“Practicing what we preach: an argument for cooperative learning opportunities for elementary and secondary educators”
Van Allen (1996) supports a paradigm shift in how Americans think about education, from a view of school as hierarchy to school as continuum. While the relationship between elementary and secondary education is not always visible, teachers can model cooperative learning for students by working as a team across grade levels to solve problems, complete tasks, and accomplish common goals, such as reducing gaps and redundancies in education. Schools could respond more productively to elementary and secondary students and teachers if they provided cooperative learning opportunities for teachers where they could exchange information, schedule meetings, share experiences and joint work, and provide teacher education and training at preservice and inservice levels. If administrators would provide regular, scheduled, joint meetings across grade levels, they would support teacher autonomy and teacher professionalism. Such opportunities would allow teachers to practice what they preach.
“Elementary educators teach kids; secondary educators teach content.” I have heard this stereotype many times as a junior high English teacher, English Education methods instructor, and educational researcher. Having worked in both elementary and secondary schools, I am always struck by the implications of this stereotype. It is usually followed by such statements as, “Elementary teachers make bulletin boards and teach kids to tie their shoes; they’re glorified baby-sitters” or “In junior high, students are just biding their time until they get to high school. High school is where the ‘real’ learning takes place.” Such misunderstandings are not only surprising; they’re counterproductive. They establish a view of school as a hierarchy as opposed to a continuum.
==> Next: The meanings attributed to writing skills in English by Turkish children: a concept map study
Van Allen (1996) describes a need for a paradigm shift in how people think about schools in America, a shift to viewing grade levels, students, and teachers as more than hierarchical stereotypes. In his article, “Visualize Vertical Connectedness,” van Allen challenges educators and non-educators to “[i]magine your district achieving quality and excellence in education through purposeful and sequential efforts across the grades” (p. 94). He asserts such a vision could reduce gaps and redundancies in schooling. What van Allen refers to as “connecting” involves identifying, analyzing, and implementing relationships across grade levels, academically and personally. The question must be asked, “Who benefits from connecting?” In schools, everyone stands to gain: students, teachers, administrators, parents. The process of connecting can help to reduce gaps and redundancies in education, and increase communication across grade levels to better meet the developmental needs of students. This process can be difficult in the most utopian situation, and it can be particularly problematic in schools, since the complex cultures of schools do not always lend themselves well to connecting.
Structures of Schooling The relationship between elementary and secondary education is not always visible. The transition from elementary to secondary school is complex for teachers and for students. Van Allen (1996) comments, “The schools themselves are structured differently, the students’ needs and characteristics are different, but we move forward with bases of the things we share in common: sharing our strengths and starting the conversations where we are” (p. 95). This article is meant to begin a conversation. The culture of the elementary school and the culture of the secondary school have different behaviors, patterns, rules, and rituals, and each help to construct a different kind of learning community for students and teachers. As Dewey observed, “Education proceeds ultimately from the patterns furnished by institutions, customs, and laws” (1916/1997, p. 89). Elementary and secondary teachers need to understand one another’s patterns so they can identify opportunities for cooperative learning.
Lieberman & Miller (1992) assert the main concern for the elementary teacher is to establish routines in the school day that offer stability and patterns to the messiness of students, curriculum, time, and materials that comprise the culture of the elementary school (p. 21). The key to establishing these routines centers on the principles of care and control (Hargreaves, Earl, & Ryan, 1994; Lieberman & Miller, 1992). The size and structure of the elementary school result in care being central to the school culture. As Johnson (1990) notes, elementary teachers work with the same group of students throughout the day, allowing them to establish and maintain bonds of care. Ahola-Sidaway (1988) adds to this by concluding elementary schools are like families. Elementary students: are part of the school neighborhood; have strong connections to the school community; are located in specific classrooms; occupy a designated desk; have close ties to teachers, classmates, and principal; and establish connections that are based on relationships.
Hargreaves (1994) argues care is connected to ownership and control in the elementary school. He believes teachers come to think of their students as family, and they see themselves as head of the household. Smedley & Willower (1981) find control to be a component of the secondary culture as well, but they conclude control in elementary schools is more humanistic, while control in secondary schools is more custodial. Because elementary schools are described in this way, we can see how it would be easy for elementary teachers to feel isolated. They are located in specific classrooms with limited opportunity to interact beyond their self-contained cultures. It takes a great deal of time and effort to assess and meet the needs of students, and while elementary teachers often devote this time and effort to establishing routines that incorporate cooperative learning strategies, they do not necessarily have readily available opportunities to reach out and model cooperative learning across grade levels.
The story in secondary schools has a different landscape but the same result. Hargreaves (1994) describes secondary schools as cultures of an immense scale, with patterns of specialization and bureaucratic complexity (p. 9). Lieberman & Miller (1992) echo this sentiment when they write, “More than the elementary school, the secondary school is a complex organization; it is more bureaucratic, more formal, and more difficult to negotiate” (p. 38). Hargreaves, Earl, & Ryan (1996) observe secondary students:
- go to school outside their community;
- occupy a large, complex building;
- have no home-based classroom, desk, or teacher;
- are controlled by bells, forms, and procedures;
- have only a locker as their personal territory;
- and develop peer cliques that are formed around common interests (p. 23).
Lieberman & Miller (1992) note one of the challenges for secondary teachers is to help students negotiate this culture, this life in crowds. Teachers become the police of the school, and order often comes before instruction. Students leave one classroom to enter another. Students and teachers need to switch gears and change their frames of reference quickly and frequently. They need to leave behind what was going on in the previous class and concentrate on the subject and individuals at hand.
This state of constant change contributes to the conceptualization of secondary school culture in terms of a factory model of schooling (Knowles & Brown, 2000). Information is delivered in seven or eight periods of forty-two minute segments in which subjects are taught separately. Knowles & Brown believe this structure creates a challenging barrier for teachers, administrators, and university professors who seek to implement change within this culture. The structure also makes it difficult to bridge the cultures of the elementary and secondary schools.
If teachers are not taught to cooperate across grade levels in their teacher education programs, it is difficult to learn. If teachers are not afforded opportunities to cooperate across grade levels, it is difficult to practice. Working in isolation becomes a habit. In an article about providing advice to teachers considering taking a job at a rural school (Rehrauer, 2004), high school teacher Kim Chism Jasper observes, “Yet, teaching can be a lonely profession, and it’s easy to become isolated (p. 25). Isolation is a concern for all teachers, not just rural educators.
How did teaching become such an isolated profession, not always amenable to cooperative learning opportunities for teachers? The way the majority of teacher education programs are structured in the United States today, few, if any, allow opportunities for preservice elementary education students to take classes with preservice secondary education students, and vice versa. From this training, educators are taught they do not need to cooperate with one another. The unspoken message is they do not need to know what the other is doing. This is a dangerous message that is then carried out into public school classrooms by inservice teachers. Such training fosters working competitively and individualistically over cooperatively (Johnson & Johnson, 1988).
Defining What We Preach
“Cooperative learning” has become a buzz term in American education. Artz & Newman (1990) define cooperative learning as small groups of learners working together as a team to solve a problem, complete a task, or accomplish a common goal. At its best, cooperative learning stimulates cognitive and social growth by inviting students to work in groups and as groups (Hargreaves, 1994; Kagan, 1990). By sharing their knowledge with each other in small groups working toward a common goal, students can benefit from distributed cognition, where the strengths of one student complement the needs of another, and each increases her knowledge base. They work together to construct new knowledge.
Many teachers (Atwell, 1998; Hynds, 1997; Rief, 1992) refer to this as collaborative learning, as opposed to cooperative learning. Scholars and educators (Jack son & Davis, 2000; Atwell, 1998; Hynds, 1997; Sarason, 1996; Rief, 1992; Vygotsky, 1978) tout the value of collaborative learning for students, and elementary and secondary teachers write numerous articles for professional journals each year describing how they use some form of cooperative learning in the classroom (Wills, 2002; Mayer, 2002). Educational researchers Johnson & Johnson (1988) offer this description of cooperative learning:
There are three basic ways students can interact with each other as they learn. They can compete to see who is “best”; they can work individualistically on their own toward a goal without paying attention to other students; or they can work cooperatively with a vested interest in each other’s learning as well as their own (p. 34).
If we, as teachers, promote the use of cooperative learning in the classroom, we must consider the work of Vygotsky (1978). Vygotsky discusses the importance of imitation in learning, noting people can only imitate that which is in their developmental level. Imitation allows students to go beyond their developmental capacities. Vygotsky asserts “human learning presupposes a specific social nature and a process by which children grow into the intellectual life of those around them” (p. 88).
As teachers, it is our job to help children grow into the intellectual life around them. In order to do so, we must model what we want our students to imitate. In essence, we must practice what we preach.
If we want our students to take an active role in cooperative learning, we must examine how we model cooperative learning in our own school lives.
Examining What We Practice
In today’s American society, most universities certify teachers as either elementary or secondary classroom educators. My own teaching license declares that I am certified to teach English and French in grades seven through twelve. It is considered a secondary teaching license. As a teacher educator who teaches students who are working toward becoming secondary English teachers, I often encounter resistance to reading “elementary” textbooks. For example, when I incorporated Calkins’ The Art of Teaching (1994) into a secondary writing methods course at a previous university, students refused to read the book. They said they had nothing to learn from an elementary school teacher. This was an eye-opening experience for me. I refrained from blaming the students for such an abrupt statement that was incongruous with my own belief in the possibilities of cooperative learning. Instead, I reflected on what would cause preservice teachers to believe they had little or nothing to learn from teachers from other grade levels, a belief that contradicts my own fundamental beliefs about cooperative learning and informed teaching.
When I reflected further, I realized how rarely elementary and secondary education students have the opportunity to take classes together or to interact with one another. Their methods courses are often content- and certification level-specific. They learn to work in a localized group because that is what is modeled for them.
This same culture of schooling is present once they reach the classroom. Rarely are elementary and secondary teachers afforded the opportunity to work collaboratively with one another. We have much to learn from one another in terms of curriculum, theory, and practice, yet we are left to function competitively and individualistically instead of collaboratively.
Ways to Practice What We Preach
At this point, I am not arguing for restructuring teacher education, but I am arguing for increased opportunities for cooperative learning among elementary and secondary educators. From their inception, public schools were designed to be places where teachers and students interact with one another. School cultures need to provide teachers with opportunities to talk with one another, to investigate strategies.
Schools could have a more beneficial impact on the development of students if school district administrators provided teachers with the time and the opportunity to meet. My findings support those of Hargreaves, Earl, & Ryan (1996), who suggest schools could respond more productively to elementary and secondary students if they allowed more direct contact between schools. Such contact could include:
- Exchanging information, particularly in the form of student records;
- Scheduling meetings between the two levels;
- Sharing experiences and joint work between teachers in both school contexts; and
- Providing teacher education and training at preservice and inservice levels which familiarize teachers with issues that concern elementary and secondary students and teachers (p. 44).
I suggest administrators support regular, scheduled, joint meetings for teachers across grade levels. It would help ensure viability of content, as teachers could rely on shared experiences to help determine scope and sequence of instruction. It would help teachers decide what to cover, and it would inform teachers across grade levels about what teachers within the district were covering.
Most importantly, providing teachers with regular, scheduled, joint meetings across grade levels would support teacher autonomy and foster teacher professionalism. It would place at the forefront the needs of students within a given district. It would allow teachers the time and opportunity to share information about specific students, particularly reading needs, writing abilities, and developmental concerns. Instead of standardizing students and teachers, it would honor their differences and support their individual growth and development while reducing gaps and redundancies in education.
Finally, providing teachers with the time and resources for regular, scheduled, joint meetings across grade levels would allow teachers the opportunity to practice what they preach. We tell students that collaborative learning is an inherent good. We tell them that by sharing their knowledge with each other in small groups and working toward a common goal, they can benefit from distributed cognition, where the strengths of one student complement the needs of another, and each increases her knowledge base. As teachers, we need to heed our own words regarding best practice.
Ahola-Sidaway, J. A. (1988). ‘From Gemeinschafl to Gesellschaft: A case study of student transition from elementary school to high school.’ Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 297 450)
Artz, A. F., & Newman, C. M. (1990). Cooperative learning. Mathematics Teacher, 83,448-449.
Atwell, N. (1998). In the middle: New understanding about write and learning (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Calkins, L. M. (1994). The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, Nit: Heinemann.
Dewey, J. (1916/1997). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: The Free Press.
Hargreaves, A. (1994). Changing teachers, changing times: Teachers’ work and culture in the postmodern age. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
Hargreaves, A., Earl, L., & Ryan, J. (1996). Schooling Reinventing education for adolescents. London: The Falmer Press.
Hynds, S. (1997). On the brink: Negotiating literature and life with adolescents. New York: Teachers College Press.
Jackson, A. W., & Davis, G. A. (2000).Turning points 2000: Educating adolescents in the 21st century. New York: Teachers College Press.
Johnson, Roger T., and Johnson, David W. (1988). Cooperative learning: Two heads learn better than one. In Context, 18, 34.
Johnson, S. M. (1990). Teachers at work. New York: Basic Books.
Kagan, S. (1990). Constructive controversy. Cooperative Learning, 10(3), 20-26.
Knowles, T., & Brown, D. F. (2000). What every middle school teacher should know. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Lieberman, A., & Miller, L. (1992). Teachers–Their world and their work: Implications for school improvement. New York: Teachers College Press.
Mayer, J. C. (2002). Student-led poetry workshops. English Journal, 91(3), 51-54.
Rehrauer, E. (2004). What advice would you offer to new teachers considering taking a position in a rural school? English Journal, 94(6), 24-26.
Rief, L. (1992). Seeking diversity: Language arts with adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Sarason, S. B. (1996). Revisiting “The culture of the school and the problem of change”. New York: Teachers College Press.
Smedley, S., & Willower, D. (1981). Principal’s pupil control behavior and school robustness. Education Administration Quarterly, 17, 40-56.
Van Allen, L. (1996). Visualize vertical connectedness. English Journal, 85, 94-95.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Wills, C. (2002). The role of literacy rituals in constructing and supporting classroom community. Primary Voices, 11(2), 26-37.
PAMELA K. COKE
Assistant Professor English Education
Colorado State University
Coke, Pamela K.
One of the four basic language skills of children, writing, is central to expressing themselves and to developing high level thinking capabilities. Competence in writing is a rather complex learning structure in which cognitive and, especially, psycho-motor learning processes are intensively employed and it further needs to be fed by perceptive processes. In these processes, on the one hand, students cognitively exhibit learning products oriented to creative high level thinking. On the other hand, they have to behave according to mind-muscle coordination. The aim of this research is to figure out the cognitive processes regarding how the students show an approach to writing competence in English, making use of the affirmations of the students. This study has focused on 90 10th grade students and the research has been qualitatively designed.
The study has employed an open-end interview form in order to determine the cognitive processes used by the students and what they think while writing. Utilizing the data from these interview forms, the study has attempted to describe students’ opinions regarding writing in English with concept map methodology, and to constitute English writing competence thinking profiles of the students. When results of the research are examined, it is observed that the students have mentioned what writing in English means to them; the factors that affect their writing process; the success-determining factors for writing in English; which topics they prefer to write about; their attitude towards writing; their expectations from teachers who instruct them to write in English; which learning methods they prefer; how their writings should be evaluated and so forth.
The importance of the four basic skills of the language in foreign language teaching cannot be underestimated. Using the reading, speaking, listening and writing skills and the relationships that these skills have with each other is also an important detail. Though a large number of studies can be found in the historical perspective about the instruction of these skills in language teaching, the history of the studies focusing on reading and writing skills date back to 70 years ago (Eurich 1931; Mathews, Larsen and Butler, 1945; Schneider, 1971, adapted by: Belanger, 1978).
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Although it reported that writing power of the children endowed with different linguistic background develop in an incredible manner (Samway, 1987, adapted by:Urzua, 1987), the answers to the questions of “What is the relationship of writing to overall linguistic profiency? Do revision, whether stimulated by self, peer, or teacher, contribute to better writing and/or better overall language use? How are the revisions influenced by and audience of a different culture?” (Urzua, 1987, p. 295) are not clear yet. Nonetheless, practical guide type studies that are related with instruction of writing, academic writing in particular, are present (North Carolina State Dept. of Public Instruction, 1998; Silvia, 2007).
In the research conducted in Turkey about the writing skills, the problems in both the native language and the second language have been discussed (Ertas, 1986; Erdal, 1988; Er, 1996; Gursel, 1998; Adiguzel, 1998; Deneme, 1999; Bahge, 1999; Gumus, 2002; Polat, 2003; Koral, 2003; Basran, 2004; Ozbay, 2004; Kurt, 2004; Orgun, 2004; Yazar, 2004; Akay, 2005; Turkkorur, 2005; senkaya, 2005; Akbayir, 2006;Banskan, 2006; inal, 2006; Maltepe, 2006; Ozturk, 2006; Selvikavak, 2006; Muslu, 2007; Telgeker, 2007; Barut, 2007; Atali, 2008; Deneme, 2008; Erice, 2008; Siging, 2008). A increasing growth in the number of these reasearches are obsevered within the past five years.
One of the four basic language skills of children, writing, is central to expressing themselves and to developing high level thinking capabilities. Competence in writing is a rather complex learning structure in which cognitive and, especially, psycho-motor learning processes are intensively employed and it further needs to be fed by perceptive processes. In these processes, on the one hand, students cognitively exhibit learning products oriented to creative high level thinking. On the other hand, they have to behave according to mind-muscle coordination. In this regard, the acquisition of these skills brings along a quite tough and complicated process.
While the students attain these skills, knowing what kind of a picture forms in their mind will give an idea of how we need to approach the educational process of writing and determining the educational help prepared for the students will not be difficult anymore. Instead of focusing on their success and writing skills oriented performance and assigning shares of responsibility to the problems of education by viewing them, analyzing thought processes about writing skills seem like a more logical approach. It shouldn’t be forgotten that, as much as what they know, what they think and what they feel, what and how they want to do are also important as well.
Method of Study
The aim of this research is to figure out the cognitive processes regarding how the students show an approach to writing competence in English, making use of the affirmations of the students.
This study has focused on 90 10th grade students and the research has been qualitatively designed. The study has employed an open-ended interview form in order to determine the cognitive processes used by the students and what they think while writing. Utilizing the data from these interview forms, the study has attempted to describe students’ opinions regarding writing in English with concept map methodology, and to constitute English writing competence thinking profiles of the students.
Since a conceptual structure was attempted to be depicted from the thoughts of the children while the study was being conducted, quantitative data has not been employed. Setting out from the children’s thoughts does not mean examination of their individual mind maps. Since what goes in the minds of all the students are evaluated collectively, the emerging mental structure and thinking relationships are called the concept map. Because, when the data collected on an individual basis is evaluated collectively, a structure of thinking that goes through conceptual relationships emerges.
While the interview form used in the study was prepared, in order to provide validity arguments, five specialists with PhD degrees in educational sciences (2 in curriculum development and instruction, 2 in educational management, and 1 in counseling) have been referred. The specialists have accentuated the necessity of moving freely and spontaneously asking additional questions as well during the interviews when needed. When it is considered from this perspective, it can be said that the measurement tool used also possesses features of an observation form. The interview form’s “English Writing Skills Thinking-Attitude-Action Screen Test” is included in the appendix.
As can be comprehended from the literature of the research, there is a large number of research findings that figure quite different methods regarding the issue of writing skills. It is hoped that the findings of this study that figures out an issue that encompasses such a complex expansion procedurally with a qualitative analysis brings forward a different point of view and contribution to the literature.
The Findings and Their Interpretation
During the organization of the findings of the study, focusing on the details of the conceptual structure in the minds of the students oriented at writing in English has been especially paid attention to. Below in Figure 1, the meanings attached to English writing skills in the minds of the students are demonstrated by a concept map and outlining the conceptual structure in the students’ minds has been attempted.
When the map is analyzed, the conceptual structure in the minds of the students can be outlined by these subheadings in the following sections; meanings attached to the writing skills by the students, metaphors that the students use towards the writing skills, the conditions set forth by the students towards the acquisition of the writing skills, the benefits of attaining writing skills according to the students, the learning-teaching process according to the students and the expectations of the students from their writing instructor.
Meanings Attached to the Writing Skills by the Students: The students describe writing as “writing sentences error-free and meaningfully, correctly and on the spot, related to the topic, conformable with the spelling rules, detailed, comprehensible, suitable to the ordering of the sentences, writing by maintaining the completeness of meaning, expressing yourself by another language”. Students approach to the writing skills as a group of skills that makes learning permanent, develops speech, facilitates learning vocabulary and tests learning, as well as language learning itself. From this point, it can be stated that the students express their definitions related to writing only through cognitive aspects. It is noteworthy that despite being posed two distinct questions (What does writing mean according to you?/What do you understand from formal writing?), the students have defined writing only as a formal action. Besides accepting that writing is not an action that is free from rules, it is seen that conceptions such as self-expression, relaxation and a free thinking tool have not been attributed to writing. It can be thought that this situation is caused by the habits associated with the learning-teaching process at the school.
Metaphors that the Students Use Towards the Writing Skills: The students comparing writing to a student/child, a teacher or other thinks associated with school attracts notice. In the child and student comparisons children of students such as the following have been referred to; worried and sorry, referring to the dictionary, continuously writing, thinking, doesn’t know what to do, sitting on the table, where butterflies flying on his notebook, ambitious, memorizing words and happy with writing, hands full of book, with English writing on his t-shirt, running in the class, collecting words like a flower, closed his dictionary, in the shape of a flower, writing “I love you English”, writing in English at the blackboard happily, able to talk to the tourists, joyful, listening to his teacher well, having lots of questions in his mind. Among the metaphors used, it is stressed that writing skills are very hard to attain, those who achieve this are happy and efficient, and on the other hand, those who cannot achieve are in an anxious, hesitant and helpless state. The students compare their teachers to a book, the stun or a vase regarding writing skills. From here we can infer that writing is perceived as quite an abstract, aesthetical, qualified, full but nevertheless distant skill. It can be stated that the students do not perceive writing skills a concept familiar to them. In addition, the students have alsoe compared writing skills to a broken pencil. From hence we can infer that it is believed that a lot of effort is required to write well but find this ability as unattainable. The students have also defined writing skills as “feeling yourself to be Englishman” and “as if being at another world”.
The Conditions Set Forth by the Students Towards the Acquisition of the Writing Skills: The students believe that the ability to utilize the following rules and skills are indispensable for acquisition of the writing skills; reading, understanding what’s read, expression, speech, listening to what’s talked, English and Turkish grammar and spelling, templates and tenses, conjugation of verbs, sentence formation, improving vocabulary, pronunciation, repetition, literature knowledge, general culture, memory, imagination, listening to music, painting, creativity and project design. Additionally, they cerebrate that the mathematics course, logic and intelligence should be decent. It is seen that the students are aware of the necessary goals to write in English. In this regard, it can be stated that the cognitive awareness level is at a quite satisfactory level.
The students think that the writing of the individuals who have acquired the ability of writing well should possess the following characteristics; easy and comprehendible, coherent with topic, interesting and consisting of original sentences, informative, conformable to the writing rules, far from a citation, intriguing, appropriately spelled and punctuated, up to date, funny and entertaining, illustrated and decorated. This information displays the cognitive awareness of the students.
The Benefits of Attaining Writing Skills According to the Students: The students believe that the ability to utilize the following rules and skills are indispensable for acquisition of the writing skills; reading, understanding what’s read, expression, speech, listening to what’s talked, English and Turkish grammar and spelling, templates and tenses, conjugation of verbs, sentence formation, improving vocabulary, pronunciation, repetition, literature knowledge, general culture, memory, imagination, listening to music, painting, creativity and project design. Additionally, they believe that the mathematics course, logic and intelligence should be decent. It is seen that the students are aware of the necessary goals to write in English. In this regard, it can be stated that the cognitive awareness level is at a quite satisfactory level.
The students think that in case the writing skills are attained, their self-confidence increases, their future life may change, they can communicate with the foreigners, their horizons shall expand, they will perform better in the exams, learning English will get easier, they will speak more comfortably, they will learn grammar rules more straightforward and they will be able to express ourselves fluently. It can be asserted that the students are interested in the future looking actual life.
The Learning-Teaching Process According to the Students: The students believe that an hour or two of class time should be allocated to writing in the curriculum, because they believe that this time should be long in order to learn English more easily, write more quickly and better, become creative, apply and consolidate what has been learned, improve in written expression and due to the difficulty level of this course. Some students believe that less than an hour of class time should be allocated, because it may be boring and this time may extend by homework assignments. The fact that the students feel the necessity to comment on the weight of the course in the curriculum can be deemed as an indication of that the students clearly have an either positive or negative attitude towards the course.
The students demand the attributes and characteristics of environment for learning writing skills should be as follows; comfortable, lighted well, colorful, substantive, active students, speaking is always in English, English writings and drawings hang on the walls, everyone in competition, English materials are present, everybody is distinctive, quiet, well equipped and organized, the language is at an advanced level. It is seen that the students are aware of what characteristics should be possessed by the environments where writing skills can be attained with ease.
The students trace the reasons behind heir motivation regarding writing as follows; the work being appreciated by himself and the class, the teacher praises and encourages, the work draws attention, the teacher’s expectations are high from him, the environment being entertaining, getting rewarded, getting applauded, the work being displayed on the bulletin board and coming up with a more qualified work than the previous one.
The students have denoted that they may share their material regarding writing skills with their families to make them proud of them and to get their opinions. They are also willing to share these materials with their teachers as well in order to get their mistakes corrected, learn new stuff, prevent their friends from laughing at them, receive constructive critics and ideas, and become motivated. Among their reasons to share these products with their friends are coveting for them to see their knowledge, carrying out knowledge exchange, helping their friends to learn, and seeing the mistakes and finding the corrections. It can be presumed that the students may share their learning material with everyone as long as they are not emotionally crumpled.
The students wish to attempt writing memories, poems, lyrics, articles, tales, novels, journals, fables, stories, dialogues, prose or paragraphs only if they are left with the choice of form. It can be presumed that the students possess an extensive knowledge of literary categories and this situation is affected by their native language education.
The Expectations of the Students from their Instructor: According to the students, the teacher should make games played in the classes, assign simple topics, take a vote for choosing the topics, assign funny topics, employ music, make students write a Turkish joke or riddle in English, select student of the week, frequently give breaks, devise a realistic atmosphere, be positive, active, humorous, conduct competitions and animations, act sympathetically, go easy when criticizing and not assign too much homework. The homework assignments of the teacher be reading books, writing short stories, translation, writing journals, projects, writing jokes & letters, writing tales, funny dialogues, illustrated pieces, the topics and issues that affect us and finally presentations where the studied grammar subjects can be applied and recently learned words can be used.
In the classes, the teacher should organize activities such as the following; word games, sentence formation games, drama, story completion, watching short English films, writing first in Turkish and then translating into English, arranging pictures into order and then writing, making up a story about a picture, competition for fastest sentence creation, imagining, coming up with the brightest idea, deriving questions whose answers are hanging on the wall, drawing pictures related to the subject and brainstorming. The students think that their teacher should devise rich learning environments. It can be stated that the awareness of the students regarding what their teachers should do are also at a quite decent level. It can be contemplated that the students’ preference of game like, entertaining and funny activities arises from their belief about learning or teaching to write is a tough process.
The students want their teacher to write with them. By this way they believe that they can correct their mistakes easily, take him/her as an example, learn to use time well and develop close mutual relationships and expand their horizons. Their reasons for wishing against their teacher writing together with them are that their teach will write better than them, he knows everything, the students are ought to think differently than them, it might be a time loss, it may not be necessary, the teacher may have written it already long ago, their writing may be weak and the teacher conducting this as a duty.
The teacher should ask the students to write about amusing, informative, from basic to difficult and students’ attraction grabbing topics such as; the universe and the nature, love for humanity, friendship, peace and fellowship, attaching value, what will happen to the world, love for the homeland, family or babyhood, seasons, a day I cannot forget, adventure, yearning and love, separation, importance of learning English and the reasons, explanation of a quotation, serial movie or drama associated with war, and introducing yourself. It can be said that the students are willing to express themselves with positive feelings, exhibit a tendency towards violence oriented topics and are interested in national and at the same time future related subjects as well.
The students expect from the teachers to leave topic choice to them, to keep their writings, himself writing too, give introductory information, maintain silence and make them listen classic music during the writing sessions. Furthermore, the students expect their teacher to pay attention to the whole, time and language consistency, originality, content, command of vocabulary, their effort, meaning of the sentences, appropriate choice of words, punctuation, narration, spelling, page setup, legibility of writing and their performance in the classes as well with respect to evaluation of their work. The students want their teachers to use incentive symbols like scores, smiling faces, sun, crown, heart and stars. It can be stated that the students expect their teacher to demonstrate comfortable, free and encouraging approaches in practice and evaluation.
Discussion and Suggestions
It can be mentioned that the most important findings of the research is that students are aware of the processes and environments intended for learning the writing skills, student responsibilities and teachers’ duties, what needs to be done to be successful and even the value of motivation and skills (difficulty and significance). Such an explicit level of cognitive awareness proves that the students care about language learning and that they can achieve this mission if opportunities are created. Their awareness about the universal power of learning a foreign language can be an indication that they are moving in coherence with the globalizing world.
The students claim that as there writing skills are improved, so does their general learning ability. From hence it can be supposed that they maintain the permanency and reinforcement of what they have learned through writing, which is quite natural indeed. Hence it can be inferred that the students utilize writing as a cognitive strategy.
The students have tried to defined writing skills through metaphors they are familiar with, generally student and child. From here it can be said that the students identify their thoughts regarding acquiring or not acquiring writing skills with themselves. This situation can be supposed to be connected with their cognitive awareness. Besides that, the abstract meanings attached to writing skills by the students point out what an arduous job the instruction of these skills is.
The students think that writing is a complex, demanding and tough process. They attach a great importance to employment of rich instruction methods, entertainment and games in the environment where the writing skills shall be attained. It would not be a stretch to state that the students have an attitude that rejects the traditional learning environments.
The students having a wide range of opinions from what their teachers should do to what kind of evaluation techniques they need to use clearly exposes the necessity that the teachers should contemplate on refraining from traditional structures and thoughts, and improving and enriching the learning environments that they have created.
Ergin Erginer earned Ph.D. in Curriculum Development and Instruction at the University of Abant Izzet Baysal. His interests include specifically children’s learning characteristics, teaching methods, drama teaching. He has taught in higher education for over 19 years.
Veda Yar, is a graduate student studying on Curriculum Development and Instruction at the Institute of Social Sciences of Gaziosmanpasa University.
English Writing Skills Thinking-Attitude-Action Screen Test
1. What does writing in English mean to you? How does it look like?
2. What is learning to write in English dependent on?
3. Do you need to be good at other course to be good at written expressions in English?
4. Do you need to be good at other skills to write well in English?
5. Could you tell us about your attitude towards English writing skills?/Could you paint that?*
6. In what topic and form would you write in English if you were given with the choice?
7. With whom would you like to share your written work and why?
8. Why is it important to attain English writing skills?
9. What does formal writing mean to you?
10. What do you think original writing is?
11. What needs to be done prior to writing?
12. How much time should be allocated to writing in the curriculum to develop writing skills?
13. What kinds of activities should a teacher that aspires to instruct writing skills conduct?
14. What should a teacher that needs to make writing skills class more pleasant need to do?
15. Should the teacher assign homework in order to develop writing skills? If yes, what kinds of homework should be assigned?
16. Before starting to write, what kind of games/activities can be devised to write better?
17. Would like the teacher to write in the way together with you in writing classes? Why?
18. What should be attitude of a teacher that wants his/her students to attain writing skills?
19. What are your expectations from your teacher with respect to increasing your motivation towards writing?
20. Under what conditions does your material from a writing activity motivate you for the next writing activity?
21. In what kind of a classroom would you like to work on writing in English?
22. What criteria should the teacher take into account during the evaluation of your writing?
- It has been observed that the students do not quite prefer to paint a draw a picture for answering this question. Also for the pictures that were drawn, they have generally felt the necessity of explaining their pictures by writing. Therefore, these data were excluded from evaluation.
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Nevsehir University, TURKEY
Ministry of National Education, TURKEY
Erginer, Ergin^Yar, Veda
IN COMPETITION NO. 2247 you were invited to describe a scene or report an incident in politically correct prose and then supply a version in politically incorrect prose, or vice versa.
My first disillusionment with political correctitude came when I discovered that my 1950s dictionary’s definition of “angekkok” as “an Eskimo conjuror” (a delicious concept) had been changed to the prosaic `an Inuit shaman’. The whole area is a randomly sown minefield. Take race. My working vocabulary does not include words like “yid”, “nigger” or “spick”, but I am quite happy to refer to ‘frogs’, ‘russkies’ or ‘japs’ because, unlike Chambers, which stigmatises them all as ‘derogatory’ or ‘offensive’, I regard them as entirely neutral, even capable of being used affectionately. Mysteriously, Chambers fails to express disapproval of ‘bohunk’–a person, like our own Petronella Wyatt, of Hungarian or Slav origin. Call me honky, call me limey, call me whitey and I shan’t mind a bit, but if you want to see me annoyed, call me a Brit.
Not all the compers realised the difference between PC and non-PC language is not quite the same as that between ‘bureaucratese’ and plain English, though they may overlap. The prizewinners, printed below, get 30 each, and the Sheaffer Prelude ballpoint pen in black lacquer goes to D.A. Prince.
- No person is an island in this typical regeneration-opportunity streetscape: the pavement thronged with clients of the Job Centre; the socially excluded; youthful victims of an uncaring society; the disadvantaged from developing countries, and travellers. The newsagent sells a range of magazines catering for alternative sexualities. The challenged and the no longer youthful are everyone’s equal. Women are confident here among people such as builders who express admiration for their figure-enhancing clothes.
- No man is an island in this bog standard inner-city ghetto: pavements swamped with the unemployed; the poor; juvenile delinquents; the scum from backward countries, and gypsies. The newsagent sells porn for the perverted. The handicapped and the old are outright failures. Bimbos large it here, in front of cowboy roofers who wolf-whistle at their asking-for-it-get-up. (D.A. Prince)
Statement by the USAF, Bagram Air Base. “We’re sorry to report a suboptimal outcome to today’s sortie, resulting in severe terrain alteration to a soccer field. Following receipt of non-representative data, ordnance was misdirected and 22 ethnic ballplayers were rendered non-viable in the rapid oxidisation which followed the event, together with eight casual attendees. The US military command regrets this collateral damage, but anomalies are inevitable due to our policy of high-altitude interventions, which have resulted in negative casualty figures for US servicemen.”
“We screwed up today when we trashed a playing field. We got some crap intelligence and killed two soccer teams in a little bitty fireball. Oh yeah, and eight rubberneckers. But what the heck, they’re only towelheads. Bombing from up high is kinda hit and miss, but it means our guys don’t get their asses whupped. Hell, we ain’t lost one yet.”
Italian countertenor Enrico Stroppi is to sue the Hilyatt Hotel, following an incident in which his toupee became detached in a revolving door. Stroppi, who currently sings the lead in La Travestia at the London Palliseum, is understood to be `mortified’ by the indignity of the occurrence. `It is tantamount to character assassination,’ his agent claims, adding, `Signor Stroppi now fears ridicule from his public.’ No one at the Hilyatt was available for comment.
Top wop Enrico Stroppi yesterday lost both his rag and his rug. The megapodge confirmed bachelor Eyetie warbler got himself stuck in the revolving door of London’s Hilyatt Hotel, after a night out at Arthur’s Seat, the capital’s notorious gay wateringhole. An unnamed source said, `Enrico is gobsmacked. He never expected a door to snatch his thatch. His reputation’s in tatters.’ Phooey. Stroppers is still the same clapped-out old poofter, singing for his supper. (Mike Morrison)
The regional French ad hoc delegation, in spite of scheduling difficulties with their arrival in southern England, soon integrated with and formed close connections with some local residents, and played a lively part in upholding traditional legal practices, contributing fully to a national building programme on a large scale. Following the sudden retirement on health grounds (due to ongoing visual impairment) of the chief executive, one of the incomers, himself apparently from a one-parent family, has now taken on this arduous role.
Bloody Normans, typical Frogs, turn up at Hastings, nobody invited them, got hold of as much Saxon totty as they could after they’d strung up or tortured all the blokes. Also they build their castles on every bloody corner. Old Harold gets an arrow in the eye and next thing you know, their bloke’s made himself king. No wonder they call him William the Bastard. (Brian Murdoch)
It was panic at the supermarket. A mouse had got loose in the shop and the checkout girl was hysterical, practically wetting her knickers, while some old fool of a pensioner’s dog had started barking. Then this kid who was stacking the shelves, a thick Mick if ever there was one, went after it with a broom. Finally the manager, a fat, bald bloke dressed like a pansy, told all the customers to clear off and come back later.
The appearance of an unscheduled rodent in a retail centre caused a customer service representative to suffer shock, distress and emotional damage. Also traumatised was the companion animal of a senior citizen. The stock replenishment manager, an educationally deprived young man of Hibernian ethnicity, made an unsuccessful intervention. An executive decision by the retail unit supervisor arranged for the temporary postponement of customer activity. (Basil Ransome Davies)
No. 2250: Cautionary tale
You are invited to write a verse cautionary tale, a la Belloc, suitable for a modern child. Maximum 16 lines. Entries to `Competition No. 2250′ by 1 August.
LANGUAGE LOYALTIES: A Source Book on the Official English Controversy. Edited by James Crawford. University of Chicago. 522 pp. $45.95. Paper $14.95.
Two stories from The New York Times for July 11, 1992, illustrate the increasing contentiousness about language in an ever more multicultural world. “A Bas Anglais! From Now On, It’s the Law” is a report from Alan Riding in Paris. In June the French Parliament voted to add to the Constitution the following sentence: “The language of the Republic is French?’ Why did the Parliament feel the need to add what most of us would regard as a statement of the obvious? The answer is simple: An increasing number of French citizens are worried, indeed angered, by the galloping infusion of English (or”American”) into ordinary speech.
A group of 300 French intellectuals, including Eugene Ionesco and Regis Debray, described this phenomenon in a July statement as a “process of collective self-destruction,” noting that “nowadays you see more English words in Paris than in Montreal?’ – yup, let’s see an example, in Paris, the word “laser range finder” is present at up to 80% of all shops selling laser rangefinders; meanwhile, in Montreal, this number is just about 45%. “If we do not respond quickly,” France will be “in the same position as Quebec 30 years ago–economic dependence, loss of social status, cultural inferiority and linguistic debasement?’ It would not be surprising if at least some of the intellectuals are also concerned about the prospect of increased immigration to France of non-French speakers, as European borders become ever more porous.
The second article discussed the controversy surrounding the appointment to Community School Board 15 in Brooklyn of Carlos Salamanca, who speaks only Spanish and thus requires the services of an interpreter in order to participate in the meetings of the board. Although no one denies that Salamanca has been a vigorous and capable community activist, area residents are apparently sharply divided about the prospect of his appointment. Maria Trabolse, the president of a parents’ organization, does not herself understand Spanish, but she is sympathetic: “Most of our neighbors speak only a small bit of English and they are very intimidated by the language barrier.” Deborah Svitzer is less supportive: “My ancestors came from Italy and Poland and everyone had to learn the language here to get along. And if you are on a public board, shouldn’t you be ‘trying to speak English?”
Almost all societies, most certainly including the United States, are faced with new patterns of immigration that carry linguistic implications. Especially notable in this country is the extensive emigration in recent decades of Spanish speakers from Mexico, Cuba and other areas of Latin America, as well as increased emigration from Asia triggered by the Vietnam debacle and revisions in American immigration law. These profound social changes are occurring at a time when other rents in the social fabric call into question what might be said to unite us as members of a common polity and culture.
Consider in this context the statement of George Kouloheras, a member of the Lowell, Massachusetts, school board who is quoted in James Crawford’s new book Hold Your Tongue: Bilingualism and the Politics of “English Only.” According to Kouloheras, “Language is what binds us together–nothing else, absolutely nothing else.” He would presumably reject as mere sentiment or ideological selfdelusion any suggestion that we are bound by what Lincoln called “the mystic chords of memory” or by a shared civil faith in constitutional norms and processes. Kouloheras evokes as well as any contemporary postmodernist a fragmented world of strangers with extraordinarily little in common. Perhaps this helps to explain why Kouloheras, who speaks fluent Greek and some Spanish, is the leader of a movement to declare English the official language of Lowell (and why he is concomitantly extremely dubious about bilingual education in the Lowell schools).
Readers looking for insight into the tangled politics of language are well served by Crawford, an educational journalist with a longtime interest in bilingual education. In particular, his edited anthology, Language Loyalties: .4 Source Book on the Official English Controversy, is truly superb and belongs on the shelf of every person even mildly interested in the political struggle over language. (The University of Chicago Press deserves special praise for publishing an affordable paperback edition.) Crawford brings together diverse materials.
One can read Benjamin Franklin’s attack on German-speaking Pennsylvanians; a fascinating, sometimes moving, debate in the 1878 California constitutional convention; contemporary analyses of multilingualism in Canada, Australia, the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. Also available are a good set of judicial opinions for anyone interested in the legal issues concerning language in the contemporary United States. Although the book is clearly tilted against the call for adopting an English-only policy, one will find important statements by such partisans of English-only as the late California Senator S.I. Hayakawa and critics of bilingual education such as Richard Rodriguez and Linda Chavez. The book should be useful (and illuminating) to all who read it.
Crawford has simultaneously published HoM Your Tongue, a vigorous attack on those like Kouloheras and Hayakawa who would emulate the French Parliament and specify English as our official language and, what is far more serious, act to prevent the easy maintenance of languages other than English as part of everyday life in America. Crawford offers extensive and illuminating discussions of such phenomena as the 1980 passage in Dade County, Florida, of an ordinance prohibiting the expenditure of county funds “for the purpose of utilizing any language other than English.” Coming only seven years after the county had officially declared itself “bilingual and bicultural; the ordinance captures the resentment felt by local Anglo voters at the increasing role played by immigrants, particularly those from Cuba. (The ordinance also prohibited spending public funds for “promoting any culture other than that of the United States;” a truly bizarre notion.) Similar endorsements of the exclusive legitimacy of English have been passed, at either state or local levels, in California, Arizona, Colorado, Virginia and other states.
Although some specific controversies have been sparked by Chinese–or, in the past, German-speaking-immigrants, there can be no doubt!, after reading both Crawford’s book and his anthology, that the primary impetus of contemporary debate is the animus sparked by the greater presence of Spanish in the public square. Senator Hayakawa, defending the necessity of amending the United States Constitution to make English the official (and exclusive) language of American public life, explicitly denounced “the ethnic chauvinism of the present Hispanic leadership” and seized on the comment of Maurice Ferre, the Cuban-American Mayor of Miami, that “citizenship is what makes us a11 American. Nowhere does the Constitution say that English is our language.”
Crawford criticizes English-only advocates and defends the importance of “English Plus,” which tries to combine education in the English language with the maintenance of skills in other languages already possessed by people from other backgrounds. Much of his book canvasses the literature and argues that children from non-English-speaking backgrounds can best learn English when taught concurrently in the non-English language with which they feel most comfortable. Moreover, Crawford defends the importance of nurturing non-English speaking cultures and making them part of an American mosaic.
Crawford argues vigorously, and convincingly, that the data show that the overwhelming number of children from non-English-speaking backgrounds will in fact learn English. This has certainly been the historic pattern in the United States and, he says, there is no reason to think that it will be significantly different in the case of Spanish-speaking immigrants. This very assurance about the diffusion of English-language capabilities reveals, however, a deep (and unexplored) paradox in Crawford’s argument: For all of his endorsement of linguistic pluralism, he does not attack the proposition that the United States benefits from, and should attempt to bring about, literacy in English by every member of the polity. He is basically arguing that the operation of the “free market” will work to maximize English-language competence. Indeed, what the French intellectuals are responding to is precisely the overwhelming advantage that English has in the new international world market, where knowledge of English is becoming a predicate for success. It is, as a practical matter, increasingly unnecessary for English speakers to know any other language, whereas non-English speakers must increasingly submit themselves to the discipline of learning this truly pervasive world language.
Crawford’s message, then, seems to boil down to a recommendation that people concerned about maintaining the hegemony of the English language simply relax, for they (or we) will prevail in the free market and thus have no need to emulate the pathetic, Canute-like activity of the French to stem an alien tide. It is not clear what Crawford would be arguing if English (and English-language culture, whatever that might be) were in the position of, say, Hungarian, Hebrew, Swedish or any other language whose survival in an unregulated market might be unlikely.
Crawford nowhere endorses what might be termed “multi-monolingualism”–a society composed of linguistically differentiated groups whose members speak only the one language of their particular group and who, therefore, do not share a language in common with other members of the society. Instead, he defends “hiand multi-lingualism”–a society composed of individuals who speak both English and some other language(s) deemed to be important to their self-conceptions and cultural traditions. It is difficult to see how anyone could seriously oppose such a vision. But most opposition to bi or multilingualism is based, of course, on the premise that it will in fact retard development of English-language skills and move us closer to multi-monolingualism and the presumed political and socioeconomic travails that entails.
A tension in Crawford’s argument emerges, however, when he couples his condemnation of official-English or English-only movements with support for an April 5, 1991, declaration by the Puerto Rican legislature that Spanish is the official language of that commonwealth. What accounts for this seeming inconsistency? The answer lies in Crawford’s description of “official Spanish” as “a reassertion of popular preferences– not against internal minorities but against external overlords,” the English-speaking mainlanders who colonized the Caribbean island and subordinated its Spanish speaking population.
It is not clear to me, though, that this is so easily distinguishable from the efforts of Kouloheras in Lowell or English speakers in Miami to maintain their preexisting cultures against the changes precipitated by the entry of newcomers who may, in point of fact, have no more been invited by the locals than were the gringos in Puerto Rico. Immigration policy is made at the national level by politicians and bureaucrats who are sometimes utterly indifferent to the implications for the particular communities that serve as magnets for immigration. Indeed, one wonders how Crawford would respond to the French intellectuals, who can easily portray their efforts in behalf of the French language as a defense against American imperialism.
The only certainty is that language will continue to be present as a potentially explosive issue in more and more countries, especially if such proposals as Articles 7 and 8 of a proposed European Convention for the Protection of Minorities should gain widespread acceptance. These articles guarantee not only that “any person belonging to a linguistic minority shall have the right to use his language freely, in public as well as in private?’ but also that “whenever a minority reaches a substantial percentage of the population of a region or of the total population, its members shall have the right, as far as possible, to speak and write in their own language to the political, administrative and judicial authorities of this region or, where appropriate, of the State,” and “these authorities,” in turn, “shall have a corresponding obligation.” Readers of Crawford’s two books will. be well equipped to grasp what is behind such proposals and to decide whether they merit support.
Sanford Levinson is a professor of law and government at the University of Texas.
English-Language Learners: Unlike other states with large numbers of English-language learners, Texas has not established a single, statewide process for schools to identify and assess those students and redesignate them as fluent in English, according to an examination of states’ policies for English-language learners.
The study–conducted by Boston University political science professor Christine Rossell and published by the Arlington, Va.-based Lexington Institute–examined six states that have the largest numbers of English-language learners. California has the largest number, followed by Texas, Florida, Arizona, Illinois, and New York. The study also examined Massachusetts.
High schools could do a better job teaching English-language learners by changing some traditional practices, suggests a policy brief by the Linguistic Minority Research Institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The policy brief identifies five myths about educating English-learners and tells how to overcome them. One myth, the brief says, is that school time frames for completion of high school are sacred. Norm Gold, a longtime educational specialist for English-language learners who wrote the brief, recommends expanding the time provided for high school from four to five years for English-language learners who want the extra time and need it.
English-language learners have limited access to some of the 186 small high schools that are part of a small-schools initiative launched by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in the New York City school system, says a report by two immigrant-advocacy groups.
Out of 183 small high schools studied during the 2005-06 school year, 93 had a population of English-language learners that was less than 5 percent of the student body, compared with the 12 percent of all high school students in New York City who are classified as English-learners, according to the report. It was produced by the New York Immigration Coalition and Advocates for Children of New York.
More than 40 percent of teachers of English-language learners in California public schools have had little or no professional development in the past five years to help them teach those students, concludes a study by researchers at the University of California, Davis.
About 43 percent of teachers whose classrooms were composed 50 percent or more of students learning English had taken no more than one in-service training session about instruction of such students in that time span, according to the study. It based its findings on a 2004 survey of 4,500 classroom teachers in 22 school districts. The report also found that half of new teachers who were required as part of their induction to take some in-service training focused on English-language learners had done so.
The No Child Left Behind Act is devaluing bilingual education and failing to address the needs of language-minority students because of the law’s heavy emphasis on English-only programs and high-stakes testing, concludes a report released last week.
The report, conducted by Arizona State University’s education policy studies laboratory, suggests that prior to the passage of the education law in 2001, the federal government had progressively taken steps toward meeting the needs of English-language learners. But since then, the report says, that commitment has eroded.
Among other criticisms, the report says the federal education law forces English-language learners to take standardized tests in a language in which they are not yet proficient.
At the elementary school level, the nation’s English-language learners are largely concentrated in a relatively small number of schools, according to a study.
Produced by the Washington-based Urban Institute, the study found that nearly 70 percent of elementary-level English-language learners are enrolled in 10 percent of the nation’s elementary schools. The researchers also noted that nearly half–43 percent–of the nation’s elementary schools don’t have any students with limited proficiency in English. The study defines schools with a high number of limited-English-proficient students as those in which such students make up at least 23.5 percent of enrollment.
Arizona’s English-language learners do increasingly better on the state’s standardized academic tests during each of the first three years they participate in special programs to learn English, but their performance on those tests stagnates or declines if they stay in those programs for more than three years, a policy brief by the Arizona Center for Public Policy concludes.
The authors of the study say that such a finding shows that students don’t continue to benefit from special programs to learn English after a certain amount of time, which they argue has implications for how such programs should be funded.
English Learners in California: What the Numbers Say
The more time that English-language learners spend in U.S. schools, the more likely they are to pass the English section of California’s high school exit exam, with the exception of students who have repeated a grade, according to a report by EdSource, a Mountain View, Calif.-based nonprofit education research organization.
But more time in school doesn’t lead to higher passing rates on the math section of the test, the report says.
It also notes that school districts’ rate of reclassifying students each year as fluent in English doesn’t necessarily correspond with how well students perform on state tests. For example, in the Natomas Unified School District in Sacramento, 6 percent of English-language learners were reclassified as fluent in English during the 2006-07 school year, but 54 percent of ELLs scored as proficient on the state’s English-language proficiency test.