I’m MaryEllen Vogt from California State University at Long Beach.
Sheltered instruction is an approach for working with youngsters whose first language is not English. Uh, English language learners, we usually call them, no longer second language learners because many of these children speak multiple languages or more than I. Um, the approach was coined originally, or the name of the approach was uh coined originally by Steve Crazen and it has now been changed in California to Specially Designed Academic Instruction In English, which is called SDAIIE. The reason that we have changed in California, the name, is because people have often said, “What are we sheltering these youngsters from?” Uh, they don’t need sheltering as much as the instruction needs to be appropriate for them. So by definition, uh at least what uh we have come to understand, the definition that we use in our—in our work uh has to do with adapting instruction in the classroom, especially in content subjects, social studies, science, mathematics, and so forth, as well as—as literature and—and reading in English, to better provide access for these youngsters to the content. Uh, we also have kind of a two-pronged approach here. One is to provide English instruction uh at the same time building, you know, building oral, written, and reading uh of English at the same time that we’re providing the access to the actual content. There have been over the years uh different ways of providing access to kids, most common was to deny them (laugh) uh the access to the content until the English language was established. And in a sheltered approach we say we’re doing two things, we’re—we’re building language fluency, English fluency at the same time we’re teaching the math, social studies, science content—concepts.
Uh, sheltered instruction or SDAIIE can be used for any learner. In fact, we have talked about that a lot and are doing some research right now in preparing our reading specialist uh to adapt or to um, not adapt sheltered instruction, but to adopt sheltered instruction in their teaching for youngsters who struggle to read. Uh, there’s also been questions about “Can’t we use these techniques and these methods for youngsters uh, Special Ed kids or for other kids, or for all students.” Um, and I think there’s an important distinction to be made whereas sheltered instruction is very effective instruction for all learners. It is critically important to use it with English language learners, uh, such things as uh providing comprehensible input, which means that as I am teaching my content subject, I’m continually aware of making what I am saying comprehensible. Uh explaining aca—academic tasks very, very carefully so that I’m not just talking at students all the time but if I want to—to engage in a discussion or something as simple as turning to a partner and sharing an idea. I will not only explain it but perhaps role play it, um let them know exactly what they mean by—by discussion. So where—whereas I—that’s a good thing to do with all English learners. Um, if youngsters are native speakers, often times they can understand through uh my telling them orally. Uh, English learners need to have multiple uh repetitions of what we’re talking about. They need to have lots of demonstration and modeling. Um so from that perspective we—we may not need to do as much with an English-only student as we do with an English language learner.
Um, as Janet Echevarria and I were uh out in classrooms working uh a huge number of English learners that we have in southern California, we often saw that these youngsters um were not receiving the kind of sheltered instruction that they needed. By that I mean the teachers in California have all gone through extensive preparation. Uh, there’s a special emphasis to the credential, basic teaching credentials uh that—that our students in—in southern California all get as a natural way of getting their credentials. It use to be an add-on, it is now the—the basic teacher preparation uh, to deal with the 120 some languages that are being spoken by youngsters in—in Los Angeles County. Uh, while—while we were all involved in preparing our teachers to—to teach effectively on—in terms of these youngsters, what we saw many times was that teachers could articulate the elements of what should be there, but when it came time to doing it uh they were forget, or with the huge number of—of youngsters in classrooms and the great diversity and so forth, uh we weren’t seeing sheltered instruction effectively um being put into place. Now part of the problem was because uh—we think part of the reason is because while teachers were learning and could articulate what the components were, it was not a model instruction that had been uh created. It was like talking all around what sheltered instruction is, rather than being able to have a clearly defined model of effective instruction. So Janet Echevarria and Debra Short uh began uh, and I was asked to come in as a—as a reading specialist and a person with content background in terms of teaching, we—we began conversations about if we were to operationalize sheltered instruction, what would it look like? How—how do we know when we see it? How do teachers know when they’re doing it? How do administrators and supervisors and peer coaches know what it’s suppose to look like? So that’s how the sheltered instruction observation protocol, or as we call it, the SIOP, that’s how it—it began. Uh, we originally sat and uh brainstormed all kinds of things that we would want to see in a classroom. Uh, obviously we couldn’t have uh a protocol with 50 or 60 items, so we began pairing, began narrowing, oh, we field tested, we uh brought it to many, many teachers, experts in the field uh extensive work in classrooms to see, “OK, what are the essential elements?” And so, the—the SIOP is an instrument for teachers to use in their own reflective process, it’s for administrators and supervisors to work—to use in conference with teachers um and we eventually narrowed it done to 30 indicators of effective teaching. We have grouped these 30 indicators under uh several headings, uh three main headings and under the three main headings there are six uh kind of sub headings. And, you know, I’m going to stop right now because I don’t want to get into all those because I’m not going to remember all six if I do it. But—but (interruption) OK. Um, because as soon as I do that I’m going to go, “Wait a minute, what are the three main headings?” Uh, preparation, background—uh preparation, um instruction, OK, review—I wish I had my book with me. Prep—um, isn’t that funny? I work with it all the time. Preparation, um (interruption) uh basically preparation, instruction, review assessment. OK, I got it.
OK, the three main headings within the SIOP are preparation, instruction, and the last has to do with review and assessment. And the preparation section in broad terms deals with those indicators of instruction that show us that teachers are thoughtfully preparing lessons, that they are uh preparing lessons, in which they are introducing and reviewing vocabulary, lessons in which they are building upon students’ prior knowledge. Lessons in which they clearly, uh, have content—specific content objectives in mind, specific language objectives in mind, and that’s something we don’t see in regular instruction, and so forth. Uh, very grouping options and so forth. The instructional piece is just that. Do we see these elements that have been planned actually put into place? Do we see that teachers are providing comprehensible input, that they are going back and reviewing vocabulary? That they have the vocabulary—the key vocabulary written, that they present it orally, that they give youngsters the chance to—to use the vocabulary in class. Um, do we see that they are at uh—mindful of not being the ones to do all the talking? Um, much of the interaction research shows that 60 percent of talk in a classroom is the teachers. Now if the other percent, 40 percent, are kids and it’s all divided up between 30 youngsters, that means that the teacher is still doing the vast majority of the talking. So in a sheltered classroom, we want the teacher to share the talk with the youngsters because that’s the only way that they’re going to learn English, as if they’re actively using it. So opportunities for students to talk to each other in groups, for them to share with each other back and forth um those are the kinds of things that we’re looking for among many others uh in—in the constructional component. The third component, the review and assessment means do the teachers go back and once again review that vocabulary? Do they review the content concepts that we’re being taught? Um, do they assess either through individual or whole class um methods, uh thumbs up, thumbs down is a very simple whole class method uh of assessing whether the students have truly learned what it was that we were teaching. So that’s uh in a nutshell, what those 30 indicators are all about.
Well, we—we have found in our use—work of teachers with the instrument that they—there are several uses, some of which we didn’t even anticipate. One has to do with planning. Um, the teachers have found the SIOP to be very helpful in their planning and we even ended up putting together a planning guide where the 30 indicators are there on one side of the paper, the other side of the paper the teachers are able to look at each one of those 30 uh items and actually write a lesson plan based upon those. Um, the other way that these are used is post analysis. Uh, we are using the SIOP right now in our graduate program in reading, in which reading specialist candidates will teach a lesson to English learners and then afterwards fill out the instrument themselves, uh share their—their form with their uh supervisors form where they actually together go through item by item. We’ve also used the instrument to—for reflective analysis in which the teachers watch a video of themselves teaching, uh look at the indicators, and then actually keep a journal of—a reflective journal in terms of things that they think they’re doing very well and then those indicators that still need a little bit of work. It’s—it’s a little overwhelming to look at 30 items and try to get it all in, you know, in one teaching lesson and so obviously there are areas that teachers want to uh focus for the improvement of their own teaching. The other way that it’s used uh is—is—is by administrators or supervisors. Uh, one of our fears was that we did not want the SIOP to be used as a kind of punitive checklist, an evaluation checklist, but rather as a supportive uh instrument or uh opening up discussion and conferencing and uh professional development. We also have learned uh through the teachers who have used it that peer support is enormously important. That working together which each other uh trying to have—um, if I’m the teacher in the class, uh being able to have someone else that I can talk to about what I feel like I’m doing right, uh what I need to work on is—is extremely important. So the ongoing support of true professional development is—is the key here.
Well, yes. Basically because it is uh a sheltered instruction observation protocol then it is—it was originally designed for content teachers and at the same goals. But I’m talking about uh—in—in our field-testing with teachers these were content teachers uh, primarily upper grade, middle school, high school. One thing that we have found uh in the last uh probably six months that’s been very exciting is that 1st grade teachers are finding that they—even though they may not—may not be teaching as much content, uh they are finding with the little kids that many of the indicators are just as relevant for them. So it—it extends again uh K-12 or at least 1st grade through 12th grade, uh it extends across the various content areas and obviously now we have kind of moved into the area of specialization within reading. But a math teacher, a science teacher, they still need to have the content concepts in place. Their key vocabulary, their language objectives, their grouping configurations, the use of strategies. All of these various indicators are—are as relevant for uh a 7th grade science teacher as they—as they are for a 3rd grade general subjects teacher.
Well, comprehensible input is um—it comes out of the field of—of English language learners or bilingual teaching, ESL, and the—the phrase basically means that the input that I provide to my students, that the—the imparting of information that I give as a teacher, must be comprehensible for the students or why do it. One very simple way of thinking about is the difference between lecture and modeling. If I am speaking quickly and I’m lecturing from notes um and I’m just barreling along as a lecturer, the chances of the English learners, uh the chances that they’re going to get much from that uh are—are—is—is few. Well, actually we could say English learners that may be few too. Um, however, it’s very unlikely that English language learners are going to get—get much from that. So my con—my input has to be not only slowed down and I—I speak fast myself so this is something I’m always having to work on is to slow down the pacing, I’m going to uh—if—if I—if I give a term or a key vocabulary in my presentation or my explanation, I need to make sure that I am defining it within the context of what—how I’m speaking. Um, for example, if I’m a math teacher and I’m teaching multiplication and I use the—the term product, I need to make sure that my assumption isn’t that the students know that, but I need to uh define product within the context of my explanation. That’s a very simple example. But that happens many, many times a day when teachers are using key vocabulary that we need to come back and—and—and explain what it is that we’re meaning. Now I’m going to enhance that explanation if I then have a visual or I have a math problem on the board and I can point to the product, um have the children understand what it is that we’re talking about. I might even um compare it with uh, I don’t know whether this is going to work with a product, but I suppose with a sum, an addition problem, using those two terms so that students uh will understand what I’m talking about. Now a term-like product is also interesting because of something we buy in the grocery store that sits on a shelf. So here we’ve got a multiple meaning of uh a math term and if my students are thinking of the product that they see advertised on TV or they find at the grocery store, they’re going to be having difficulty in understanding how it’s related to multiplication. So it’s constantly thinking about how to make the input that I provide the students as comprehensible as possible. So it has to do with pacing, it has to do with the nature of my explanation; it has to do with carefully explaining the academic task I expect the students to be able to do. All of this has to do with comprehensible input.
Generally, yes. I—I want to say comprehensible input generally—now there may be some experts that—that would disagree with me but generally my understanding is of comprehensible input that it primarily has to do with oral, uh providing the explanations that are very clear. Um, so I would say generally yes. Now other aspects of teaching have to do with um—I mean the only thing I could think about—are you talking about reading materials? (interruption) Well, yes. Now I would say that that—that—by definition that is not comprehensible input. Comprehensible input really refers to oral interactions between teachers and students. Um, other issues that are equally important have to do with appropriate selection of text, but I’m not so sure I would—I would—I would um call that comprehensible input. One of the indicators that we have on the SIOP has to do with text adaptation. And one thing that I would hope to see, um in a classroom where there are English learners, is not that we would um—I’m going to use an expression that’s often being used in the field, which is ‘dumbing down the text.’ I’m—I’m not going to reduce the content load. I still want the students to—to have the same key content objectives as the other students, but my role as a teacher is to adapt the text in such a way that students are going to be able to access it. That means I may highlight with a yellow highlighter, uh make a copy of the text, highlight key vocabulary. That’s one thing that we frequently do. I may highlight the uh main ideas of—of the paragraphs um so that they can see—the students can see what are the most important concepts here that we’re suppose to get. Um, we have also um used marginal notes where in that margin of—either the real text, or a copy of it, I’m going to write key vocabulary, or I could write a couple of questions I want students to be focusing on. Uh, I can put together a study guide that will—and not the old kind of study guide we all had in high school, but a leveled study guide that will help students work through complex text. So my role, uh I may even go so far as to put some of the text on uh a tape recorder so that the students can listen through earphones as the text is being read to them. So that’s what we’re talking about modifying or adapting text. Not the old style way of just ‘dumbing it down’ and drawing the heart of the content right out of it in the attempt to make it easier to read.
Interaction—interaction within the classroom is extraordinarily important. Uh, keep in mind that if the teacher is doing all the talking, the students aren’t talking to each other. So I should expect to see in a—in a well designed sheltered lesson, multiple uh opportunities for youngsters to—to talk with each other. I might say, “Turn to your partner and share the one thing that you just learned” or “Turn to your partner and define this particular word,” whatever the vocabulary word is. Or I might say, “Put four heads together and see if you can come back and—and summarize what it was that we just said.” Um, I also might say if I’m an elementary teacher uh, “Tell the person next to you why you think such and such is important.” There are multiple ways that I can get kids to respond. Uh, one is through group response where I might—may ask a question and I want the students to all respond at once uh a particular answer. Now that—the limitation with that is that students are only responding in one—with one word and, of course, as we want them to learn English, we want them to start building sentences and so forth. So this—this notion of—of, it’s called student-to-student interaction, teacher-to-student interaction, this must occur frequently through lessons if we’re going to get kids to be—to be talking. Now at the same time, depending on students levels of English proficiency, I don’t want to expect young—I don’t want to expect youngsters who are just in the beginning stages of proficiency to—to have to respond in full sentences and paragraphs. That’s unreasonable. So part of this depends on the—uh the student teacher being able to determine what is an appropriate level of response from the youngster um and uh then expect the kids to—to come through with—with that response.
Well, I think the—the payoff I believe for a teacher in—in being very attentive to and thoughtful of—of providing opportunities for interaction in the classroom. Uh, the payoff is that students are—are developing language proficiency. We also know that if I’m just listening, I’m not going to be learning as much content then if I’m talking about it with somebody else. Uh, there’s a good deal of research to show that uh learning—literacy learning, content learning is a socially interactive process and the more opportunity that I have to talk with someone about what I am learning, the better I am—the more likely I am to not only improve my language fluency as a—as a part of a goal, but also the content material is going to be better learned. So, the payoff is that students’ language learning will improve. The second payoff is, of course, their content learning will improve. It—it’s also important to remember that part of the—the uh interaction that we’re talking about is having kids work with each other in groups and so it—putting them in—in groups and having them—or having them work with a partner to complete a task. They’re having to talk about it. They’re having to interact with each other and uh that’s extraordinarily important. If we happen to have youngsters who is at a very beginning stage of English proficiency, having uh another language speaker uh, uh first language, primary language speaker in that student’s group uh can also be very beneficial because the students can clarify key concepts, they can clarify questions that they have in their primary language. Now obviously that’s not always possible with the wide number of languages that are being spoken, but if we can do that, it’s going to help these youngsters again both in their content knowledge as well as in their primary language development.
People often say, “Well isn’t sheltered instruction just effective instruction?” My response is always, “Yes and No.” Certainly sheltered instruction can be uh recognized quickly as effective instruction that would benefit all students, but while—while effective instruction is—is—we know what that is when we see it in the classroom. There are elements of a sheltered instruction that are very different and whereas effective instruction is good for all kids, sheltered instruction is critical for those youngsters who are acquiring English. Such things as providing comprehensible input, which—which—which mean that we’re going to work very carefully to make sure that whatever we’re saying is going to be understood through lots of modeling, through demonstration, through repetition, and through a degree of redundancy actually where—where we’re going back and repeating things more often then we might in a regular classroom. What might see redun—seem redundant in a—in a classroom of English only speakers is extremely important in a classroom where there are English learners, that—that level of redundancy and repetition. The other areas that are very different in terms of sheltered instruction uh has to do with the amount of modeling that is needed, the number of visuals that we need to make sure we’re providing. Of course, that’s effective instruction, but it’s of critical importance for our English learners. Uh, some of the other areas that we will see in effective sheltered instruction uh have to do with um how we introduce our content objectives. Yes, we should let students, all students; know what we’re planning on teaching. But in sheltered instruction it’s important not only to say verbally what our content objective is, but it needs to be written down. We need to introduce it at the beginning of the lesson, at the very end of the lesson, we need to come back and revisit that content objective. One of the key differences is that we usually don’t have language objectives um that we’re writing to and speaking to and planning for in—in English only instruction or with English only learners, native speakers. But in sheltered instruction we need to plan every day for—for language objectives. It may have to do with vocabulary, it may have to do with um uh something that we want them to explain to someone else, there’s a whole different kinds of language objectives that—that can be included and should be included in each lesson.
Within a uh—let’s say that I’m—I’m—let me think about this before I respond. An example of a language objective in an elementary classroom—let’s say a 5th grade classroom and let’s say um the subject matter, the content is social studies and let’s say the unit is the Gold Rush. So an example of a language objective for introducing the—the Gold Rush would be that I would want—this might be an example—I would want the students to be able to explain to a partner why the um Gold Rush began. Maybe three reasons why the Gold Rush in California even began. OK? Or I might want them to be able to explain to someone else orally um two of the routes that they could pick, either the Overland Route or the um—I’m forgetting. What’s the—I just totally forgot our three routes. Let me back up on that. So it’s all the land or—or—or the one—the one around the (interruption). Let me think of another example because I went “Three routes, what are they?” (interruption) Let me back up a little bit and start over again with this. An example with a language objective, let’s use a 5th grade classroom, let’s use uh social studies and let’s use the Gold Rush in California. An example on the very first lesson that we’re just introducing the Gold Rush, a language example—a language objective might be that I would expect students to be able to explain to one other person uh why the Gold Rush began. What started it all off? Another example of a language ex—uh language objective might be for the youngsters to uh have to explain to someone uh two of the three routes to get to California. Another example, however, might be writing, that I would want the students to be able to write three sentences explaining why the Gold Rush began. So what we’re doing is looking—now you might say that’s a content objective because there’s content there, but what I’m wanting to make sure is that the youngsters are having to use language. Uh, I might have them um engage in a discussion and that I would want them to be able to contribute two or three time, depending on the language proficiency of the youngster, contribute two or three times. Uh, or if I’m going to have uh um a readers theatre, that I would want the students to be—which is uh, a wonderful technique for using with uh English learners, I would want them to take a small part and to contribute in the readers theatre uh with the other students. So what we’re looking at is not just the content here, we’re looking at what am I doing in my lessons to make sure that we’re building this language proficiency at the same time. That’s language objective.
OK, a clear explanation of academic task, that certainly sounds like educationalists, doesn’t it? OK. What we’re talking about there is there are many times when we expect students to do things in the classroom. Uh, perhaps we expect them to summarize something that they have read or summarize something that we’ve been talking about as a—as a group. Not only is summarization difficult to do, but for youngsters who have no clue what that word is, they wouldn’t even know where to begin. So if I expected my students to be able to write a summary, I need to go back and—and explain again what we mean by a summary. Perhaps modeling it on the overhead, perhaps taking them through the task. Uh, if I’ve taught summarization before, the English learners need uh a remainder several times. Now, I would argue that so do kids—so do all kids and especially those who struggle to read. But I can’t expect them to engage in an academic task if I haven’t carefully explained it and carefully modeled it. And so it might be something as—as much—as simple as “I want you to get into a group now and in your group do blah, blah, blah.” We need to be able to show exactly what it means to get into a group if we’ve got English learners who—who may be unfamiliar with that term. Um, we also need to make sure that any kind of uh, any kind of academic task that we’re going to explain—the reason I—I just lost it and I’ll tell you why is because of Estonia. (laugh) And my train of thought—in Estonia with our teachers, we wanted them to turn and share with a partner something they had done. And in Estonia there’s not a word for sharing like that. There’s a word for sharing a cookie, or exchanging an idea, but there’s no word—there’s not an Estonian word for sharing. Isn’t that interesting? So I flashed on that because uh without the um explanation of that academic task, it made—made no sense to our teachers. So that’s why I lost it. OK, so going back—let me use it as an example. Let me use it as an example. Let’s say that I have students working with each other and we’ve been doing some brainstorming and I want them to go back and to review what it was that we’ve discussed or brainstormed. If I say—brainstorming is another example of an academic task. If I don’t explain what brainstorming is, the kids don’t know what it means. But let’s say that after our brainstorming, I want the students to share something with a partner. Well, some youngsters may have no idea what it means to share an idea. They may need—know what it means to share a cookie uh but they may not know what it means to share an idea. So that’s the kind of academic task we’re talking about. We need to explain those carefully and thoroughly for our youngsters who are acquiring English.
I had the opportunity over the last three years to be working in Estonia with Estonian teachers in a project sponsored to the International Reading Association. We had a perfect example of what it means to explain an academic task. When, through our interpreter, we were teaching our teachers and we asked them at the very beginning of our project to turn to a partner and to share what they had just written, to share an idea that they had for—for something they had written. Our interpreter walked over to us and she said, “I don’t know how to say that in Estonian. We do not have a word in Estonian for the word ‘share.’ We have a word for exchanging an idea.” And then she said to us, “Is that the same?” And my partner and I looked at each other and said, “No, not exactly.” I can exchange an idea with you, you can give me back your idea, but there’s a different meaning when we talk about sharing an idea. The kind of mutual give and take and back and forth that we do when we’re sharing ideas with each other. So—she also said there was a word in Estonian, for sharing a cookie and we said, “Well, that’s not exactly the same either.” So here was a perfect example of where we had to negotiate with our teachers an understanding of what it meant to share an idea. And interestingly, our teachers have now begun to use the English word ‘share’ because they clearly understand that that means something a little different then the Estonian word for exchanging and idea. So that example comes immediately to mind when I think about what—how important it is to explain carefully the academic task you expect your students to engage in.
The role of reflection to me is critical uh in professional development. I wish sometimes I had more ti—time in my life to be reflective about my practice. I think for all of us as educators, reflection is that moment and that time when we can step back from our work and we can think about what worked well and what—what didn’t. Um, our university where I teach, our Department of Teacher Education engages in the reflective practitioner as a model. In other words, we work very hard to help our new teachers and our graduate students uh engage in that process of stepping back and—and it goes beyond just saying, “Well, that lesson didn’t work” because we can do that readily and—and many times we kind of beat up on ourselves in terms of our teaching when we think something didn’t go well. Rather, it in my mind, reflection has to do with what are the possible things that I could have done differently? How could I have engaged students more? What could I have done to better answer a question that a student asked? Um, am I reaching all my students? Am I uh—I look at my own teaching. I’ll often times come home at night after my night class and I’ll think, “You know, there were two or three students who did not contribute anything tonight. Uh, was it because they were not prepared? Was it because I did not attempt to engage them? Was it because they were tired and had a bit bad day? Uh, what can I do next week to make sure that I’m doing—that I’m engaging in everybody better.” Uh, that—that kind of reflectivity I think improves teaching and we need to do it not only in a thoughtful way but I think it—it helps when we write about it, when we share our thoughts with other people. And it’s the heart—uh, it’s the heart to me of—of uh professional development. Uh, that’s why the—the—what I call the ‘drop in parachute’ type of in-service we know is not as effective and—and frankly, I do a lot of that and I often think does it ever make any difference because it’s that follow-up that’s so important where our teachers have a chance to learn something new and then use it with their own students and then meet together and talk about it and then come back and reflect as to whether these new strategies and activities are actually working. Uh, interestingly, the work that we have been doing in Estonia has—has been highly reflective where our teachers are learning new methods of teaching, working with their own students, getting together on a monthly basis when we’re not there, um and—and then talking about what worked, what didn’t, and why. That’s at the heart of—of reflective practice.
How do we get teachers to deeply reflect and not just surface? Uh that’s—that’s an interesting question. Um, something that we’ve been doing which—it’s—it’s been interesting how it has worked in our graduate program and reading right now and our state requires that we have uh two levels of supervised teaching um in our reading specialist program. One is at the beginning within the first four classes and then the other needs to be uh at—at the advanced level. Well, we didn’t have any problem with the advanced level because that is uh, that takes place in our reading clinic on campus behind the glass where—where the students are—are supervised, however, the uh—in their own classrooms kind of supervision was providing difficulty for us because we have a huge geographic area in southern California going from one end of—you know, the basin to the other and how to get people out to supervise these people was just a—it was unmanageable. It was “How do we do this?” So we kind of came up with an idea that—that we thought would solve the problem of transporting supervisors and what actually happened was we’ve been getting a tremendous amount of reflection from our teachers and that is the video tape. That having students videotape themselves and not with anybody else there, but watching yourself teach, then standing back from that and then reflecting on what they see has been an enormously successful uh endeavor. I would encourage—I have videotape myself of teaching when I took a class in effective teaching when I was working with youngsters and I was amazed at what I saw. Not only the things I was doing wrong, which we all know about, but the things that I was doing right. And I was able to—to look at those things and say, “You know I need to do that again because that really worked well this time.” So I think deep reflection comes from being able to see yourself as a teacher and not just remembering what happened uh in the classroom. So I would encourage uh all teachers to, even those who’ve been teaching for many, many years, to occasionally videotape yourselves and—and take a look at that in the privacy of your own uh—your own homes if need be and to thoughtfully reflect on what you see and what’s working and what’s not and most importantly, why.
Writing has a—has a key role in—in—in reflection and I don’t mean assigned writings sometimes because I think when I assign students writing uh—when you assign someone to reflect uh you end up with something different then when people are writing more naturally and thinking about their own process. Uh, I often engage students in—in writing about their practice and using their writing, not to be graded or evaluated, but as a kickoff for discussion where you just give them a moment to quietly reflect, to think, to jot. And by writing, it doesn’t have to be complete sentences and it doesn’t have to be all perfect writing, but it could be jottings or listings or notings. Just getting the thoughts down before they start to engage in a discussion. I find that kind of reflective writing can be very, very powerful. I also find that when students engage in—in writing about their own students, focusing perhaps—perhaps on one student that they’ve been troubled with, their troubled about, concerned about in terms of the student’s performance, that that kind of reflective writing can be very powerful as they um think about what works with a particular student or what doesn’t. Uh, I think writing is at the heart of reflection but—but not the assigned writing. I mean, maybe this comes from my own—the way I like to write and the way I like to reflect. Um, I think it has to be writing that students are doing because they want to do it. For some students, truthfully, uh recording—tape recording their thoughts and getting those down can almost be uh as powerful as writing, depending on who they are as people and—and whether writing works for them or not. But uh, the talking, the speaking, the writing, if we truly believe in integrative processes of literacy, then we need to incorporate all of these into our own practice.
OK. Um, portfolio assessment is near and dear to my heart. Um, I feel sad sometimes that um portfolio’s became somewhat institutionalized in this country and it seems like an education once we institutionalize something we lose some of it. But—and by that I mean that as soon as districts started mandating teachers to use portfolios without the kind of professional development that’s needed for teachers to understand the portfolio process, I—I think we lost a—a lot of teachers who said, “It’s too much work, too much stuff. I don’t know what I’m doing with this” and it was just uh abandoned in a lot of classrooms. The portfolio process that I’ve written about and researched is—is—is different then that. It is a very purposeful uh process in which teachers uh take a close look at their own practice. Um, pre-service teachers take a close look at what they’re learning. They make careful and thoughtful suggestions about what they want to include. The rational for what they include in a portfolio is as important as the actual artifact. And by that I mean, “I have chosen this because…” And I think when we get children to do that same process, the kind of ‘Dear Reader’ letter that kids can write about why they are putting a particular artifact in their portfolio, it goes back to that reflection again. This—this—this shows what I have learned. This is a piece of evidence that will let you, the reader, know uh how uh—what I have learned and—and how I’m using what I’ve learned in my reading and writing if I’m a child or in my teaching, if I’m a teacher. I’ve been using portfolios in my courses for probably about 6 to 7 to 8 years and as we require report—portfolios in the uh pre-service teacher program uh it’s been very interesting to—to see students reaction to this process because at first—in fact, we did some research looking at uh teachers or surveying teachers in our pre-service classes in three different states and we had about—nearly 400 teachers participate in this project and in the beginning there was about 98 percent of them who hated the process. They didn’t want to do it, they didn’t understand it, they just pleaded for us just to give them an exam, “Don’t make me think that hard.” And at the end of the semester we had a complete reversal with nearly 97 percent of the teachers who not only supported it, but strongly supported the use of portfolios because they realized uh that they had had a ch—an opportunity, which at the beginning seemed like uh more than they wanted to deal with. But they had the opportunity of being able to demonstrate what they had learned in a way that they selected. Some of them did videos, some of them did a lot of writing, some of them did very creative kinds of—of projects that let their creative juices flow. Others wanted to do more standard um kind of traditional ways of—of demonstrating their—their knowledge and their application. But what was wonderful about it was the uniqueness of each person’s portfolio. And to this day, I have students come up to me and say, “I still have my portfolio” and they’ve been teaching for years because what they realized was that this was a valuable process and something that they were very proud of.
There are some uh—the key principles that we have learned in—in our portfolio research and using portfolios in the classroom and the we here as colleagues that we’ve come together and discusses this a lot, the key principles that—that I believe are—are very important to remember is, number one, keep it purposeful. There shouldn’t be anything in a portfolio, either a student’s or an adult’s that is not there for a reason. And I think what has happened too often and why teachers get frustrated with the process is that it becomes uh the kitchen sink. Everything goes into it and when everything goes into it, there’s no way to really determine growth. So we want to be looking at growth over time through purposeful uh indicators of student progress and performance. Keep it purposeful. I think the second principal that is very important is multiple indicators, that we need to have variety of different artifacts that show the total child or the adult uh learner, in terms of uh multi-dimensional ways of looking at student performance and—and progress. I think a third principle is that what ever is there um de—demonstrates growth and demonstrates progress. Let me give you an example for a pre-service teacher. Um, it’s often time difficult when I have students only for one semester to show progress over time. That’s very different then in a classroom where you’ll see a student coming in September and you have the student all the way to June. So I’ve thought often, “How can we show growth over pro—growth over time for pre-service teachers?” One of the best ways uh and one of the suggestions that—that we have made, it’s not a requirement, but a suggestions, is that students might want to take uh lesson plan that they had written early in their preparation as a teacher and in California it’s usually only one year time—it’s a fifth year program, so they don’t have four years to grow, they have one year. Um, but to take a lesson plan that they had designed early on in their program, to bring it back out, to take a look at it, uh to see if it’s theoretically sound or to see if it reflects what they have learned since they wrote that lesson plan. Rewrite it. Or if they don’t want to rewrite it, take it apart and—and critically analyze the components that are really good and the components that need to be changed. That kind of an artifact shows growth over time. So—so we want to make sure that whatever they choose does show this growth and development. Uh, sometimes that’s a little easier then uh—then uh—it’s easier with something like a lesson plan then with some other things that you might choose. Um, another principal that I think is—is extremely important is that there’s reflection. And the reflection comes with the rational statement that we require or the dear letter—the “Dear Reader” letter that uh teachers often require for—for younger children. I often tell my students that that rational statement may be more important and they may spend more time with that then they do with the creation of the artifact. So we need see reflectivity as a principal of effective uh portfolio assessment.
In the work that I have done with undergrads, with graduate students, as a classroom teacher for 15 years before I ended up at the university and with uh all of the teachers I’ve worked with through professional development, literally in this country and now overseas, the one thing that I have learned about effecting teacher change is that it’s a slow process. Everyone wants us to change overnight. And I put us in there as being the university folks too because we’re constantly being asked to change what we do. So I think all of us as edu—as educators are constantly pushed and—and probed and prodded to change. That change process is not easy to affect and I think that uh we have a tendency to jump on bandwagons, to see the latest thing coming down and we’re all suppose to change what we do. And I guess my caution would be that change is a slow process. I don’t think it needs to be as slow as we make it um, I think research shows that—that uh from—from theory and—and research and the practice takes 15 years in education for—for strategies and approaches to hit the classrooms. To me that’s not fast enough. On the other hand, uh I would urge us not to jump on every bandwagon that comes along, to be careful and good purveyors of research, to—to read it for ourselves and not expect other people to interpret it for us, and then to—to make changes as needed according to this research. Uh, not a political agenda, nor the latest trend or fashion, or fad that comes down the pike. But rather be—be thoughtful consumers of—of—of good research and then make change based upon that research. On the other hand, I think that re—that—that change, effecting change takes support. And maybe this isn’t on the other hand as much as in addition to uh that we need to have support. We need to have support of other teachers; we need to have time to uh be able to reflect, to be able to—have—read research. I admire those school districts in which teachers have an afternoon of planning every week. Um, that’s commitment on the district that this is important time and that we teachers are not just expected to constantly be changing, but rather that we have time to do so. So I—I urge caution in terms of change. I also know that’s it a very important of uh of our practice and that teachers who do uh change uh for—for the better and who—who find new ways of doing things are those who—who never burn out. Um, I want to do one last pitch for the International Reading Association and for state councils and for local councils. I tell my students, graduates and under grad, that you never burn out when you’re professionally involved because this is where you learn the new approaches and this is where you get the support that you need to—to be able to put them into place. So being professionally involved with your local, or your state, or the national association, helps you do this—this—the changes that are important uh, helps you make the changes that are important to make. But at the same time, you have that support system that’s so critical to—to effective change.
I’ve been asked to explain a little bit about the reading and writing for critical thinking in a new cultural context and I—I think that’s so important. Uh, I’m referring here to uh RWCT project, Reading and Writing For Critical Thinking sponsored by the International Reading Association in which we have been working, 70 of us, as volunteers, teachers and professors, working with uh teachers in 20 former Soviet countries. In the former Soviet Union, the educational context was very different then uh in other parts of the world. These are not just American volunteers; we have folks from Australia, and the UK, and Canada. Um, but what we have learned is that the resuscitation factology model of education that was so prevalent during Soviet times created folks who were extraordinarily well educated, knowledgeable, have more facts at their disposal then most of us uh in the western world would ever have been able to—to learn. However, what was missing and—and what these teachers have been so hungry for our approaches and methods to help children be critical thinkers. Critical thinking and—and problem solving was not very valued under the Soviet regime. And now we have many folks over there who really want to learn how to help their youngsters be—be critical thinkers and who—who can—can solve problems and who can analyze text and who can express themselves critically in reading and writing. Have we solved all the problems in American schools? Absolutely not and we don’t go over pretending that we have. But we have learned some ways to be able to help folks who haven’t had this kind of experience, either as teachers or as—as children themselves as learners uh to—to be able crit—critically think. You might be interested to know that one of the things our—our Estonian teachers found most helpful was when we taught them about Blooms Taxonomy. For those of us who’ve been in education for a long time, it was 54 years ago uh that—or 55 years ago, it was 1954 I guess, um that Benjamin Bloom published his taxonomy of education and uh when you think about it, this was during the time of Soviet rule so when we’re talking about critical thinking, often times we’re talking about such things as of changing your levels of questioning, and listing different kinds of responses from kids based upon uh the questions that we ask them. So uh it has been an interesting experience, there have not been cultural divides as much as—as educational differences because of the kind of education that was uh prevalent during Soviet times.