Ninta Adame-Reyna, M.A.
Project Pathways is a statewide collaborative between the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), the Center for Success in Learning (CSL), the Texas Association for Supervision, Curriculum and Development (TASCD), and Education Service Centers I, IV, X and XX, funded by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and designed to address the needs of students who, at the secondary level, do not pass the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test.
The State of Texas is in critical need of such a program. Students are failing the TAAS test in ever-increasing numbers. Current information on TAAS results reveals that, overall, Texas students are falling below expectations in reading, writing, and mathematics. Of particular importance is the high percentage of minority students who are not passing the test. For these students, the consequences of not passing the TAAS are serious. Some of them will not be able to graduate from high school, severely limiting their potential for future gainful employment. Public outrage at the test results has manifested itself in a lack of confidence in our public schools and a cry for alternatives. School administrators and teachers have repeatedly expressed their need for a staff development program to address the academic requirements of students who fail to pass the TAAS. IDRA’s purpose in this project was to develop a staff training program that could play a pivotal role in creating a comprehensive, coordinated response to underachievement.
As a part of our organization’s involvement in Project Pathways, IDRA developed a training module to assist secondary teachers in creating educational opportunities that develop TAAS skills for their limited-English-proficient (LEP) students. This module was piloted in two Texas school districts where it was received enthusiastically by both teachers and administrators. In this article, the major teaching strategies presented in the IDRA Project Pathways English as a Second Language (ESL) Training Module are discussed.
LEP Instruction in Texas Schools
The term “limited English proficiency” refers to a wide range of English proficiencies – from having no knowledge of English to having some English language skills, but not enough proficiency to fully participate in an all-English academic setting. A LEP student can be of any age, language background or academic achievement level. The only characteristic all LEP students share is a measurable limitation in their English proficiency.
Although secondary LEP students may spend part of their day in an ESL setting, most of their time is spent in monolingual English classrooms with native English speakers. Consequently, content area teachers need to utilize proven methods for including LEP students in learning activities designed for monolingual English-speaking students, especially those activities that teach TAAS-related skills.
IDRA’s Project Pathways research found that one in five Texas teachers surveyed (20%) had not received any staff training for TAAS remediation. Further, those teachers who are providing the remediation to LEP students have not been trained to specifically work with minority students.
Teachers not only need training in teaching alternatives to improve mastery in TAAS but, more specifically, teaching alternatives to improve LEP students’ mastery of the TAAS. Based on these findings, a module focusing on ESL strategies and techniques became an important part of the trining materials that were developed.
IDRA’s Project Pathways ESL Training Module
The IDRA Project Pathways ESL Training Module reviews strategies and techniques that good teachers already use in their classrooms and explores how these can best be used with LEP students. The strategies presented are strategies that have been well-researched and match the needs of language minority students, (i.e., Reyes & Molner, 1991; Krashen, 1988; and Kagan, 1986). These techniques include peer-tutoring, graphic organizers, cooperative learning approaches, and others. The module also provides a rationale and practical “how to’s” for using these types of strategies with secondary ESL students.
Many ESL and remedial writing programs approach writing instruction as a series of grammar exercises adhering to strict forms. These provide few opportunities for extended expository writing (Moll & Diaz, 1987). As a result, LEP students are unprepared for the academic reading and writing demands of the TAAS test (Reyes, 1991). The IDRA Project Pathways ESL Training Module is written in a way that allows teachers hands-on experience with three specific strategies for improving LEP students’ TAAS scores: the Reading/Writing Connection, Writing Roulette, and Active Mathematics Teaching.
In the Reading/Writing Connection, the teacher reads a selection aloud and the students are asked to react to the reading by writing down thoughts that came to mind during the reading. This strategy uses oral input as a bridge to writing. The strategy also allows the second-language learner to integrate prior experience and knowledge with new concepts. In Writing Roulette, students collaboratively create a written piece while working in small groups. The teacher provides a “sentence stub” or phrase to each group. As the writing is passed around to all the group’s members, they create a cohesive story by having each student add to the original stub after reading what has already been written by other members of the group. Both the Reading/Writing Connection and Writing Roulette promote the learning of content to help linguistically diverse students actively construct meaning and synthesize information as they integrate reading and writing tasks.
Active Mathematics Teaching (AMT) provides an approach to teaching that has proved effective in improving LEP students’ TAAS math scores. A highly organized and structured approach (Secada, 1989), AMT is easily adapted to small cooperative groups, (Slavin, 1989). In AMT, students actively participate to link the content of the lesson to previously acquired information. If the students have forgotten previously acquired information, a more detailed review is given. New content is developed by providing process explanations, illustrations, and demonstrations. Finally, seatwork is accomplished in small cooperative groups where the students practice the concepts and skills introduced in the lesson. This section of the Training Module also discusses teaching higher order questioning skills in math to LEP students.
Most teachers realize that to be effective, math and writing instruction requires hands-on activities. However, hands-on work must also be incorporated into reading instruction. Toward this end, the ESL Training Module provides the Reading Process strategy, a beneficial strategy that allows LEP students to become involved with the text. In the Reading Process, students highlight important words and phrases, make mental pictures, cluster ideas, and participate in other activities that provide them an opportunity to dissect and digest the text before having to do anything with it.
The ESL Training Module also provides a generic strategy for use with different types of content called Reciprocal Teaching (RT). In RT, the students themselves become teachers through their participation in teacher modeling and guided practice. Students actively internalize four important stages in teaching: (1) generating questions, (2) summarizing content and objectives, (3) clarifying material, and (4) making predictions. With practice and guidance, students gradually assume the role of teacher utilizing the four strategies they have learned.
The ESL Training Module includes a sample lesson plan incorporating the new teaching strategies in which workshop participants have been trained. The session ends with an opportunity for participants to develop their own lessons as further experience in how to assist LEP students in improving their TAAS scores.
Content area teachers can make a difference in the academic success of linguistically diverse students. Although willing, our research shows that these teachers simply lack knowledge of strategies to accommodate LEP students in the context of regular, meaningful instruction. The strategies presented in this module provide a way for them to include the growing number of diverse learners in classroom activities and to make them an integral part of their learning environment.
For more information on Project Pathways training or to obtain copies of the IDRA Project Pathways Training Modules, contact the IDRA Division of Training at (210) 444-1710.
Kagan, S. (1986). “Cooperative Learning and Sociocultural Factors in Schooling.” In California Department of Education, Beyond Language: Social and Cultural Factors in Schooling Language Minority Students, (pp. 231-298). Los Angeles, CA: California State University.
Krashen, S., & D. Biber. (1988). On Course: Bilingual Education’s Success in California. Sacramento, CA: California Association for Bilingual Education.
Moll, L.C. & S. Diaz. (1987). “Change as the Goal of Educational Research.” Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 18.
Reyes, M. & L. Molner. (October 1991). “Instructional Strategies for Second-Language Learners in the Content Areas.” Journal of Reading, 35, 2.
Secada, W. G. & D. A. Carey. (Summer 1989). “Innovative Strategies for Teaching Mathematics to Limited English Proficient Students.” NCBE Program Information Guide Series, No. 10.
Slavin, R. E. (1989). “Cooperative Learning and Student Achievement”. In R. E. Slavin (Ed.), School and Classroom Organization (pgs. 129-156). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
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