How can schools help close the achievement gap for English language learners (ELLs) and what can we do to increase college readiness for these students? Our panel of experts discusses ways that schools can become more and improve instruction for ELL students. Learn about techniques for building trust and partnerships with families; ways to adapt classroom instruction to improve comprehension, and strategies to increase college readiness.
Kathleen Leos is the President and CEO of The Global Institute for Language and Literacy Development (GILD), which advises state and district departments of education and higher education institutions on transforming education into high-quality, comprehensive systems that ensure English Language Learners (ELLs) achieve academic success. Previously, Ms. Leos served as the Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director to the US Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA), where she was principal advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Education on all matters related to ELL students.
Deborah Santiago, is the co-founder and Vice President for Policy and Research at Excelencia in Education where her current research focuses on state and federal policy, accountability, program evaluation, and student success in higher education. Previously, Deborah worked with federal agencies to evaluate how their programs served Latinos and produced multiple reports on the status of Latinos in education as the Deputy Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.
Susan Lafond creates and leads professional development programs for the new York State United Teachers Union and serves on the American Federation of Teachers’ English Language Learning advisory cadre. She was a classroom teacher for 20 years, including ten years as an ELL instructor.
Background on the ELL Population in the U.S.
Good Instruction for ELLs
Working with ELL Families
ELLs and College Readiness
- What are the challenges your school faces in making ELLs students and families feel welcome? What are some ways your school has tried to overcome these challenges?
- What can teachers in content classes do to teach content and language simultaneously? What are some possible collaboration models for content and ESL teachers?
- Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFEs) present unique challenges as compared to students that immigrate to the US with a strong educational background. What can schools and teachers at your school do to work with this subgroup of ELLs?
- Describe the impediments that stand in the way of an ELL attending college? How could your school increase the likelihood of ELLs going to college and completing a post-secondary degree?
- What types of professional development activities do you think would be helpful to teachers who want to learn more about effective academic English instruction?
- If states adopt common standards and assessments, how do you think these standards should be modified to consider the challenges and needs of ELLs?
Delia Pompa: How can schools help close the achievement gap for English language learners and what can we do to increase college readiness for these students? Please join me for the four-part AdLit.org webcast.
How can schools help close the achievement gap for English language learners and what can we do to increase college readiness for these students? Please join me for the four part AdLit.org webcast, English language learners.
Delia Pompa: Hello, I’m Delia Pompa, welcome to the AdLit.org webcast, English language learners. In this segment of our four part series, we’ll be discussing trends among English language learners, or ELL’s. Joining me are three experts, Kathleen Leos. Kathleen is the president of the Global Institute for Language and Literacy Development.
Kathleen previously served as the Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Office of English Language Acquisition in the Department of Education, that’s a very long title. Deborah Santiago, is the vice president of Excelencia in Education, where her research is focused on state and federal policy as well as Latino and ELL success in higher education.
And finally, Susan Lafond creates and leads professional development programs for the New York State Teachers Union and serves on the American Federation of Teachers English Language Learning advisory cadre. She was a classroom teacher for 20 years including 10 years as an ELL instructor. Thank you all for joining us.
Kathleen, let’s begin with you. Tell us a bit about ELL’s, who are these students and how large is the population in our US schools?
Kathleen Leos: Well we have lots of recent statistics and we know that there are five and a half million English language learners or what used to be called students who were limited English proficient. And they’re in our K-12 classrooms throughout the country. The majority of the students of our ELL’s are Spanish speakers, about 76 percent speak Spanish, that’s their first language and the language spoken at home.
And the rest of the students in the smaller percentage category, speak really a variety of languages, Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Thai, Navajo, but, but a much smaller percentage. The other thing that we, we know about our ELL’s is they’re all over the country and what was typically thought of an ELL, either being in the high populated states of New York, Florida, Texas or California, now ELL’s everywhere.
We know that they’re through the Southeast, in North Carolina, Tennessee, et cetera, et cetera. So and a really fast growing population, 10 percent annual growth.
Delia Pompa: Deborah, what states are we seeing the highest growth rate in for English language learners?
Deborah Santiago: Well we’re seeing a lot of that growth in the South, so in California about 11 percent of their students are English language learners. In Texas, about 10 percent; Arizona, nine percent; New Mexico, seven percent. So we’re seeing a lot of that range in the South, we’re seeing that large population.
I did want to add though, you know, that Kathleen, no, we get, there’s a perception that the majority of Latino students are English language learners. And I wanted to make clear that the data show that us that 18 percent of Hispanic kids in K-12, speak a language other then English at home.
It’s sixteen percent for Asian students. So while 75 percent of those who are ELL are speaking Spanish, it’s not the majority of Latino students, so we don’t necessarily equate the two.
Delia Pompa: Kathleen, I bet in your years of work with English language learners, you’ve heard a lot of myths, what are the most common misunderstandings about these students?
Kathleen Leos: I think the greatest myth that we have about English language learners is that all of them are immigrant students, that they’re foreign born and that they’re just coming into the country and then starting school, middle school and high school. And that’s absolutely not the case.
I think a very revealing statistic from the PU Hispanic Center is that 85 percent of our English language learners are born in the United States, are US citizens and start school in kindergarten and first grade. And of the remaining 15 percent, 52 percent of the kids are foreign born, but they start school in kindergarten and first grade, also.
It’s the remaining seven and eight percent that actually are coming from other countries and hitting the schools at middle school and high school.
Delia Pompa: You know we’re talking about teen readers and Susan, I’d like to ask you, how are our middle and high school ELL students doing in school?
Susan Lafond: Well they’re of course working on acquiring English language and the content and what’s so difficult for them is the text dependency and it’s a non-fictional text where they need to read textbook and that’s where primarily their information is coming from.
And so that’s very difficult for them not having the English background, being able to understand the content through their textbooks. But they’re all working very hard to learn about the cultural differences here in the US because as typical adolescents, they want to fit in, they went to belong and be a part of the community.
Delia Pompa: Has our approach, Kathleen, changed over the last 30 years, our approach to teaching English language learners?
Kathleen Leos: The approach to teaching in the classroom is changing rapidly and it has changed a lot. When students used to be removed from classrooms in the past to work with an ESL teacher or certified teacher in the language area to acquire playground English or social and culturally relevant language.
And then add academic English on, later. Now what happens is that ELL’s may not be removed from the classroom during core instructional time, not during math, science, reading, social studies or, and literature. So the instruction and the instructional strategies that teachers need, and this is for all teachers, content teachers, ESL certified teachers or endorsed teachers, is that they really need to be teaching language, language acquisition and contents simultaneously.
So it’s a huge shift.
Delia Pompa: There were some significant court and legislative actions that took place in the 1970s, how did they contribute to the evolution in how we taught these kids?
Kathleen Leos: Well I think the Supreme Court case that started the trajectory, is 1974 with Lau versus Nichols and what Lau says is that language may not be a barrier to content knowledge, that any student that speaks another language other then English that comes into a classroom, not only has to acquire the language, but has to access the content, at the grade level, based on the standards.
Where previously there were fewer students and they may have been isolated in classrooms or in sheltered programs, now they’re in the classroom. As a result of Lau versus Nichols, students must be taught language and content simultaneously.
And that’s our students’ civil rights, their educational civil right.
Delia Pompa: That’s how it got started and so much of it since then has happened in the classroom, Susan. I would love for you, with all your experience in the classroom, to tell us something about some of your students.
Susan Lafond: I’ve had such a variety of students. I’ve had many, many languages, the majority I do not speak, represented in my class. I’ve had students from very different backgrounds. I’ve had students from very educated families, countries, who fathers’ will come here to the local university on leave and they’ll be here for about a year.
They’ve had English in the past, they’ve been highly educated and they acquire the language rather quickly. I’ve had students who come here with interrupted formal education, also know as SIFE, who are struggling because they don’t have the prior education or the English.
To scaffold them up to where we need them to be, it takes a lot of action on part of the schools to help those students. I’ve also had students who are very motivated, their parents are very supportive, though they may not be educated themselves. These tend to be families with a business or restaurant where the student will be working in that family business or restaurant, when school is out.
So I really have seen a wide array of different students.
Delia Pompa: Diversity is the key, it sounds like.
Susan Lafond: That’s right.
Delia Pompa: Thank you all, this is a good start to many other conversations we’re going to have and that is the end of this segment. But our discussion will continue. Please join us for part two of this webcast, building trust with ELL families, when we’ll be discussing ways to create partnerships between schools and ELL families.
You can learn more about adolescent literacy and watch the other segments of this webcast at www.AdLit.org.
Narrator: Funding for this AdLit.org webcast was generously provided by Carnegie Corporation of New York. Additional funding for AdLit.org was provided by the Anne B. and Thomas L. Friedman Family Foundation.
Delia Pompa: Hello, I’m Delia Pompa, welcome to the AdLit.org webcast, English Language Learners. In Part One we discussed some demographic trends among English language learners or ELL’s. Now we’ll talk about developing strong relationships between schools and the families of ELL’s.
Delia Pompa: Thank you Kathleen, Deborah and Susan for joining us. Kathleen, it’s hard to get families of these kids sometimes involved in schools. Why is it so important to reach out ELL families and to students and their families and what are the challenges?
Susan Lafond: I think, for me in my experience, the importance is that families want to be involved and there’s real motivation on the part of the family of I want to be part of my child’s education, I want to be involved. I’m not quite sure how and yet I want to show up and be there. So I think it’s incumbent on the rest of us in education to think about how we can open those doors for families who really, really want to participate.
Delia Pompa: Deborah some, what are some of the ways we can build trust with the families of, of these ELL students and encourage their involvement in school?
Deborah Santiago: I don’t think it’s necessarily rocket science what we need to do, I think it’s relevant to lots of students and families as well. But it’s, it’s basic. It’s you know we have to engage them and trust and work with the assets students bring to the school and their families and build from that bridge. We need to make sure that we have services, services and programs that are culturally relevant and appropriate.
And reach out to the community so it’s not just seen as the student and the parent, but the engagement of the community more broadly. One example that I’ve seen used rather well is something called , which are promoters, with the schools engaging members of the community and using them as parent liaisons. They have a little bit more trust and faith with other members of the community and having them help impart information, bring parents to the school as well, to help bridge some of the cultural gaps, but also the trust and the awareness of what their role is in their child’s education.
Because it could be different from their country of origin.
Delia Pompa: Give us an example of a Promotodores and what they could do in the school system with a parent.
Deborah Santiago: Sure, here’s an example in, they’re happening all over the country, but in Los Angeles Unified School District, there are programs that use reached out to a community with a combination of Latinos and Mung parents. They reached out to a handful, about four or five Latino parents and about three or four Mung parents.
And these parents did conducted off-site, non-school gatherings to talk about education and parental rights and responsibilities. Once they started feeling a little more comfortable, they started talking to more people. Eventually they tried to engage parents in PTA sessions at the school with teachers.
So they started externally, but brought it back into this campus.
Delia Pompa: But what about parents with no formal education themselves, what can schools do to support them?
Deborah Santiago: I think there’s, there’s great opportunity engage parents. I think parents want to be engaged, as, as Kathleen said, it’s finding how to do that. So some of the things we’ve seen work is offering parents port services at the school itself, having ESusan Lafond courses online. There are parent classrooms, they call them, where parents can come in and be resources.
Bring parents in as TAs, teacher aides, or luncheon room monitors and so they can see their child’s educational environment. They can, they can become familiar with the setting and the teachers in the classroom and therefore feel more engaged even if they don’t have a formal education themselves.
Delia Pompa: You say get more comfortable with the school, I’m, I’m going turn this over to Kathleen. You know sometimes parents without formal education may have some distrust of the school system. What can we do, what can the schools do about building their school culture so that parents feel comfortable in the school, they feel supported in the school?
Kathleen Leos: I think that the home visit is really important, but in at, where a school system can’t support home visits for whatever reason, what’s really important is when the parent and the family walks in that front door. And they come into the school and they walk up to the office. It’s their first introduction into a school.
And the people there are often busy with a thousand activities, should just turn and acknowledge that the family’s there. To make sure that the family knows that I’ll be right with you. It doesn’t have to be in the language that the family understands. And can have materials set up because it’s a school’s responsibility to make sure that parents receive all the information in the language that the parent understands best.
So whether it’s welcoming information, introductory, here’s the first meeting, here’s where we would like to see you et cetera, et cetera. I think that first introduction is probably the most important.
Delia Pompa: We focus on the schools, but there are other institutions that help these families. Can you tell us a little bit Susan about libraries and how they can work with families and English language learners?
Susan Lafond: Absolutely. I know schools are always looking to reach out to families because they recognize that the partnership is so critical and the language barrier is an issue and that’s where sending home all of your communication in other languages is very helpful. And perhaps when family comes in having a welcoming environment, bulletin boards and all.
But going onto beyond the schools and going out to the community. In the area where I work, we work very closely with the town library and we have what we call the meet and greet. And we invited all the families to come in and we brought in all the community groups, school groups, of programs that are available for the families.
The library had child care for the younger children and we had activities for the school aged children. And they had the gentleman who’s in charge of the teen room come out and work with the teenagers as well. And it was a lot of information that was shared. The walls were coming down. It was helpful for our school and I think all schools should do this, is to inform families what is it that they expect on the part of the parents, for participation.
Parents who are born or raised in the US who are familiar with US culture are going to understand what the expectation is for parent participation. But people who may not be familiar, we need to bridge that. And what was, what’s so helpful about working with our library is they realized we have a whole pocket of our population, the community, we are not working with.
We are not meeting their needs. They want out, they acquired some grants, they ended up getting books and materials in their native languages. They also showed parents what resources they had available as well as the technology computer, internet access. And every parent, before they left, was given a library card so it helped open those doors.
Kathleen Leos: If I could, one of the things that I, I think is really important too is not only the welcoming environment but there’s actually federal funding that the schools receive in Title III, where it specifically says that parents, the funds can be used to involve parents in the education of their child, whether that’s a parent information center or whether it’s materials that’s, that are translated.
Or it could be even education classes. My experience, working in the inner city, in one of the major cities in the country with families, was specifically where a family said to me and to the PTA, we really want classes in English. But it was to help their children with homework.
It’s gone on all over the country where families are saying, give us the tools that we need so that we can be involved in, including whether it’s language classes or teach us how to help ours students with homework. Or teach us how to get online for you know online information, et cetera, et cetera. But they were just clamoring for more information.
Delia Pompa: Even the federal law provides for parent information centers, can you tell us a little about those?
Kathleen Leos: I know that they’re well funded and that there’s a process that, that the center have to go through in order to draw down the funds. And it’s usually a collaboration with parent advocacy groups and schools and teachers, so they collaborate to come together. It could be with the business community and it can be with higher ed.
But it’s specifically to open a center that’s geared to parents, for parents and with parents, that are in school clusters so that the parents can be involved in that area, in the school area’s education of the student.
Delia Pompa: Deborah, you work across the community, are there other examples of, of ways of institutions in the community that help parents and support parents of English language learners?
Deborah Santiago: Yeah, I think there are numerous ones, part of the challenge for schools is to link up to them in some ways. That, I do think as you shared earlier, the issue of clarity of expectations and understanding some of the culture values are really important. We see a lot of community based organizations who are taking that extra effort and that extra step, which I think is important.
I talk to parents who have said, in my country of origin, if my student isn’t doing well, it’s the teacher’s responsibility to assume she’s not doing her job. But in this country, what I had to learn is that if my student isn’t doing well and I had to bring in a tutor, then I’m not doing my job as a parent.
Their part of it is the cultural and expectations that they come with, that we bring in, and community-based organizations that work, with the specific communities tend to be the most nuanced understanding of what they bring to an educational context and how to help bridge the gap.
Delia Pompa: Susan, with all your years of experience, I keep focusing on your treasure trove of experience, can you share with us a specific outreach effort that you used as an ESL teacher?
Susan Lafond: This one is a very exciting end of the year, culminating activity. We called it the ESL extravaganza. We invited all our families in for a potluck dinner at the end of the school year and at this point we, showcased our, the talents of our students as well recognizing their achievement and their effort that they’ve put into the school year.
So all the families brought in a dish and we had events going on throughout, it was just an entertaining event. But we realized that, that not all parents would be able to attend. So we, we had the site be a very easy one for all of them to get to as well as providing transportation if they weren’t able to. So that way we had more turnout.
Delia Pompa: Deborah, I have a double question for you. There are, are two groups that sometimes feel that they can’t help families or can’t work with ELL students, those are teachers who don’t speak the native language and their classmates of ELL students who aren’t ELL themselves.
What are ways both of these groups can support both ELL students and their families?
Deborah Santiago: That’s a great question. I think you know we found that sometimes the simplest things can make a substantive difference and making these students feel like they belong, that they’re engaged and a part of it. For teachers we found very simply doing professional development could be an hour, two hours, where running through pronunciation classes.
So they get students, you know, if you have a large Hispanic or Mung population, but you can say their name. For example, we had teachers who said to us, you know, our students who would tell us that they couldn’t say their name right. They would say Jesus Jimenez and when you think about it, if you just knew a little bit more about the language, you’d know that it’s Jesus Jimenez.
And the student would feel so much more engaged in the classroom that you at least can say their name accurately and appropriately. I think for students who are involved, peer learning is so important. And you know some people might say it’s mentoring others, but learning from each other and recognizing that students of different backgrounds can learn how to contextualize and talk about what they’re learning in the classroom, in other settings.
Whether it’s the lunchroom or in the hallway and getting to know them one-on-one can really help make a difference in their education.
Delia Pompa: Sometimes it’s the little things isn’t it, thank you all. Thank you everyone. Our discussion of English language learners does not end here. Please join us for Part Three of the English Language Learners Webcast, Good Instruction for ELL’s. You can learn more about adolescent literacy and watch the other segments of this webcast at www.AdLit.org.
Narrator: Funding for this AdLit.org webcast was generously provided by Carnegie Corporation of New York. Additional funding for AdLit.org was provided by the Ann B. and Thomas L. Friedman Family Foundation.
Delia Pompa: How can teachers adapt what they already know about good instruction to support English language learners? Please join me for good instruction for ELL’s, Part Three of the AdLit.org webcast, English Language Learners.
Delia Pompa: Hello, I’m Delia Pompa, in the previous segment of English language learners, we explored building connections between schools and families. In this segment our panelists will discuss the components of good instruction for English language learners or ELL’s. Welcome Kathleen, Deborah and Susan again. Kathleen, let’s start with staffing.
How do professional responsibilities breakdown in middle and high school for English language learners or their teachers?
Kathleen Leos: I think it’s changed a lot and since English language learners are now in the classroom, all classrooms, especially the content classroom, I think it places different demands on the teaching staff and different challenges for the teaching staff so that a teacher who has several ELL’s in the classroom and ELL’s maybe from a different, a variety of language backgrounds.
We do know that of all the ELL’s, 76 percent are Spanish speakers. However, we often here that a teacher will say, you know, I have X number of students in my classroom, say 30, 32 kids and there are eight languages represented. And I’m a mono- English speaking teacher and so how am I going to deliver my content, whether it’s physics, biology, geometry et cetera, et cetera, not just in math and science, to everybody in the classroom, when I used to having the students leave for a part of the day, during my instruction?
And have, there are taught by someone else. And so I think what principals have been doing and teachers themselves to figure out how to team teach, how to collaborate where you might take either a whole grade level, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grade, middle school and say, and bring the teachers together along with the reading coaches, the literacy coaches, the speech language pathologists and the counselors, et cetera.
Figure out what it is that each teacher needs to know in order to deliver the instruction in the content area, that includes both language development and language acquisition. It’s beginning to shift, but at the moment, the biggest shift is coming in, in the team teaching, a collaborative kind of aspect for, for the staff itself.
Delia Pompa: Susan, would you give us some examples of good collaboration models for English language learners?
Susan Lafond: Kathleen had mentioned it, if you have the collaborative co-teaching where you’ve got the content teacher and the ESL teacher who are actually team teaching, what I would encourage with that is that the two be given a common planning time so they can discuss between themselves what are the effective instructional strategies as well as the assessment modifications that are necessary to meet the needs of the students.
So that’s what I would, I would encourage.
Delia Pompa: What about a school that doesn’t have any ELL or ESL teachers prepared to work with the ELL students?
Susan Lafond: And I think there are, probably around the country, most schools don’t really have say ELS endorsed or bilingual teachers et cetera and, and I think that that’s where the schools are challenged, thinking that they have to hire an ESL-endorsed individual, which does help. But what we really want is the knowledge itself.
And I think that when you look at who is on staff, what background, what, say higher ed institution is close by that I can draw on the resources from higher ed? What university professors are there? Because what we’re talking about is that students are acquiring a language, they could be acquiring two. There, in other words Spanish and English, dual language programs.
Or they could be transitioning from one to another, but they have to acquire the second language and they do it at their language level to get into the content itself. So when you think about what the charge is and then you say, okay, who’s going to help either in the district or in the school itself, or even in the community to bring the expertise to bear at the, at the grade level or within the classroom?
Susan Lafond: I think it takes the whole school to teach the children.
Susan Lafond: And schools are mandated to have highly qualified teachers.who are trained to teach their content areas. So school, but they’re mandated to have an ESL teacher. However, it’s not just the ESL teacher who’s going to be teaching that English language learner.
Kathleen Leos: Right.
Susan Lafond: And, and I think that’s what the challenge has come in the implementation when, when we see English language learners who are now, you know, rapidly growing in the classroom, one in four soon. And we say okay, and if the students are leaving the classroom during core instructional time, then what is it that the teachers are charged to do when higher ed to date may not have prepared them so far, to be effective in the classroom?
So both working with higher ed and getting them to change what their teacher prep programs are like, but also the teachers themselves. Because I know a lot of teachers will, at first with a challenge they’ll feel nervous, scared. I’m, I’m not quite sure what to do. I don’t really have the strategies and then decide well you, you probably do.
So let’s help figure out not only through team teaching and not only adding an expert, say to the building, but the teacher them self that can modify and adapt instruction.
Delia Pompa: So you’ve got an ideal we’re all working toward, but then you also have fallback processes that you can put in place until you’ve got somebody certified, is what you’re saying?
Susan Lafond: Yes.
Delia Pompa: Let me ask you another question, Kathleen. There’s so much subject matter that kids have to learn at middle and high school. Do kids have to learn English before they start working or master English before they start working on this content work like in history or in, in math?
Kathleen Leos: No, and I think that’s the other implication. When states spent so much developing language standards and aligning them to academic content standards and then taking it down to the curriculum for, when the teachers are teaching and they’re teaching to two sets of standards. And that means all teachers.
So it’s really shifted and when the teachers that are involved now, have to teach both language and content simultaneously, and for a long time in the field and I’d say probably for about 50 years or so, what we were used to doing in the past is teaching language first and more along the social aspects of language.
And the cultural aspects and then sort of layering, well now the student’s ready to learn the academics. But now the focus is, really that’s gone, it’s gone. And so what’s left is this language and content is taught at the grade level, in physics or in algebra, in that content area and it’s simultaneous teaching.
Delia Pompa: Deborah, so many students actually do come with advanced knowledge in subject areas, come from other countries, educated in their own countries, but don’t speak English. How do you handle that in the classroom?
Deborah Santiago: You know we are seeing this, especially at the middle and high school and what we’ve seen really works is to try to make, you know there are a lot of cognates that we find that we easy. Like I’ve made examples of (SPANISH) promoters, that’s not a hard one to guess. There are lots of words like that. But if they’re already educated in the discipline or whatever the study is, finding cognates, but also making it interactive and making it relevant, helps them in ways that a pure lecture might not be able to.
So if they already know the content or are familiar with the baseline, they can follow along because they understand the concept even while they’re working through the language component of it because they can see the parallels if you make it hands on, relevant, appropriate to them.
Delia Pompa: But what if the content teachers don’t speak the native language of the child?
Deborah Santiago: I don’t know that that’s an absolute requirement, but we see it as, what you’re trying to do is, is to marry their content knowledge with the work you’re trying to do at the classroom level. We’ve seen simple things like, someone was doing a little cheat sheet where you can have a colleague or go online and get some of the terminology in the content you’re looking for.
And offer that, either you keep it yourself or offer it to your students, so that you have them learn the terminology while you’re doing the work, but also finding ways to make it less an issue about language and more about the subject matter. And students, especially at that level, can really figure it out if they already have that knowledge.
I think we don’t often give our young people enough credit for their ability to follow through, especially if they’ve already come well prepared academically and it’s only a language issue. They can translate much easier then we assume.
Delia Pompa: It sounds like we also need to give teachers some tips on how to work with these kids. You’ve done so much professional development work, Susan. If you look at populations, school populations with growing ELL groups, what are some priorities in professional development that the schools should focus on?
Susan Lafond: Well I know schools see that as a critical issue on the front burner and that’s something they need to address. And again it’s the instructional strategies, it’s looking at the assessments, the ideas of how you can modify that as well as what are the testing accommodations and glossaries, the bi-level glossaries that students are able to use are, are helpful.
Whereas the dictionaries or even the electronic translators are not always as good because they don’t have that academic language that the students need to be successful. But the bi-lingual glossaries are more helpful. So I think schools are realizing they need that professional development. Teachers are asking for it, but now we’re dealing with such a, a difficult time with the economy that school districts are, are cutting back on the professional development in order to be able to save jobs of teachers and programs.
So it will be interesting to see where we go from here.
Delia Pompa: Let me stay with you Susan and go a little deeper in the classroom. What are some ways we can adapt instruction for English language learners?
Susan Lafond: As students are coming in without the English, if you have less text-dependent ways to teach information, that’s going to help get the concepts across.
Delia Pompa: And what does that mean for me?
Susan Lafond: Without having so much language where it’s English, English allover and you can use graphic organizers, any sort of non-linguistic representations. One thing I found extremely useful was using Smart Board, the technology, it’s an electronic whiteboard to, to teach concepts where I could bring a lot more graphics involved in that.
Delia Pompa: Give some examples, just a very specific one, how you would do that.
Susan Lafond: I tell you, I used it every single day, so I used it to teach poetry, by pre-teaching vocabulary within that. If students had a question and I could see right there on their faces that they didn’t understand, I can immediately go to a website to bring up a picture of something if I didn’t already have it planned in anticipating that they maybe confused.
I could have a larger font. I could highlight certain words in different colors to have things standout, it was far more superior then the blackboard, yet it wasn’t because it was technology that I was using, it was useful. And students were participating. I could have them come up and without even using language, have them participate in an activity, showing me their comprehension by just touching and dragging.
So it was a, a really helpful tool.
Delia Pompa: You know Deborah, college readiness sometimes focuses on academic language. We hear people who talk about kids being ready for college, having academic language.
Deborah Santiago: Right.
Delia Pompa: What is that and how do, how do you give that students?
Deborah Santiago: You know I asked that same question when I first got (unint.) because you know for us it’s, at college it really is part of the, the academic, the jargon of the discipline. It’s really, do the students know, given whatever the discipline is or the topic, how to talk about it in manners that they would professionally or with specific faculty members so they can get deeper into the issue overall.
And what we see is that; that’s not a hard thing to share with students. It’s finding ways that are relevant and appropriate to the students so they get it and they get it quickly.
Delia Pompa: What might be an example of some language kids have to learn, think biology?
Deborah Santiago: Think biology, that, that’s a perfect example actually. And it’s where you find lots of cognates and you have students you know, because of it is Latin-based, where students can really get a lot of what’s going on. So there are terms; there is lots of terminology. We can say, the one that I shared earlier when that’s when we were talking, is photosynthesis.
I tend to work a lot in the social sciences, so we work a lot in finding the cognates, but making sure the concept is clear and introducing them to the academic jargon that they need to connect with it so that the concept is clear, the terminology that’s generally used in the discipline is understood and that they will remember so that when they get into the college setting, they’re not starting from scratch or they don’t know what photosynthesis is.
If we’re, we’re talking about biology or components of dissection so that the concept is clear, that terminology, they are exposed to. And when they get into the college classroom, they’re not starting from scratch.
Susan Lafond: I think what the academic language, teachers, benevolent teachers who really want their students learn, bring language down to such a lower level that it’s, it’s baby talk and they’re not understanding the, the language that they need to know. So therefore they can’t scaffold up.
Susan Lafond: And, and be successful on the assessments or just really showing understanding of the information.
Kathleen Leos: I’m sorry, I just wanted to add because it, I think of what’s important for a teacher, all of us to remember is that the majority of the students, English language learners, are really starting school at kindergarten and first grade. So it’s not waiting ‘til middle school or high school, ‘til they’re into the higher and harder academic areas.
But the concept of teaching language and content simultaneously starts in kindergarten and first grade so that the teachers are teaching exactly the same thing to a non-English speaker as they are teaching to a monolingual English speaker. And so the expectation is the same, they get the same content knowledge.
And then they start moving forward from there on. When to middle school and high school and as the demand gets harder, the process is in place so the student at least understands the process and can pickup like the cognates and the concepts et cetera, cetera.
Susan Lafond: Right, it’s good teaching strategies, whether they’re our native speakers or ELL’s.
Kathleen Leos: Exactly.
Susan Lafond: But they’re the same.
Susan Lafond: And you need to bring in thinking strategies. These students, all students need to know how to think, problem solve, cause and effect.
Kathleen Leos: In relevant ways.
Susan Lafond: Absolutely.
Delia Pompa: And you all have been talking about students who need time to build these strategies. Kathleen, what are some strategies for kids who are older when they come into our system and need to acquire, or they may need to acquire the academic language all before they graduate?
Kathleen Leos: What we did is, we, on the website for AdLit, there are some instructional strategies that are appropriate for middle school and high school students. And it’s specifically and based on the currently research that’s available now, walks teachers through, this is what you do. This is how you do it, this exactly what we’re talking about when you take the level of language, language equity and mesh it and fuse it through language acquisition.
Whether it’s a beginning student, a middle or intermediate student or advanced student in language proficiency. And then, and then weds it right to the content area. But these are specific strategies. Susan mentioned graphic organizers and, and what we’re saying from our perspective, guilt now, is that teachers are using strategies every single day.
So it’s not changing the strategies in the classroom that they’re using, but it’s expanding and enhancing them so that they understand exactly what to do when there’s English language learners in the classroom.
Susan Lafond: I’d like to, can I share a, a website that is fabulous for teachers in communicating with parents, in finding some great strategies. It’s www.colorincolorado.org and there is just a wealth of information for teachers, for educators.
Delia Pompa: We often get caught up talking teaching strategies because they’re at the key, they’re the backbone of what we do in the classroom everyday. But we can’t not talk about testing also. So Kathleen, could you tell us a little bit about what’s going on right now with regard to standards and assessment for English language learners?
Kathleen Leos: Certainly and, and be happy to talk about it at the national level and give more of a, a national overview and then we get into classroom assessment. And for the past six to seven years, there has been an effort in the country to develop language proficiency standards that are specifically focused on language development, reading, writing, speaking and listening.
And K to 12, the standards are separate and different from content standards because starting in 2000, 2002, every state had content standards, especially in reading and math. But this new area of language standards has to align specifically to the content standards in math and in science and in reading.
And so what that does is it, first of all impacts instruction later on, but then states were required to also develop two different assessments. One was an assessment that’s aligned to the content area with accommodations so that ELL’s could understand and, an access that content assessment. But the other is a language proficiency assessment that’s aligned to language proficiency standards that measures the acquisition of how’s my student learning English overtime?
And it, the assessment not only tells you, but should be giving data of how I can refine my instruction because it’s ongoing assessment.
Delia Pompa: But and you talked about high stakes testing and, and I, I think what some of our teachers out there may want to know is, what can I do daily though to evaluate progress and monitor what’s going on with my kids and what they’re learning? Susan what, what are some other things teachers can do in-between the high stakes tests?
Susan Lafond: Right, which, there’s not much time left, but there needs to be ongoing formative assessment and just as Kathleen said, teachers, after you teach and actually there’s a misnomer. Really teachers shouldn’t see their job as just teaching, but if students are learning.
Susan Lafond: And that’s where it needs to be that, that feedback from once you have had instruction taken place, did the student learn it? And if not, then where are you going to go to try to pickup that comprehension on their part? It could be something as simple as observation, checklists, and going more into performance assessment.
Portfolios showing improvement overtime, so all of those really give you an idea of how that student is progressing.
Delia Pompa: That was a terrific discussion, thank you everyone. Please join us for Part Four of our webcast, College Readiness where we’ll be discussing ELL’s and higher education. You can learn more about adolescent literacy and watch other segments of this webcast at wwww.AdLit.org.
Narrator: Funding for this AdLit.org webcast was generously provided by Carnegie Corporation of New York. Additional funding for AdLit.org was provided by the Anne B. and Thomas L. Friedman Family Foundation.
Do English language learners face unique barriers to higher education? How can teachers improve college readiness for ELL’s? Join me for the answers to these and other questions in segment four of the AdLit.org webcast, English Language Learners.
Delia Pompa: Hi, I’m Delia Pompa, welcome to the AdLit.org webcast, English Language Learners. In previous segments we’ve discussed building trust and connections with ELL families as well as the components of good instruction for ELL’s. In this segment we’ll explore ELL’s and college readiness. Welcome, Kathleen, Deborah and Susan.
I’m going to start with you Deborah and jump right into this because I know you’ve done a lot of research on English Language Learners and college going. What are some of the trends in research? What are we finding out about English language learners and higher education?
Deborah Santiago: Well, I think it’s part of the work I’ve done is really trying to separate English language learners from students, (unint.) students and we do a lot of work on both of them because they’re so important. But what we’ve seen is that you know 18 percent of Latino students are English language learners which means so many are not.
So when we look at the data, we try to make sure we look at both components. If it’s too generally assume that if you have a Hispanic name, you, you are an ELL. So part of that is a balance. When we look at higher education we see a couple of critical trends, when we look at ELL’s and, and also Latinos actually. And that is, we see much more enrollment at the community college level.
Fortunately we, we are seeing more enrollment overall in colleges then we have in the past, we’ve tracked for the last 10, 12 years, that I’ve been tracking it, between the ELL’s and Latinos. But the community college is a lot of it. We’ve seen there is growing attention to engaging families and not just students, especially for ELL’s.
We’ve seen and, and that means you know simple things like translating one side in English, the other side in Spanish, in the cases we’ve been seeing, so that parents get the same information as their youth. We often find that ELL’s tend to be the first in their family to go to college. If they’ve been successful in K-12, jumped through all those hoops, they still need the support in college.
And we find that’s not always as readily available and so having parents get information and be able to continue to be advocates for their children, young adults at this point in college, is summarily important. And so we’re seeing trends of that nature.
Delia Pompa: Kathleen, when should school start talking to ELL students about going to college?
Kathleen Leos: I’d say kindergarten, pre-K-K, first grade and especially involving the parents because just from a cultural perspective, there’s so much that we understand if we’ve been educated in this country of the preparation for going to college, that it really starts very young. And it’s not just about the funding, it’s making sure that parents have the same expectation.
That teachers have the expectation, that the students themselves have the expectation. What am I going to do after I graduate from high school? Are you going to college? Yes, what does that mean, is the next question, not only for the student who then needs to take the right courses in order to college, but parents really need to be talking to counselors very early on.
My child is going to go to college, therefore, it’s not just about content knowledge and language acquisition, what courses does my child need to take, sixth, seventh and eighth grade? Is my child ready to take algebra and two languages and English? And the answer needs to be yes because we all know algebra’s a gateway course.
And so to start that conversation very early and the expectation very early, I think is crucial for English language learners.
Delia Pompa: We seem to moving toward a curriculum that’s college ready for everybody, but we still have college track courses in, in most schools. So you know, Deborah, what happens to English language learners, do they have to wait until they learn English to take college track courses?
Deborah Santiago: No, the correct answer. You know this goes back to how important it is that students feel they’re involved and they’re engaged and that they belong in the classroom and that starts early on. I think it’s part of what Kathleen was saying, but we have to continue all the way through because to have a rigorous academic curricula and to be able to participate means they have to get the rigor from the beginning and all the way through.
And a rigorous college ready curriculum does create opportunities for students who are English language learners that we find ways, if we can make it relevant, we can make it appropriate, we can make it hands on, we can keep those students engaged in college course tracks that we too often don’t consider a possibility.
And we as, as educators, are don’t often think about it, but also the students themselves don’t see themselves as college material because they’re not, they think you know, I’m focused so much on my language, I don’t have the disciplinary knowledge that I need to move forward. And I think that is short-sighted on our side as educators, but we have an opportunity to make sure that we integrate curricular knowledge as well as language development and acquisition in a college prep course work.
Delia Pompa: So I have to ask you, you said, too often kids don’t take the college prep course who are ELL’s. Is that a big issue and if it is, how do we handle that, what do we do about it?
Deborah Santiago: I do think it is, is a big issue. And I think it relates to expectations on the students side, on the parents side, on the school side, the teacher sides overall. And it’s become more and more of an issue because I think, as I look at the data, we should be seeing more and more of our English language learners in college then we are seeing even now.
And when we look at statistics in states that have large concentrations like California or Texas, like Arizona, the, the lost potential of intelligent young people in our colleges and therefore in the human capital of this country is something that we should not disregard as easily as we are.
And I think part of that challenge means that we’ve got to pay attention to where our students are, our ELL’s are today, where they are in their course taking and how we can find ways to get them into those tracks that are going to make them college ready. It’s a level of intentionality that I think can be intimidating, but it requires time and effort.
I think there are many teachers that feel that responsibility and are just looking for that extra push so that they can intentional, making sure our students get the education they need.
Delia Pompa: Clearly instruction is key here, Susan, but what are some other supports that could help kids, ELL kids, along this route to college.
Susan Lafond: Well I found that as their ESL teacher, I was the person they come to and I didn’t know. So I had to learn very quickly what gets them in there. And one thing was collaborating with the guidance counselor and insuring that the students were scheduled for classes that would help prepare them for college and that didn’t mean they had to be AP classes or honors classes.
Not every student needs that to gain access to college. So it’s understanding that they meet the requirements for graduating high school and, and then letting them know what they need to do for the application aspect of it. A lot of information they didn’t understand, what was the difference between two year and four year colleges.
And what certain terminology meant. So helping prepare them really was a lot of the work that I was able to, to do with them.
Delia Pompa: Are there other support systems that kick in at that point, can they get help from other students? Is there tutoring or mentoring that is necessary?
Susan Lafond: Yes, again because they were taking these courses that would help them to graduate and then going to college, I was able to work with service groups, national honor society or key club, who needed to have service learning hours to help them. And these were offered during the school day and they were free or they could be done after school.
And what was nice about that is I did provide some training so they understood the language acquisition process, how to help these students, don’t give them the answer, that’s not tutoring. And then I also found in what these students shared with me after was, it was a mutually beneficial process or endeavor, that they learned just as much as the ELL’s did.
Also I would find that perhaps the English speaking student was really good in English, so they helped the student with their essays or English or vocabulary. But the ELL was really good in math and was able to turn around and help the English speaker with their math class.
Delia Pompa: Well one of the biggest impediments to getting into college for an English language learner, I would think, is dropping out of high school and so many of them do. Deborah, what can we do about that? That’s a huge question I know, but give us a few things.
Deborah Santiago: Well you know, going back to what we can do in the classroom, it really does require that we make the students feel engaged and we make their academic experience relevant and appropriate. It sounds simplistic in so many ways, but we find there are critical points along the educational continuum where we have, we loose our students.
And student who have so much potential and what it takes is sometimes as simple as, you know, taking ownership of the students that are there and making sure that we link to the opportunities, what you shared as well. But also making sure that they are engaged with their learning process, maybe with peers, maybe with others in other classes.
Maybe with their faculty member, sometimes that means bringing in community based organizations and helping along. But I think to keep your eye on the prize that, you know, we know what the implications of dropping out of high school are for our students. In some ways many, more then the students themselves who are living in a moment and don’t necessarily see what the implications are.
And I think the onus is therefore on us as the adults in that environment to make sure we make them feel like their education is important, that this has value and contribution. I think, you know, and that they feel it’s a part of their future and sometimes the onus on us. There’s onus on students as well, but they’re taking our lead.
And I think we need to make sure we structure our educational system and support to make sure they get that message.
Delia Pompa: Let me just lead us somewhere that I think all of you were going. Despite all these supports that we have you have, given us some great ideas. It must be really tough for a child who comes here from another country, doesn’t speak English, to struggle to learn English. He came in at the seventh grade and then get in the college track, pass all the tests.
What can teachers do to encourage these kids or to keep them from getting, getting discouraged, more to the point.
Kathleen Leos: I think it’s a great question Delia because I was actually thinking, when you were responding. The real key I think to ELL success, academic success truly is the teacher becomes the lynch pin in, in this, you know trajectory so to speak because the interaction is between the student, the parent and the teacher. And that’s the most important relationship.
So regardless of acquisition of language, it’s when the teachers are so well prepared and they know exactly, you know, this is what I’m going to teach during this week, et cetera, et cetera. And then brings the team together to instruct all students in the classroom with knowing where the student’s going to go.
Very student that I teach is going to college, so what can I do within my building with the principal, the school leadership, with the community, in order to make that happen for every child that’s with me, five days a week. And I’d say from the teacher’s perspective, at least eight to ten hours a day.
Deborah Santiago: Is there an individual education plan for them?
Kathleen Leos: Yes, well maybe an individual education plan, maybe the building does it. Maybe the district institutes, I know the governors are talking about it that there is, you know, a teacher who assigns a mentor that’s a community mentor, that holds the child’s hand from the moment they hit the classroom until they graduate from and onto college.
Delia Pompa: There are so many things we all know we can do. I, I want to wrap up though by talking about one of the key, the key persons in a child’s life that all of you alluded to, and that was the parents. Deborah, what is it that parents need to know, when they come to this country and their dream is that their child will go to college?
Deborah Santiago: They need to know how to prepare for college and at a very early age, what does that mean? We’ve advocated getting information into the hands of parents and majority would at early childhood education programs as well as throughout K-12, to make sure they get information that’s very accessible and easy for them to understand.
So preparing so that they know what things are expected of their child academically is important. Also how to pay for college and I think those things should be concurrent because too often we hear parents, especially if they’re immigrants to this country, don’t understand. We have a very complex system for doing that.
But if we can get information early and often about the opportunities that are there, we know that ELL students are more likely to be low income then others. And that has lots of implications. We have good information that we can provide parents about how affordable and how possible college is, even if they are learning the English language.
Even if they are low income, that information is important. The third thing I would say is important is really understanding the differences in college choice. You know most of these families have gone through a K-12 system, where you don’t have a great deal of choice. You go to the public school that’s closest to where you live.
College is a whole different dynamic because you’ve got community colleges, that for-profit institutions. You’ve got, you know, (unint.). You’ve got four year, you’ve got universities. You’ve got such a mix and choices that sometimes it’s hard for parents to understand. I often hear people say well, you know, often ELL’s make poor college choices because if they are well prepared academically, they could go to a more selective institution.
But they’re going to the community college and don’t they know that if they start there, they’re not going to, you know, get a baccalaureate degree and do certain things. Research in part supports that, but we see that there’s still so much potential and parents have to help their students.
And often it’s hard for parents because they didn’t go through this system here. So we have to help empower them with that information.
Delia Pompa: That’s a great thought and thank you all for your very thoughtful answers today. I know we have so much more to discussion. Before we end, I’d like to get a final thought from each of you, something you’d like to leave our audience with. And let’s start with you Kathleen.
Kathleen Leos: My final thought is when I’ve had such an opportunity to work with ELL’s and not only that, that I’m a parent of five ELL’s. And what’s been important for myself, my children and then other children and in non-English speaking communities, is that education is their right. And that parents, really it’s important for them to understand that.
That it’s a gift yes, but education is the key to their child’s success and whatever it takes for their child to keep succeeding and staying in school, then it’s important and incumbent upon the parent, not the educators but the parents, to say, I’m not going to stop. I’m not going to take no for an answer. And we’re going to keep all of our kids in the system and graduate them and beyond.
And then to pick up the teacher and hold the teacher’s hand and say, and you’re my partner in this.
Delia Pompa: Thanks, that’s so important, thank you very much. Deborah.
Deborah Santiago: If I had one thought it would say, we have to treat language as an asset. I think too often we see it as a deficit to, to overcome a hurdle that we have to address. So I would say, we have to see language as an asset and then we build from that asset to make sure our students are the best they can be.
Delia Pompa: Thanks. Susan, wrap it up for us.
Susan Lafond: Mine goes along with Deborah’s and that’s in the classroom setting where you’re one-on-one with the student, recognize what your English language learner brings. And that the language is an asset but there are also prior experiences and previous knowledge, to celebrate that and really support them as they go through the educational process.
Delia Pompa: Thank you Susan and thank you all so much. And thank you for joining us for English Language Learners. To view all segments of the webcast and for more information about how you can help the team readers and writers in your life, please visit us on the web at www.AdLit.org. Again, thank you for joining us.
Narrator: Funding for this AdLit.org webcast was generously provided by Carnegie Corporation of New York. Additional funding for AdLit.org was provided by the Anne B. and Thomas L. Friedman Family Foundation.