Numerous school districts are now referring to ESOL students as English Language Learners or simply English Learners, but for the sake of this article, ESOL will be used. This article concerns the training of non-ESOL teachers who teach ESOL students. The reading score pass rate according to the SIP of an unidentified school was 44 percent with a goal to improve to 50 percent. I describe three strategies which if implemented in the classroom, will raise the reading score pass rate of ESOL students on state required tests to over 50 percent. I also recommend professional development sessions and leadership opportunities for teachers which will lead to improved instructional delivery and increased student achievement.
Many teachers of all subjects have English for Speakers of Other Language (ESOL) students in their class. A review of the School Improvement Plan (SIP) of several schools revealed lagging scores among ESOL students. ESOL students are not in ESOL only classes with an ESOL trained teacher. ESOL students are in all mainstream classes with all students of different strengths and skills. These classes include all the core courses, Advance Placement and International Baccalaureate classes, and Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes. The majority of these classes of course are led by non-ESOL teachers. In order to help ESOL students achieve success, these teachers would benefit from professional development conducted by ESOL teachers and others with similar skills.
Of several schools reviewed, I chose statistics from one school’s SIP to work with. This school had a state standardized reading test pass rate of 44 percent for ESOL students. The school set a goal of increasing the pass rate to 50 percent. The goal to increase the pass rate to 50 percent seemed low to me. The school’s SIP listed two strategies for all subject teachers with the first being: “All teachers will create student centered learning environments with MYP concepts in order to increase student engagement in the content.” MYP is the Middle Years Program in the International Baccalaureate program. Strategy number two at this school for all subject teachers included the use of technology and data collection to identify student needs. A school-wide goal for all students including sub-groups is to take at least one IB or AP class during high school. I was taken back a bit by the goal of teaching all students with MYP instructional methods and the requirement for all students to take an IB or AP class. These goals sound lofty and looked great on paper, but the pass rate of 44 percent hoping to get to 50 percent and require students to take advanced classes, did not appear to have the students’ best interests in mind.
I collaborated with an ESOL teacher and a general education teacher to discuss the opportunity to raise the reading scores of ESOL students and to create professional development and leadership opportunities for teachers. This initiative was to be intended for any school in similar circumstances since we did not teach at the school whose SIP we reviewed. We worked together and provided input with a plan to empower ESOL students with reading skills which will enable them to meet academic standards. Reading is fundamental to all other courses and succeeding in life, so we set out to prepare students to succeed in school and to compete in a global society. Our goal was to create strategies which raise the state standardized reading test scores higher than the 50 percent stated in the school’s School Improvement Plan. We hope to accomplish that with the following three strategies.
We chose “Instructional Conversations and Literature Logs” as our first strategy. The goal of Instructional Conversations and Literature Logs is to support English Learners develop their reading comprehension ability together with English language proficiency (WWC Intervention Report, 2006). Instructional Conversations are discussions done in small groups. Teachers act as facilitators and engage English Learners in discussions about key concepts, stories, and associated personal experiences, which allow them to understand and build on each other’s experiences and knowledge. Literature Logs require English Learners to write in a log while responding to writing prompts or questions related to sections of stories (WWC Intervention Report, 2006). These responses are then shared with a partner or in small groups. The discussions afford an opportunity for teachers to evaluate story comprehension, and assist in broadening English Learners’ understanding of the story themes and content. We chose this strategy due to the significant improvement in the students’ reading achievement. The strategy will work to improve the school’s overall reading and other test scores.
The second strategy we chose is “Peer Tutoring and Response Groups.” The Peer Tutoring and Response Groups strategy can be used by teachers during after-school programs or classroom instruction. The after-school tutoring is also a huge part of my strategy for increased instruction. Groups are assigned depending on the exact academic goal and instructional task. Peer tutoring with partners is often times used for activities which require two students to work together to read or finish an assignment, such as reading portions of text aloud, or using teacher led discussion questions to assist in practice conversation (WWC Intervention Report, 2007). Teachers may group together students with different skills, such as an English-only student with a bilingual peer, or a bi-lingual student and a new English Learner. Small groups of students with tutoring partners may focus on a range of skills in reading, writing, language, and math. Students are trained to interact as tutor and tutee before they are assigned. Detailed direction on the tutoring process, or how to assume individual roles in a group is required before implementing the routine use of this practice. We chose this strategy due to its similarity with the time honored pair-share and group work strategies. The research on the Peer Tutoring and Response Groups strategy also showed that English language development and reading and math achievement had increased in the study subjects.
Our third strategy is “Teach a Set of Academic Vocabulary Words Intensively across Several Days Using a Variety of Instructional Activities.” Three of six studies directly tested the practice expressed in this recommendation, and found that it is helpful to provide intensive instruction on a few specific words spanning several days using an assortment of instructional activities (Baker, Lesaux, Jayanthi, Dimino, Proctor, Morris, Gersten, Haymond, Kieffer, Linan-Thompson, & Newman-Gonchar, 2014). The strategy calls for choosing a text at grade level which is brief, contains several choices of words to focus on, and links to a unit of study. Small sets of words should be used which are taught intensively over several days. This method is preferred over teaching a large group of words at once. Baker, et al. (2014) recommends using the following five criteria when choosing words to teach: (1) words fundamental to understanding the text, (2) words used often in the text, (3) words which will possibly appear in other content areas, (4) words with several meanings, and (5) words with affixes. Teaching new words should be done allowing the student to speak, write, and read. Students should also be required to use the words in their writing as well as other classroom activities. A very important part of this strategy is teaching word parts. Different prefixes and suffixes can totally change the word meaning and must be understood. We chose this strategy due to its success in helping students learn to read, write, and comprehend.
Professional Development Proposal
In addition to annual required training, it is recommended that all teachers attend professional development sessions in person and online to support the plan. The training will be on topics such as vocabulary building, word walls, and the three strategies. If funding is available, teachers may possibly use resources such as Isabel Beck’s Bringing Words to Life. A current trend in education is personalized professional development for teachers. Old models of professional development are becoming outdated. Teachers are designing their own professional development and “micro-credentialing” their formal and informal learning (Patrick, 2015). This new professional development model will have long term implications in teacher qualifications, certifications, and licensure. Another tenet of the professional development plan is increased opportunities for leadership. ESOL and general education teachers with experience teaching English learners would plan and deliver professional development sessions and monitor and assist in the classroom implementation of the learning strategies.
Reading, writing, and comprehension are fundamental and vital to every subject in school. English Learners require strategies based in research with extra focus on learning words. Working with an ESOL teacher and a colleague with many years of experience teaching kids to read was invaluable. The strategies we chose were similar to pair-share, group work, and word wall strategies, but come with more depth and insight as to teaching the needs of today’s students. We have strengthened the weak recommendations found in the school’s School Improvement Plan. The strategies will provide needed instruction which will raise the test pass rate above the 50 percent goal set by this school, or any other school with similar circumstances.
Baker, S., Lesaux, N., Jayanthi, M., Dimino, J., Proctor, C. P., Morris, J., Gersten, R., Haymond, K., Kieffer, M. J., Linan-Thompson, S., & Newman-Gonchar, R. (2014). Teaching academic content and literacy to English learners in elementary and middle school (NCEE 2014-4012). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from the NCEE website: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/publications_reviews.aspx.
Patrick, S. (2015). 11 big trends for 2016: Predictions and changes ahead in K-12 education. Retrieved from: https://www.inacol.org/news/11-big-trends-for-2016-predictions-and-changes-ahead-in-k-12-education/
WWC Intervention Report, (2006). Instructional Conversations and Literature Logs. Retrieved from: https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/InterventionReports/WWC_ICLL_102606.pdf
WWC Intervention Report, (2007). Peer Tutoring and Response Groups. Retrieved from: https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/InterventionReports/WWC_Peer_Tutoring_070907.pdf