Staff Development for Teachers of English Language Learners

Staff Development for Teachers of English Language Learners

Project GLAD engages teachers in a comprehensive model.


Maria Cristina Walker is a Project GLAD Key Trainer. In this role, she provides systematic research-based staff development to teachers of English Language Learners. A key element of her mission is to actively engage teachers in the assimilation and implementation of instructional practices rooted in local content standards and the latest research in language acquisition and cultural literacy.

A Proven Record

Project GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design) is a U.S. Department of Education Project of Academic Excellence and a California Department of Education Exemplary Program. To garner these designations, Project GLAD offers methodology and theory for the instruction of English Language Learners that is research-based, field-tested in the classroom, and has at least six years of successful standardized test scores to prove its efficacy. Marcia Brechtel and Linea Healy first developed this model curriculum in Fountain Valley School District in California. It is widely implemented in western states such as California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Washington and Oregon.

Walker provides staff development for teachers who wish to raise the achievement of the English Language Learners in their classrooms. She offers comprehensive staff development that melds theory and classroom application, demonstration lessons, and coaching. Critically, this training is staggered over time and avoids the “spray and pray” ethos of one-time staff development. Instructional practice is linked to content standards and addresses cultural literacy in a comprehensive approach that gives teachers time to practice, implement, reflect upon and receive feedback on their efforts.

The first stage of the process is two-day training on theory and practice for a group of teachers. Walker introduces instructional practices based on research in language development, culture and inclusion, brain research and literacy. Teachers are familiarized with the key concepts on second language acquisition from the work of researchers such as Steven Krashen and Jim Cummings. Academic vocabulary is highly emphasized, and Robert Marzano’s work is a feature.

During the two-day introductory training, Project GLAD Key Trainers display samples of instructional strategies placed around a training center. Participants “walk the walls,” visiting each strategy and learning how it is used in the classroom. Walker explains and demonstrates these instructional strategies and makes a concrete link to the research that supports them. Teachers are fully engaged during this process. Walker uses Art Costa’s 10/2 lecture format: 10 minutes of trainer talk followed by two minutes of teacher talk about what they just heard or saw. Again, all strategies are introduced in the context of actual academic content. I have seen this engagement at my own school. Teachers actively participated and made real connections to their own teaching methods.

Practicing Strategies

Teachers are then encouraged to try one of the strategies during the time leading up to the second stage of staff development—the five days of demonstration lessons. These lessons are centered on a standards-based unit developed by Project GLAD Key Trainers. During these five days, teachers see demonstration lessons each morning and then debrief and plan their own units in the afternoon.

Each morning, teachers go to an actual classroom to observe Walker (or another Key Trainer) demonstrate model instructional strategies. She teaches lessons in the scope and sequence of the content that the students are studying at the time. During the demonstration, a second Key Trainer provides commentary for the group of teachers observing, pointing out key strategies and concepts, and answers questions. A debriefing after the lessons allows teachers to make connections to their own students, practice and content.

This metacognition is critical in helping the staff development stick and makes it more likely that teachers will effectively employ the strategies they have learned. I have seen this in practice with my own staff, as the emphasis is on supporting teachers to implement strategies. Reflection on personal practice is key, and this is a major component of this training. Finally, Walker follows up with individual teachers a few weeks later to fine-tune strategies, provide encouragement and feedback, and answer questions.

Marcia Brechtel, a Project GLAD leader in Orange County, Calif., emphasizes that the staff development is scientifically grounded in research, is field-tested, and has been favorably reported upon in academic journals.

Project GLAD has several helpful core components, including:

--Language acquisition is organized for an integrated balanced literacy approach with an emphasis on language and content standards.

--High standards of achievement are set for all students in a supportive environment that fosters voice and identity.

--Listening, speaking, reading and writing are integrated into all content areas.

--Metacognitive strategies make learning relevant and more engaging for students and teachers.

--Training in theory and research with practical classroom applications takes place over two days.

--Observation of a demonstration session occurs in a classroom all morning for one week. The instructional unit is grade-level and standards based.

--Follow-up coaching reduces time out of the classroom. Feedback focuses on specific elements requested by the teacher.

Teacher leaders at a school can become Project GLAD Key Trainers in a rigorous process in which they receive coaching in methodology and content along with guided practice in developing training modules. Teachers must also demonstrate classroom use of target methodology, develop a GLAD unit and coaching notes, and receive certification by a GLAD National Training Center staff person.

As a school principal, I have seen the power of Project GLAD training. Teachers feel the signifi cant time commitment is justified. They learn and practice proven strategies in a supportive, engaging and structured process that has real meaning to them because it is based in content standards that they are expected to teach.

Eamonn O’Donovan is assistant superintendent of special education services in Capistrano Unified School District in California.