July 23, 2008

Limited English, Same Class

By JOHN MARTIN, Courier & Press staff writer 464-7594 or [email protected]

Schoolchildren with limited English skills need to be kept in traditional classrooms rather than pulled out and taught separately, two university educators said recently.

The Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. is one of many public school systems with half-day academy programs for some of its English as a Second Language (ESL) students.

Teachers in all subject areas need more training in working with those students, said Annela Teemant and Farida Pawan, who are education faculty members at IUPUI and Indiana University, respectively.

They spoke recently to education writers from Indiana newspapers attending a seminar at IUPUI.

Teemant called ESL pull-out programs "the least effective" method for helping students.

It works better, Teemant said, to reorganize traditional classrooms "so teachers can work with small groups of students with homogenous needs, work with all populations."

Students miss valuable time in traditional classrooms when they are pulled out, Teemant said, adding that pull-out ESL classes often "wind up focusing on social language and basic vocabulary, not academic language."

EVSC officials are aware of the recent research on ESL instruction, said Sandra Madriaga, who oversees the local school system's program.

EVSC operates an ESL academy for middle school students that lasts for three class periods a day. Participants are bused to Washington Middle School from around the city.

Some elementary schools also have pull-out programs.

Madriaga said EVSC gradually is moving from a pull-out to a "push- in" model, citing programs put in place during the last school year at Caze, Culver and Scott elementary schools.

During the coming year in the middle school academy, EVSC will begin a science vocabulary curriculum lasting for about one hour of the three-period class, Madriaga said.

EVSC also has collaborated with the University of Evansville to offer all teachers an online course about assisting students with limited English skills, she said.

Statewide, there's a growing need for such instruction, according to the two university instructors.

A survey of Indiana teachers showed that 42 percent of teachers work with limited English students daily, but only 12 percent reported having had any training in the field.

The number of ESL teaching specialists isn't keeping up with student growth.

Pawan said the current ratio is one teacher per 80 students, underscoring her call for more ESL training among all teachers.

Pawan said that roughly 80 percent of ESL students in the state are United States citizens, and the growth of ESL students in Indiana is greater than any other state in the Midwest.

It's a situation that school systems must address, said Indiana University School of Education Dean Gerardo Gonzalez.

"The growth in this area is dramatic in every area of the state and every area nationally."

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