by Judith O'Loughlin, Judie Haynes
How do you help mainstream teachers accurately monitor for student comprehension, organize the content class, and design realisitic assesments? These questions will be addressed in this article, which is the second part of "Meeting the Challenge of Content Instruction."
In the first part of this article, Meeting the Challenge of Content Instruction, we discussed how ESL teachers can provide staff development for mainstream teachers in order to help them adapt their curriculum to the language needs of their ESL population. We addressed the areas of advance preparation, teaching techniques and learning strategies. In this second part we will address the following questions:
- How can mainstream teachers accurately monitor the comprehension of English language learners?
- How can the content area classroom be more effectively organized for subject area instruction ?
- How can teachers design realistic assessment for ESL students to match their developing comprehension?
- How can teachers accurately monitor for student comprehension?
Monitoring for student comprehension
If you ask second language learners, "Do you understand?" embarrassment causes them to say, "Yes," whether or not they really do comprehend. Although teachers need to check periodically for student comprehension during a lesson, employing a hierarchy of questioning strategies will provide teachers with a better preception of current student comprehension.
Questions should be structured to the ESL students' language ability. Even newcomers can be asked to point to a picture or word to demonstrate basic knowledge. Using visual cues, teachers can ask beginning students to point or simply respond "yes" or "no." As language develops students can respond to "either/or" questions in which the answer is embedded. Finally, they can advance to simple "Wh" questions. Breaking questions into several steps will allow students to retrieve complex information.
By choosing easy questions and structuring the form of the question to current language ability, students will be encouraged to participate in content classes. Some students will participate more readily if they know what questions they will be asked. in advance. This allows the students time to think and prepare responses. At all levels of student ability teachers should be cognizant of the need for "translating time." Second language learners are translating the question into native language, mentally constructing the answer, and then translating back into English to respond.
Teachers need to understand that ESL students should not be overly corrected in front of their peers. The correct response and/or sentence structure should be modeled by the teacher.
Organizing the content class
Teachers should utilize classroom organizational patterns and tools which best help their ESL students to learn content. The following suggestions will help second language learners.
Cooperative learning groups or teams provide the ESL student with varying language and learning style experiences within the content classroom. The student becomes a real member of the content classroom instead of a silent observer.
Teachers can pair peer partners or buddies in a variety of ways. Advanced ESL students can help those peers who are less proficient in English. Same age/grade native English speakers can be paired with non-native speakers. Second language learners can also be paired with buddies or tutors from another grade level classroom.
Community members can greatly enhance the students' learning. Partnerships with high school community service projects can be developed to provide students with after-school help. Bilingual parent volunteers are often willing to tutor students in their native language. Concepts explained first in native language are much easier to learn in English. Senior citizen volunteers and university students are another source of one-on-one instruction.
Designing realistic assessments
English-language learners do not have to be assessed in the same way or with the same testing materials as mainstream students. Tests are not sacred documents or determiners of ESL students' ability. Students with limited English need to be graded on whether or not they are making a sincere attempt to understand the content material at their current level of English language ability.
ESL teachers may need to initiate the accommodations mentioned below by helping design suitable assessments for their students. Once mainstream teachers see how much their ESL students are learning, they will be more motivated to provide alternative assessments. Some testing accommodations can include:
- Reducing response materials for content area testing
- Providing a version of the test with simplified language
- Choosing key and/or main ideas for assessment
- Simplifying directions
- Reading test questions aloud
- Supplying word banks for tests
- Providing matching activities
- Extending time to complete the tests
- Using peer interpreters
- Allowing the student to respond orally rather than in written form
- Double grading students: One grade for content ( correct responses) and one for structure (grammatical correctness) particularly for narratives and essays in all content areas.
- Using portfolios to authentically assess student progress.
Connecting with the content classroom and fostering positive relationships by working with mainstream teachers as professional partners, is crucial to the success of second language learners in content area classrooms. Forming these professional partnerships requires additional time and work on the part of both the ESL and mainstream teachers, but this endeavor will be well worth the extra effort. Your English language learners will reap the benefits o f these professional relationships. It is hoped that the suggestions above will encourage ESL teachers to take the first steps toward this goal.
This article originally appeared in the print edition of TESOL Matters (June/July, 1999).