Kelly Reider will guest host #mdeschat this Thursday, April 3rd at 9PM EST. She is the Coordinator for English Language Acquisition and the International Student Services Office for Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland. Kelly is passionate about supporting schools in their efforts at meeting the needs of English learners. We sat down with her for a Q&A on current issues impacting the ESL field.
Tell us about yourself.
This is the start of my 21st year in education. I have two teenage sons, an 8th grader and a high school senior! Our office is responsible for registering international students, screening students for English language services, writing curriculum, and providing professional development. In addition, we supervise English Language Acquisition teachers, conduct local and state language assessments, and coordinate interpretation and translation services. Prior to AACPS, I taught in Onslow County, North Carolina as well as Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, Maryland. I’ve been an ESL teacher, elementary classroom teacher, professional development specialist, and elementary assistant principal along the way.
The English language acquisition field comes with a plethora of acronyms (ESOL, ESL, ELA, TESL, TSOL, ELL etc.). Can you clarify some of the terms and let our readers know which are politically correct?
We certainly like our share of acronyms! ESOL and ESL are used pretty interchangeably. Both refer to instructional programs for English learners. When you add the “T”, this usually means “teachers” and refers to the professional groups. English language acquisition (ELA) and English language development (ELD) can refer to instructional programs, but they also refer to the field of research and science behind the process of acquiring/developing language. English learner (EL) is the most current term used to refer to the student. Many still use English language learner (ELL) as well. R-ELL/R-EL refer to “re-classified” students who have exited the instructional program and are monitored for two years. No English Proficiency (NEP) is a dated acronym that is not used very often these days.
What is the role of the ELA teacher in your district?
We have been working for the past two years to redefine the role of the ELA teacher. In the past, ELA (then ESOL for us) teachers functioned more as an instructional support. The ELA teacher is now expected to take on the role of a language acquisition teacher who has the primary responsibility of delivering and assessing the ELA approved curricula. ELA is a content area, just like science, math and language arts. Our ELA teachers are also expected to be language development experts who are a resource for the language development for ALL students.
What are some of the challenges that a large district faces in meeting the needs of English language learners?
Most school systems struggle with the allocation of staffing and other resources across a variety of programs and initiatives. As our English learner enrollment continues to grow quickly (approximately 40% over the past 4 years), we have not been able to maintain a student-teacher ratio that can meet the wide variety of educational needs of our students. We continuously work to improve our curricula and pedagogy to make the best use of every minute we have to teach students.
Over the past year, our system has experienced a sizeable increase in the number of English learners enrolling with significantly interrupted formal education and limited native language literacy. The number of students over 16 years old enrolling as 9th graders has more than tripled in the past 4 years. Many of these students enter school with limited academic background. Many are arriving as unaccompanied minors who are also working to support themselves while attending school. Balancing the various needs of students, graduation requirements, mandated assessments, and the social-emotional arena can be quite overwhelming for schools.
Equally important is the need to build every teacher’s capacity for providing the best instruction for English learners. Language development needs to take place all day, every day in order for us to close the academic language gap. Coordinating language development with the other district initiatives competing for teachers’ time and attention is an ongoing challenge. We are continually looking for new ways to provide professional development to as many teachers as possible. It is important that every teacher is prepared to differentiate for language and make content accessible to all students.
What instructional tips do you have for classroom teachers with ELL students?
Many teachers are uncomfortable with newcomers and feel helpless when the student does not understand any English. Just remember this is temporary. The most important thing is to include the students and insist that they remain engaged and involved. Language is developed through listening, speaking, reading, and writing. While students may need a bit of time to watch and take things in, it is important for the student to be engaged and active. Using visuals, providing organizers, restating in simplified language, and hands-on learning are all helpful. I encourage all teachers to use their English language acquisition teacher as a resource to review the students’ language proficiency data and discuss what are appropriate developmental expectations and goals.
Is there one book you would suggest we read to better understand the important issues in English language acquisition?
There are quite a few depending on the topic – cultural awareness, instruction, language development….. The best I’ve found for practical instruction is “Differentiating Instruction and Assessment for English Language Learners – A Guide for K-12 Teachers” by Shelley Fairbain and Stephaney Jones-Vo. This book looks at instruction by proficiency levels in a very practical way.
Thanks, Kelly! We appreciate your efforts in supporting schools with their English learner needs. Kelly can be followed on Twitter @reiderkelly.