004). The major problem, according to the authors, with remedial programs resides in the program’s inability to effectively close the gap. Collier and Thomas found the remedial programs widen the academic gap as the student proceeds to challenging secondary education.


From the plethora of data collected and presented, Figure 5 summarizes the effectiveness of the four types of dual language program. From the figure, the reader notes all the dual language programs close the achievement gap by at least 70%. When examining Figure 5’s set of data, the authors indicate the percentage of gap closed ends at the 5th grade; in addition, Collier and Thomas mentions the students who failed to close their achievement gap by the 5th grade do so in their middle school years. In addition, Figure 5 shows the achievement gap lessens significantly by the students’ National Curve Equivalent (NCEs); moreover, students in the dual language programs perform 55%-62% better than ELLs in mainstream classrooms.

Getting to Dual Language Programs
            In their article, Collier and Thomas describe a few requirements of implementing a district dual language program. The first requirement resides in the administration approval of implementing dual language program. The second requirement relies on 6 principles the authors note as essential:
            1. Minimum of six years of Bilingual instruction with ELLs not segregated
            2. A focus on the core academic curriculum rather than a watered-don             version
            3. High-quality language arts instruction in both languages and integrated             into thematic units
            4. Separation of the two languages with no translation or repeated lessons in             the other languages,
            5. Use of the non-English language at least 50% of the instructional time and             as much as 90% in the early grades
            6.Use of collaborative and interactive teaching strategies
                                                                               (Collier & Thomas, 2004, pg 13).
            By examining the information Collier and Thomas presents, one can see the effectiveness of dual language programs: ELLs are completely closing the academic achievement gap, parents and teachers see the progress of their students and/or children, and native and non-native speakers form a cultural and linguistic experience with one another.
            However, when reading the research, I was, as the title inferred, astonished. For ELLs to close the academic achievement gap within five to eight years is quite powerful; nevertheless, I do see implications for a dual language program model. One implication resides in the name, “dual language program.” The success of the program rests on the shoulders of having only two languages; for instance, what if a school implemented a two-way dual language program with instruction in English and Spanish. The instruction and practice, I would assume, work effectively and successfully; however, once a student of another culture enters the school district, a problem surfaces. Is a student from another culture supposed to learn English and Spanish in a dual language program without the same effective method the other students are obtaining? I would conclude the student from a different culture might as well be in an intensive English inclusive classroom.
            Many more implications for a dual language program exist; however, the implication mentioned in the paragraph previously resides as a substantial issue in my opinion. If a school district has a clear distinction between two linguistically diverse cultures in their community, a dual language program would work wonders. On the other hand, if a school district has a linguistically diverse community, then dual language programs might not be the best option. Instead, another method would be required to successfully reach our English Language Learners. 

The ESL Elephant

Harper, C, A., de Jong, E, J. (2009). English Language Teacher Expertise: The Elephant in the Room. Language and Education, 23 (2), 137-151.

            Through the journey of becoming a teacher, one strategy or technique taught to future teachers resides in reflection. When reflecting, teachers examine various pedagogical methods, student interaction, assessment, and many other issues that help teachers become better at their practice. From my own experience, I have discovered reflection to stand as a powerful tool; for instance, from reflecting on my own personal education, I have realized my inadequacies in ESL education. Future teachers, or at least my fellow peers and myself, have recognized the inadequate instruction our institution, and/or similar institutions, provides its body of future educators, which the institution’s primary goal is producing highly qualified teachers.
            However, my own concerns are not unnoted in the field of education. In Candace A. Harper and Ester J. de Jong’s article “English Language Teacher Expertise: The Elephant in the Room,” the authors examine how the ESL specialization is being dismantled by Florida’s goal of producing highly qualified teachers, as stated above; however, what some readers might interpret as culling an unneeded position, other readers see an educational travesty in educating Florida’s, and other English language learners (ELLs) across the nation, ELLs.
            The Harper and de Jong (2009) argue, due to “external (legislative and policy) pressures and internal (professional and curricular) developments” (138), the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) and bilingual education is a core content area that simply cannot be effectively filled by mainstream teachers (Harper & de Jong, 2009). The authors point to the policy implementations as a main reason of failure for providing proper instruction to ELLs.
            For instance, in Florida, it is required of future teachers to gain an ESOL endorsement, which proves to the state that future teachers are prepared to work with ELLs; however, the authors report these specific amounts of hours are inadequate for mainstream teachers to educate ELLs (Harper & de Jong, 2009). Instead of taking mainstream strategies and expanding on them, teachers look for the simplistic approach as solutions to complex linguistic, cultural and educational issues (Harper & de Jong, 2009). Harper and de Jong (2009) note disheartening comments from a simplistic ideology: “Teachers don’t need specialized ESL training; common sense and good intentions work fine” (143). This comment, along with the voiced concerns of Harper and de Jong, notes that ELLs success is not through “generic, remedial, and skills-based approach” (146), but through professional development of instruction that go beyond increasing comprehension input and providing a welcoming environment. Instruction geared towards ELLs must “target more informed attitudes towards teaching linguistically and culturally diverse students, deeper understanding of second language and literacy development and of the language demands of the content area texts and tasks, and more sophisticated approaches to integrating langue and content instruction” (Harper & de Jong, 2009, pg 147). 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Inclusion or Separation?

Platt, E, Harper, C, & Mendoza, M.B. (2003). Dueling Philosophies: Inclusion or Separation for Florida’s English Language Learners? TESOL Quarterly, 37(1), 105-133.

            Concerning English for Students of Other Languages (ESOL) education, two models surface: inclusion and separation. Many educators, administrators, and parents find themselves disagreeing with one another over which model serves English Language Learners, students, or their children the best. In Elizabeth Platt, Candace Harper, and Maria Beatriz Mendoza’s article “Dueling Philosophies: Inclusion or Separation for Florida’s English Language Learners,” the authors examine the separation model and inclusion model for ESOL instruction. Using data from 29 district-level ESL administrator interviews, Platt et al discuss the positive and negative of each model; however, the reader can note a heavy emphasis the authors place on the parallel trends inclusion shares with national and international contextual standardizations in the inclusion model (Platt et al, 2003). In addition, issues of impartiality for English language learners (ELLs) and the specialization of English as a Second Language (ESL)/English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teaching profession emerge as complications of continuing down an inclusive path.
            When examining full inclusion, Platt et al (2003) explain that the inclusive prose or rhetoric removes ELLs from its “ideology of individualism and meritocracy” (108). But how does the much-advertised inclusive model remove ELLs from its umbrella ideology? One way to examine this detachment is through previously established separation models. Platt et al (2003), citing Laurie Olsen (1997), states 

The authors explain the once educational pedagogy and policies, which stem from civil rights, are now stigmatized with negative associations like “segregation, divisiveness, or special treatment” (108); for example, bilingual and ESL programs name a few. Some educators, administrators, and/or parents may challenge Platt et al’s view by insisting full inclusion provides each individual with the same education and the same opportunities; nevertheless, the claims from Platt el al argue the recent trends in accountability and standardization of curriculum and assessment has excluded ELLs from the full inclusion model, which advocates for full participation and success in school (Platt et al, 2003).
            On the other spectrum of an inclusive model, separation models aim to provide specialized services in a separate environment, which “facilitates equal access to the curriculum in a timely and effective manner” (Platt et al, 2003, pg 109); however, the problem with a separation model resides in how one defines discrimination. Educators, administrators, and parents opposed to a separation model find separating their students or children would breach various rights and acts; for instance, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (1975), the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (1997), and various individual liberties stemming from the Bill of Rights identify some of the various rights or acts a separation model might violate. However, due to the ambiguous specifications of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of what accurately defined discrimination, many separation instructional programs (bilingual and ESL programs) went under heavy scrutiny from methods potentially discriminatory (Platt et al, 2003).
            Even though both models provide pros and cons, my perspective of Platt et al’s article falls in the successfully educating of ELLs. According to the article, research has been presented to support both models. On the one hand, I agree with Platt et al that the inclusion model has drifted away from its purpose to provide equity to all students; however, I still insist teachers, administrators, and parents show strive towards the success and excellence of educating ELLs. Is the inclusion model better, or the separation model? Although I recognize the much-advertised inclusion model’s ideology, and the inclusive drift that is to follow—according to Platt et al, I still maintain that our primary goal is the successful and excellence of education ELLs, whether in a inclusion model or separation model. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Apologizes to the Canvas-Eyed Student

To The Canvas-eyed Student:
            A few months ago, while teaching your class, I turned from the white board and faced the class to quickly check for understanding. As our eyes met, failure and ill-preparedness washed over me as I saw your wide blinking eyes gaze at me like an untouched canvas.
            As a teacher, the situation portrayed above leaves a haunting experience in my own mind. The previous glimpse depicts one of my first interactions teaching your class. As you may assume, the lesson I taught did not smoothly rest in your mind, and I’m sure other students felt the same. 
            Nevertheless, to you, the canvas-eyed student, I am sorry: I’m sorry for my pedagogical arrogance; I’m sorry for my poor delivery; I’m sorry for rushing through the lesson and not taking the time to clear your confusion…
            I could continue apologizing for my pedagogical errors; however, where would that get me? I would still be the same teacher on that same day teaching another lesson the same way. I could also make excuses for my failure; for instance, the inadequate instruction I received at my university, but yet again, where would that get me?
            The way I see it, two options stand before me: give up on the education profession, or try my damnedest to become that effective teacher you, and every other student, needs. I, with all my effort, choose the latter. Throughout my instruction and experience, I have heard that individuals striving to become teachers, and even teachers in their 1st to 3rd year of teaching, WILL experience failure, unpreparedness, and any other haunting horrid feeling that comes with the territory; however, hearing the deemphasization of those feeling will never truly settle with me.
            So, to the wide canvas-eyed student, I will stop apologizing for my pedagogical errors and/or failures, and start making promises. Promises that I will continuously try to better my practice and become the effective teacher students like you need.

With determining promises,
~A. Athas

Lexical Inferencing

Nassaji, H. (2003). L2 Vocabulary Learning from Context: Strategies, Knowledge Sources, and Their Relationship with Success in L2 Lexical Inferencing. TESOL Quarterly, 37(4), 645-670.

            One important skill English teachers and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teachers must help their students develop is inferencing. Hossein Nassaji (2003), author of the TESOL Quarterly article “L2 Vocabulary Learning from Context: Strategies, Knowledge Sources, and Their Relationship With Success in L2 Lexical Inferencing,” examines “the success of intermediate ESL learners’ inferencing when they come across unknown words in a written test” (646). In his study, Nassaji discovered a large percentage of ELLs had difficulty inferring new word meanings from context; actually, of the total inferential responses made by the 21 ESL learners, 18.6% of the responses were partially successful and 55.8% were unsuccessful (Nassaji, 2003). Noting the process of inferencing and its complexity, Nassaji provides a method and the most effective strategies to help ELLs use appropriate, collaborative strategies and knowledge sources when inferring the meaning of an unknown word. By using methods like the one he provided and collaborative strategies and knowledge sources, the author predicts ELLs will be able to more successfully infer unknown words.

But First,
            In Nassaji’s study, he makes a distinction between strategies and knowledge sources. Before discussing effective strategies and knowledge sources, a short definition of the two will help the reader understand the difference between strategies and knowledge sources. Strategies refer to the “conscious cognitive or metacognitive activities that the learner [uses] to gain control over or understand the problem without any explicit appeal to any knowledge source as assistance” (Nassaji, 2003, pg. 655). Knowledge sources refer to the learner’s knowledge utilized by the learner, which particular pertain to grammatical, morphological, discourse, world, or L1 knowledge (Nassaji, 2003).
The Good and The Bad
            The following tables exemplify the various strategies Nassaji examines in the study. The first table contains knowledge sources utilized in making lexical inferences. The second table contains strategies utilized in making lexical inferences.  

Out of these 11 different categories, he identified the top two utilized skills in his study. Concerning knowledge sources, he found world knowledge as the most frequently used (46.2%), followed by morphological knowledge (26.9%) (Nassaji, 2003).
            Nassaji indentified the top two strategies as word repeating (39.7%) and section repeating (24%) (Nassaji, 2003).  Nevertheless, the top two skills mentioned previously only represent the skills used most frequently by students.
            Upon further analysis, Nassaji discovered a variation in the success of inferring unknown words. Corresponding with the most frequent, he presented morphological and world knowledge to be the most successful in knowledge source-based inferential success (Nassaji, 2003). Concerning Strategies, he found verifying and self-inquiry strategies to be the most successful, even though the students in his study rarely used those strategies.

A Single Method
            At the end of Nassaji’s study, he notes ELLs making lexical inferences require a great deal effort. Nassaji (2003) suggests teachers “should devote part of the class time to identifying, defining, and explaining the new words to the students” (664). As teachers, explicit instruction of new vocabulary words is essential for ELLs. Once students begin to add new words to their mental lexicon, building various links and knowledge components, students will be able to successfully utilize various strategies and knowledge sources to help decode unknown words (Nassaji, 2003).
            According to Nassaji, since ELLs’ have difficulty with inferencing skills, he suggests a method: segmented texts. The author suggests that teachers present students with short and segmented texts. During the reading of those texts, students can focus on the unknown words in each segment. As students infer the unknown words in each segment, students will use their prior knowledge of previous segments to infer future passages (Nassaji, 2003).
            By utilizing the information presented in his study, Nassaji predicts learners will become more “conscious of the role of contextual clues and strategies”, and by doing so, they will gain “control over their relevant information and knowledge sources in the wider section of text” (pg 665).