"Teachers can change lives with just the right mix of chalk and challenges."
"Teachers can change lives with just the right mix of chalk and challenges."
I observed a pull out, designated ELD class of third graders at San Pedro Elementary in San Rafael. San Pedro is an overflow school from the Canal neighborhood’s Bahia Vista Elementary School, and subsequently, most all of San Pedro’s students take a bus to and from school and their home in the Canal. According to the California Department of Education, the school serves 526 students from Transition Kindergarten (TK) to Fifth Grade, of which 98% are socioeconomically disadvantaged, 87.1% are English Language Learners, and 68.6% are on free or reduced lunch.
At San Pedro, the large population of English Language Learners makes English Language instruction a high priority.¹⁴ As the students get older, their language abilities often improve drastically, and for those who still struggle, they attend pull out ELD instruction and can work with individual aids and specialists where necessary. The school’s designated ELD instruction is interactive, emphasizing listening and speaking (though it does include some reading and writing) and integrating meaning through a variety of activities. It teaches conventions of English language and teachers provide corrective feedback where necessary. Instruction is taught entirely in English, only using Spanish strategically, and incorporates effective strategies for teaching communication and language learning in all forms. The designated ELD class focuses on vocabulary development, increasing the use of academic vocabulary as the students get older and more advanced.
As relatively strong supporting evidence from English Learner research has shown, providing ELD instruction is better than not providing it,¹ and pursuant to hypotheses emerging from recent English Learner researcher, a separate block of time should be devoted daily to ELD instruction.³ At San Pedro, nearly all students begin school without much, if any, English Language abilities. Starting in first grade, those whose English language skills are below par are pulled out by grade level (rather than proficiency level)¹³ for an hour or more of ELD instruction each day, which continues until students reach level 4 (early advanced) or level 5 (advanced).¹¹ This also often includes students who have just moved to the area from a country whose first language is not English. In this case, they are usually from Central or South America. When students are not in their designated ELD class, they are integrated in general education classroom with mixed English language proficiencies.¹³
Everything in the designated ELD classroom is labeled in English and Spanish, but instruction is taught entirely in English. Only occasionally, when a student is really struggling to understand a concept does the teacher, whose Spanish language abilities are minimal, use a Spanish vocab word to scaffold the student’s thinking.⁸
When students arrive in class, they sit boy-girl on the carpet in the center of the room. Pursuant to strong supporting evidence from English Learner researcher, all activities are interactive and are carefully planned and carried out² with specific language objectives in mind.¹² The class begins every morning with common, English greetings. The teacher brings out a poster board with a sentence frames for the exchange as reference for the students who need it. The teacher then models the greeting with one of the six students in the class as follows:
Teacher: “Good morning (Name).”
The teacher passes the bouncy ball to the first student, who must greet the student next to him/her, and assigns which student will be Person A and Person B. If a student struggles with the greetings, she encourages them to slow down and try again, providing the students with corrective feedback where necessary until they are able to correctly articulate the greetings on their own.⁷ The students go around the circle until everyone has had a chance to be both Person A and Person B during the exchange.
The day I observed the class, a few students had a cold and were sneezing and coughing. She took this as an opportune time to integrate meaning by teaching them the vocabulary to explain how they felt (i.e. “I have a cold/cough”, “I need a tissue”, etc.)⁶ She pointed to the tissues in the room as reference, wrote the new words on the board, and had the students clap out the syllables of the new vocabulary words, analyzing how many syllables they heard and how many sounds are in the written word.⁵ They used their bodies to act out the actions and repeated the phrases and words for pronunciation.⁹
As another way to integrate meaning, the class goes through calendar.⁶ One student is in charge of the weather, which includes looking outside to see if it is sunny, cloudy, rainy, etc. and warm, hot, cold, chilly, etc. The student then places the corresponding visual cards in the pocket chart and shares with the class. The teacher provides sentence frames for the student to explain to the class: “Today it is (sunny, cloudy, rainy, thundering) and (warm, hot, cold, chilly).”⁹
Another student is in charge of the calendar chart, which includes leading the class through the months of the year, the days of the week, and the date. This was an opportunity for the teacher to help the students make clear distinctions between similar words in the English language (i.e. “tree” vs. “three). She wrote both words on the board to show the difference in their spelling and demonstrated what their mouth (lips and tongue) should do when they pronounce each word.⁹
After calendar, the class works specifically on vocabulary development, both academic and conversational.¹⁰ In this case, they worked on clothing and possession. Each student is assigned a color and must articulate which student in the class is wearing that color. As a reference, the teacher brings out another poster board with sentence frames to guide the students. The activity may go as follows:
Teacher: Bounces ball to Student 1. “Red.”
This was a great opportunity for the teacher to correct errors with plural and pronoun possession.⁵ Often students mixed up is/are and have/has for items like shoes and dropped the apostrophe “s” at the end of a possessive pronoun.⁷ The teacher would correct the student, explaining why it should be said differently, and the student would repeat the correct phrase.
Another way this teacher integrates meaning through ELD instruction is with stretching.⁶ Not only does this help students with body awareness, but it is also a hands-on way to the learn vocabulary associated with body parts and directionality.¹⁰ They learn the words for head, neck, fingers, hands, wrists, arms, elbows, shoulders, back, waist, hips, legs, ankles, feet, and toes, and focus on up and down, left and right, back and forth, and side to side.
Although most of the ELD instruction focuses on listening and speaking pursuant to hypotheses emerging from recent English Learner research, they also work on reading comprehension.⁴ They take turns reading a simple book that teaches basic vocabulary such as door, bookshelf, chair, table, etc. and prepositions such as on, in, under, between, above, below, etc.⁵ The teacher uses hand signals and actions to demonstrate the prepositions, placing one hand on top of the other while saying “on” or floating one hand above the other while saying “above” or “over”.⁹ The children follow along, saying the words out loud and acting out with their bodies.
At the end of class, the students really wanted to play Vocab Basketball, an interactive game to work on vocabulary.² The students break up into two teams and take turns shooting a bouncy ball into a basket at the front of the room. If they make the shot, they are shown a flash card with a picture of a familiar object on it (i.e. backpack, chair, pen, etc.). If they can give the correct English word for the picture, their team gets a point.
Overall, San Pedro offers a comprehensive designated English Language Development program that is carefully planned and carried out with specific language objectives in mind. The success is evident as students move from TK through fifth grade and their English language greatly improves.
Guidelines for English Language Development Instruction