August 5, 2008

School Leaders Get Lesson in Teaching Strategies for ESL

By Rob Novit, Aiken Standard, S.C.

Aug. 5--The Aiken County School District's 25,000 students include about 1,100 for whom English is or will be their second language.

Although the largest group are Spanish speakers, about 27 languages are represented -- among them French, Korean and even Punjabi from the area that includes portions of Indian and Pakistan.

The district can't begin to hire sufficient numbers of bilingual teachers, said Mary McGuire, the English as Second Language (ESL) coordinator for the district. All of these students experience English immersion through listening to it, reading it and writing it.

But do they really understand sufficiently? For middle and high school students new to English, the grasp of another language can be difficult.

The district administration is gradually training teachers and now administrators in the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol. This formal research-based program emerged from the concept of sheltered instruction.

"This is a methodology to help ESL students," said McGuire, "by structuring lesson plans to make content more comprehensible to them. It's a way for teachers to deliver the plans in a way that is understandable."

A number of teachers from district schools took a three-day training in June. All schools sent their principals or assistant principals for a one-day session Monday.

"This opened my eyes to things I hadn't looked at before," said Kennedy Middle School principal Ben Osborne, who has a significant number of Hispanic and French students.

The program offers a variety of strategies. Osborne's immediate goal is to target some students to serve as mentors for those with limited English skills.

"Some of those students feel alienated because of the language barrier," Osborne said. "This would really help them with communication."

The training is raising awareness of the way language is typically used, said North Augusta Middle School principal Barry Head.

"There are situations the kids may not understand or the words may mean something different to them," he said. "This program asks us to look at everything from planning lessons to instruction and keep those kids in mind."

Head likes the idea of peer-teaching and cooperative learning. If a student from Costa Rica or Mexico enrolls as a non-English speaker, he can be paired with a student who has been in school for two years or more.

Sheltered instruction can assist any struggling learner, McGuire said. But it's especially vital for ESL students, who must learn English to pass the exit exam and earn the required credits to graduate.

"It's also important for schools that don't make AYP (federal Adequate Yearly Progress) because of the ESL subgroup," McGuire said.

Contact Rob Novit at [email protected]


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