California English Journal
There is no shortage of instructional strategies that have been documented as useful for English language learners. These range from read alouds to concept maps to questioning strategies (Opitz, 1998). In fact, Adrienne Herrell provides readers with 50 of them (Herrell, 1999)! However, most of these strategies have been implemented with younger children. We were faced with two challenges in our work with 24 ninth grade students - adolescents and acceleration. These students attend a large, urban high school in a community in Southern California where 39 languages are spoken among a student population of 2100. Many of these have been in America for less than three years, and face the daunting challenge of high-stakes testing that profoundly influence their future. When these young adults join the US school system, we are equally challenged by the dual complexities of maintaining and building upon their heritage language while rapidly acquiring English. For some adolescents, we only have 3 or 4 years to do this. Thus, we need to use instructional time effectively and efficiently if we are to meet our goals. In other words, we must accelerate their academic achievement in English in order for them to achieve their goals.
Interestingly, conventional wisdom suggests that we focus on reading and developing reading skills. Fearn and Farnan (2001), however, suggest that we focus on writing because "writing interacts with the other language skills to further children's literacy development" (p. xxviii). Thus, we focused on writing instruction and built the read alouds, shared reading, and independent reading activities around this instruction.
Language Experience Approach
Day after day, we allowed these young adults to see their thoughts recorded both in front of the class as well as in their notebooks. While they composed, we circulated to provided feedback on their individual extensions. Much like the adults in El Salvador who were taught using this approach (Purcell-Gates & Waterman, 2000), we found that our adolescent students were motivated through sharing their thoughts, reactions, and experiences. They were interested in seeing their words transcribed and they were writing extension sentences that demonstrated greater and greater complexity. For example, during a discussion on Muslims following the September 11 terrorists attacks, the LEA for the day read, "Not all Muslims hate Americans. Muslims are a diverse group and should be treated fairly. Respect for all people is an important part of life in the US." LaDonna extended this in her notebook by writing, "I am not Muslim, but I have frends who is. I know that they like US pepole. I am not afrade."
While we acknowledged the growth in their thinking and speaking and were pleased with the increased participation, we were frustrated with the mechanics in their writing. We believed that the Language Experience Approach was a powerful motivator and allowed students to contribute and learn. Nevertheless, our feedback technique of teaching multiple individual minilessons during the extension activity was inefficient. In the meantime, our goal was acceleration - we needed to more rapidly develop our students' correct use of English conventions.
Focusing on the
Language: Interactive Writing
Interactive writing is much more complex that LEA and requires trust on the part of the students. Our students knew from experience that we would not humiliate them for mistakes in their writing, but that mistakes may be used to illustrate a confusing point of English. In addition, interactive writing requires that the teacher rapidly develop instructional points based on the words selected by the students. Given what we knew about our students, we often used common spelling patterns, word families, and high frequency words as the focal point of the lesson. For example, during a reading and discussion on the increase in teen pregnancy, the interactive writing began with a class consensus statement, "More girls are getting pregnant today." Anthony was the first student to volunteer to write. He approached the dry erase board and wrote the word "More." While he was doing this, the teacher asked students for examples of words with a silent "e" at the end and made a short list on another dry erase board. As Anthony was walking away from the board, the whole class repeated the agreed text, "More girls are getting pregnant today." Rashawn was next to approach the board. He wrote, "Girls." While he was doing this, the teacher asked for other words that the class could have selected for "girls." When the capitalization error was noted, the teacher asked for clarification on capitalizing nouns. Rashawn changed the word to "girls" and then the whole class said out loud, "More girls are getting pregnant today." Thuy was next. The teacher asked her to write the next two words. As she was doing this, the teacher asked each student to write on his or her individual papers another word with a double consonant. This was done in part to remind Thuy that the word "getting" has two t's. Students then shared their word with a partner - little, hopping, llama, yellow, etc. When Thuy was finished, the whole class again repeated "More girls are getting pregnant today." This process continued through this sentence as well as the next ("Some times girls get pregnant to leave school."). Following this, each student expanded the group message in his or her notebook. Juan wrote, "Schools should try to help girls so they won't leave. I want my sister to finish school." Angel wrote, "Thats not the only reason. Sometimes girls want to be a mom. Some girls just believ the guy. Being pregnant is not bad, just sad."
From our experience
with these students, we believe that acceleration is possible. We agree
with Fearn and Farnan (2001) that writing instruction is key. Our next
steps will be to increase the amount of time that students are writing
independently. We will also begin timed writing activities to build
fluency as the students become more comfortable with their skills.
As these writing samples suggest, English language learners can acquire
mechanical control of their writing when they receive quality instruction
and feedback. We believe that the modeling provided through LEA and
interactive writing is critical to this success. We also believe that
LEA as a precursor to interactive writing allowed our students to see
that writing was possible and that they would not be shamed in front
of their peers for trying to write. LEA and interactive writing also
allowed us, as teachers, to focus on writing instruction in ways that
encouraged students to participate. We are reminded of Lucy Calkins's
(1986) advice: "Enfranchise students as teachers and they will
become learners" (p. 271).
"Lives on the
can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any
child at any stage of development." -Mike Rose
Born in 1943 in Pennsylvania, the son of Italian immigrants, Rose's family moved to South Vermont in Los Angeles, an area that borders Watts, in the early 1950's. Rose's father suffered from bad health and would die before Rose's senior year in high school. The author's parents were able to give their child love and affection but could not prepare him for the academic world of high school or college. The Los Angeles Rose describes in "Lives on the Boundary" is not the city of the Beach Boys but a city much like other American big cities: New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia-a place with distinct divisions not only of race but also of class. Rose loved his parents but does not romanticize their lives or the environment where he came of age. He does not minimize his own fears and difficulties both in high school and in college.
His parents, ambitious for Rose to succeed, sacrificed to send Rose to a private Catholic High School, Our Lady of Mercy, two bus rides away from South Vermont. There Rose was misplaced in Vocational Education, a seeming dead end for the ambitious youngster. At Mercy, Rose was saved by an English teacher named Jack MacFarland. Rose's encounter with MacFarland should give hope to all of us in education that wonder whether our lives can make a difference:
"Jack MacFarland couldn't have come into my life at a better time. My father was dead, and I had logged up too many years of scholastic indifference. Mr. MacFarland had a Master's Degree from Columbia and decided, at twenty-six, to find a little school and teach his heart out. He never took any credentialing courses, couldn't bear to, so he had to find employment in a private system. He ended up at Our Lady of Mercy teaching five sections of senior English. We wrote three or four essays a month. We read a book every two to three weeks, starting with the Iliad and ending with Hemingway. He gave us a quiz on the reading every other day. He brought a prep school curriculum to Mercy High."
Rose, who had given up on attending a four-year college, writes: "There were some lives that were already beyond Jack MacFarland's ministrations but mine was not." Rose, through MacFarland's help, was admitted as a special student to Loyola. Rose would eventually succeed both at Loyola and UCLA but his success did not come easily. " The passage from South Vermont to Loyola began with me feeling angry and isolated." Later he explains what it means to live a life "on the boundary," and to long for something that seems so close yet out of reach: "I had watched from the sidelines people whose lives seemed laden with meaningful pursuits, and I longed for such involvement. If you live long enough on South Vermont, you begin to feel not just excluded but out of the picture entirely. Ralph Ellison captured it perfectly for the black man with the metaphor of invisibility. Jack MacFarland, Frank Carothers, and the others created the conditions for me to use my mind to engage the world."
Mike Rose has dedicated
his life to reaching those students who are still on the boundary.
learners face the triple challenge of acquiring a second language,
learning content matter, and negotiating an unfamiliar culture all
at the same time.
The opening research by Robin Scarcella from the University of California, Irvine, presents a powerful case for targeted instruction in vocabulary, specifically academic language, and corrective feedback on student writing. Susana Dutro offers ten pedagogical considerations for reading instruction. Stan Pogrow describes a program that combines Socratic dialogue with technology to foster critical thinking. Bill Younglove and Kathy Allen, experienced classroom teachers of middle school age English language learners, suggest specific ways for making classroom instruction comprehensible. Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey explain how the language experience approach and interactive writing helped high school students accelerate their learning.
Sikivu Hutchinson, a researcher in Alfee Enciso's ninth grade classroom at Dorsey High School in LAUSD, provides evidence of the impact of a culturally relevant curriculum. She explains how "the linchpin of culturally relevant education is high teacher expectations." As you can see, this issue offers many different perspectives and varying solutions. What the contributors all have in common is a belief in the ability of children to rise to the challenge.
I urge you to add
your voice to this chorus and respond to what you read here. Every
teacher in California is struggling with this issue. There is much
we can teach each other. Send your letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org.