Archive for June, 2010

Scaffolding the Academic Success of Adolescent English Language Learners

June 25, 2010

The subtitle of this wonderful new publication from WestEd’s Quality Teaching for English Learners (QTEL) is a pedagogy of promise. The authors, Aida Walqui and Leo van Lier, present a convincing challenge to current curricula that begin with low expectations for English learners.

The authors explain and exemplify how rich, rigorous and engaging curricula are essential to language and cognitive development. I wish I could give a copy to every teacher, coach, administrator and principle I know. For now, I will have to be satisfied reading and re-reading it myself.

This book is written primarily for teachers, especially those of us who teach English learners in content classrooms. “All teachers who have English language learners in their classroom are language teachers, regardless of their main job to teach language arts, social studies, math or science… These skills do not come automatically with the job of being a subject matter teacher or even an ESL teacher.”

Besides its clear and vivid presentation of classroom examples, Walqui and van Lier explain, in a readable and relevant way, what sociocultural learning theory, sociolinguistics and cognitive psychology have to offer teachers. Most importantly, Walqui and van Lier address ways in which popular notions of “scaffolding” have become watered down and distorted. They provide an “expanded model of scaffolding” that highlights learner agency and the possibilities of learners learning from each other as well as from “more experienced experts.”

They also provide detailed and helpful discussions and frameworks for teachers thinking about how to scaffold tasks for English Language Learners. theoretical sections are interspersed with engaging transcripts of teacher-student interactions that give life to what often seem like esoteric theories in teacher preparation courses.

Later chapters include illustrations of the theoretical framework they introduce in the form of lesson and unit plans, examples of structures (such as anticipation guides and double entry journals) and illustrations of classroom interactions.

Readers will find many connections to their own practice and much to reflect on as they read.

IES Announces $100 Million Grant for “Reading for Understanding” Network

June 18, 2010

What might a network of 130 expert researchers collaborating with hundreds of expert teachers learn about reading comprehension that could significantly impact students’ engagement with and understanding of complex texts?

In breaking education news on Wednesday, the Department of Education’s research unit, Institute for Education Sciences (IES) announced it has awarded $100 million dollars to six such teams across the country to create a new Reading for Understanding Network.

With this five-year grant, IES announced what amounts to a very bold bet on a new model for education research. Not only does the grant specify that researchers on all six teams work closely with practitioners to field test and refine interventions for supporting students’ high-level literacy, but also that leaders of all six research teams meet quarterly to support rapid sharing and building of knowledge across teams.

Cynthia Greenleaf, co-Director of the Strategic Literacy Initiative project at WestEd, is one of three co-Primary Investigators for the University of Illinois-based team. The announcement of the awards may lead some—like the first person to comment on the Ed Week Research blog announcing this grant—to wonder about the wisdom of spending so much money on research. But this time, the results of this ambitious research and development project may well be more than the sum of its parts. The diversity of expertise both within the University of Illinois-led team and across all six teams—in reading, cognitive science, developmental psychology linguistics, assessment, speech, and culturally responsive pedagogy—are impressive. In addition, the plans for each team to work closely with teachers to develop and field test interventions seem very promising.

In addition to the scope (pre-K to high school) and scale of the grant, the aspects of literacy being explored go far beyond basic comprehension. For example, the University of Illinois team, in which we are a partner, will focus on research and tool development to help 6th through 12th grade students build higher level cognitive skills such as analyzing, interpreting, synthesizing, and evaluating multiple texts in science, literature, and history. The team will build and field test interventions based on study of the interactions between what students’ bring to texts, the challenges of the disciplinary texts at different developmental levels, and—quite importantly—the nature and challenges and students’ interpretations of the tasks they are asked to carry out with texts.

Teachers and other practitioners who have been working with the Reading Apprenticeship approach may be pleased to note that it will be one of the “promising practices” identified for study along with the Cultural Modeling approach developed by Dr. Carol Lee of Northwestern University, who is another Co-Principal Investigator with Cynthia Greenleaf on the University of Illinois team. Both of these models will be studied for insights into new ways to support students’ advanced academic literacy.

FREE YA Audiobooks For ALL and more from SYNC

June 11, 2010

Did you ever lose yourself in a great work of fiction read by a great voice?

Whether it is because you don’t have time to read the newest literature, want to re-read the classics, get kids interested in summer reading lists, need access to audio books for readers with different abilities, or get involved in discussion with authors, librarians and other readers, SYNC is the place to go online this summer.

SYNC is an online community that seeks to build the audience for audiobooks among readers 13 and up.

Visit SYNC online where you can download FREE audiobooks, get involved in online book discussions and join authors and librarians as they discuss books on summer reading lists. (The downloads are FREE; Listeners are not required to join Audiobook Community to either to download or to follow the conversations.)

Starting July 1 through September 1, 2010, SYNC will give away 2 FREE downloads each week–a popular Young Adult title paired with a Classic title that appears on Summer Reading lists.

Using audiobooks can differentiate support for independent reading; pairing audio with print versions of text builds engagement and fluency and provides access for readers with visual impairment processing disorders.

Listeners can choose to join a conversation about these titles with authors, narrators, publishers, librarians, and other listeners.

The enticing popular fiction selections help readers make contemporary connections to classics. For example:

Available July 1 – July 7
The Angel Experiment by James Patterson
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Available July 15 – July 21
Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Available July 22 – July 28
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

SYNC is hosted by Audiobook Community, a new social networking site for the discovery of audiobooks.

Accomplished California Teachers Take on Professional Evaluation Issues

June 4, 2010

In the effort to rout ineffective teachers out of the system, teachers’ voices—even voices of some very good teachers—have been shouted down. Yet, what makes an effective teacher (one who can positively affect a student’s academic career) has neither been well-studied, described nor agreed upon, according to a number of studies cited in a new report by the Accomplished California Teachers, or ACT*.

More importantly, how do the good teachers become the best over the tenure of their careers?

At 41 pages, ACT’s report, supported by the National Board Resource Center at the Stanford School of Education and influenced by Linda Darling Hammond, is worth reading for anyone interested in improving teaching and learning in our schools. As the authors state in their introduction:

“We chose to begin here because we believe that without a common understanding of what constitutes teaching quality and how teachers should be evaluated, any further conversation about improving teaching will be inconsequential.”

The report makes concrete recommendations, based on “research, analysis of existing policies, input from academic experts, and our own experiences as promoters of quality teaching” in order to transform teacher evaluation into a tool that could “advance the quality of teaching across California.” (p iii)

Teachers and administrators will recognize many of the challenges and pitfalls identified in the current evaluation system under “what’s wrong with the current system?” including the lack of training and resources for administrators to support a cohesive and useful evaluation system, a focus on compliance rather than improvement, and a perfunctory approach that does nothing to improve instruction. (p 5)

One part of the solution proposed by ACT—a solution that could be put into place now by Professional Learning Communities— is to use the kind of formative assessments that  work for students in the teacher evaluation process. As they say in the report:

“Formative assessment in the hands of a skillful teacher not only helps the teacher keep track of student learning as it unfolds, but it also ensures that students are aware of the goals for their learning, know what constitutes evidence of mastery, and what they need to do to move forward. Unfortunately, few of us experience that kind of sophistication in assessments of our teaching. Teaching assessments are still top-down, superficial, and lacking meaningful feedback and recommendations for growth to the teacher. It is sadly ironic that the kinds of successful teaching practices that both teachers and researchers have identified as effective in promoting student learning are not similarly used to promote teacher learning.” (p 7)

Contrasting case studies (pages 34-35) offer helpful views of evaluation based on compliance versus evaluation processes that promote better teaching.

*Accomplished California Teachers (ACT) is a new teacher leadership network for the state of California funded by the Stuart Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation, and housed under the umbrella of the School of Education at Stanford University.

Visit ACTs blog.

Download the report from ACT

Anthony Cody is a founding member of ACT and an EdWeek blogger. Read Anthony Cody’s post about the report.


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