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My district is adopting ridiculous curriculum for newcomers

 
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ESLTeach1



Joined: 11 Sep 2013
Posts: 3
Location: Texas

PostPosted: Fri Sep 13, 2013 3:54 am    Post subject: My district is adopting ridiculous curriculum for newcomers Reply with quote

I am in Texas, where we have huge groups of mostly Latino students. We have self-contained ESL classes for newcomers, generally for their 1st and 2nd year, removing the scaffolding as they move along. For 9 years, this has worked great. I use a giant amount of resources and have successfully taught beginners for years, and I LOVE IT.

Sadly, as districts become more and more dependent on state assessments to measure schools, and as state testing exemptions have disappeared for new immigrants, the district powers that be have started nosing around the experienced ESL teachers' classrooms, changing curriculum without input from ESL teachers, and gradually moving away from ESL best practices to blanket a curriculum that is more or less the same texts as their native English-speaking peers. I kid you not that the first day of the Engsol 1 curriculum demands the teacher to teach imagery, tone and theme through a pre-AP textbook published by college board. As ESL teachers we know very few beginners will survive this kind of horrible practice. It's like handing them "To Kill a Mockingbird " and saying "accommodate it!" I know they have the state and district breathing down their necks, but simply throwing 9th grade level texts at them is not going to get a kid to pass that exam in 9 months. This is bad for kids. The reading ESL curriculum has suddenly adopted a book meant for native speakers or maybe higher level ELLs who are in need of reading interventions. This is NOT the same need as a child who simply has no English. English needs to be explicitly taught and I don't get how they think we can teach something as complex as Romeo and Juliet when the kids don't know the word for "yes." The program will produce the tragedy of discouraged and disengaged kids, sets them up for failure, and of course, they will still not pass that English exam in the spring, no matter how bright they are. This practice goes against everything I've ever learned about language acquisition and I'm furious. I guess I'm just looking for a place to vent. I also would love any suggestions on who to write to in order to present the contrast of what we're taught and what they're asking us to do. I also want to know how many of you face this same predicament and how you deal with it. Thanks so much.
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Sally Olsen



Joined: 08 Apr 2004
Posts: 1304
Location: Canada,France, Brazil, Japan, Mongolia, Greenland, Canada, Mongolia, Ethiopia next

PostPosted: Fri Sep 13, 2013 11:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You need to band together and make a group of ESL teachers and then go to the supervisors, board and so on and teach them a new language. I wouldn't use Spanish in case they know it but use a language that someone in the group knows. Hand them a book at a high level and ask them questions as they would get on the exam and then teach them some of the language using best practices. They will get the idea quickly. You can get parents behind you as well.

Of course, what you do in the classroom is never what is written down somewhere from above so I wouldn't worry. You can use the books like Romeo and Juliet but adapted for your best practices. They students can view the movie in Spanish, answer questions in Spanish and then learn to translate. They can learn parts of the body from a picture of Romeo and Juliet. They can learn transportation from the modes in the movie -horse, cart, and you get a modern version that shows cars, trains, planes and so on.

As long as you know what works you can work around silly rules and keep the students learning. They probably can answer questions to pass the exams in their own language so you can teach them tone, image and so on but in Spanish and then translate.
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ESLTeach1



Joined: 11 Sep 2013
Posts: 3
Location: Texas

PostPosted: Sat Sep 14, 2013 5:38 am    Post subject: Thanks Reply with quote

You have no idea how much I fantasize about dropping school board and congress members into the middle of China or Russia or something like that, and then refusing to use any translation, not allowing them to speak English to one another, and then hand them "Hamlet" in a foreign language followed by a 9th-grade literature test (where they also have to write an essay). I never thought about then showing them the best practices way after that, though! What an eye-opener that would be! I think that's every ESL teacher's dream!

Thankfully, I feel better today as our district coordinator stopped by my campus today and quelled my fears about this new text. She confirmed that I was allowed to skip the texts and find other more accessible texts that utilized some of the same kinds of skills addressed in the book. The program itself is owned by Pearson (what educational material isn't?) but it is definitely successful for native speakers in need of reading interventions, and I actually think some of the phonemic awareness exercises are good, but I think no teacher is fond of "canned curriculum." Nobody wants to read from a script, as if they don't know how to teach and any robot could do it.

I still think much more appropriate texts would be far better. In fact, I discovered the very same text has a whole version for newcomers to English! They said they wouldn't use it because it's not on grade-level ?!

When I wrote the post I was really freaking out and I appreciate your input. I'm going to incorporate the new text and see how it goes, and if the students do poorly on the first assessment from the book, I consulted our campus rep for a teacher's union. I don't know why I never thought of that before. She said that inappropriate curriculum is certainly something a teacher's union can help with, although I guess I just joined because you're supposed to, and didn't ever read up on all they can do for us. Usually I associated unions with helping teachers with pay/HR/employment issues. Now I know they can help our kids, too!

So glad I joined this forum. Being one of only 3 ESL teachers on our campus, it's very hard to relate to others who will understand my specific concerns. You made me feel 10X better and I am still nervous, yet determined!
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Sally Olsen



Joined: 08 Apr 2004
Posts: 1304
Location: Canada,France, Brazil, Japan, Mongolia, Greenland, Canada, Mongolia, Ethiopia next

PostPosted: Sat Sep 14, 2013 1:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am glad that you have done so much! Most teachers just keep it to themselves and yet we are all having difficulties. This is why it is so great to have Dave's.

I would try to follow the main curriculum as much as possible so if there is a chance for the ESL class and the regular classes to merge, they have talking points. It is not hard to get everything they are doing in translation or in movies with Spanish and English and you can watch small portions, first in Spanish and then in English and do whatever you can with the ideas you have in the exercises they do.

I would buy the newcomers edition and then use the materials that you have to duplicate the book and make up appropriate exercises for homework.

I usually take the books they give me and learn the structure behind them and then try to fit them to the movies. Then I make up my own worksheets with the things I know the students need to know. Basic books are good for homework but they need a tape to go along with it so the students can hear what they are reading. Otherwise they read in Spanish or whatever language they know and get Spanglish or Japlish and so on. I used to get volunteers to tape the books for me. Put the instructions for the exercises in Spanish for awhile until they get used to what they are supposed to do - all the books have a formula for exercises which the students learn after a while.

Break down former tests to see the way they test and what kind of questions they ask and teach for the test at least once a week or more. The students should read the answers for a multi-choice test before they read the question and they should read the questions before they read the paragraph they are asked to read. They should know the kind of things testers do in asking specific questions in order of how they are setting up the paragraph and then asking an overall question (which they might not understand but at least they have answered 8 or 9 out of the 10 questions). The students will have spelling help in the test itself so they don't have to worry about most words and they will have the beginning of their sentence from the question.

Teach them to finish beforehand or at least stop beforehand and go back over their answers to correct for verb tense and noun agreement and then all the little things that could dock their marks if the testers are that fussy.

If they are stuck they should write their answers in their own language so at least the answer is down and they might be able to argue that they knew the ideas at least and will someday be able to answer in English.
It makes them feel heard at least and not like a baby all the time.

Don't give up on the ones in charge of curriculum and try to arrange that one day that you take them to "China" - set up workshops and bring in all the accessories you can to make it fun - Chinese tea, food, dress in costumes and really pour it on with posters and bus tickets, travel maps, brochures about the school and so on. We have lots of colleagues in China who would exchange artifacts with you - movie posters, street signs, forms to fill out and it is easy to get books from the library. You just have to learn a few words yourself from any free website and you will be way ahead of them. Fake the rest, they will never know.

Then teach them a half hour lesson so they go away with real Chinese words. I had a great workshop where we had a famous painting given to us but it was coped in black and white. We had to fill in the colours using the "Chinese" language (actually I think it was Arabic). The teacher did all the right things in teaching us the colours and a few sentences we could use - I think that is pink. Here should be blue and so on. We felt we learned so much in such a short time and we coloured in our painting to be compared with the real thing at the end. We were excited but thoroughlIy aware of how difficult it is to learn a new language.

It just took an hour of our time but changed out thinking forever.
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ESLTeach1



Joined: 11 Sep 2013
Posts: 3
Location: Texas

PostPosted: Wed Sep 25, 2013 3:56 am    Post subject: Extra support Reply with quote

Because you were so helpful I wondered if you could help me collect some research or advocacy groups we could cite if we get in hot water for at least spending the 1st semester on basic language acquisition. So far I have found Cummins's research to be the most helpful, but the hardest thing is finding research specifically about newcomers. Most ELL stuff assumes the child is limited, but not a total non English speaker. I have also emailed the representative from the actual pre-AP publication we're asked to use, simply asking if the grade-level text was an appropriate way to start with them. I also thought I could utilize any advocacy groups anyone may know of, and if need be, a teacher's union. If I have all the documentation ready when they pick at our practices, I want to have a bevy of the research and expert input ready...bam! Look at this. Please throw me all the research you know about the problem with starting beginners at a grade level to text!
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Sally Olsen



Joined: 08 Apr 2004
Posts: 1304
Location: Canada,France, Brazil, Japan, Mongolia, Greenland, Canada, Mongolia, Ethiopia next

PostPosted: Wed Sep 25, 2013 2:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ok will look it up. Bernie Mohan and his colleagues did a lot of work in high schools with Chinese students new to Vancouver,B.C., Canada. If you look on Google Scholar on how to teach high school ESL beginners, you will see a lot of papers. I will check my notes and papers from my Masters courses.

The teacher's manual should have a theoretical basis and references. You can check with the publisher.
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Sally Olsen



Joined: 08 Apr 2004
Posts: 1304
Location: Canada,France, Brazil, Japan, Mongolia, Greenland, Canada, Mongolia, Ethiopia next

PostPosted: Sat Sep 28, 2013 12:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The publisher has a lot of stuff to support its philosophy and its approach. There is a teacher's toolkit. You can also contact them easily.

You can use all the information from your training program and contact your professors for recent papers that will back you up. They usually love a good discussion on the issues and might assign their students a project to find materials for you.
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