269. How can I use the research reported in "ACCELERATING ACADEMIC ENGLISH" to improve my teaching and my school's program for English Learners?

ANSWER

Recently I had the opportunity to thoroughtly read and use this text to suggest certain modifications to the Principal, English Learners Coordinator and the Chair of the ESL department at my school.   Here is that report based on this research.

TO:          Principal

               Foshay Learning Center, LAUSD

               English Language Learners – Coordinator

               ESL Department

 FROM:    Carmen Sánchez Sadek, Ph.D.

                Teacher, ESL 4 – Advanced Level, English 7, 8

 DATE:      March, 12, 2004

  

                             In an effort to provide input to the ESL Program Review Team (from the State of California Department of Education, as well as from District G, Los Angeles Unified School District / LAUSD) that will visit Foshay Learning Center this month of March, 2004, the following assessment of the ESL program and, especially, of the ESL materials for implementing the program is provided.  

 

                             I have taught in California private and public schools since 1964; I became a Los Angeles Unified School teacher and advisor in 1966; and I have taught at Foshay Learning Center since January 2nd, 2002.   At the end of every teaching “mester” or semester, I have written extensive reports on my teaching experiences at Foshay, including my experiences teaching ESL Advanced Level 4, English 7 and English 8. I participated in the 5-day Governor’s Staff Development Program for “High Point” (the instructional materials for implementing the ESL program at Foshay and throughout LAUSD) and I have attended one of the three mandated Follow-up Staff Development Programs.   The first one I attended dealt with Portfolio Assessment.   Extensive reports about these training programs have been provided to Ms. Wills, Principal; Mr. Sippel, English Learners Coordinator; and to Mr. Joel W., Chair of the ESL Program.  

 

In this report, I will use to structure my comments

the following source:

ACCELERATING  ACADEMIC  ENGLISH

A Focus on the English Learner

by Robin C. Scarcella,

Director of the ESL Program at the University of California, Irvine.

Copyright: Regents of the University of California, 2003

 

This book was provided by the LAUSD to all participants in the first Follow-up Staff Development Program for “High Point” (Level C – Advanced).   

 

                             Very recently, Foshay took two critical steps to address issues relating to the provision of “equal educational opportunities” and “equal access to the curriculum” to ALL students.   These steps are: (1) the balancing of the three instructional tracks at Foshay in order to have a maximum EQUAL student enrollment of 1,038 students in each track; and (2) the adoption of a new bell schedule which provides for 90 minute class periods aligned with the latest research on effective maximum learning time.   In addition, a strong re-commitment has been made by the administration to maintain and enhance one of the key components of Foshay’s Urban Learning Center design, namely, teacher teams responsible for the academic achievement of small groups of students and empowered to design the educational opportunities best suited for each small community of teachers and learners.  

 

By balancing the instructional tracks Foshay will

totally eliminate, it is very strongly hoped, the “traveling teaching” system.   Each teacher, thus, will have h(is/er) own classroom during each and all instructional sessions and for all of h(is/er) instructional periods.  

 

To best balance the three instructional tracks by

July 1st, 2004, ALL English-as-a-Second Language students will be enrolled in only Tracks A and B.   Tracks A and B offer one particularly important feature very relevant to ESL instruction:  These tracks can, in theory, provide literally the equivalent of 50 weeks of instruction –or approximately 250 instructional days-- between July 1st and June 30th of each academic year if students attend both the regular track sessions and the inter-sessions.   Moreover, ESL teachers should have, with either Track A or Track B in session all year long, designated ESL classrooms where only ESL teachers teach and where ESL instructional materials may be kept for use by ALL ESL teachers all year long.    In these classrooms, as in most classrooms at Foshay, there should be a strong technology presence with computers, Internet access, audio and visual equipment, LCD’s, desk-top presenters for correction of written assignments, English and English/Spanish dictionaries, commercially-produced and teacher-made instructional materials and realia for all teachers to share, etc.

 

                             The most important advantage of Foshay’s recently  adopted decisions, outlined above, is the fact that the administration will give new impetus, will promote with greater emphasis, and will implement with strong support the Urban Learning Center concept of “small communities of teachers and learners” making instructional decisions to best promote academic achievement for ALL students.  Given the latest research and theoretical thinking about English Language Development reported in ACCELERATING ACADEMIC ENGLISH, the concept of “small communities of teachers and learners” provides ESL teachers with the greatest opportunity to interact with content area teachers and work with them using the SAME content area materials and textbooks to have the greatest impact in the development of ACADEMIC ENGLISH.   In essence, the ESL program could become –and should become—the strongest CONCURRENT link that helps students master ACADEMIC ENGLISH in ALL content areas.   The Foshay Library could become –and should become—a totally audio-visual library with all its books ON TAPE as well as in print, to maximize equal access to the library in ALL core curricular areas.  All content area textbooks and content area reading materials that can be provided through audio and video tapes, should be CONCURRENTLY integrated through content area classes, ESL classes and the Library.   Above all, funding for technology-based, fully-integrated ESL/content area CONCURRENT learning projects should be provided instead of funding to continue to purchase non-integrated, non-content area related ESL textbooks, workbooks, etc.   

 

 

  

 

ACCELERATING  ACADEMIC  ENGLISH, the

source I have chosen to structure this report, addresses the needs of English Learners, or EL’s/ELs, who belong to two very distinct groups:

 

          Group 1:          Native English Speakers who are Standard English

dialect learners.

          Group 2:   Non-native English Speakers who have a primary

language or native language other than English.

 

Scarcella clearly presents (Page 114) the many reasons that these two totally different types of English Learners or ELs CANNOT and should not be taught in the same way, especially in building their ACADEMIC ENGLISH vocabulary. Scarcella clearly indicates that these English Learners CANNOT and should NOT be taught in the same way that Standard English Speakers are taught.    However, the entire series of textbooks labeled “High Point,” (Levels: A -- Beginning, B -- Intermediate, and C -- Advanced) was primarily designed to address the needs of Native English Speakers ONLY, particularly Native English Speakers in GROUP 1; that is, the series “High Point” was designed as a READING intervention program for NATIVE English Speakers who were behind grade-level in English reading.   “High Point” fails to address the needs of Group 2, above, that is, NON-English Speakers learning English, Academic English in particular, and who may or may not be literate in their primary or native language (which at Foshay is almost totally SPANISH).  

 

Scarcella provides ALL the features of effective and

successful ACADEMIC ENGLISH Language Development Programs (in other words, Specially Designed Academic ENGLISH Instructional Programs or SDAIE Programs with ENGLISH as the academic subject of the program) for NON-English speaking students.   The ESL Program at Foshay Learning Center, as presently implemented, and the ESL textbook used, “High Point,” FAIL to provide these effective and successful instructional techniques, instructional units, lesson plans and ASSESSMENT components.   A detailed summary of Scarcella’s points follows; numbers in parentheses refer to the pages in Scarcella’s book. 

 

 

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE STUDENT POPULATION

 

English learners may speak a first language other than English or they may speak a nonstandard dialect of English. (2) 

 

Speakers of English dialects who struggle to learn to read and/or acquire proficiency in academic English were excluded from the EL group. (7)

 

My comment --  (In California and throughout the USA, NATIVE non-Standard English speakers are NOT differentiated from NATIVE Standard English speakers or provided any type of English Language Development program since they are not initially identified through the Home Language Survey nor assessed for English Language skills relating to placement in ELD (or ESL) classes, or SDAIE classes with Academic English as the subject area for instructional purposes.)

 

In California’s typically segregated urban schools, the majority of students are ELs.  (3)

 

My comment --  (At Foshay Learning Center, ALL 3,500 + students are English Learners or ELs with approximately 85% of the students having Spanish as their primary or native language.   It is not known how many native Spanish speaking students at Foshay are literate in Spanish.)  

 

. . . Latino children have not fared well in California’s public schools.   Almost half of Latinos in the state have had less than a high school education (California Research Bureau, 2000).  When compared to non-minority students, Latino children are twice as likely to drop out of school or fall behind in school (National Center for Education Statistics, 1999).   (3)

 

My comment; (It Is not known how severe the drop out problem is for Foshay’s minority students, nor for specific subgroups: for Latino or for African American students.  It is truly hoped that the recent steps taken by Foshay faculty, staff, and parents will improve the academic achievement and drop out rates of Foshay’s 3,500 + Kinder-12th grade minority students.)

 

. . . . ELs often lack the preschool experiences, home resources, literacy experiences, and fostering environment of their native English peers.  Societal ills prevent the (EL) children from learning English.   More ELs than native English-speaking monolingual children attend poorly constructed schools with poorly prepared teachers and inadequate libraries.  (11)

 

My comment: (Foshay’s constantly on-going school repair and rebuilding program is extremely detrimental to the instructional program.   Teachers have to spend days and weeks teaching in the auditorium, cafeteria, and other totally inadequate locations to accommodate all of the re-building and re-modeling projects that, evidently, cannot be done during non-instructional hours, like after school and on week-ends or holidays.)

 

(ELs)/Learners without preschool experiences often have little knowledge of the ways books are organized or print is used. (48)

 

Although orally fluent, (ELs)/they often lack competency in reading and writing academic texts and participating in academic discussions.   These students may not know that they have not acquired Standard English.   They require intensive instruction to develop it. (6)

 

Many California ELs no longer are in the process of developing English.  Their English language development has stabilized.  They have hit a plateau. (6) Without instruction or feedback these learners never improve their English. (7)

 

My comment:  (LAUSD testing results clearly show that students have not improved academically in the upper grades –middle school--or in high school.)

 

On the other hand, schools also err in putting students into ELD (ESL) classes unnecessarily.   When students are labeled ELD (ESL)

year after year, this has a profound effect on teacher expectations, standards and achievement.   The ELs fall further and further behind their classmates. . . . For these learners, a series of ELD (ESL) classes virtually guarantees the students’ inability to gain advanced proficiency in English and the academic knowledge needed to participate fully in this society. . . . Today most believe that ELs should be given access to the core curriculum just as soon as they have acquired basic, age-appropriate communication skills.  (8)

 

My comment:  (It is absolutely essential that ESL and content area teachers team together and integrate their lessons so that ESL classes prepare students for their daily content area classes, especially in vocabulary development, reading and writing.)

 

 

INSTRUCTION

 

. . . .the students’ experiences and knowledge of the world contribute to their everyday English language proficiency. . . . .(Researchers) have pointed out the tremendous impact that learners’ own background knowledge . . . has on learning to read and write. . . . . (which) helps explain why some learners comprehend and remember more than their classmates do. . . . . . . . .(C)omprehension is an interactive relationship or process involving the learners’ background knowledge and the text, be it written or oral.   Students cannot comprehend anything for which they do not have some existing knowledge structure or schema. . . . . . . . . . Students who have acquired academic literacy have extensive knowledge of the world. . . . .   (26)

 

. . . . (In) Higher order thinking . . . . (students) must be able to relate the readings to the realities of specific disciplines. . . . (27)  

 

My comment:  (Two good additional reasons for ESL and content area teachers to team and integrate their instructional programs.)

 

In this new approach . . . . .

 

(Teachers)/They do not believe that learners have to learn to decode before they can learn any other part of the language.   They know that learners are smart and are capable of learning many features of language at the same time.  (10)

 

While in recent years teachers have been trained to teach phonics, many academic English problems revolve more around the students’ deficiencies in academic English than around their ability to decode single words.  (16)

 

. . . .It is necessary to teach academic vocabulary and grammar well. (32)

 

My comment:  (And that is exactly what ESL teachers can do to help content area teachers:  ESL teachers can prepare and assist EL students master the academic vocabulary and learn the grammar needed to successfully read content area textbooks and instructional materials, and write content area assignments.)

 

Among the hypotheses that are considered in this volume/ (ACCELERATING ACADEMIC ENGLISH) are:  (12)

 

·                    The development of academic literacy is affected by non-school related factors such as the availability of print materials, the use of literacy at home, community norms, and the economic status of the family.

·                    Neither extensive writing nor reading necessarily leads to the development of academic English.

·                    Various components of academic English are all related but can develop at different rates.

·                    Proficiency in one’s first language is a good predictor of the development of academic English. . . . . . . .One important factor contributing to the ELs’ development of academic English is academic proficiency in their first language. (46)

(ELs’)/Their lack of oral proficiency prevents them from acquiring decoding skills, orthography skills, word knowledge, and comprehension skills easily. . . . . . . They do not have the advantage . . . of being able to transfer knowledge of reading and academic language from their first languages into English. (48, 53)

My comment: (ELs in Tracks A and B could be provided, during INTERSESSION, intensive preparation and extensive development of their PRIMARY LANGUAGE reading and writing skills.   Also after-school programs and Saturday programs could be provided for ALL students to develop Spanish Language skills.)

·                    Educational background in one’s first language is a good predictor of the development of academic English. . . . . . (ELs’)/Their ability to read in their first languages helps them to access basic types of reading materials in English. . . . . They are adept at using comprehension skills when reading in their first languages—focusing on unknown words, using cognates as a source of knowledge, making inferences, and using prior knowledge. (46)  

My comment: (A very strong primary language literacy

program could be offered for both PARENTS and

STUDENTS at Foshay in Spanish Literacy for Spanish

Primary Language speakers and in Spanish as Second

Language for ALL parents and students.)

·                    Instruction is the key variable in developing academic English.

 

The instructional implications supported by this volume are: (12)

 

1.                Teachers need to help all students, but especially ELs, develop a strong foundation in the accurate use of Standard English. . . . .

2.                Teachers need to have high standards for all ELs and remember that all ELs are capable of acquiring academic English.

Teachers need to provide intensive English language instruction. . . . . . .Because ELs’/their previous schooling has been poor, they also require excellent content instruction designed to build their background knowledge.   Without this instruction, they continue having difficulty understanding their reading.  Their vocabulary is highly restricted and their grammatical proficiency is limited.  What is particularly difficult for ELs who are unable to read is that their English (speaking) proficiency is so far below what is required to participate in academic situations that there is little possibility of their ever participating effectively in them.    (48, 53)    (ELs’)/Their lack of oral proficiency prevents them from acquiring decoding skills, orthography skills, word knowledge, and comprehension skills easily. . . . . . . They do not have the advantage . . . of being able to transfer knowledge of reading and academic language from their first languages into English. (48)   Teachers need to build their students’ oral vocabulary.   Teachers also need to build their students’ background experiences and knowledge of the world.   If this is not done, nonreaders will have difficulty associating new words with their experiences. . . . . . . . . No matter what subject the teacher is teaching, no matter what the material the teacher is covering—the teacher needs to emphasize reading and include vocabulary instruction in the lesson plan each day. (113)

3.                Teachers need to provide ELs who live in areas where they are surrounded by other ELs with increased exposures to Standard English. . . . .

4.                In all grade levels teachers need to emphasize reading and vocabulary development. . . . . . . . . . Vocabulary is central to successful language learning. . . . (111) . . . . According to a theoretical approach called the Feature Approach, the human mind groups words into categories.  (108) . . . . . . (M)any students do not learn new vocabulary through their reading. . . because they do not even have the basic vocabulary needed to access the text or because they skip over new words and do not attempt to understand them.  (110)  

My comment:  (One more important reason to strongly

support integrating ESL and Content Areas and the Library!)

5.                In all grade levels teachers need to emphasize grammar. . .

6.                Teachers need . . . . . to provide learners with extensive practice in the accurate use of academic English.

7.                Teachers need to provide direct, explicit language instruction. . . . in vocabulary, word formation skills, and . . .specific uses of grammatical features.

8.                Teachers need to provide learners with accurate, age-appropriate feedback . . . .and need to make sure their students use their feedback to acquire English.

9.                Teachers need to give frequent reliable, valid assessments . . . .to tailor their instruction appropriately, and to give instructional information to learners that help them develop English. 

My comment:  (This is the MAIN objection to using the series  “High Point” for ESL.   I have very extensively demonstrated how the ASSESSMENT component for READING and READING COMPREHENSION in “High Point”is mostly UNRELATED to the instructional units on which the assessment is based.   “High Point ASSESSMENTS are NOT valid, are NOT reliable, and do NOT allow teachers to tailor their instruction appropriately given the instructional activities provided, nor provide instructional information to ELs.) 

 

To communicate in everyday situations, learners must also have knowledge of the vocabulary that is used in a variety of frequently occurring, everyday situations. . . . . . . .the words used in everyday situations derive mainly from Anglo-Saxon sources and are largely composed of short words of one or two syllables in length.  (20)

 

To communicate well in academic situations, it is important to know a large number of academic words, though the precise number that researchers suggest varies widely. . . . . . . . . academic vocabulary derives predominantly from Greco-Latin sources and is characterized by the use of multi-syllabic words.  (22)   One half of general words and two-thirds of all academic, technical, and low-frequency words come from Latin, French (through Latin), or Greek.  (125) 

 

My comment:  (COGNATES – words with similar meaning, spelling and pronunciation in two languages, for example, in English “elephant” and Spanish “elefante,” are crucial for native Spanish-speaking students to master.   In essence, when students know COGNATES, they learn and remember English words for FREE, effortlessly.)  Please, SEE “THE ACADEMIC WORD LIST” provided on pages 126-127)

 

Fixed expressions (My comment: Idioms or idiomatic expressions, proverbs, sayings, etc.) are particularly important in English, largely because they occur so frequently and convey important semantic information.  (22)

 

My comment: (It is essential that Idioms, Proverbs, Sayings, Idiomatic expressions, and other “fixed expressions” that show politeness and formality be systematically and frequently taught to all students.   These expressions not only carry semantic information but also are essential conveyors of the American culture.)

 

Social and cultural norms, values, beliefs, attitudes, motivations, interests, behaviors, practices, and habits constitute the socio-cultural/psychological dimensions of academic English.  (29)

 

It is not possible to “do” science, “do” economics or “do” mathematics with only ordinary language.   One must “do” discipline-specific work with academic and discipline-specific language. . . . . . . Academic English is not, then, acquired once and for all.    (19)

 

Literacy encompasses oral communication skills as well as reading and writing skills. . .. . . Academic English requires not only the development of those advanced reading skills which enable learners to access complex words, but also those advanced skills which enable learners to understand and use these words in spoken and written communication.  (19)

 

The main problem with many impromptu writing exercises is that they encourage students to use informal vocabulary . . . . (instead of) . . .the specific targeted vocabulary words that the teachers are instructing or . . . . academic words.  (116)   There are several problems with cooperative learning.  Students may not use academic words in the course of their conversations.  (117)

 

. . . . .the learners’ value systems frequently come into conflict with values associated with academic communities.   To participate in these communities effectively, learners need to comply with values that might conflict with their home values.  (30)

 

My comment:  (The development of PRIMARY or NATIVE language skills is one very effective way to minimize the perceived conflict with values associated with academic communities.   Within primary and native languages, there are “informal” and “academic” vocabularies, and mastery of those in the primary language promote transfer of learning –with minimum conflict—into the second language, i.e., English.)

 

          “Not-learning tends to take place when someone has to deal with unavoidable challenges to h(er/is) personal and family loyalties, integrity and identity.” . . . . .Individuals can learn the norms, values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of academic English without endorsing all of them.   While not easy, (ELs)/they are also capable of becoming multi-literate, multicultural, and multi-dialectical.  (31)

 

My comment:   (ALL students will benefit from becoming multi-literate, multicultural and multi-dialectical.)

   

SOUND  INSTRUCTIONAL  MATERIALS

 

Optimal input for language development is that which is relevant and useful to the learner.   It is not provided through ordinary, informal conversation; rather, special efforts need to be taken to provide students with exposure to the specific types of discourse that represent the language students need to acquire.  (43)

 

My comment:  (And that language they need to acquire is ACADEMIC English, the language of the content areas.)

 

. . . . .This suggests that the optimal input for English language development is thematically related and relevant to the learner. (44)

 

. . . . (N)ot all reading material is good input for developing academic English . . . . . . . Good input comes from authentic, un-simplified literature and textbooks.  It is primarily through these texts that ELs acquire the specific kinds of background information and language that they need to develop academic English.  (49)

 

. . . .(T)he teacher deliberately increases the students’ awareness of words by making word boards and placing them in the classroom walls. . . . . . . Seeing word boards with sample sentences on a daily basis would help students learn how to use the words. . . . . . . . .     Teacher must teach (the new words) relentlessly each day and always teach them in the context of sentences.  (118)  It is important to expose students repeatedly to the targeted words.   Targeted words must be recycled and reviewed so that students can learn their different grammatical forms, registers, associations, and collocations in a variety of contexts.  (127)   Most learners are not exposed to academic words systematically in their classes.   They do not use them when they interact with others and they skip over them when they are reading.   They end up vocabulary-impoverished.   What they require is excellent vocabulary instruction.    (128) 

 

My comment:  (The ESL teacher can –and should—provide the ACADEMIC language in the ESL class.)

 

Helping ELs make personal associations to new words aids their ability to remember them. . . . . . . . (. . . . teachers need to remind themselves constantly that ELs do not have the same experiences that native English speakers have.)  (120)

 

ASSESSMENT

 

Reliable, standardized tests are needed to assess English language development. (9)

 

. . . . . (W)hen ELs are not assessed accurately and regularly, their teachers cannot tailor their instruction to the learners’ specific language needs or give them the type of instruction they need when they require it.   (32)

 

Ideally, the tests are scored by trained linguists who are capable of identifying the students’ strengths and weaknesses in using English (9)

 

Teachers need to give frequent reliable, valid assessments . . . .to tailor their instruction appropriately, and to give instructional information to learners that help them develop English. (12)

 

My comment:  [The ASSESSMENT component is the WEAKEST component in “High Point.”   In addition, “High Point” requires that ELs who fail their unreliable and invalid assessments by RETAINED AT THE SAME INSTRUCTIONAL LEVEL and REPEAT, and REPEAT, and REPEAT the SAME instructional components that they failed in the first place.   “High Point” is NOT AWARE of the extremely high correlation that exists between repeating and incarceration.   Repeating is literally a sure passport to incarceration (and the crucial reason for not retaining any student at any grade level.)]

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 

Given the abysmal conditions of many inner-city schools (see, e.g., the Harris report – Harris, 2002) further reform must be made to provide more equitable education for California students. (2)

 

Assessment, accountability and standards . . . reveal to both parents and children the inequities in the instruction our schools provide.  Reforms related to them are . . . making the inequities in education obvious.  (2)

 

What is needed is excellent instruction by qualified teachers and a curriculum that provides ELs with extra English support. (8)

 

However, when these learners are not given access to the core curriculum, they may fail to reach grade-level standards. (8)

 

In the new approach, teachers help their students acquire strong proficiency in academic English.   They do not replace their students’ first languages. . . . Acquiring academic English need not mean losing one’s home language.   It should mean learning a variety of English that will help students achieve academically, economically and socially. . . .  (Teachers) They also realize that when students do well in school, their self-esteem is enhanced. (10)   

 

My comment:   (AMEN!)

 

 

 


For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:

1. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
2. Cross Cultural Diversity - Multicultural Strategies
3. Effective Instruction for English Learners (L.E.P. students) Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
4. Promoting Academic Success in Language Minority Students
5. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
6. Oral Language / Literacy Skills / Higher Order Thinking Skills
7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
8. The Structure of English / The Structure of Spanish
9. Transition: Introduction to English Reading

Web Site Programs for Teachers: Numbers 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9.
Web Site Programs for
Paraprofessionals: Number 3.
Web Site Programs for
New Teachers:
Enhanced Cultural Sensitivity - The Challenge of Students Diversity
Identifying / Responding to Students' Language Needs
Phonemic Awareness: Teaching English phonics to L.E.P. students
Relationship Between Reading, Writing and Spelling
Improving Reading Performance -- Building Oral Language Skills)

Write and e-mail any additional questions you may have, and Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will establish with you, your school or district a Technical Assistance Service Contract. Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will answer all your questions promptly and to your satisfaction.

 

For information and credentials please click on the link below or contact directly:

CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK, Ph.D.

Educational Consultant, Program Evaluator

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Certification (12/2006)

3113 Malcolm Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90034-3406

Phone and Fax: (310) 474-5605

E-mail:  csssadek@gte.net