Saturday, January 07, 2006

ELD Reforms

Recent events have me thinking about the viability of the ELD program in my District, insofar as one exists.

1) Hampton Brown's High Point Program is terrible.

The writing is extremely poor. Essentially, you are to practice various reading strategies with each selection (cause and effect for example), but in many pieces, it is impossible to utilize the material to do the expected teaching. There is literally an article in High Point A where nothing happens, therefore no causes, therefore no effects. And boring? Holy crap, it's boring. It is clear the creators tried to skimp on copyright and usage expensive by using little known authors and their little-appreciated work. Look, just because the writing needs to be a lower level, doesn't mean it should be terrible.

2) Despite what is claimed, High Point is not an effective ELD program.

Grammar instruction consists of little blurbs like, Write a complex sentence on the board. Point out the independent clause and dependent clause. Ask students to write their own. This does not work. Not with ELL kids and pretty much not with anyone. At an official training, I was informed that kids would "pick up" grammar. Which makes sense, because we all readily intuit, without instruction, the grammatical rules and structure of a foreign language, right?

The vocabulary choices are bizarre -- is "babushaka" and "crazy about" really critical terminology? -- and the place of vocabulary in the writing is self-defeating. Kids will be asked to read a five sentence paragraph that contains four of their vocabulary words and three words or phrases define at the bottom of the page. How is a kid going to understand that paragraph when every other word is unfamiliar? This happens again and again. We read the majority of a selection and then here comes two paragraphs where every vocabulary for the entire selection is packed in.

3) High Point is being implemented incorrectly almost everywhere.

The creators say that this intervention program needs to be taught for three hours a day. Besides my own school, I don't know of any other place where this is occurring. If our schools are not set up to accommodate a program the way it was intended, why are we committing our resources and the future of our students to such a program?

The story is especially ugly in many elementary schools where High Point is used during ELD time, where kids are homogeneously grouped and switch classes for what amounts to 45 minutes (at best) of instruction. The program is designed for 3 hours, not 45 minutes. As a result, kids do not get the benefit of proper instruction, repeat the various levels unnecessarily, don't feel good about themselves, etc., etc., etc.

4) High Point does not cover all 6th, 7th, and 8th grade standards.

Instead it hits standards on 3-5. Now a good teacher is capable of adding to those standards to make them applicable to the grade their students will be tested on, and many do. Should they have to? Why do we have to teach at cross purposes with the program? Moreover, not every standard is addressed. The District ought to form a task force to analyze the program and document where teachers will need to supplement to reach all standards.

5) An exclusively whole language approach to ELD instruction is ridiculous.

Balance, balance -- we need both. If kids need to put all their cognitive resources into decoding words, then they have no resources left to put into comprehension. Moreover, the slower a kid reads, the more comprehension suffers. There is nothing in High Point, and no resources provided by the District, to address this need. An easy supplemental solution is the REWARDS program. It provides direct instruction on advance phonics, common beginning and ending sounds, the way words are structured as syllables, and provides fluency materials as well. Using this program 15 minutes a day, last year I saw 100% of my students either reach the 7th grade fluency benchmark, or demonstrate an excess of two years growth in fluency. All middle school language arts teachers should get trained in this program and receive access to the materials.

6) The lack of newcomer centers, especially at the elementary level, is ridiculous.

As a District it seems we have failed to understand that large numbers of new immigrants send their children to our schools. Putting those kids into English-only classrooms, asking teachers to differentiate and their classmates to translate, borders on the unethical. We ought to have a center where those kids go to receive basic survival English, as well as foundational phonetic and grammatical concepts so they can survive in English only classrooms. There should be set exit criteria which are required to be mastered before kids can exit. At my school we have classrooms where this is happening; why isn't there a more concerted focus District-wide?

7) ELL's need more time on task and smaller class sizes.

150 minutes of language arts, 75 minutes of math, in addition to social studies, science, P.E. If you have CELDT 3s and below, enrollment is capped at 20. Kick these ridiculously underperforming small schools off our campuses, utilize the extra facilities, hire some more teachers and get this done.

8) EVERYONE needs ELD training, no matter what they teach.

As a Language Arts teacher it is primarily my job to teach reading, writing, speaking, listening, vocabulary, spelling, and so forth, but it is not exclusively my job. Content area and math teachers need to not only understand how variations in English ability effect their teaching, but they should be skilled at modifying lessons to accommodate those differences.

9) Recognize that we are an ELD District.

You know these AYP sub-groups? ELLs, low-SES, etc.? Our District is the sub-group. This is our identity. It is not a burden; our kids will ultimately benefit from their ability to speak two languages, from a social fluency in interacting with individuals from different cultures, with the empathy that comes from seeing the underbelly of America that many are not even aware exists. It is not a burden, but it is who we are. I don't know how this realization could manifest itself in reform, but it needs to occur. Those pesky ELLs who are anomalies elsewhere? That's us. Completely and fully. As a District, we need to look around, embrace this truth, and become advocates for this type of learner.

10 Comments:

Blogger pseudostoops said...

Right on. Especially the part about only 45 minutes of ELD in the elementary level and teaching high point- the stupidity of "we've seen some success with this at the middle school level so it will obviously work at the elementary level, where timing, circumstances, and teaching approach are totally different" is ridiculous.

As an aside, is it bad that my favorite part of this post is the "ridiculously underperforming small schools" part. Because oh my goodness that made me laugh. I miss the 408.

7:27 PM  
Blogger posthipchick said...

I taught High Point one year and my thoughts are very similar. Except- get this- High Point is what ALL Special Ed students in the district are forced to learn. It doesn't matter if they are NOT ELD. That's what you get in Special Ed. When I taught RSP, I had students in there doing High Point B FOR THE THIRD TIME, AND WERE NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKERS and nobody would give me different books! Special Ed is a whole can of worms you really don't even want to open.

I don't think our "ridiculously underperforming small schools" have ELD 3's or below. At least the one on my campus doesn't seem to. I would honestly be surprised if there were many 4's or 5's there, either. I asked one of the teachers at the school (who is in my credentialing program) if he'd done his ELD report cards yet and he had no idea what I was talking about.

8:40 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

PHC-

And yet! And yet! What's their API?
730!

My school, with two classes of newcomers, hoards of CELDT 3s and below, SDC kids, RSP kids, taking everyone who walks in the door, we're 700.

That's a gross failure on their part.

The school that latched itself onto to K.'s former school, is 740 something, while pulling the best from a school that was near 700. Another gross failure.

And on Thursday, there's a board meeting to authorize additional schools.

10:04 AM  
Blogger posthipchick said...

Are you going to the meeting?

11:32 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

I'll be there and I plan to speak. I'm working on my comments as we speak.

2:24 PM  
Blogger EdWonk said...

I've been a fully credentialed bilingual (Spanish/English) teacher in California for over 14 years, and taught ELD each year until two years ago when I changed subjects.

We used the "High Point" series. We found that it left a lot to be desired, but as it was selected over the teachers' objection by the District Office, we were saddled with it nevertheless.

Oh well, even though I miss teaching the ELD students, mainstream 7th grade history has fewer political intrigues in our district...

10:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment is in lieu of a trackback.

Liz here, I Speak of Dreams. Great post -- I think your criticisms ought to be required reading (my response to your post here)

10:30 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Will you tell us more about the meeting to authorize more schools? Do you mean charters or district small schools or some other life form?

7:26 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Caroline,

There are two proposals for District-funded charters, one a K-8 (we're a K-8 District) and one I don't know much about. Last week there was an editorial in the San Jose Mercury News urging our District to approve them, using, of all things, the fact that we are underenrolled as a good reason to open more schools!

Anyway, there was a board meeting last week where the District's lawyer briefed the Board on charter school law -- which was amazing in and of itself. I had no idea how many legal priveleges charters enjoy; perhaps I'll post more on that later.

Thursday's meeting is a public forum before the petition is approved or denied. During my 110 miles of commuting, I've been rehearsing my remarks...

I don't know what's on the horizon for small schools, but the plan was to keep adding em and adding em.

8:05 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Thanks for the link, Liz. I like your reordering, and obviously, the more specific reforms are impossible without the general attitudinal shift.

9:23 AM  

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