Janet Orr

JANET ORR

Janet Orr. Associate Director, Center for Equity and Excellence in Education, George Washington University, Washington D.C.

The parent guide is important because it um helps parents understand the guiding principals. What happens when you’re uh in the school, we have a lot of parents who have no idea um how the instruction is occurring for their second language students and they don’t know what is good instruction and what’s not good instruction because in their country things may be done differently. Uh, most of the students that are taught in ESL and bilingual programs may have been educated in other countries first or the parents would have been and they have fixed thoughts about what education looks like. So this is uh—an attempt to educate them about what education for their students should look like in American schools.

This group of parents—it’s really difficult for them to um participate in school activities because they don’t know the language often and so they—they bring their children, they expect that the school will do the educating and that they have no say uh in what should be done in the school. In most countries in the world, parents have very little influence on the school.  Usually the government controls how the schools are run, how the—what is taught, it’s a fixed curriculum depending on what the government has determined.  So the parents don’t believe that they have any uh power in that uh setting.  Whereas in America, schools are very much locally controlled, that’s why the US government has very little uh power over the schools, but it’s more state and local government. So that is a new phenomenon for most parents of second language speakers. They just have no idea that they can have an influence on what’s happening in the classrooms. 

Uh, one of the ways that this is used, we recently did an in-service training actually for 120 parents, it’s a very large group in a school district and the way we used it in that training session was um to have a set of parents with a translator—we had uh 15 translators, so we broke—broke the um group of 120 into smaller groups since they needed translation. And we had them um each had um each take one principle and they could talk—and talk about that principle in depth in their home language, that way you didn’t have to have the translator going back and forth between the two languages.  The whole group could focus on the discussion in their home language.  And it allowed them to in—investigate in depth each of the principles and then there was reporting out by the translator of what people had said and then they could report out in English.  So it allowed the groups to really get in depth and to talk about each of the six principles with the parents in their home language. We did it in uh—we have the guide in Spanish and in English, we’d like to produce it in other languages if it’s usable by people, but each of the translators had advanced copies and then translated their section so they were all prepared to help the parents see and understand what each of those principles meant to them directly.  So it’s a real in depth conversation and that they could take it back to their school then and say, “Hey, you guys, I know something now” and have power.  I think that’s a big part.

We learned that there wasn’t um enough participation. This—this group, of course, was very active and some parents had never um experienced anything written down like this.  I think they were surprised that these were written down principles that they could use and I think that’s the most important part about the whole set is there is something written down, something concrete, that can be used.  The parents were very active in the schools, they all new their schools very well.  But they liked to have the evidence that they could go in and say, “Hey, we think this should be done and here, it says it.”  So I think that was probably the most important outcome.

There are a number of indicators um with the guiding principals and what we’re doing right now is moving forward with the indicators into developing an implementation matrix and from those indicators what—the indicators show what is successful in the classroom. So you take a look and this is an indicator of success in the classroom. Now we’re taking those indicators and putting them into a matrix format so that uh general ed teachers and uh second language specialists in school can use them to find out how their school has implemented the guide and prin—principles. It’s part of, uh the School Reform Movement so that they can move forward with making changes in their schools.

No, they’re not really meant to judge or evaluate, they’re whole—they’re meant to uh help the school frame their school reform movement. Most schools have some kind of a school improvement committee uh and, again, the principles give you some guidance on what aspects to look at. The matrix would be used by uh implementa—by a school committee in order to um examine what’s going on in school. They take the indicator and take a look at, “Yes, we’re doing it,” “No, we’re doing it,” “To what degree are we doing it,” and be able to frame what is most important to work on in the future in order to really have full uh implementation of all the guiding principles in their building successfully.

The contribution. I think it’s uh—it’s given them something to focus around rather—and a piece of research documentation that allows them to say, “Look, um I have some evidence that this is appropriate and that this works and here’s how we can move forward um, if we do some of these things.”  It gives teachers some—some backup.  There’s a lot of places in the United States that are very uh small town and in the last few years the immigration has in—increased quite a bit and the mobility of US citizens who speak other languages has increased a lot. It’s not just foreigners coming in, but we have a lot of US citizens who speak other languages as well and they have moved around to different parts of the country before they were settled on the coast and now it’s throughout the country.  And many of these places have never met foreign uh language speakers before so they have a real difficulty in deciding “What am I suppose to do in my school with this one or two students?”  So it gives them a framework to work around.

Um, assessment (interruption) Appropriate assessment important because it has to relate to the instruction. It needs to be tied directly to the instruction in order to be appropriate if you are assessing students on things that they have never been taught or had an experience learning about, then it really isn’t valid—doesn’t give you any information about how to instruct those students in a better way. And that’s what assessment should be tied to is how to instruct students um, how to move them forward in their learning and not tied to other um miscellaneous, extraneous information gathering (laugh).  But rather, it should be tied to um the standards, whether you’re using the TESOL standards, if you’re doing straight instruction for um second language students, or it should be tied to the standards for your school district or state so that you know how to move the students forward.  If you—I guess, one—another big component of that is to make sure that the—the mode in which you do the assessment is um appropriate to the way in which the students would uh use the information. So if you are—if you’ve been teaching about letter writing in your classroom, it would better to have the students write a letter and you’re able to check if they have used a date, you know, a salutation, a closing, they have a paragraph.  You can do that by looking at the paper versus having them answer a multiple choice question about is there—about what is a salutation?  What is a heading?  What is, you know, the body of a letter?  Um, by having them actually do the writing, you have more of an appropriate kind of uh assessment because it’s the way that they’ll use what’s been taught.