Deborah Short

DEBORAH SHORT

…to schools, and talking to students, and parents, and teachers, and looking at the kinds of educational opportunities that children have. And one of the big issues that we find, of course, is tracking, um and looking at um how students’ needs are not being addressed by many, many schools in this country. Um and by not addressing those needs uh tension build up and you have conflict. I mean it’s – it’s – students aren’t – students aren’t stupid, you know. They are very smart. They may not – our language minority students may not have the uh – the English language proficiency that we would all want them to have so that they have access to the academic uh environment and all the other goods and benefits of our society, but um they are very aware of the fact that they are most often marginalized members of the educational community. They know that. They know that their parents are marginalized. They don’t want to be marginalized. And if we don’t acknowledge that, if we don’t really address that in our programs, if we don’t provide the services that they need so that they can escape those marginalized positions in our society, we are going to face real trouble.

We feel the standards are important for a number of reasons and both of the language educators, as well as the content-area teachers, and in fact, administrators I think should be up on our list of stake holders for the standards. What happened uh the beginning of the decade was that there was a standards reform movement here in the U.S. and the Federal government along with some professional organizations funded a lot of different content areas to develop standards for mathematics, for science, um for English language arts. TESOL wanted to monitor what was happening with these standards to make sure that the rhetoric, which was saying “All students will be included in the standards, all students can learn to high standard,” really included all students. But after a couple of years of monitoring the drafts that were coming out, we found that they were not taking the limited English proficient student or the student who was learning English as an additional language into consideration. They might mention them in a preface, but they never gave um instructional ideas or curriculum development ideas that might accommodate the fact that these students will be learning the content through another language. So in developing the ESL standards, we felt it was very, very important that teachers – language teachers and content teachers realized that there are a number of critical skills that the English language learners need to acquire and uh internalize, in fact, so that they can participate successfully in the content classrooms. We often talk about the um analogy of the ESL standards being an on ramp and what we think about is the students who are monolingual English speakers who have been in the English schools all their lives are on a highway and they’re traveling at different speeds. And maybe the speed limit is 55mph and there are some students who are going 65, 70, and there are some of them that are maybe puttering a little bit at 40, 45, but nonetheless, they’re already on this highway and their moving toward ‘standards’ as their destination. The ESL standards, what we felt would be the on-ramp, that through the standards we would help the students gather the knowledge and the skills that they needed to increase the speed of their cars. So as they come up the on-ramp they start out slow and they’re speeding up as they get to the top so that by the time they’ve achieved the ESL standards they can merge with the traffic that’s already on the highway.

As you can imagine, uh when you’re developing ESL standards or standards of any um import – in a national framework, there’s a lot of opinions about what should go into standards and how they should be organized. TESOL looked at the different standards that were being developed elsewhere to try and get some ideas. And two of the groups that we paid attention to were the English language arts and the foreign language standard. They were a little bit further along for us so we got some ideas from them to how to organize our work. What we decided, though, was to organize it by goal and then by standard and we chose to have three goals for um I think rather important reasons. The first being – the first goal is focusing on social language and the confidence in being able to interact with people or use language for your own personal reasons and that, I think, is something that’s very different from most of the other standards and most expectations that teachers have if they’re not trained as language educators for students. They don’t realize, necessarily, that second language learners have to acquire the skills in just how to talk with one another at a playground or at a job interview or things like that. The second goal is to focus on academic achievement because we want students to be able to use English so they can be successful in their subject matter classes. And given that we um developed a number of standards around that um concept. The third goal is also another one that we pulled out specifically to highlight it and it focuses on sociolinguists, sociocultural competence. We wanted, again, to make sure that teachers, administrators, um even parents, were aware that using language um is a cultural phenomena, and that as you learn English you also have to learn certain norms about um modulating your voice, what kind of gestures might be appropriate, how you might uh address uh a potential employer, versus how you might address a teacher, versus how you might address a pal in the mall or something like that. So that’s why we have three goals. With each goal we have three standards. Now originally we didn’t design it so neatly, but that’s what came out during the different drafts and getting the input from the members of TESOL, and members of NOBE. And each um standard focuses on some different aspects of learning English uh to be successful in school and in society. The third standard of each goal, though, focuses on learning strategy. And again, this is something that we specifically highlighted because we want our students to be life-long learners. We also want to make sure that the teachers give them some tools so that they can continue to learn when they’re no longer in the nurturing environment of an ESL classroom or a bilingual classroom, for example. What we then did was try to make the standards more real for teachers, and so we created two more categories. The first ones were descriptors and these are behaviors that we’d like students to be able to perform um or to uh emulate in many ways. They tend to be more functional related, the functional language things. Um we would want the students to be able to ask and answer questions. We want them to be able to represent information visually. We want to be able to have the students compare, contrast, analyze, synthesize, things along those nature. The um descriptors, when we work with school districts and teachers, we tell them their very similar to curriculum objectives. If you think about, you know, what you would like students to achieve as part of your curriculum, then you can look at the descriptors and the list that we have in the document to help you line up um activities and lesson plans around those objectives. The final category that we um created are cold sample progress indicators. Some um standards groups had talked about performance indicators or benchmarks. We decided to follow what the foreign language group had done and called them progress indicators because we realized that learning a language is a long-term process and what we want to do is be able to show that students are making progress to reaching the standards. These are accessible – assessable, observable behaviors. In other words, um they are samples – they’re not the – the whole world that a teacher might use, but they give a teacher an idea of activities he or she might set up in a classroom and watch the students do it. And if the students are able to perform well, then you know that they are on – on – on the road to meeting the standards.

The ESL standards are um really standards for learning language, but they are for learning language in particular context. And um as I mentioned, we have uh three goals, one that focuses on social language, one on sociolinguist competence, and one on academic achievement. And it’s the um academic um goal that is probably most critical right now for students if they’re in a K-12 setting. We have um (clears throat) – what we’re hoping is that the students will learn to use the academic language that they need to be successful in classes. This means that we’re not focusing on specific content topics that you might find – you know, certain facts that they would have to learn or certain procedures that they’d have to be able to do, but rather the language that is used to express knowledge of that particular topic or to articulate how to do a particular procedure and sometimes it’s hard to tease this apart. And we’ve been working with um content teachers to help them use the ESL standards as tools to make them more aware of what language is involved when they’re teaching a particular subject area. And one of the activities that we often do is we have a little chart and we ask them to make a list – um content objectives for a particular unit that they might be teaching, and then we ask them to think about the language implications of those objectives. So, for example, as something very easy – a math teacher in 2nd grade might want the students to be able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide and understand these operations. Well we asked them, “Well, what are the language implications?” Now sometimes we find that the content teachers aren’t um prepared to think in that way and so we ask them, “Well, get an ESL teacher involved. Sit down in a group so you’re working together and collaborating on this.” But they realize that you need to know the synonymous language. How many different ways can we indicate addition in uh – you know, in English probably 10, 1, different ways. They have to realize that students have to understand there are words and there are symbols for numbers, as well as for these operations. So that’s some of the things that we’ve been trying to do. Uh when we talk about the progress indicators that we included in the standards, again because they are sample activities, sample behaviors, they’re targeted around language use, but there easily applicable. So to a different content areas – that was at least our intention. So if we suggest that um teachers um help the students learn how to make a chart, it’s not just how to um put numbers or words down on a piece of paper, but it’s how to think about organizing the information that’s provided and then how to write it down, and then how to perhaps later how to talk about it.

What we developed through TESOL were ESL content standards, and content standards are more or less defined as what you would like students to know and be able to do as a result of instruction, and in our case, as the result of ESL instruction, although we’d sure like to involve all the different content area teachers as well. The content standards are specifically geared to what students should know. Now within um a standards document one has – we have instructional venues that show how teachers um help the students meet the standards. These are little video clips of what might happen in a lesson – or course, in a series of lessons. Within those we have tried to exemplify some excellent practices. What do good teachers do? But the purpose of the standards is not – we have not developed teacher education standards. What we want is for the students to be able to achieve these goals and these particular skills so that they can be successful. There’s another type of standards called performance standards, which is um – it’s almost saying how good is good enough. It’s like setting benchmark levels for student achievement so that you can say students are competent at this level, they’re able to um do the – perform these kind of activity, or they may be masters at a – at a higher level. We haven’t developed performance standards at this point, but um these again are things that are geared to monitoring how well students are doing as opposed to teacher standards.

In developing the three goals for the ESL standards, we tried to take into account all of the things that students need to learn so they can be successful in school, and clearly our number one priority is making sure that they learn English, but in learning English they learn a lot of other things. And when we talk about uh the social um – students being able to use language for social purposes, we want to make sure that they also understand the ways that one speaks and communicates with one another. We want to not only have it that they can read a book, any book that they choose, but they understand perhaps what resources they could use if they don’t understand something. That they might go to a dictionary, or they might go to a peer, something like that, to help with some explanations. This um broadens what it means to learn English. When we talk about the academic goal and focusing on English to – for academic achievement, again, it’s not just the vocabulary, or learning how to write an if-then sentence. It’s also the mindset. Some of what we hear um from the different content areas is they’re moving their students and their profession towards understanding the habits of mine, the habits – the ways of knowing of historians, or of scientists. We want the ESL students to be exposed to those things as well, and that’s one reason why it’s very important for ESL teachers to collaborate with content-area teachers or for bilingual teachers to get involved in that kind of process as well. When we talk about the third goal, which looks at sociolinguistic and sociocultural competence, again it’s much broader then just what’s the right form of address when you’re writing a business letter to a judge. You know, you don’t – you might say, “Dear Honorable So-and-So,” but it’s understanding that there are differences between the audience that you have or the purpose that you have. Helping them understand a persuasive speech is very different from, you know, a friendly letter, the type of tone and the vocabulary that you might choose.

I have the opportunity um through my research to go into a lot of classrooms, and it’s wonderful because I’m an x-teacher and I like to go in and – and see what teachers are doing and work with teachers when possible. And for a number of years I was able to do some research on social studies classrooms and specifically went in and worked with teachers and saw what teachers were doing, and was able to – with the teachers in a collaborative fashion, um identify some of the critical effective strategies and practices that work well when you have English language learners in your social studies classroom. One of the things that we often think about when we’re um considering different content areas is the fact that social studies requires very, very high literary skills. There’s a lot of textbook reading that goes on, there’s a lot of ex – uh expectation, especially at the upper grades that students are able to do research. And so then you have – and – and also to work with primary sources, which can be very difficult from a language point of view. But um there is also uh a lot of abstract concepts students may not be uh familiar with. A high level of vocabulary uh that comes into play, but even more critically, very few opportunities for hands on practice. When you think about science, the students are able to do a lot of lab experiments and they can discover um knowledge. They can find out key concepts about science. It’s a lot harder sometimes with social studies. So when you work with teachers or you look at classrooms, some of the things that you want to pay attention to is “How are the teachers activating the background knowledge of the students?” So many of our students who enter um schools – as we know they enter at all different grade levels – but particularly when they enter at the middle of the high school, they’ve missed out on a number of years of social studies that textbooks and teachers assume they already have. So you might get a 7th grade student who’s never heard of Abraham Lincoln, but this immigrant student is in a classroom, perhaps, of students who have been in school for 7 years and who have been exposed to American cultures and, you know, they could spend a day listing all the things that they know about Abe Lincoln, whereas our immig – immigrant student may not. So we have to help the teachers understand ways to activate the background knowledge, tie some of the historical information, or economic information, or what geographic information that they’re hoping to share in the social studies to the students own backgrounds and experiences. All of these students come with a wealth of knowledge about their world, about their countries, and that can be a wonderful bridge into the social studies. So activating background knowledge is one critical thing that we talk about. We also want to help them learn how to use a textbook because social studies relies so heavily on textbooks. Teachers um can’t just say “Read chapter 10 and answer the questions at the end um for homework.” That won’t work for the English learner – for most English language learners, unless they’re at say a transitional stage in their language proficiency. As a result, they have to help them with the vocabulary, they may need to help them with the structure of the – you know, the textbook. I certainly would help students, and we’re – we’re finding this. If they know the textbooks going to say – the chapters are going to be set up chronologically, for example, that gives them a framework for hooking on the information that they’re learning as they use the textbook. One of the things we really encourage teachers to do is use graphic organizers. If you have um textbook – uh chapter that’s set up chronologically, give the students a timeline and they can use the timeline and they can use the timeline to take notes as they’re reading through the chapter. If it’s set up as problem/solution type of activity, find a graphic organizer, like a flow chart perhaps, um that might help them organize that kind of information. We really encourage teachers to use graphic organizers both as pre-reading activities, as post-reading activities, but also as concurrent reading activities for note-taking skills. And talking about note-taking skills, it also points out – um leads to the discussion that textbooks and social studies uh, um – are one key way of transmitting information, but teacher lecture is another one. I’ve been in lots and lots of social studies classrooms and the teacher lecture, they tell what happens and all that teacher talk without modifications, without visual support, without writing notes on the board or um giving he students a chance to talk about it in small groups so they can deepen their understanding can be very difficult for the English language learners. A few of the other things that we really encourage teachers to work on in social studies has to do with presenting multiple perspectives. You know, this is something that the social studies field suggests as well, but not every social studies teacher has been trained in this. Having students from all over the world in a classroom is a wonderful way to see the different world views that our out there and the different ways of considering some of the big topics that we talk about in social studies. “What does self-governing really mean,” for example. Some students may have been – never been in a country where there is self government by the people, so they have wonderful uh contributions to make. The other thing too we want to encourage teachers to do in a social studies classroom is remember that just because the students don’t speak English, it doesn’t mean they can’t think. Social studies is a wonderful um content area where critical thinking skills, higher order thinking activities can be a part of this. Teachers need to realize that the student may not be able to articulate very well their thoughts on certain things, but that shouldn’t stop them from posing the questions, or posing the problems and letting their brains um exercise as they’re working through these things, and then hopefully they’ll be learning English so that they have the um linguistic knowledge to share their thoughts about some of the critical thinking activities that might be taking place.

Um, in November I had to give some testimony to the um (clears throat) National Educational Governing Board – no, sorry. Got the name wrong. (Interruption) In November, I had to give some testimony in front of the National Assessment Governing Board. This is a group that um is involved with the NAPE test, but they also have been charged with developing the voluntary tests that President Clinton is interested in for um 4th grade reading competence and 8th grade mathematics competence uh and hoping that students across the nation will be tested in this. In the development of these tests there hasn’t been a lot of consideration of language minority students so NAGBE, as the board is known, held a number of hearings around the U.S. within this um setting in Washington, D.C. I was able to speak a little bit about assessment and limited English proficient students, trying to call to mind some of the um – the considerations that test developers, test deliverers, and test scorers have to keep in mind that we’re dealing with students who are undergoing second language acquisition. And some of the things that we had to discuss uh had to do with the fact that any test that’s given is a test of reading, unless it’s an oral test, of course, um and it’s a test of language. Even if it’s a math test, there is a lot of language involved with this. And we wanted to make uh the developers uh and as I said, the scorers aware that when looking at items that they would work on, they have to ask themselves what are we really testing here? Are we testing their language ability? Are we testing whether or not they can read this question or are we trying to find out if they understand the content topic, the particular objective, uh the piece of content knowledge that the test is moving towards. When – when teachers develop assessments for their classrooms, they have to keep that in mind. They have to decide what they’re trying to assess with the students. As I’ve mentioned, language and content can be very um closely intertwined in any kind of – of classroom assessment. So one of the suggestions that we make to teachers when they are particularly assessing content, we really want to find out the content knowledge, and they should use a very familiar language format of the test. If the students have been, you know, doing a lot of um short-answered questions and using a specific question form, you know, the teacher’s have been very straightforward in how they organize a question, not embedding a lot of clauses, for example. Um that’s what they should use on the test. Whatever they’re familiar with in terms of the language format in the classroom, should be the language format on a test where you’re focusing on content. If, however, you’re trying to focus on language – suppose you want to find out (Interruption) Sometimes teachers want to uh examine the student’s language abilities through testing and even a content area teacher might, for example, be interested in how well a student can write a lab report in science classrooms, let’s say. What you want to do then if your goal is to find out how well they can organize a – a lab report, then you don’t want to give them something new to write about. Instead take a lab experiment they’ve already done, you’ve already discussed in class, something that they know fairly well from the content perspective, and then ask them to write the lab report. Again, you don’t want to ask them to write a lab report if you haven’t talked about it, of course, but the idea would be not to put the linguistic and cognitive burden on the students when – you know, not to interfu – inter – sorry. Let’s see where I can go back to here. Should I just start from the beginning of that one again? (Interruption) Sorry. (Interruption) Okay. There are times when teachers want to assess how well the student’s language development is progressing and it might be content area teacher, it might be a language teacher. And let’s say, for example, that a science teacher wants to assess how well a student can write a lab report. Well then what you want to do is not give them a brand new science experiment to perform and then write up a report on that. Instead after you’ve taught how to write lab reports – because, of course, you want to assessment to mirror the instruction that goes on in the classroom – you want to give them uh a lab experiment they’re already very familiar with. Something that they’ve done, something that you’ve discussed in class, something that they understand why these things happen, they know what conclusions they could draw from the particular experiment, and use that then as the vehicle to finding out how well they can write up a lab report. And this way you don’t put additional burden on the students. Our students are always having to think about language and content at the same time because they are not performing in their native language. It’s not something that comes very naturally to them unless they are fully proficient in English, and if that were the case they wouldn’t be in our ESL and bilingual classrooms anymore. So you really need to be considerate of what your purpose is when you are testing. To think about, “Is this a language test? Is it a content test?” and to try to um limit the burden of one of those two dimensions as you’re developing your test.

Quite a number of questions come up about grading and how do you grade an ESL student when he or she is in a content class, especially if it’s a mixed class with some native English speakers, and what we suggest to teachers is that they work on it as a local policy issue, that it be something that happens within their district. Uh it could be a discussion across the ESL um discipline with the content area discipline, that perhaps you get some administrators and parents involved. You really think about this from a policy standpoint. You want to be able to certainly monitor the progress of the ESL students who want teachers to be accountable for how well they’re teaching. You also want the students to be accountable for learning. And we realize that ESL students will take some different pathways to meeting standards or to um reaching certain scores and cut-offs on um state or district level tests. We need to provide those pathways for the students and we need to be flexible in which ones are available. When it comes to actual course grading there are some different options that different districts have taken. For some students who are beginning or intermediate levels of proficiency, but they are in content classes, in some areas they just give them pastel, especially at the beginning level. Now if you’re at the high school, this may cause problems when it comes down to a GPA, so again this is a decision and uh – that has to be carefully thought out and discussed widely. Other places have created – well this is one of my um – my bandwagons. I think students should be judged from where they start into where they move. I don’t think of this as a foot race where everybody is lined up at the same starting line. Most of the ESL students start further back in the pack then the native English speakers when it comes to content knowledge, background knowledge, as well as the ability to speak big talk, reflect in English. And what I would love to see – although it probably will never happen widely – is that we find out where the students are at the beginning um of any particular course and we – we track that. And when we see how much they’ve grown, how much progress they’ve made, and based on the amount of progress then perhaps you can give a grade if you need to give a grade. Giving grades is – is certainly very, very difficult. But I don’t think you need – you should be penalizing the English language learners who may have made two times the amount of progress that a native English speaker has made just because that student isn’t yet up to par with that native English um speaker, the ESL student started so far behind.

I’ve been conducting research in classrooms now for over 11 years and I’ve worked with content teachers, I’ve worked with elementary ed specialist, I’ve worked with ESL teachers, bilingual teachers, high school, you know, the whole range K-12 – pre K-12, in fact, and the clearest thing that um hits me whenever I go into content classroom, in particular, is that these teachers are not prepared for the classrooms that they have. I don’t think that there is a single teacher candidate in an undergraduate institution right now who will not have a linguistically and culturally diverse student in his or her classroom if he or she graduates and actually teachers, especially in public schools. The entire country is um becoming increasingly diverse, linguistically and culturally, and we need to prepare all teachers for this. So I think that the most important thing that universities who grant teaching certificates can do is to make sure that all their candidates receive some coursework in methodologies for helping make content comprehensible to the English language learners and understanding what second language acquisition means. For example, when you are assessing for content and you read an easy that a student has written but you really wanted to know whether or not they know the factual information, don’t get distracted by the fact that there are some misspellings or that the sentences maybe aren’t as well formed as you might expect. If you – what you’re looking for is the content, then you have to understand these second language learners go through a long-term transition process before they write extremely well in English. Those are the kinds of critical information uh pieces that all teachers need to have today. We have to also prepare them through their student teaching so that they go out and have the opportunity to be in diverse classrooms, to see diverse students, to understand the different ways that language can be expressed when you’re not a native English speaker so that they can provide better instruction to their students and not feel so frustrated. One of the things that I often hear is “How can I help (background noise) these kids? I don’t know what to do?” Universities, teacher colleges, they have to give those tools to the teachers as well.