About Me

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I am an extrovert by nature and an introspect when necessary. I enjoy life and do not take it for granted. My passion is to help educators become more effective at what they do, not only through changing practices, but changing assumptions about the students they teach- particularly, students of color, Standard English Leaners, English Language learners and all others who have been systematically denied access to core curriculum and subjugated to low expectations.

28 October 2012

Structured English Immersion...the "program"

The Disclaimer

Well, as with all things "educationese", there are very few things educators completely agree upon completely, so it helps to be a united front when non-educator forces wage war (like Ron Unz did in California in 1998).

From the Wake of Prop 227 to today...

And so, in what became law in the wake of Proposition 227, the educational community decided to fight back in the way that many other groups in the past have done-- appropriate a term that had negative (or heretofore confusing) connotations and use it to give language programs across the state a needed "reboot". Of course, as always, with our local control policies, results (and success) has varied from LEA to LEA-- that's Local Educational Agency :)

So what was Prop 227 supposed to do?
Bring a program that was to be the default with the only defined feature defined in the law as being "overwhelmingly in English". Yeah, not much to go on. However, the law allowed for parents to "waive out" of what the voters deemed as "the right" program for California children, SO, as a parent, if you willingly decided to turn your backs on the "people's mandate", (but adhere to what decades of second language learning research has shown) then the burden was on you to: 1. seek out a waiver every year and 2. sign and 3. return it to your child's school

So what happens in practice?
Well, this has essentially allowed "non-sanctioned" programs (which I call "alternative bilingual programs") to continue, albeit it in a variety of flavors and stripes, running the gamut from "Early exit" models that last from K-2 (or 3rd) grade and are a miss-mash of English (and almost always) Spanish (which is the WORST program for English Learners (ELLs ) (per research) to long-term "developmental" bilingual programs which follow an increasing exposure to English as ELLs progress through the grades with an equal decrease in Spanish, while receiving a rigorous program of core content-- that includes ELD-- in BOTH languages. Unfortunately, there is no State model or standard so again, these vary from LEA to LEA.

Structured English Immersion

So where does this leave the "default" program?
Again, largely defined by the local politics, demographics, resources and other issues. In more research-saavy districts, the Structured English Immersion (SEI) setting is a setting that is overwhelmingly delivered in English BUT done so in a way that supports the instruction of English in a way that English Learners can access curriculum.

Enter the SDAIE playbook

And THIS is where in my humble opinion, a "true" SEI program can be distinguished. It is in the use and implementation of SDAIE (Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English) techniques by teachers that allow English Learners to be able to take in instruction in English in a variety of scaffolded, supported and gradually portioned out cognitive tasks. Examples of these:

1. Visuals- posters, diagrams
2. Realia- concrete representations of items/concepts under study
3. graphic organizers- vary from note taking templates, paragraph containers, thought bubbles, etc.
4. multimedia
5. varied learning structures: pairs, small groups, etc.

So there you have it, when educators say that it's "hard to explain", they're not kidding! I hope this sheds a little light as to what's what and why the state of affairs at present  is what it is.

Until next time!

27 September 2012

So...an ELL is made...now where does he/she go?

So...last time we discussed how an English Language Learner (or ELL) comes to be (at least in California, per State expectations).

So? Now what?

A Little Bit of Politics

Well, this is where it depends on how much of the anti-bilingual "cool-aid" your particular district took back at the turn of the century (I LOVE saying that) when a certain Mr. Unz (no relation to education whatsoever) decided to go on a personal crusade and abolish all bilingual education in the State of California. Some districts today have intact bilingual programs while some did completely away with them, hauled them out like trash and never looked back. Many are somewhere in between.

I know, I know, especially for those of you from other parts of the country, you might think this is only a tall tale, a fictitious "bogey man" made up to make sure we cherish, value and nurture our bilingual programs. But alas, no, it was quite real, Proposition 227 came to pass, and ever since then, bilingual education programs have come back in fits and starts, or not at all, depending on how much of a red mark that left on your particular corner of this usually blue state. as I alluded to above.

[Sorry for the political history but education IS political].

ELL Instructional Programs

So we get to your district, and more than likely, your school's main office. When that newly identified ELL is enrolling, this is what is supposed to happen:
1. The parents are told/reminded/made to understand of their child's ELL status
2. The parents are informed of the academic programs offered by the school and/or district that are most appropriate to the ELL
3. Parents make an informed decision based on appropriate program placement, ease of getting to the school where the program is offered, navigating school transfer procedures if appropriate, etc.
It should also be noted that State law states that this must be done by a certificated staff member (i.e. NOT the school "secretary" or administrative assistant, clerk, etc.)

So...are we talking just bilingual programs? What IS an "APPROPRIATE" academic program?

So glad you asked :).

No, absolutely not, PARTICULARLY when we are talking about ELLs who happen to come from countries where a language is spoken for which we do not offer a bilingual program. In the vast majority of bilingual programs, the other language represented is Spanish, not surprising as over 8 in 10 of our ELLs come with Spanish as their primary, native or somehow stronger language. What should be surprising is that the vast majority of our ELLs now are children who were born and have been schooled in this country for years. But that's fodder for another day....

And speaking of another day, let's leave it there for now. Let's look next at the seldom known "official" default program for ELLs (per the legacy of the law that was once Proposition 227) known as Structured English Immersion and contrast it with bilingual programs (themselves a "hot mess.")

Until next time!

23 September 2012

How an ELL gets to be an ELL (how it's supposed to work)

Hello everyone.

I hope everyone has experienced at least some lovely moment with a student, found fulfillment in some fashion and/or was fortunate enough to encounter that holy grail known as the "teachable moment," (and even better, seize upon it)!

I thought it might be nice to back things up, given my absence from writing as well as the fact that there are shiny new faces in our classrooms at this time of year, like the "new car smell" that we don't wish to ever fade, so that we can learn about how an English Language Learner (ELL) earns his/her "label."

Note: I am writing from California, and this is how the legend goes...(or at least, what State Education Code says):

The Home Language Survey

You might not realize that the journey of a potential ELL begins as soon as the parent makes initial contact with a school and/or district, usually with the former. While practices vary from district to district, as part of the general initial registration process (new students), parents are handed a Home Language Survey, which typically looks something like this:

The practice is that when a non-English language is provided by parents as a response to ANY of the first three questions, the child can be considered a candidate to be an English Learner.

Again, the specifics of the next steps vary from district to district, but at some point, the student will be called in to take what is known as the California English Language Development Test or CELDT. Taken directly from the test's 2012-13 Information Guide:

In accordance with EC Section 60810(d), one of the purposes of the CELDT is to identify students who are limited English proficient (LEP) [the archaic designation for ELLs]. Education Code, Section 306(a) defines an LEP student as a student who does not speak English or whose native language is not English and who is not currently able to perform ordinary classroom work in English.


 It is the results of the CELDT which have the final say in determining whether a child will be designated an ELL or not.

For the sake of simplicity, the average of the child's scores are taken for each skill section tested: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing and scaled. They fall within one of five levels of English proficiency: Beginning, Early Intermediate, Intermediate, Early Advanced and Advanced. The first three levels represent a true English Learner and will be designated as such. Levels four and five represent levels comparable to a native speaker and denote an Initially Fluent English Proficient student (IFEP).

In sum, this is the expected/ideal scenario:

So, there you have it, as far as the identification of English Learners is concerned, this is the bulk of the story. OF course, as with everything policy and law, implementation is in the eye of the beholder and some districts' practices may differ from this expected practice. It is at their own risk, for they will be audited by the State on a regular basis.

That's enough for today! It was a heavy topic to start anew, but one that many teachers are not aware of.

Thanks for reading!

16 September 2012

How time flies!

Hello everyone!

Yes...I know it's been a LONG, okay          L         O           N           G         time since I have added to or updated this blog.

To the one person that would read my blog on a regular basis, my apologies. However, I hope to resurrect this in some form or fashion, especially because while there seems to be more research on English Learners, the gap between what this bears out and the type of policies our politicians pursue grows ever wider. Moreover, much of this research is still not readily accessible by many of my fellow practicioners-- particularly classroom teachers, and our system does not support principals with the time, structure and resources to secure this research and make instructional decisions based on this.

Phew! That was a long sentence. So I'll try to keep them shorter. Maybe. We'll see.

Let's kick off this blog again and resuscitate English Language Learners as a topic and bring them back to the forefront of our conversation.

I think a reboot is in order. I think I will focus on the current process for the identification of English Learners in California will be a good re-launching point (and a great piece of information that so MANY educators are ignorant of)!

Do check back in from time to time!!!

21 October 2009

the English Learner Advisory Committee

got ELAC?

Well, you certainly should if
the following is the case at your school site: there are 21 or more English Language Learners.

That's right. This is a state mandate that returns us to the conversations we had WAAAAAAAAAY back around the legal battles around discrimination against English Language Learners. Just as as these children would be categorically denied access to core curriculum due to a poor understanding of language acquisition and instead blaming it on lack of intelligence, their parents have routinely been underrepresented in the workings and decision making bodies of schools and school districts.

Enter the ELAC...
The ELAC is the English Learner Advisory Committee. It is a committee that is composed of the parents of English Language Learners and certificated and classified staff that work with English Language Learners. Its purpose is to advise the school's decision making bodies (especially around instruction, curriculum and budget) typically a School Site Council, on matters that involve decisions around English Language Learners. A large part of the committee's main thrust should be focused on the English Learners section of the school's Site Plan.

We'll talk about the inner workings of the ELAC next time. Who knew there was so much policy around ELLs?

- W

19 October 2009

English Learners in our Classrooms

Remember a while back when I talked about the legal precedents that gave rise to bilingual education and a growing realization that the academic needs of English Learners are unique but not deficient from those of native English speakers?

I know, I know, it's been a while. But the important point here is that eventually policy was created from this, and an entire system to support its implementation, monitoring and enforcement. At least here in California.

The Grand Summary to Date
We already know this:
1. We must provide our English Language Learners with instruction in English that will allow them to (eventually) access the core curriculum at a level comparable to their native speaking peers. This is what we call English Language Development, or ELD.
2. There is a test- the (California English Language Development Test) CELDT- which allows for students level of English proficiency to be determined on annual basis.
3. The levels of English proficiency range from:
- Level 1: a beginner, typically a newcomer or kindergartner
- Level 2: Early Intermediate, often those early on are in a "silent period" as they begin internalizing grammatical functions of English
- Level 3: Intermediate, the "wall" or "glass ceiling" that many of our ELLs can not seem to overcome
- Level 4: Early Advanced, students who approximate the speech of native speakers and are considered Fluent English proficient. This is also when ELLs become "reclassified" to RFEP (Reclassified Fluent English proficient). Hang on to that acronym, we'll talk more about reclassification soon).
- Level 5: Advanced. These students are generally indistinguishable from English speakers in the grammatical forms they use or academic vocabulary used. They will continue to increase the level of sophistication of vocabulary throughout their academic career and their lives.
4. California expects that ELD be taught at a student's level of English proficiency, and it is recommended that no more than two proficiency levels are addressed at one time.
5. ELD lessons involve targeting listening and speaking standards of the English Language Arts; these skills will build the foundation for what they eventually transfer into their writing and be able to read during the ELA time. ELD Standards were written with the goal of Level 5 students ELD standards essentially mimicking the ELA standards.
6. ELD lessons involve the explicit, systematic and intentional teaching of grammatical forms and language functions that students then practice and receive positive supportive reinforcement from peers and their teachers.
7. ELLs need to be practicing these new language features over 50% of the ELD time in order to internalize them.

So we know a lot so far! That's quite a summary of our travels so far.

Let's pick up on an aspect of ELLs we have not talke about yet- their parents, and how policy addresses their needs. (And yes, I promise we'll talk reclassification at some point too!)

Have a good night!


18 October 2009

Unexcused Absence

Wow, it's been a LONG time since I last posted. October has most definitely set in, with the demands placed on us in California by the impending CELDT testing deadline looming and generally doing more at my job with less people well, you can see it didn't take much for my attention to be diverted to other places.

But I'm back for now...

A synopsis
Last time we chatted I was finishing up a long running series on dissecting an ELD Lesson Plan. To review, these are the components I presented, discussed and gave examples of:
1. Choosing the grammatical function
2. Choosing appropriate topical vocabulary
3. Identifying appropriate grammatical forms
4. Choosing appropriate language prompts that will elicit the grammatical function you want students to practice via a language response.
4. Learning to adjust for ELL's proficiency levels in English
5. Learning structured language routines that ensure ELLs practice new grammatical forms and functions at least 50% of the ELD block

All in all, this covers the basic blocks to be aware of when planning an effective ELD lesson. I do hope that at least some of the components have been useful, enlightening and (fingers crossed) eventually implementable in your classroom.

From Instruction to Policy
In the next few days, I would like to shift a little from instruction for ELLs to more of the policy around ELLs. California has an abundance of policy that cover not just instruction, but parent committees, testing, district compliance, etc. I hope that learning about this will be as useful to you as instruction is. Certainly, when I was in the classroom, I would do things I was asked to do without knowing the rationale or context for it- such as giving the CELDT or wondering why our school didn't have an ELAC.

It is my personal belief that learning how schools work and the expectations that the state has via policy towards schools and districts will help all teachers better understand their role and function in K - 12 education from a perspective that goes beyond their classroom.

I certainly hope you will agree with this sentiment.

We'll start this week!

Keep me Informed!