Youve been working in education for more than 35 years, particularly in bilingual education. How did you become interested in the field and how has the field changed over the years?
This is a good question because it is a combination of different events that led to my decision to choose a university that specialized in bilingual education in 1975. In high school, I took French my first two years instead of Spanish. Orally, I could communicate but I had never learned to read in my home language of Spanish. What I discovered in learning French was that once you learn to read in one language, in my case English, you dont have to learn to read again in the second language. Once my high school offered Spanish 5 and 6, I skipped 1-4 and took the plunge into classical reading. It was not easy, but because I could read classics in English, I could do so in Spanish. This transference is one of the principles of bilingual education! This triggered an interest in languages and hence in bilingual education. Later, bilingual special education became a passion and still is.
The field of bilingual education has had its advocates and there are parts of this country that have always had bilingual education. NABE is still alive and supports bilingual education. Other states or districts have bent to the politics of the time and even eliminated any support in the primary language. Many universities that offered a bilingual credential eliminated this option because of low numbers with the only way to obtain the authorization was through testing. But in the last ten years there has been a wave of support for dual immersion programs which comes from mainstream educators and parents wanting bilingualism for their monolingual English speaking children. This, of course, helps the English learner as they are included as role models of language.
Now, with the current politics, I cannot predict what roadblocks educators and parents will encounter in establishing these programs.
What data do we have about English Language Learners today?
The 2014-15 national data collected by the federal government (https://eddataexpress.ed.gov/index.cfm) indicates that English Learners (ELs) represent 25% of school age children with a range from states: Louisiana reporting 5% to Connecticut and Pennsylvania with 34%. California held steady at 33%. On ELs attaining English proficiency (Title III receiving local education agency) national data is difficult to interpret since there is no national criteria on the types of assessments nor criteria thresholds. However, what is reported is New York state with 85% of their ELs obtaining proficiency to the lowest with Maine at 7.8%.
We have less immigrants coming to the US in certain states, and an influx in certain parts where they have never had this experience. For instance, there are far less emerging level ELs entering kinder in some districts in Los Angeles than in the past. These current ELs were born in the U.S. and are coming in at the expanding/intermediate level with some gaps in their vocabulary. The immigrant students with interrupted or limited formal schooling (SIFE) has also been a concern, entering in 2014, since they do not fit into the regular school program offered. These students coming from Central America and the Middle East pose a challenge for districts with few resources, especially when they settle in rural areas. Then of course, we have the created curriculum casualties our Long-term English Learners- students who have not been able to be successful and are entering the middle/high school. These students have been with the district since elementary. There are many causes as to why this is occurring. In some areas, more than 50% of the 9th graders are these Long Term ELs. Dr. Laurie Olsen has done extensive work in this area.
You recently wrote a book called Families Learning Together for families of children who are learning English. Can you tell me more about the book and why you wrote it?
The book supports parents efforts in assisting their child at home with homework. Explanations are given in a simple, straightforward manner with sample templates. For example, steps of how to read with children, how to guide them in editing a writing assignment, and also how to extend assignments in fun creative ways are the many ways parents can support learning. I tell the parents that they are creating mental tools for their children to use at school. The book is written for the parents in Spanish and in Chinese with the idea that they are going to conduct all the activities in the language they know best. I explain that these activities transfer to school, as research points out. The English version is primarily for school site professionals who will conduct sessions with parents on the book or other language groups, including of course English speaking parents.
I wrote this because as teacher, as an administrator and as a principal, I saw the need for parents and families to have these tools. When I would provide these types of mini-workshops, they would learn and tell me how easy it was to apply the lessons with their children.
While working at the Los Angeles County Office of Education you developed A Tool for Scaffolding Instruction for English Learners. How does that tool work and why did you create it?
The tool is a set of sentence frames organized by three levels of language proficiency, cognitive levels (instruction) and depths of knowledge (assessment). It was first developed for teachers to use with English Learners so the English version is organized by Californias three levels. The subsequent versions in Spanish, Chinese, and Korean were designed for dual immersion classrooms and also match up to the first three levels of ACTFL.
I wanted to create this because I saw a need for more oral language interaction at the secondary levels. This tool provides teachers a place to start not only orally but also with writing. It can supplement any content. But as teachers, they also need to observe students to determine when to discontinue these scaffolds.
You are currently working with Ana Albir, Drawp CEO & Founder, on a National Science Foundation funded research project to develop a digital transfer tool for newcomer students. What are the goals of this research?
The goals are to determine the efficacy of this cutting-edge digital technology Drawp with scaffold tools for language acquisition. In particular, the grant will examine the hypothesis that Spanish-speaking students learn more effectively when given native-language educational tools. Research on language transfers promotes this practice. Since these newcomers may have gaps in their primary language, using first Spanish will solidify the concept, for instance a comparison of two ideas, before they use the same sentence frame in English.
– Julie Brannon
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