The district has a growing number of English language learners from a variety of backgrounds. The recently adopted LOOK bill provides districts with broad latitude in selecting the approach that best meets their needs.
What approach or model of new language acquisition do you support and why?
Cara Berg Powers:
I spent a good deal of time looking at the different models for implementing English language learning successfully. As a member of the Chandler Magnet School community I spoke with members of the staff and my daughter's kindergarten teacher from last year who is currently pursuing a PhD in ESL and what I've learned is that I still have a lot to learn about this particular question but I know that it's important that we get it right. And right might look different for different language communities in our nearly a hundred that exist in our school system. One of the greatest strengths of the Worcester public schools is the incredible diversity of students that we have and families that we have the privilege to serve. Engaging community members, as required by the LOOK legislation, and the experts in our teaching staffs that are doing this important work will help us ensure that we are getting this right at each School and with each language community.
I would use the Model "survival" language by saying and showing the meaning. For example, say, "Open your book," and then open a book while the student observes.
Gesture, point and show as much as possible.. Because it would emphasize listening comprehension by using read-alouds and music.
Use visuals and have students point to pictures or act out vocabulary.
Speak slowly and use shorter words, but use correct English phrasing.
More advanced classmates who speak the same language can support new learning through interpretation.
Avoid excessive error correction. Reinforce learning by modeling correct language usage when students make mistakes.
With over 74 languages spoken in our schools, we must be providing an educational environment that helps students learn the English language without compromising the grade-level content. How to best serve our English Language Learners has been a discussion amongst educators for many years. Worcester has developed a good plan for identifying EL students beginning with enrollment. Once the student is determined to be an EL student they are placed in the Sheltered English Immersion model (SEI). I have seen firsthand the success of this approach with the EL students that I work with. I find it to be a great model. Students are provided the curriculum by certified ESL and SEI teachers. With proper instruction and useful assessment tools, we can gauge how the students are progressing and if needed changes can be made. As School Committee member I will rely on the expertise of the Office of Curriculum and Professional Learning to bring any curriculum recommendations to the administration for school committee approval.
I am pleased to see that the new bill provides latitude for school districts to identify multiple approaches that might work best with the variety of students looking to learn English within our district. I have never been a believer in “one size fits all” and support these decisions being made at the local level.
From my limited perspective and in conversations with teachers and administrators over the years, I fully support the dual language approach. It provides an opportunity for students with different language skills to learn a new language and does not stigmatize language development, since it is a challenge for both groups of students. One obstacle here are the resources needed to significantly expand dual language availability across the district, but the program works.
I have also supported transitional bilingual education, as it gives students the chance to learn critical content knowledge in their native language while simultaneously developing their English skills. The challenges that have been present with this model are managing properly the transition to greater use of English for these students so that they do not languish too long in the program nor move too quickly to English only classrooms.
As a member of the school committee, we expect the administration to provide thoughtful recommendations for strong and effective English-language learning programs that have a track record for success and are embraced by the families and the communities that we serve.
Given the flexibility of the LOOK bill for English Language Learners (ELs), I support the two-way dual immersion programs for EL students and monolingual English-speaking students. Students are identified as ELs based on the preliminary English Proficiency Level (EPL) which ranges from 1 through 5 (1= Entering, 2= Emerging, 3= Developing, 4= Expanding and 5= Bridging). Students scoring at EPL 1-3 should be placed in a two-way dual immersion program to allow those students to succeed academically in the language they are proficient at until their English abilities can improve. The students who score below the EPL 3 should also be closely monitored in the English program. The monitoring process should include their parents as well as the teacher who works closely with the students. Students who score EPL 4 or higher should be placed on the English track unless the students decide to stay in the two-way dual immersion program. However, whether the student is a monolingual English-speaker or a bilingual speaker, they should be encouraged to take the two-way dual immersion program. At the end of their schooling in public school, these students should be encouraged to take a state exam to qualify them as two-way dual students. The WPS World Language program has begun looking into a state certification for dual language students which is in the right direction.
Lastly, as a member of the School Committee and first-generation student who had to learn the accents and jargon of American English, I will also look into the Home Language Survey and the ACCESS tests that measure language skills among ELs students. Is the content on these tests best at capturing EPLs for students without American English jargon or historical content that a native American would know?
According to statistics currently offered on the website of the Worcester Public Schools, 44% of our students do not speak English as their primary language in their homes. At least 74% of our students speak 80 other languages. Developing proficiency and literacy in English to prepare them to achieve in an English-language based classroom is greatly challenging. However, the Worcester Public Schools is committed to this task and has programs and curricula in place to complement these language learning needs and I support all of these individual-directed approaches.
The Massachusetts State Legislature passed the LOOK (Language Opportunity for Our Kids) Bill in November, 2017. This bill allows individual school systems to design and adapt programs, strategies, and curricula to meet the individual needs of each EL leaner.
In the WPS, we have dual language programs for parents who wish their children to learn Spanish in addition to their native language English and for children who speak Spanish as their native language to continue lerarning in both Spanish and English. We have the New Ctizens Center for those with
SLIFE, Transitonal BiLingual, Sheltered Immersion, The programs are fluid so that a student may move to other programs when necessary. This is key when we look at the factors of equity and access. We want to make sure all students- ell, sped, gifted, have the same access and expectations to the curriculum- it just might look different. All ELL students should be afforded the opportunity to be in classes with peers, but have extra support provided. ELL students may transition into the regular ed classroom with supports such as scaffolding. Allowing for multiple options/opportunities , as the WPS does, gives students the ability to utilize different programs and/or strategies as needed.
Having been a principal in a school with Bilingual classes I am familiar with the concept stated in the LOOK Bill. This bill does give districts flexibility and its intent is to remove language deficiencies as a barrier to success. In our district we do have transitional bilingual classes with a knowledge based curriculum in their native language. We have dual language classes at three schools and we also increased ELL services to our students by hiring additional ELL teachers. According to the research it shows that Dual Language is one of the best models for ELs to acquire language while maintaining their own if done well.
In addition, we have promoted the concept with our students of obtaining the Seal of Biliteracy in all of our high schools. The Seal of Biliteracy is an award given by a school district in recognition of students who have studied and attained proficiency in two or more languages at graduation time. The initiative is to encourage students to pursue biliteracy in this global economy and those skills show evidence to college admission offices as well to future employers. Last year we had 24 students graduating with the Seal of Biliteracy and the goal is to have over 50 this year. World Languages are an important part of the Worcester Public Schools for when students see and hear their languages, it builds up their confidence.
Our district is heading in the right direction and perhaps with additional funding we can consider looking at other models that have proven to be effective for our ELL students. The district has just completed a grant program at Boston College on the Worcester Public Schools Bilingual Programs.
Worcester had a history of bilingual education, and Worcester currently has a small dual language program. Given the vast array of students Worcester serves, of whom 59% speak a first language other than English. we have a nearly unparalleled opportunity to provide language learning opportunities far beyond those of any district in central Massachusetts
The LOOK Act recognizes this framing—that it is a strength to have this variety, not a weakness. In vastly expanding opportunities for students to learn in multiple languages, the Act encourages districts to build on the strengths of their students.
One of my daughters has been learning in Spanish and English since she was in kindergarten. This program has now reached eighth grade; one hopes the district plans to not only add high school grades, but also add more students.
It has also given me—someone who has always been comfortable in schools, who speaks the language of schooling, as well as English—a glimpse of what it is like to be the parent of a student learning in a language not one’s own.
The best model of language learning is without question building on the language the student has while adding a language. See, for example, Collier and Thomas:
Our research in 23 school districts in 15 states and our analyses of more than 2 million student records show that dual-language programs can close the achievement gap for English learners and provide a superior education for native English speakers… By implementing one-way or two-way dual-language programs, schools can expect one-fifth to one-sixth of the achievement gap for English learners to close each year
Rather than seeing English learners as an outlier, we should see all of our children as language learners, and vastly expand everyone’s opportunities to learn languages in school.
The LOOK Act, enacted in 2017, “aims to provide districts with more flexibility as to the language acquisition programs they choose to meet the needs of English learners, while maintaining accountability for timely and effective English language acquisition.” The Act requires Massachusetts to establish “benchmarks for English learners for attaining English proficiency.” It mandates English Learner Parent Advisory Councils as well for cities like Worcester, “made up of parents / guardians of English learners in the district.”
Ideally, ALL graduates of the Worcester Public Schools (WPS) should be fluent in two languages – in English, and in another language of their choice. This equips them well to thrive in a world of multi-lingual commerce and opportunity. Programs that bring students from diverse backgrounds together to master two languages are particularly beneficial; thus, two-way bilingual instruction is ideal for many students. (I had first proposed such a program in the 1980s, and I believe we can, and should, expand it still further today, to more schools and more languages). For some students, transitional bilingual education can be vital, as a transitional “early-exit” program, or and/or with a language maintenance component (often called “late-exit”), while for others, an ambitious immersion program, or structured immersion, may be the choice of some parents and students. An English as a Second Language initiative can help students who seek to master English, either as a content-based or “pull-out” model. With the varied student population of the WPS, all of these options can be beneficial, and all should be offered to students and to their families. Worcester needs to expand adult language acquisition opportunities as well, and to revisit the 1983 consent decree in ALPA v. Durkin to assure that the many fine opportunities for language mastery detailed above are embodied in it.