Teachers HELP Trains Teachers In English Learner Techniques

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Teachers HELP (Helping English Language Proficiency) Summer Academy, which is a part of a five year program to offer high-quality English Learner (EL) endorsement and professional development opportunities, opened with a science lesson.

Anjelika Riano, the ESL (English as a Second Language) coach with the Hamilton County Department of Education, lectured the group of in-service and pre-service teachers about the parts of a plant. The “students” were expected to keep up with the lesson and to take notes… all in Russian. This immersion experience was intended to let these teachers feel what an English learner student feels while trying to learn academic content in an unfamiliar language.

Ms. Riano then repeated the lesson, still in Russian, but implementing strategies designed to aid ESL students, such as displaying a plant and pointing to each part while it was discussed. The teachers were then able to see firsthand what a difference the strategies can make.

“The point is to help students to learn English and also learn academic content in English. We can’t wait until students are fluent in English for them to learn academic content, they have to learn them at the same time,” said Anne Gamble, Teachers HELP Project Director.

Teachers HELP is a five-year National Professional Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Education awarded to UTC in 2012. The main goal is to have 140 teachers with the ESL add-on endorsement teaching in this area in five years.

“We have a goal to have more ESL endorsed teachers, but we also have a goal to help all teachers be better prepared to teach English learners,” said Ms. Gamble.

Between 1995 and 2005, the population of EL students grew 370 percent in Tennessee, and has only continued to rise. While EL students are often assumed to be Spanish speakers, there is a much greater variety in local schools. In Hamilton County alone, students speak forty-five different languages. The rates of Spanish speaking students are increasing in Tennessee, but so are the rates of German speaking students, with the arrival of Volkswagen, as well as other languages, through the work of Bridge Refugee Services.

“Tennessee is an English only state; we don’t have provisions for instruction for students in their own language, we only teach students in English. So what these teachers are learning is strategies to teach in English as they teach English,” said Ms. Gamble.

The training provided in Teachers HELP doesn’t focus on teaching new languages or helping teachers to educate only Spanish speaking students; rather, they are learning strategies that will benefit all students.

“Those students are in our schools, so there’s a real need for them to have an understanding of how to teach a diverse population of students,” said Ms. Gamble.

The program benefits both novice and veteran teachers – the 2014 cohort boasts a combined 143 years of teaching experience. Pre-service teachers are recruited from the UTC Education Department, while veteran teachers are recruited from six local counties: Hamilton County, Bradley County, Cleveland City Schools, Grundy County, Marion County, and Sequatchie County.

“We don’t have any problem recruiting. We already have 15 people who have applied for next year, out of 35 slots,” said Ms. Gamble.

Importantly, Teachers HELP doesn’t propose depriving students of their native languages.
“We don’t want them to lose their original language. We now know that there are so many cognitive benefits to being bilingual, so we don’t want to take that away from them,” said Dr. Amye Warren, HELP Program project evaluator and Research Master’s Program Coordinator in the Department of Psychology. “We don’t want their parents to stop speaking to them in their original language. The parents aren’t often the best demonstrators of academic English, when they may be learning the language themselves. Students need that social, conversational English, but they also need that academic, formal language in the classroom. We want them to be able to do both.”

The program provides numerous strategies for teaching EL students, who may have much greater knowledge in their native language than in English.

“The EL student may have a lot of information in his or her native language, but can’t tell you in English, so if you can help the student show you what he or she knows, then you can help put English vocabulary to that,” said Dr. Kay Cowan, Teachers HELP Faculty Advisor and Professor of Reading and Language Arts in the UTC College of Education, Health, and Professional Studies.

Strategies involve more concrete learning, which involve movement, art, and music. Multimodal learning is encouraged, so that students from all different backgrounds have options other than writing what they know – they may be able to create projects, simulations, web-based assignments, or other non-verbal assessments.

“Our strategies don’t just help EL students. What we’re doing helps language minority students – maybe a student speaks a dialect of English that isn’t necessarily focused on academics. When you teach the language of school to EL students, you teach it to all the students in a class who may just be struggling,” said Dr. Sarah Sandefur, Teachers HELP Faculty Advisor.

These techniques can benefit all students.

“Lecture instruction is some of the most difficult to grasp, so we try to make it more concrete, and then bump it up, and all our students grasp is faster,” said Dr. Cowan. “I used these strategies with all students, even gifted students who weren’t struggling. It positions all students to perform at a higher level, to see different ways of interpreting and presenting content.”

The students are being taught in a particular, research based model that has been validated as good instruction for EL students and all students.

“We know that these strategies lead to improved student performance,” said Dr. Sandefur. “Even if they have no EL students in their class, their instruction techniques will be stronger for this.”

With the grant half over, many of the students who have completed the Teachers HELP Summer Academy have already been hired, according to Dr. Valerie Rutledge, Dean of the College of Health, Education and Professional Studies.

In the future, UTC’s Department of Education is planning on incorporating many of these strategies into their coursework.

“We are creating the coursework that will go into our undergraduate education so that all teachers will get information about teaching English learners. We are also working on an ESL concentration in the master’s program,” said Dr. Rutledge.


Lee’s Iosia Named HESSE Department Head

Dr. Mike Iosia has been named chair of the Department of Health, Exercise Science & Secondary Education in Lee University’s Helen DeVos College of Education.  Dr. Iosia is replacing Dr. Eric Moyen who has been promoted to assistant vice president of Academic Affairs.  “Dr. Iosia brings a strong foundation of first-rate scholarship and excellence in teaching to this ... (click for more)

Chattanooga High School Center For Creative Arts Receives Two National Honors

The Chattanooga High School for Creative Arts has been designated a 2015-2017 Exemplary School by Arts Schools Network, the nation’s largest professional membership organization of specialized arts schools.   In addition, CCA has been named a 2015 National School of Distinction by Magnet Schools of America.  MSA is the national association of magnet and theme-based schools. ... (click for more)

Zaxby's To Go In Across From Bass Pro Shop At New I-75 Exit 1 Development In East Ridge

A new Zaxby's will be built across from Bass Pro Shop at I-75's Exit 1 in East Ridge, developer John Healy said Thursday night. He said other restaurants and hotels are also coming to the Jordan Crossing site at the entrance to Camp Jordan Park. Mr. Healy said he hopes to make a "significantly larger" announcement soon. The East Ridge City Council, at a special called meeting, ... (click for more)

Young Man Involved In Incident That Led To A Murder Gets Diversion, Praise For Testifying

A young man who was involved in an incident that led to a murder has been given diversion and praised for testifying against co-defendants. Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman said a conviction for facilitation of an aggravated robbery can be expunged if Dustin Hayes gets in no further trouble for six years. The judge said, "We wouldn't be dealing with 40 shootings a year ... (click for more)

The Silence Is Deafening - And Response

In this week’s news cycle we have the international uproar over the killing of Cecil the lion. In the same time most national news outlet refuse to even mention the undercover videos of so call doctors and technicians discussing the harvesting, processing and sale of human baby body parts.  The argument by those liberal, progressive Democrats has been that the “fetus” was ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: They Still Love The ‘Lickers’

When Congressman Ted Yoho (R-Fl.) introduced the 2015 version of the “Prevent All Soring Tactics” in Congress this week, he already had a bipartisan crowd of 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats as co-sponsors. That’s hardly amazing. Today there are over 280 organizations, associations, veterinary and animal advocates who vehemently support the legislation, because it is well documented, ... (click for more)