Diane August

DIANE AUGUST, I’m a principle with August and Associates.

You know what I think?  I thought, looked over these questions and, and when I thought about this I, I thought well, the first thing I’d do is refer you to a lot of work that’s already been done in this area.  For example, people should look at the competencies for the Clad and the B-Clad.  Um, there was a very good book on this subject written by Jose Gonzales, and Linda Darling Hammond, where they look at um, teacher competencies and professional development.  And, recently Katherine Snow and Lilly Fillmore did a paper, a, do you know about this?  Um, where they looked at what kinds of competencies teachers need to educate English language learners.  So it’s a very broad topic.  A, um, I would just say that one thing that’s very important is that teachers really understand the process of second language acquisition.  And they understand things um, that um, all the way from the level of phonology through the level of the kinds of comprehension monitoring processes.  That um, students need to engage in, in order to understand text.

What I think um, one thing that second language acquisition research tells us is that children bring a lot of individual differences to bear on the whole process of second language acquisition.  And so it’s very important to look at kids as individuals.  For example: children um, come, some come with a very strong academic background in their native language, and literacy skills in their native language.  Some children have um, a lot of prior schooling in their native language, and others don’t.  Children um, enter schools at different ages, I mean they can enter at pre-school, they can enter much later, um, and they’re much older.  So it’s very important to think about: who is this individual child.  Um, socioeconomic status also plays a role in this, um, home support for literacy, the kinds of resources parents um, have that they can um, use to bolster kids um literacy development.  All of these things really impact personality, a child’s personality for example. And second language acquisition, some children are very um, are very shy so they tend not to engage in conversations with their peers, other kids are very outgoing, and they’ll talk to everyone.  So um, the status of the child’s first language has something to do with um, what makes that individual child individual.  Um, children who come from languages that have less status in the society in which they’re learning to acquire a second language will have um, probably more difficulty because kids will be less likely to engage in conversations with them.  So anyway, it’s really important that teachers understand that kids arrive in school, in U.S. schools with really different histories, a different personalities, different um, abilities, um different support.  And they, they really need to think about that.  A, beyond that, I um, we know, for example, if you look at some work by Paten Tabrus (?) for example, you know that, um with younger kids anyway, they seem to go through um, a certain process in acquiring a second language.  And they’ll start out doing a lot of listening and not a whole lot of speaking, they’re sort of absorbing the language.  And as they, then they begin to use formulaic expressions, for example, to be able to communicate.  And eventually they um, they start um, speaking and they may make systematic errors that are based on either interference for th-from the first language or their development of the second language and, so there’s a progression to the way they acquire a second language.  Um, I mean, is that what you had in mind?
OK. Well this is a relatively young field, I mean, people really started looking more systematically about children being educated in bilingual settings um, in the ‘60’s when the kids from Cuba arrived and they were put into bilingual programs.  So, in terms of really looking at schooling of language minority children, it started to re-receive attention in the ‘60’s.  And then with the passage of the Bilingual Education Act, which was also in the ‘60’s under the Johnson administration, it was the first time that the federal government funded bilingual programs.  And at that point they became more a subject of study.

(There is a sound of music playing that can be heard lightly in the background through most of the interview.)

OK.  Well I think we now a lot about affective practice as it relates to English language learners.  Um, in the book that I co-edited with Kenji Acuta, we looked at the research literature and we tried to pull out, sort of, what the literature tells us about affective practice. And we came up with attributes; for example, many of them overlap with the effective schools attributes that um, are present in the effective schools literature, for example: um, strong leadership um, and leadership that is-principles that are instructional leaders.  Um things like: um, value placed on the home culture and language.  So, I mean, I could go on with these attributes if you want me to.  Um, OK.  Well, other attributes, for example:  have to do with um, the integration of the programs and programmings specific to English language learners, with programming that um, other programming that’s happening in the school.  For example:  that there is coordination among the teachers who serve English language learners and um, collaboration.  And that there is coordination of programming, that is, that the children follow some coherent sequence of classes that enable them to acquire um, second language competence and subject matter knowledge.  We found that um, programs that emphasized use of the native language and culture were affective programs.  And a recent review by Jake Reno, which is a metanalysis of programs um, or studies that compare programs that use some native use with programs that use only English, found that those programs that do use the native language are more effective in educating language minority students.  It’s a very good study because he just used very sound research in his review and his metanalysis.  So um, I’m trying to think of some of the other attributes that um, we found in the study um, explicit instruction, some skills need to be explicitly taught. Um, but on the other hand, children also needed a chance to um, self generate and um, so both of those things tended to be important.  They needed lots of practice, that was something that also um, was important.  That is, they needed to practice the skills they were learning and techniques such as the use of um, instructional conversations really helped these kids to elaborate their um, speech around subject matter knowledge.  So, we do know a lot, I mean, one of the issues is: what is, what is this mean in terms of actually helping um, teachers teach well and um, principals set up and administer schools that work for these kids.  I mean, there’s one thing sort of siting the research literature and finding out these are all attributes of effectiveness.  There’s another thing, figuring out how do you take these attributes of effectiveness and um, and turn them into a good school.  And so there’s some interesting examples of schools that have, have done this, I mean there’s the International High School, for example, in New York City where their profe-what they do, a, do you know about this school?  Um it’s a school they-that a, um, it’s a high school and all the kids are newcomers.  So, and they’re from all different countries.  And what they do there is, they have a very interesting model of professional development.  They look at the kids test scores and they think very systematically about what the children need to know that they’re not learning, and the teachers work together collaboratively to figure out um, how to help these children.  And doing so they may bring in experts to help them with sort of specific aspects of improving instruction for these kids, and they bring resources to bear on um, the whole process of, of educating these children.  But professional development in sort of developing affective practices all based on looking at the children, looking at um, classroom based assessments, analyzing these assessments, and then, as a team working together trying to figure out what can be done to really improve the way these children learn.  And I think, you know, that’s a very effective model.  Um, another model that’s worked very well with English language learners, and other children, is this whole idea of pairing expert teachers with novice teachers. (Loud bang)  So, this was something they did in District Two in New York City where it’s um, expert teachers would go and they would actually team-teach with novice teachers.  And they would show the novice teachers sort of strategies and techniques that helped um, children learn.  Um, another thing that I personally think would be a really good thing to do would be to develop some exemplary schools that could be used as training schools for educators who wanted to improve the instruction of English language learners.  Working with different populations, so, for example: you could set up a school that was a duel immersion school, or different models of duel immersion schools, a 90-10 school or a 50-50 school.  And so you would have an actual school that was operating that could serve as a site um, for visitors who wanted to come and see, not just, you know, what was happening in the second grade classroom, but how instruction might work, sort of, across the grades.  And to really get a sense of how a whole school educates language minority kids.  So you could have schools like this that follow sort of different models of instruction.   You might have a school that used only English, for example, and had kids from fifteen of sixteen different language backgrounds and you would have highly effective teachers and a high effective organization working to educate these kids.  And I think that kind of modeling would be um, would be a good thing to do.  I mean I think the schools exist, but they’re not used for training purposes per say.  And I think people like me, or other researchers, might go look at those schools and occasionally they have visitors but they’re not really slated as professional development schools and I think that would go a really long way in helping a, teachers and administrators understand um, how to better educate language minority kids.  I mean, another thing they could be used for is research, cause I think one of the issues is that it’s very hard to do the kind of research we need to do in schools.  I mean we need um, studies with strong experimental designs where you’ve got kids, some kids, in control groups other kids in experimental groups um, possibly have these kids randomly assigned into these groups. And um, researchers really have the ability to go into the classrooms and um, collect data or to work collaboratively with teachers to develop interventions that are then um, tested and um tried out in other settings. I mean I think, having these kinds of laboratory schools would be extremely helpful.  Um, I’ve just been involved in a three-year research project trying to build um, the vocabulary, word knowledge, of English language learners.  And we worked in school around the country and it’s been quite daunting, because these schools were not really set up as sort of schools for research endeavor, and so, it takes a lot of work to um, pave the way for the kind of research that we were doing.  So I think um, in answer to your question, I think um, we need environments in which we can do the kind of research that teachers need to really learn more about how to educate language lear-um, second language learners.  And um, .

OK. The vocabulary improvement project was a really interesting project.  Um, word knowledge is very, very correlated with reading comprehension. And um, what we wanted to do was figure out what kind of an intervention would really build the word knowledge of English language learners.  So this was a collaborative project um, between um, UC Santa Cruz and Harvard University, and Katherine Snow, Barry McGlaughlin(?) and I were the principle investigators on this study.  There were a lot of other people involved, however um, Maria Carlo from Harvard was very involved in this study, other researchers at Harvard and UC Santa Cruz were involved.  We were working in um, three different cities, really, um, three different, well, three different schools, well, not exactly three different-I mean. I was working in a school in Virginia, Billys um, Elementary School and um, in Boston they were working in another school and also in Santa Cruz, they were working in a couple a schools.  They were working in one and then after 227  they had to change schools because the kids were dispersed. But anyway, um, year one, what we did was we looked at the differences in word knowledge between forth and fifth graders um, in these schools, and also between English language learners and English only students.  And we had a large sample, there were three hundred children involved um, across the three schools.  I’m just, yeah I think that’s right.  The second ye-second and third year of the study we developed and implemented an intervention designed to improve the word knowledge and reading comprehension of the English language learners and the English only students.  But what is really exciting about this project was it was real um, teacher/researcher collaborative work.  That as we brought all of the teachers who were, the first year we tried out the intervention in fourth grade.  And the second year we developed an intervention for fifth graders-fifth grade to sort of follow the fourth graders into fifth grade.  So it was supposed to be a longitudinal study for the last two years looking at fourth and fifth-fourth graders and then fifth graders.  So, what we did was, we worked with the teachers to develop an intervention that pe-that could be used to improve the word knowledge of these children.  We brought all the teachers from the three schools to UC Santa Cruz and we, we had a lot of presentations from experts in building word knowledge in children there.  So we had presentation for the teachers, um, sort of this is what we know, so, about building word knowledge and English language learners, and then we talked to the teachers a lot about what’d you use in your classrooms that you think is effective to build word knowledge in these children.  So we had a lot of discussion and conversation, and then we went away and, with the teachers, a few of us sat down and developed um, five weeks of curriculum that we then piloted the first part of the second year.  And um, I’ll tell you the process first and then I’ll tell you more about the curriculum looked like.  And then, um, we had another twelve weeks of curriculum um, that first year of the intervention, and then we made revisions in the materials.  We had another conference in Boston, we brought all the teachers and researchers together again at Harvard, we said OK, you know, we’ve done this for a year, fourth grade teachers what did you like, what didn’t you like.  We had the fifth grade teachers there because they were gonna implement it the next year.  What do you think, where do you think the improvements might be, and then based on that, we all sat down and we made lots of revisions to the curriculum.  We piloted it again, the beginning of the second year of the intervention, made revisions and then um, the teachers used it for another, I think, it was another twelve weeks.  So um, anyway.  What was the curriculum, what did we do.  Well the first year um, we thought it was very important that children learn words in context.  We also thought it was important that they learn words that were words that carried a lot of meaning in English, but were also sort of grade and age appropriate.  And I should mention that we were working in heterogeneous classrooms, which is something we also wanted to do.  We know that a lot of English language learners, especially fourth grade and older, are being educated in heterogeneous classrooms.   By that I mean, there’s a mix of English language learner and English language only students.  So, we developed curriculum so it could be used with these heterogeneous groups of kids.  Um, and, so what did we do.  The first year we used fables, and we selected the words in the fable, again, that we thought were sort of important words for these kids to know, but they were, they were challenging enough so that all the children would be learning something.  So what would happen on the first day is: the children would um, the teacher would um, put the target words on the board, the children would, the teacher would read the passage, the children would raise their hand when they got to a word and they would circle it.  These are the target words.  And then the children would read the passage.  And there would be a discussion um, about what the words meant.  Um, and the other thing that happened that day is: the teachers would help the kids infer meaning from text.  So there were some words were you could do this, I mean, as you know, there are a lot of words where, you know, the text doesn’t support word meaning.  But the teachers would help the children infer meaning from text and then there were other activities through out the week.  The second day the children would work in heterogeneous groups, and this was one of the wonderful things about this curriculum, is there is a lot of heterogeneous group work.  So the English language learners and the English only children would be mixed in small groups and they would have, um, they would work together. So, the second day, was usually a day in which they had a series of sentences, they had a series of words, they had to figure which words went in which sentences.  And the sentences, the context of the sentence, supported the word meaning.  And the teachers would call on the group, but the children in the um, the teachers were instructed to only-to call on all.  To call on sometimes English language learners, sometimes English only children, within these small groups, so all the children had to know which word fit in, into each sentence.  Then the third day, we usually um, we developed activities to build that, the word meaning because we thought, we didn’t want to just build breath of word meaning, we wanted kids to really understand what these words meant.  So we had lots of games, for example: charades, where the kids would form teams and they’d have to act out a word to their team member.  Or, uh, there was one wonderful activity we called deprossessing, where the children would interview each other, and um, would say, say the word was tyrant, they might say, um, if you were a tyrant what would you do to the people in your country.  So they would have to really elaborate on these words.  They’d already learned what these words meant um, so, another would be um: if you were going on vacation, would you rather go to a torrid or a frigid um, climate.  So, so these words would incorporate, these activities would incorporate, words they’d already learned, we tried to build depth of word meaning and we had lots of activities like this.  Um, the other thing we did was we um, tried to teach children es-because all the children in our study were Spanish speaking children, to um, access and use cognates to read in English.  So the fourth day of the intervention we did work with cognates and we also did an assessment so the teachers really could see, on a weekly basis, how the children were doing learning these words.  And the cognate activities were sort of fun.  We’d give, we’d divide the kids in to groups, four or five groups, each group would have a passage, the passage would be in English, it would have a lot of cognates.  The kids had to find the cognates in English um, that is that, that had similar words in Spanish, and sort of talk about what the meaning was.  This was a great activity because it really built on the knowledge that the Spanish-speaking children brought to the exercise.  And then the last day we taught children other strategies to build word knowledge.  So we worked a lot with affixes, with roots, um, metacognative strategies, what do you do if you don’t know what a word means, and things like that.  Um, one thing we did the third year, which was very interesting, is: we also provided the stories in Spanish for the Spanish-speaking children.  So before any of these weekly activities started, they would have an opportunity to listen to the story in Spanish and hear the words defined for them.  Um, so the word would be said in English and it would defined in Spanish.  So um, we had very um, positive results in favor of the children that were in the intervention group.  Um, and many of the measures of word knowledge, we had to develop a lot of measures of word knowledge, um so we had measures that looked at breadth and depth of vocabulary, we also um, developed a closed test to measure reading comprehension.  So there were significant differences for both the English only children and the English language learners on um, most of our word knowledge measures, and on the reading comprehension measure.

Well, what we---what we found was that there was a very big difference.  The first year of the study was a cross-sectional study.  That there was a, a big difference in vocabulary knowledge between English only students and English language learners, but the other thing we learned is that you could build word knowledge for English language learners, and English only students in the context of heterogeneous English only classrooms.  Um, and that this word knowledge th-um, sort of improvements (background noise) in word knowledge also (noise again) improved their reading comprehension.  In fact if you compared the English language learners in our s-in our um, intervention group to the English only students who were control students, we closed the gap by half.  So that is, they made a lot of progress toward acquiring um, the kind of word knowledge they need to do well in school.  Um, I should mention one other aspect of the intervention that we think was important is: that we really worked with teachers to help them develop strategies to teach word knowledge to children in the context of, sort of, their, their hour to hour teaching.  So that when they encountered words during other parts of the day, they would have some strategies to use to help the children um, develop word knowledge of these words.

OK, another study that I’m involved in collaboratively with um, Margarita Calderone at John’s Hopkins, and I must say for this study I’m affiliated with the Center for Applied Linguistics, and Maria Carlo at Harvard, is: exploring the transfer of skills from Spanish to English.  Um, this is a two-year study, it’s funded by the Office of Bilingual Education, and I should mention that the vocabulary improvement project was funded by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education.  So this study is being funded by the um, by Obamla (?) and the idea is to look at children who have been instructed in Spanish through the second grade um, and then are instructed in English to see what um, the relationship between enabling schools in Spanish and English reading are.  So that’s what we’re exploring and we really don’t have any definitive results right now, we’re still in the middle of this study.  We collected data um, during the fall of 19-no, I, it started the spring of 1999, then the fall of the school year, the fall of 2000, we collected another set of data and we’re beginning to collect s-offspring data now.  And we also have data on children who have only been schooled in English who are also Spanish background children.  So all these kids are also in success for all schools because we wanted to hold, sort of, the instructional um, environment cons-constant.  So we’re working in three schools, one in Chicago, one in Boston, one in El Paso, and we’re looking at, within each school, we’re looking at children who have only been instructed in English, beginning with their first grade, as well as children who have been instructed first in Spanish, and then during their third grade year of transitioned into English instruction.

Well, clearly is we find that children who have um, these strong skills in Spanish can transfer this knowledge to their English reading, it would argue that it makes sense to educate these children first in Spanish, so that’s what we’re, we’re hoping to show.  And, more specifically, um, to tell us what’s, you know, we-we look at reading as sort of there’re lots of components that go into skilled reading, and so what this study tries to do is look separately at the various components of reading.  So we look at phonology, we look at orthography um, we look at um, reading comprehension.  And we’ve developed measurers for phonology um, orthography, because we need Spanish and English versions right, and for reading comprehension we’re using the Woodcock-Johnson and Woodcock-Munios.  Um, it’s interesting that in terms of what we call orthography we’re, which is um, children’s ability to name letters um, and um, read words and pseudo-words, that it’s all timed, because we think that um, accuracy and, sort of, fluency are extremely important.  So children are reading these um, letters and words on a computer that measures their reading latencies.  Um, so anyway, it’s, it’s quite interesting.  We’re looking forward to the results.

Yeah, I know, it’s, it’s a really interesting study, we’re hoping to follow these kids for longer, actually, because, some of the kids did not transition after second grade, I mean, they’re keeping them in Spanish um, for part of third grade.  And we really feel we need to give them time to develop strong literacy skills in English before we really look carefully at um, the relationship between, you know, these components of reading in Spanish and components of reading in English.

Well, to start with, I really think that we should be working hard to develop the bilingual capabilities of all students in the United States.  And I think that it is really um, it’s worse than a crime not to develop the native language proficiencies of children who come to the U.S. speaking another language, especially for children um, that are part of a language group that is very large, like Spanish speaking children in the U.S. and some of the children of, you know, Asian descent.  There’re so many children from this background that it, it doesn’t make it that difficult to um, teach them to be literate in their native language.  So, I mean to start with, I think it’s a real crime, I mean, I think it’s um, very ironic that we’re promoting foreign language education on the one hand, and on the other hand we’re not really um, promoting the um, full bilingual um, literacy for English language learners.  Um, so let me start with that.

 Um, I think even in context, where there are lots of different first language groups, there’s a lot you can do to help kids develop and maintain primary language literacy.  You can encourage parents to speak their native language at home with their children.  In lots of schools in the U.S. parents are discouraged from speaking their primary language at home, um, they’re told to speak with their children in English, which makes no sense at all.  So schools should be encouraging parents to speak their primary language with these children.  They should be encouraging parents to read in their primary language with these children, I mean, schools should be trying to find um, books and materials that parents can use in their primary language with their children.  Um, and there are community resources that can be brought into the school to provide support, native language support and development to language minority kids.  I mean there’s a lot to do, even in the context of schools with large numbers of first language groups, to really support and promote um, true bilingualism and biliteracy.  And a lot of it too, is the message you give children, I mean, what is the school context an-look like.  I mean, do you have um, are things named in both languages, are announcements made in the morning in more than one language.  I’ve been in these wonderful schools where the principal actually reads the morning news o-in more than one language.  Um, I mean it really sends a message about how important um, languages other than English are in this, in a-in a school or in a school setting.  And that’s extremely important.  There’s a lot of staff development you can do too with teachers to really um, help them understand um, the importance of primary language and literacy, and also the kinds of issues that children face when they enter schools where the predominant language is English.  Um, there is one program I was reading about that was quite interesting where um, parents, where teachers were encouraged to spend time in children’s homes with parents.  So they got a sense of what the home environment was, a better feeling for the context in which um, the kids came from and they became much more um, empathetic and understanding, and there’s a lot more connection between the home and the, and the school.  I was um, a classroom teacher for ten years and one of the things I did was similar.  I started a dinner program where the teachers in the school I was working in um, were learning Spanish.  And so one of the things they did is: they went and they had dinner with the families of the um, children they were teaching.  And it was really wonderful because: for one, the families then had something to contribute, it wasn’t like they were being examined.  But, they really had something to contribute because the teachers were learning Spanish.  Um, but the teachers became to have a much better understanding for the um, environments in which the kids were from, and um, it created a lot more empathy between parents and teachers.  So, I mean, what I’m saying is: there---there are a lot of things that can be done to really um, give um, children a message that their background and culture is important to help teachers have a better understanding of their sort of environments, understanding and appreciation for the environment these children come from.  Um, and you can really support parents um, use of primary language and literacy with their children.  So there’s a lot that can be done, even in schools where English is the um, the language of instruction to try to help kids maintain their, and develop their primary language.

Well I think um, one thing I’d want them to understand is that (long pause) well, that children come to um, that yo-you can’t look at um, the children bring individual differences to bear on the process of second language acquisition.  And I think it’s very important to look at children as individuals.  This is what I was talking about before, you know, what is their educational background.  Um, what are their personalities, are they literate in their primary language, how old are they.  Um, so it’s very important to sort of look at the child that you’re educating, I think that’s very important.  Um, and that there’re lots of factors that bear on, sort of, kids acquisition of subject matter knowledge.  Um, which, I sort of, backs me into one thing that I think is important.  Which is: a lot of times when people think about educating English language learners, they think about language.  Are these kids becoming orally proficient in English?  Um, which is important, but what the research shows us is that because English is so dominant in the U.S., it’s very hard to prevent these kids from becoming orally proficient in English.  But what we really need to think about is: building the academic competence of these children.  Um, and that has to do with providing them with academic language, but also really making sure that their learning high standards.  And that they have access to um, the same curriculum other children have access to, that they’re provided with the resources they need to meet high standards.  So um, I guess that’s the message.  A, one of the things I’ve been doing some case study work in California, and one of the things that has been really troubling to me is that: with the advent of all these state assessments the focus has been on um, basic skills in reading and math and it seems that lots of schools stopped teaching thing like Social Studies, Science, the Arts um, there are all kinds of other subjects that provide a lot of um, background knowledge, a lot of problem solving skills um, that are critical for kids in terms of their acquisition of subject matter knowledge.  So it’s a real concern and, that this focus on um, assessment has resulted in the real narrowing of the curriculum.  Um, but I, you know, again, what I think is important is to keep in mind that it’s not, I mean oral language proficiency is important, these kids will acquire it, that we have to really think hard about how to help these kids meet high academic standards.