Renewal grant seeks to improve teaching of English language learners
The education of English learners (ELs) is a national challenge. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 43 percent of the population growth from 2000 to 2010 was due to increases in Hispanic populations. The State of Utah saw a pronounced 78 percent increase in its Hispanic populations during the same time period.
Providing the best education for English learners is a particular passion of Dr. Stefinee Pinnegar, a professor in the McKay School’s Department of Teacher Education (TED). Last month Pinnegar was awarded a national grant by the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) to support her work in this area.
The grant totals almost $2 million over five years to respond to the need for providing stronger education for ELs through improving teaching quality. The grant proposal committee included McKay School faculty and the six BYU-Public School Partnership district language specialists. Grant support was also provided by Aaron Popham, Roxanna Johnson, and Gary Arnoldson.
Classified as Renewal, the OELA grant will foster renewed dedicated and collaboration among university faculty and the five Partnership districts. Over the next five years, the following are anticipated:
- Educate university faculty on teaching elementary and secondary teacher candidates (especially those in science and math) how to integrate strategies for teaching ELs into regular curriculum.
- Increase the number of elementary and secondary teacher candidates with a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) endorsement.
- Help supervisors work with preservice teachers in field experiences to improve on “good teaching” by using teaching practices likely to help ELs succeed.
- Encourage continued participation by university faculty and classroom teachers in current BYU-Public School Partnership programs that educate cohorts to foster best teaching practices for ELs.
Such professional development improvements will help teacher candidates become effective teachers for every student in their classrooms. “Teachers must realize that exposing students to conceptual learning while they also learn a new language is not an easy task,” Pinnegar said. “They must be continually focused on language development as well as conceptual learning.”
As the number of ELs in Utah schools continues to increase, so does concern for their education. Research shows that as students’ language skills grow, they will better internalize conceptual understanding taught to them in their native and new languages. However, conceptual understanding is interrupted and frustrated if students’ language skills are not sufficiently developed to internalize the content.
Partnership collaboration to prepare teachers to meet the needs of ELs in regular classroom instruction began 1990. In 1999, the Partnership developed a six-course program, TELL (Teaching English Language Learners), which educates teachers in the knowledge, skills and dispositions needed to meet the needs of ELs in their classrooms. It is offered to teacher candidates on campus and to practicing teachers by video-assisted instruction in the schools.
The McKay School currently has initiatives and events in place to foster best teaching practices for ELs. The ELL symposium brings together parents, educators, business and religious leaders, and community members to discuss issues and practices concerning the education of English learners. The McKay School offers a K-12 TELSOL minor and since 2011 has required all elementary education students to graduate with a TESOL endorsement.
Despite these measures, educating the increasing EL population in Utah warrants careful attention. Over the next five years, millions of dollars of resources will be used to help carry out the plan supported by the renewal grant. ELs rely almost completely on schools to support the development of their literacy and academic skills, and Pinnegar has seen the dedication and success of many prepared classroom teachers. “It’s about working smarter, not harder,” she says. “After all, we only have 24 hours in a day.”
The renewal team administration will include Stefinee Pinnegar, K. Richard Young, and Nancy Wentworth, with a renewal team advisory group including Tim Morrison, Janet Losser, Damon Bahr, and Lynnette Erickson.
July 31, 2012