Teaching English Language Learners: An Innovative Program

The TELL Program aims to enable teachers to better reach students who are not native English speakers in classrooms.

"There is no reason why this university could not become the place, where perhaps more than anywhere else, the concern for literacy and the teaching of English as a second language is firmly headquartered in terms of unarguable competency as well as deep concern," said President Spencer W. Kimball in his Second Century Address to Brigham Young University. In response to this challenge, the Teaching English Language Learners Program (TELL) has been developed and is frequently shared at various conferences by faculty members of the Department of Teacher Education. Most recently, TELL was presented by Drs. M. Winston Egan, Stefinee Pinnegar, Betty Francis, and Valerie Hales to the Conference in New Orleans.

TELL is a series of seven courses leading to an endorsement to teach ELL students in public school classrooms. Each course is comprised of two parts: a series of video segments and an accompanying instructional guide. The video segments are intended to be an audio-visual textbook, juxtaposing the perspectives of researchers and professors with real-world examples voiced by students, teachers, parents, and other community members. "This makes the relationship between theory and practice immediately visible," explains an overview of the program. The instructional guide, which is used to provide instruction for participants in the program, includes strategies and activities that teachers can use with language minority students, as well as guides to reflections and discussions that interact with and extend the video segments. Every experience teachers have in the TELL program educates teachers on what to teach ELL students while it simultaneously models how to teach the strategies that are most effective for teaching them. Thus teachers experience how to teach ELLs as they experience the various learning activities associated with each course session. The combination of the instructional guide and the video segments is administered and supported at public school sites by a master's degree level facilitator with extensive public classroom experience. Thus active learning strategies are used to promote student engagement, with opportunities for performance by participants, assessment of learning, and communication with professors when necessary or desirable.

The TELL program's objective is to expand and improve, preparing all education professionals to work with and to better understand linguistically diverse children and their families.

The first of the courses, Foundations of Bilingual Education, establishes a framework for meeting the needs of linguistically diverse students--the Inclusive Pedagogy Framework. This learning structure guides teachers in increasing their skills in collaboration across academic disciplines, institutions, and school-home cultures; in attending to their guiding theoretical and moral principles; in understanding essential policy in order to more effectively advocate for their students; in utilizing critical learning domains, which involve cognitive, social/affective, and linguistic development; and translating their knowledge and understanding into effective classroom strategies. Inclusive Pedagogy provides a framework that guides teachers both in teaching ELLs and in developing as an ESL teacher.

TELL has been created to answer current and anticipated needs for teachers prepared to work with second language learners, both in Utah and throughout the United States. "In Utah in 2005", states the proposal to the AACTE Conference, "103,000 children lived in immigrant families whose primary language was not English. Research predicts that Utah will have 140,000-150,000 new students within the next decade, and that many, if not the majority, of them will be culturally and linguistically diverse and thus will need ELL instruction. Since 2000, seven of every ten new students in Utah are from minority backgrounds. Studies project that every year until approximately 2050, people of Hispanic origin will be the fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S."

"What we've created is a 'turn key,'" explains Professor M. Winston Egan, "a program that allows public schools to ensure the quality and content of ESL instruction while simultaneously utilizing the pedagogic skills and contextual knowledge their senior teachers have to expand expertise within their district. With the presentations to national conferences, more institutions learned about the TELL Program. It is currently being used by institutions in St. George, Utah, and in Arizona, North Carolina, and Minnesota, as well as at schools in the BYU-Public School Partnership. After coming to a training sequence at BYU, representatives receive the materials and instruction enabling them to offer the TELL Program in their areas. The TELL program states as its objective: "This effort must be expanded and improved, preparing all education professionals (teachers, speech/language specialists, administrators, instructional designers, counselors, and school psychologists) to work with and to better understand these children and their families."

To promote this effort to better work with and understand ELL students, the TELL Program prepares teachers to effectively teach linguistically and culturally diverse students within general education classroom settings. It is being developed based on Brigham Young University's K-12 English as a Second Language (ESL) program, which was relocated last year from the Department of Linguistics and English Language to the David O. McKay School of Education. The McKay School's growing influence in preparing general education teachers to competently teach English Language Learners was the basis for this change.

4 September 2008