Tag Archives: English Language Learners

Agents of Accountability

by Lorna Collier

Literacy specialists Betsy Gilliland and Shannon Pella offer a variety of insights on how teachers can provide a more equitable education for English language learners in Beyond “Teaching to the Test”: Rethinking Accountability and Assessment for English Language Learners, their new book from NCTE.

The progress ELLs make can go unrecognized in the face of low standardized test scores, so Pella and Gilliland recommend bringing these achievements to the attention of administrators and others within the school system, as well as to parents and community members.

“What I’m hoping is that teachers see themselves as the agents of accountability,” says Pella.

“When we take accountability into our own hands, we’re collecting and analyzing a variety of types of classroom assessment data in order to track and understand how well our English learners are growing.”

These data can help teachers explain to parents and the school community how well English learners are progressing, she says, which is “a totally different narrative than what the school may be able to show in one isolated test score.”

Some of the ways teachers can spread news about ELL student progress to parents and the community include:

  • Keeping parents updated through websites and monthly newsletters, translated if needed;

  • Calling parents, using an interpreter if needed (but not the child, in case there are matters you want to discuss confidentially);

  • Inviting the families to bilingual family nights, where parents, siblings and other relatives can see what the students are doing and participate in activities that show off the child’s abilities, such as creating a bilingual book in English and the student’s home language; and

  • Encouraging the school to host online or in-person events open to the community to share student work and achievements.

Read more in the article “Flipping Accountability on Its Head” in the September 2017 Council Chronicle. 

Read a sample chapter or order the book. 

Lorna Collier is a writer and editor based in northern Illinois.

 

What Happened in Your State This August?

During August, thirteen policy analysts published reports about what occurred in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia.

ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act)

Delaware: Zoi Philippakos shared the Approval of ESSA Plan for Delaware with “an ambitious and rigorous plan addressing graduation rates, ELA and math goals, and English Language Learners.”

Louisiana: Jalissa Bates also reported that Louisiana’s ESSA plan was approved.

Montana: Anna Baldwin described Montana’s ESSA Plan as relying on test scores and emphasizing graduation rates and school quality. Anna describes the disconnect over the treatment of English language learners and the bottom 5% of schools.

Ohio: In her Status Update on ESSA Implementation, Robin Holland relayed that after review by Governor Kasich, Ohio will submit its ESSA application to the US Department of Education in September.

Texas: In her ESSA Update, Teri Lesesne noted that despite stakeholders emphasizing critical thinking, raising salaries, and funding as important, the plan under review “relies on the same old, same old measures of ‘excellence,’ namely, test scores.”

Vermont: Anne Slonaker listed the additional information and revisions that the US Department of Education requested of Vermont.

Virginia: Leila Christenbury described the Accountability Plan Proposed for Struggling Virginia Schools as “far less draconian and also less prescriptive than previous Virginia-recommended school interventions.”

PreK–12

California: Laurie Stowell presented both sides of the Assembly Bill to delay middle and high school start times, concluding that if it passed, California would be the first to legislate statewide school start times.

Pennsylvania: Aileen Hower reported on the introduction of a bill to expand Pennsylvania’s Education Savings Account (ESA) program to provide funding for low-income students at private schools. She then provided a rebuttal by critics who claim that ESAs are “just vouchers by another name.” Aileen shared that Governor Tom Wolf announced a reduction in PSSA testing.

Texas: Teri Lesesne shared that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has created a new “parent portal” that provides information about the state test (STAAR) and Lexiles. She referred to Shona Rose’s blog post describing her phone call with TEA about the writing portion of STAAR. Teri also reported that school finance would wait two years until the Texas legislature convenes again.

Higher Education

California: Referring to the 2017 IES report, Carol Olson highlighted that “context (e.g., type of institution, SAT/ACT scores, age, and race) matters when it comes to remaining enrolled or graduating from programs.”

Florida: Jeffrey Kaplan delineated the struggle in Florida over Online Higher Education, with the governor wanting to expand the number of students taking virtual courses and legislators viewing such an expansion as detrimental to Florida having an “elite” higher education system.

New Mexico: Kate Mangelsdorf noted that New Mexico is “one of ten states in the country with the highest reductions in spending per student in higher education,” even though the “value . . . for students in New Mexico remains high.” She continued that Budget Cuts Affect University Writing Programs, with fewer students being served and successful initiatives being curtailed.

Both PreK–12 and Higher Education

Connecticut: In English Language Learners in Connecticut, Stephen Ferruci described the challenges that English language learners face in light of new ESSA requirements. He referenced H.B. 3865 that would have required bilingual education, but was never brought up on the floor, and a study concluding that dual-language programs are successful. He raised concerns over Connecticut loosening requirements for certification and employing the “use of the Relay Graduate School of Education, a program that fast-tracks certification . . . and . . . that has been rejected by Connecticut’s Board of Higher Education.”

New Mexico: Kate Mangelsdorf provided an Educational Equity Court Case Update regarding the lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty claiming that ELL, Native American, and low-income students were not receiving the “educational opportunities guaranteed by the New Mexico Constitution.”

Community Literacies en Confianza, Part I

This post is written by member Steven Alvarez. This is the first of two parts. 

In my book Community Literacies en Confianza: Learning from Bilingual After-School Programs, I focus on ethnographic case studies of two communities of students and families, the Kentucky United Latinos (KUL) and the Valle del Bluegrass Library (VBL). The communities were composed of emergent bilingual students and parents learning about schools as they learned English—in the case of VBL, students from preK to middle school, and for KUL, high school students. The two communities illustrated in two different contexts how emergent bilingual students and their families collectively navigated school systems and the English language with the help of after-school programs and their networks of members, teachers, and volunteers. I draw upon my experiences with KUL and VBL to create portraits of bilingual after-school communities that do this kind of work to offer relatable contexts that detail how schools and teachers can partner and draw from surrounding community learning. From these portraits, I explore what lessons we can draw from them that could impact how we teach writing in school. The focus on community puts the local knowledge and experiences of students and families in the forefront.

VBL had offered free after-school homework tutoring for emergent bilingual youths for over a decade. Located in a barrio of a small city in central Kentucky, the library mediated between the newly growing Latin American immigrant community in the area and local institutions, primarily local schools. VBL was the only bilingual public library in the state, and also the only one to offer after-school homework assistance, thanks in part to volunteer tutors and assistance from library staff. The homework assistance program served youth in grades K–8. Different VBL programs and events, however, were geared to preK, high school, and adult audiences.

Bilingual signs announcing homework help at VBL. The library was a valuable bilingual resource for the community.

The Kentucky United Latinos (KUL) after-school club formed in 2011 at a high school not too far away from the barrio where VBL stood. In fact, KUL often met at VBL since many students lived within walking distance of the library. Most of the KUL students had VBL library cards and had participated in the library’s programs when they were younger. With the coordinating assistance of teachers, KUL also partnered with a middle school to sponsor a mentorship program between students. KUL members met with middle school students to provide advice and guidance in English and Spanish to Latino/a students destined for their high school. KUL members encouraged the students to get involved in middle school activities and seek out ways to volunteer to help their communities. The KUL members noted the importance of making a strong academic start as a ninth grader, and how their community service prepared them for college and future internships.

High school student Bianca, with collaboration from the classmates in her ELL course at school, drew the artwork above entitled Don’t Cry. Bianca, a ninth grader, had migrated to Kentucky from Cuba earlier in the school year, and, since arriving, she had been a member of KUL. Bianca drew the figure and passed the drawing around to each of her classmates to write “don’t cry” in their home languages. Notice the rich linguistic diversity in her classroom.

Steven Alvarez is assistant professor of Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Studies at the University of Kentucky. His research explores the languages and literacies of Latino immigrants in New York City and Kentucky.

To read more of Steven Alvarez’s works, please visit Translanguaging Literacies and Community Ethnographies.

Steven Alvarez recorded Confidence in Community Literacies: Bilingual Writers Reading the World, an On Demand Webinar for NCTE.

What Happened in Your State This June?

This past month, nine policy analysts published reports about what occurred in the following states: Arkansas, California, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Higher Education

California: Daniel Melzer reported that the Cal State System Proposed to End Placement Exams and replace them with high school grades and course work, SAT, or ACT scores. He cited faculty concerns over “lack of local autonomy regarding assessment and placement.” Daniel also shared that the Report on Acceleration Writing Models in California Community Colleges revealed student success.

Michigan: In University of Michigan Offers Free Tuition for Low-Income Students, Robert Rozema described the Go Blue Guarantee program for high-achieving, low-income students.

New Hampshire: Alexandria Peary explained the House of Representatives Bill Requiring Annual Report of Remedial Courses. HB 180 would require postsecondary institutions to submit annual reports delineating the number and subjects of courses offered, enrollment, and costs.

PreK–12

Arkansas: Similar to her report last month, Donna Wake notes in Charter School Saved by External Resources that the Walton Family Foundation provided the funding to allow a charter school, initially slated for revocation, to remain open.

Idaho: Darlene Dyer shares that Preschool Funding and Enrollment Climbs Nationally but No Funding for Idaho, concluding that “If 90 per cent of Idaho’s 3- and 4-year-olds do not have access to preschool (as current figures purport), the impact will be felt for decades in the local economy.”

Montana: Anna Baldwin explains the Scholarship Tax Credit now allowed for contributions to a scholarship organization and the conflict over monies going to religious schools.

Pennsylvania: Aileen Hower reported, [Governor] Wolf to Sign Law Granting Career-track Students Alternatives to Keystone Exit Exams. These students would be able to demonstrate competency through their grades and alternate assessments or industry-based certifications.  In Report Reveals Eye-opening Data on English Learners in Philadelphia Schools, Aileen submitted an excerpt from Newsworks revealing how quickly immigrant students in Philadelphia learn English.

Washington: Barbara Ward described the state of Washington grappling with Funding Woes in a special session to address the high court’s demand that the state pay a fair share of costs for teacher salaries. Barbara also wrote about Possible Changes in State Testing Requirements for High Schoolers, allowing students who fail state-mandated tests in English language arts to show their proficiency in other ways.

Both PreK-12 and Higher Education

New Mexico: In State of New Mexico Sued for Inequities in Educational Opportunities, Erin O’Neill notes that the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty sued, “claiming that budget cuts and underfunding are preventing Native American students, ELL learners, and low-income students from receiving the necessary educational opportunities guaranteed by the state constitution.”

Don’t Forget about the Talk! Boosting Oral Language in Small-Group Reading

This is a guest post by Shannon Croston. 

As a literacy coach in an international school, where almost all of our students are learning English as a second (or third!) language, I often hear this question: How do I foster students’ language development alongside their reading development?

Are you wondering the same thing? Here is one way to do it.

PASS

shannoncroston3

Picture Warm-Up

Start your guided reading or small-group reading lesson with a short, student-led conversation about a picture. Think about the words in the book or text they will be reading that may be new to students or may be somewhat unfamiliar. Vincent Ventura suggests finding a picture that can evoke an emotion or reaction that will give your students the opportunity to use that vocabulary before they jump into the book. It is this emotion or reaction that will start the conversation. Reveal the picture in a dramatic way and then get out of the way. This is a student-to-student talk; no teacher involvement! You may even choose to stand behind the students so they will look and talk to one another. The goal is for them to use whatever words they have independently and to feel confident expressing themselves.

Younger children love funny animal pictures and older students tend to be motivated by surprising action shots. This could be a picture from the book, or just an image you found online that references words you know students will encounter when reading.

Use the students’ ideas to segue into your book introduction. Since your students were just engaged in talking about the ideas in the book, they will be ready to learn new key vocabulary. They will be motivated to use these new words because the words stem from their own conversation.

Ask questions

As you begin your small-group reading lesson, be conscious of your own language. Push yourself to ask questions instead of instructing as much as possible. Who’s Doing the Work suggests instead of guiding students to do a picture walk before reading, ask them, “What can we do to get ready to read this book?” When a student gets stuck on a word, don’t tell them what strategy to use. Ask them, “What can you do to try to solve that word?” Give students as much opportunity to do the talking and thinking as possible. Be a facilitator and depend on asking questions so that students can practice explaining their thinking and using language to think through the process.

shannoncrostonsharedwriting

Shared Writing

The next step in boosting oral language during small group reading comes after the reading. Ask comprehension questions that explicitly set students up to use new vocabulary from the book. Always allow students to answer in turn-and-talk partnerships so that every student can answer every question, thereby significantly raising the amount of language used compared to answering one question and listening to others.

Solidify this language practice by turning the comprehension discussion after reading into a shared writing experience. Have each student choose one idea or thought about the book. Before sharing with the group, allow students to say their idea in a complete sentence to their partner to rehearse, which is important for language learners. Encourage students to use the new vocabulary words and share as detailed a sentence as they can.

As each student shares their sentence out loud, you may choose to take a quick moment to talk about different ways to express an idea in English. For example, if a student shares “The house of the boy is big” you can introduce possessives in English and offer the suggestion “The boy’s house is big.” It is important that you are not correcting students, but rather guiding them to other possibilities for sentence structures to express the same idea. If students feel that you are correcting them, it will seriously inhibit them from taking risks and trying to use more complicated vocabulary and sentences. Allow the students to choose if or how they would like to reword or lengthen their sentences, and then write the student’s sentence onto a piece of chart paper. Doing the writing of the sentences for the students provides a scaffold for all of their attention to be focused on the language.

shannoncrostonguidedreading

Shared Reading

What about fluency? The text, or sentences, created by the students during the share writing on chart paper can be an excellent source for shared reading. You can end the lesson, or begin the next day’s lesson, with a choral read and rereading opportunities. Students are invested in this text because it was created with their ideas. If you guided an effective language discussion as students created their sentences, the resulting text should be just outside of the students’ productive language parameters. This group read will take only a few short minutes but will have a big impact.

PASS fits into a balanced literacy classroom and can be used in pieces or in its entirety. Supporting students’ language development is key to English learners’ success during reading instruction.

Shannon Croston works with P–5 teachers as a literacy coach at the American School of Guatemala. She draws on 11 years of teaching experience in Georgia, Connecticut, and Washington, now focusing on English learners in an international setting.