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Curriculum Update

Research, trends and developments

Promising New Resources For English - Language Learners

Lots of new ELL literacy products have recently emerged to address the more than five million ELL students in public schools. Here are three that have garnered positive feedback.

The Rigby ELL Assessment Kit

What it is: a K-6 standards-based kit that helps educators assess ELL students in listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Why it works: "We use the Rigby Kit to fill the formative assessment gap, guide instruction and place students in proper groups," says Sally Fox, ELL coordinator for the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District in southern California. "In 15 minutes, we can get a good idea of a child's skills."

netTrekker d.i.

What it is: a safe Internet search engine with a whole section of ELL resources.

Why it works: "netTrekker has provided us with educational searches that are safe, relevant and correlated to standards," says Micha Villarreal, director of instructional technology for the Ysleta Independent School District in El Paso, Texas. "The English Learners button has the same resources as the regular section but also features skill-building in reading, writing and thinking. It lets me personalize instruction."

Evan-Moor's Read & Understand Stories in English and Spanish

What it is: a book with editions available for grades 1-3 that provides parallel English and Spanish versions of 30 reading selections, and follow-up activities that focus on comprehension, vocabulary, structural analysis, fluency and phonics.

Why it works: "The books include different reading levels on the same topic that address various proficiencies and let students read independently," says Caryn Bachar, ESL coordinator for Hewlett Woodmere District in N.Y. "Each kid gets critical-thinking skills at the appropriate level."

Making Foreign Language a Priority

Last year, the Indiana State Board of Education proposed that every middle school provide foreign-language classes. It did so for a variety of reasons, says Suellen Reed, the state's superintendent of public instruction. "We have found that the time spent in foreign language helps children do better in language arts," says Reed. "It gives them perspective."

Due to a lot of push back from superintendents, however, the proposal's wording was changed from require to urge. Reed says she didn't push for the requirement because a lot of districts said it was hard to find and hire foreign-language teachers and that they didn't have the financial resources.

One way Reed hopes to encourage superintendents to explore ways to offer more foreign language is through teacher-exchange programs she's developing with Japan, Taiwan, France and Spain. She's trying to get funding to help these teachers find places to live and get acclimated.

Marty Abbott, director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, encourages other states to look for ways to offer more foreign-language instruction. "States need to provide incentives and encouragement to try and promote this idea with school districts," she says. "We're very concerned at the level of push back we're seeing in some areas."

Part of the ACTFL's mission is to help classrooms reach the goal of functional communication, or when students leave the program feeling confident about their use of the language instead of just being able to conjugate irregular verbs. "Until we have some sort of national assessment, not much is going to change in the classroom," says Abbott.

Financial Literacy is Making a Comeback

Most people would agree schools have not made a strong investment in financial literacy. But a variety of new programs and initiatives are hoping to change that. "Most kids don't learn about it and most teachers don't know how to teach it," says Gino Guzzardo, program director of Kidz Online, which produces and distributes digital videos for students. "We're working on financial literacy materials that can be used in math, history, social studies."

Currently, Kidz Online is developing a program called Mastering Money that will debut later this year. It's a series of 22-minute videos that will be available for free on the Internet and, if Guzzardo has his way, downloadable to iPods or other portable devices as well as on TV. He says the series will teach the core concepts of financial literacy.

"Mastering Money is a perfect example of a project that represents a new way of providing financial information that will attract kids and make them interested in learning more in school and in their spare time," says John Gannon, secretary of the NASD Investor Education Foundation, which funds grants that focus on providing financial education for students.

Another project that NASD is involved with is the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. This Web site offers free and low-cost financial resources for teachers that run the gamut from choosing a financial planner to understanding annual reports. "We're trying to give teachers a comfort level to teach this, even if they feel they've made mistakes themselves," says Laura Levine, executive director of Jump$tart.

Gannon says although there is plenty of excellent financial literacy material available to schools, a lot of people are unsure about where to find it. His organization is helping with professional development and to help teachers locate the material.

Another NASD initiative is with Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. This project is about educating all school employees-from janitors to secretaries to teacher's aides to superintendents-about finance. The three different curricula are geared for different audiences. Unfortunately, the program was put on hold because of Hurricane Katrina, but should begin at 10 districts in the spring of 2007. According to Jeanette A. Tucker, associate professor and family economics specialist at Louisiana State, the four two-hour lessons will cover financial basics and investing. "We're not pushing student education with this program, but if a teacher is better informed it will naturally work its way into the classroom," she says.