Tom Destino

TOM DESTINO

Well let me use the current context I work in where the majority of students in public schools um are actually non native speakers of English and uh it’s particularly important for subject matter content area teachers to interact with ESL teacher because uh ESL because they both essentially teach each others sort of the other’s work. ESL teachers that no matter how many schools I walk into use content as a as a means as a vehicle of language teaching. And this is this is very good news because it’s a it’s a current movement and there’s plenty good reason, there’s motivation value, etc. and the simple fact that it’s real exciting for students, it prepares them for the subject matter transition. Content area teachers uh on the other side of it need to be particularly aware of language issues in general, and from some experience I’ve had uh they need to be uh particularly aware of structural language issues like verb endings and and tense, and um but but more something I’ve noticed alittle more important lately they need to be particularly aware of language functions. Um like retelling and clarifying and even some more challenging functions in academic subject matter like analyzing information, synthesizing information, developing evaluations, value judgments, of that work. So it’s particularly important that that they know each other’s domain. Now that’s one thing. And um it’s easy enough to say that that that’s our wish. And we do see some good examples out in schools of people doing this. But it’s not people teachers ESL teachers aren’t um overwhelming warm to content teachers and vice versa. So it takes some some work to get folks to to talk to one another. But there are fundamental reasons um under that.

How could how should or how do content area teachers pay attention to language issues. Um well I think in in some experiences I’ve had(interruption)content area teachers can pay attention to language in um in several important important ways. And um I think one of the most important ways is that they have to be aware of what they are saying. And this is demanding. This is demanding. But they need to be aware of what they are saying and how they are saying it to their students to second language students. They have to be aware of pace of their language, they have to be aware of the extent to which they use they use gestures to express what they’re saying, they have to be aware of um the sort sorts of sort of micro level issues. Which by the way many teachers are aware of. Um they may not realize it, they may they may not um be aware that they are altering their speech, but they do do it. And so it’s a nice uh it’s a nice uh occasion to remind them of that. But as you’re reminding them of that um there are times during lessons or when it’s especially important to stop and check comprehension of students, because it’s possible that second language students will understand subject matter and not be able to express it in the second language. And there’re cases where they’ll be able to understand and they will be able to use language and in but they might not be able to express the subject matter. Um so it’s an interesting kind of um balance act that has to go on. So one of the sort of point of summary that’s uh really important here is that um when content area teachers enter think about their lesson, when they conceptualize their lesson, they need to think about um particular subject matter onobjectives for a lesson. Like well I want my kids to be able to understand photosynthesis and talk about it and say write a few paragraphs about it to summarize. But at the same time they’re conceptualizing a lesson like that they need to think about language issues, second language issues, linguistic issues that are associated with that lesson. Um and some of these I’ve mentioned this a bit earlier, some of these um objectives have to do with structural features and others mi some of the most important ones have to do with um vocabulary d, descriptions of vocabulary, laying out important vocabulary going into a lesson. But also um uh functional language issues. Um and and so once a lesson is conceptualized this way and the teacher enters into the lesson, um it seems to me what I’ve noticed it that they conceptualize the lesson in this way once they’re into a lesson they’re very likely to stop at times to monitor the students understanding of those languages objectives and of the subject matter objectives. And so um when this works it it’s it’s a very exciting um to witness and um and yet as I’ve mentioned a challenge though for the teacher to maintain this level of awareness.

The um yeah proposition 227 is a particularly uh controversial at the moment uh it’s been implemented during this school year. And uh one of the underlying issues has to do with(interruption)proposition 227 in California right now is is particularly controversial, it’s the idea of eliminating, eliminating teaching students in um non English languages so essentially students are to be taught only in English. And um it becomes especially startling when you consider uh who the students are in California schools. California um has approximately one and a half million students who are classified as limited English proficient statewide, and the numbers have been bi have increasing and increasing over the years. Um so when you look in school districts you’re looking at the district level data or at the school date you find that most students are of minority background. And um many of them eltholinguistic minority students. So uh if you go into a particular school district I’m thinking of where I live approximately um 80 percent of the students in the district are minority and the vast majority of of that 80 percent do not speak English natively. And most of them do not have um are not fluent in English. And so that’s typical of the the inland area of Southern California or wherever you have majority minority populations. Um sorry.

The the proposition 227 is play has gotten played out in schools in different ways and in it literally depends on the school you walk into. You might imagine that a superintendent responds to 227 in with with a certain policy at the school in the district level and the principal and that policy goes down to the principal or the school level leader and at that level the principal disseminates the superintendents wishes to the teachers and you would expect that at when you walk in a classrooms that um what you’re seeing will reflect the principal and the superintendent’s wishes. In my experience in following up on the implementation and interpretation of 227 that’s not at all the case. In fact it’s uh somewhere way at the other end of of alternatives in that um often times classroom teachers will make decisions based upon their own perceptions of society and their own wishes or uh students who who eventually will participate in that society. So uh and principals also vary in their interpretations and superintendents vary tremendously in their interpretations. Um at the level of the teacher, the some teachers have decided that this is a very good idea, the idea of not teaching in in students languages any more. And it becomes very clear why they say that. It’s because when you talk to them further you find that they they have what you call a vision of society, inner vision of society that’s monoculture and monolingual. The idea that um when I mentioned recently is that um the pluribus of E. pluribus Unum is ok as long as um the students end up like um like the writes of proposition 227. so uh it’s this idea of having, walking around with this sort of number one mentality that is the majority English only, middle class interpretation of society is the one, the number one. And all of the others need to be molded to fit that. Um other teachers and principals and um the occasional superintendent will hold uh a multicultural, multilingual more of a cosmopolitan view of society. And in their perspective and by the way these these teachers may be next door to each other in the school building and their peers from their perspective um we need to embrace the socio cultural backgrounds of minority students and use tho those what’s been called funds of knowledge, those experiences to drive our curriculum. Now this is particularly um uh controversial at the moment too, controversial thought because California is a state with a very rigorous very beaurocratic curriculum state statewide frameworks that are suppose to be sent down to schools and implemented. Um so for a teacher to have that um perspective is uh is depends on you know depends on one’s own uh perception of society, what vision do you maintain? And so for example mine is more of a cosmopolitan perspective and I would I would welcome sort of the recognition of minority students. So it becomes a really uh uh it’s a very deep issue and it cuts right down um to the local levels, the teachers interpretations, the vision of society. Just briefly um the important question comes up well how do students respond? Um on the first day of school in September and that is for students who go to a traditional calendar year of schools in California as many year round calendars because of overcrowding, uh students who start uh started in September were were showed up at school and received instruction in English went and many of them expected that they would receive instruction in the native language because they had been in a transitional bilingual program. I remember a particular reaction of a 5 year old who showed up for school on his first day in kindergarten. His picture was on the front page of one of the local newspapers and the child was crying so you could see the tears on his face(interruption) proposition 227 has played out at different levels in schools, in school districts and one of those levels is very a particularly poignant one is uh how children respond to it. And so um um I remember a story of a 5 year old who showed up for school it was his first day of kindergarten last September just after the law had been passed. And this was a child a 5 year old who came from a Spanish speaking home and his parents, uh very common of the of our particular area in California. His parents had very low education level and do not speak English and though uh work and uh the mother stays at home and the father works as as a local laborer and so the child showed up to school uh not actually hearing English in his background. And and uh was to receive all of his instruction in school in English. And so uh he would be in a regular kindergarten classroom and occasionally have contact with the with a bilingual aid. And so uh and the the contact the students have varies tremendously. And so the picture of the child uh in the newspaper showed a close up of his face sitting at his desk and he was in tears. And I thought this is a this is a actually what spurred me into um studying the topic and sort of diving into it. I thought what sort of an introduction could this be to a child, to the most important uh endeavor that he will undertake in his life, that is being exposed to school, schooling, the the one experience that introduces you into society. So I thought that was moving and uh and at that late that level alone indicated to me that there’s got to be a lot going on at the level of students and so um where as the 5 year old results in tears, high school students in several areas uh resorted to uh ral uh rallying themselves uh boycotting school, having creating marches, and um generally rejecting the proposition and so um it affects all layers and it is played out differently uh but but without question um uh a signi signi significant uh in schools.

Yeah the idea of having a moral opinion as a educator I think is fundamental. And and if you go through um very frankly if you’re lead through graduate school and you are lead into a job often times depending clearly on who you’re involved with and these sorts of things you can be lead to believe that having a moral opinion has nothing to do with doing good research. And um I thick that’s um that’s a very old fashioned way of thinking. And uh so on the on the idea of the language of instruction, the language the issues of language policy, clearly they affect they affect teachers and in my recent experience teachers do immediately develop a moral quote unquote opinion or moral opinion on the topic. If I had to um say a very what would be the most important response that I might have to um the teachers on the issues I would say that um there’s significant research that supports the use of non English languages or second languages in school. That’s one issue is a scientific issue. What’s gotten played out in California is not that issue unfortunately it hasn’t embraced that that element, but has embraced the value question. And so what is happening currently in California is a bad thing. It’s not a good thing, it’s a very bad thing. And so you need to pay attention to the research that people expose you to, but you also need primarily to pay attention to who the students are sitting in front of you and where they come from. It’s not a question of you know the cliché like celebrate diversity, it’s a question of trying to learn from your students where they are with respect to their uh awareness of the society that they’re living in, uh their amount of contact time in society, and serious questions about proficiency. Their their oral language language proficiency, their ability to read and get across the page in a second language as well as to produce uh in writing in a second language. So uh if if you don’t look into these the nuances of proficiencies, these multiple modalities, you will um you will avoid the the very sort of issues that will that I on which your students will either thrive or uh fall behind in the academic experience. So so I think that would be it. It’s to it’s to acknowledge research but first and fore most how does that apply and how does that work for the students that are right in front of you?

It it’s very likely that within the same school uh teachers who work next door to each other and teach subject matter to teach ESL or whatever they teach may have dramatically different interpretations of the world around them, sort of visions of society. And um where as uh I remember an experience with a science teacher in a small high school. He was the only chemistry teacher in the high school which meant that in order to make it to a university in fact I remember him saying that the path to higher education comes through my door, and at the same time that he said that he was also telling me that he didn’t accept language minority students in his classes until they were fluent in English. Though when pressed he couldn’t really tell me what the what the foundations of being fluent in English meant. So you may have an individual like that who is in some sense a gate keeper and this has been well documented, the idea of tracking a language minority student. Um in the same school down the hall actually across the hall, sort of next door but across the hall, was a teacher who was a science teacher who was uh sort of sort of the opposite role. He was the haven for language minority students who wanted to study science. And he offered science classes uh typically taught more than his load, uh environmental science and biology and he taught classes uh using sheltered instructional techniques as well as classes in Spanish, he happened to be a bilingual individual. So he taught sheltered science to high school students uh native language science, and also taught what you would call a regular grade level main stream science. In that same school building was one ESL teacher, she was the ESL teacher for the building and she had 4 different uh proficiency levels that she taught. She had about 4 or 5 different classes throughout the day. And she frequently used academic content as a vehicle for language development. And uh science was one of her hobbies and so science was typical typically a subject matter that she used. Um unfortunately in this particular school um the ESL teacher and actually a couple of the bilingual uh teachers didn’t have all that much interaction with the content teachers. And um which is which is actually the opposite of what we encourage. We would hope that they would have some sort of relationship and work off one another. And so uh it’s always a challenge to um to talk to individual who who in in in the single school building who aren’t used to talking to one another. It’s interesting during my time there uh I kind of worked back and forth between them and ended up telling them basically um that they were all aside from the individual who didn’t want the second language students in his classes, the other 2 folks were doing lots of the same things. In fact I did a little study on the nature of the language they used, the uh sort of language functions in their classrooms, the amount of gesturing they did, all sorts of different characteristics that you would expect that teachers would use in sheltering techniques a teacher would use. They were using, on the same content, science. And with students who were very similar. So when you look at the the data, now if you look at these tapes, you’re seeing teachers behaving very similar, students behaving very similar, the question becomes and this is fundamental question for anybody considering teacher education, um um when language minority students are in your classes, where is the focus of the objectives? Are your teaching objectives weighted toward content or are they weighted on the languages end of it? And if you analyze videotapes from the ESL teacher who use content the weight of her con the weight of her objectives are on the language side. If you look at the science teacher his are much more weighted toward content. And so um this is the interesting kind of balance act that I try to get across to uh teacher education students and I think it’s its critical when you are considering um the proficiency levels of language minority students in your classes.

If I had to sort of produce a little tid bit that I might tell content area teachers with respect to second language development or second language use I would say that uh whether they realize it or not one of the fundamental functions that they perform as teachers has to do with teaching students not only facts and figures, but how sort of the discourse of the discipline, that is how to do how to how to talk science, how to talk social studies, what are the rhetorical structures if you will or the language functions that need to be pulled off by the students in order to engage in material. So whether they realize it or not if you take if you recorded dozens of content area teachers you would see them drawing attention to functions. And so I they’re doing it and what we need to do is raise awareness to to what it is what they are and then to suggest that those are critical for second languages learners and make suggestions as to um how they might actually help to develop uh strategies for second language learners so that the learners themselves become aware of those functions and can perform them independently.

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