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Teachers Improve Learning Among ESOL Students

NSU’s Fischler School helps Palm Beach County teachers develop awareness and cultural understanding

Back in the 1990s, the United States District Court mandated that all K-12 educators in the state who taught reading or language arts be endorsed to teach English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). This came as no surprise to educators in the Palm Beach County School District, where 11 percent of the students don’t speak English as their native language.

At the time, at least a third of the district’s 12,000 teachers had to be endorsed for ESOL within six years of starting as an ESOL teacher. No easy task. Initially, the district decided to use its own staff to deliver a massive in-service program, explains Carole Wilkinson, Ph.D., the district’s Audit Compliance Specialist with the Department of Multicultural Education.

Teachers could attend one classroom
orientation and complete all of their
coursework online.

“It was a staggering dilemma,” she recalls. “Our own teachers and administrators delivered the training but we didn’t use the same group of instructors all the time.”

As a result, the training was inconsistent. To make matters worse, she says it became overwhelming for the district’s budget and staff, who were pulling double duty. So around 2000, the district began to look elsewhere and realized that what it needed was right in its own backyard.

Nova Southeastern University’s Fischler School of Education and Human Services, based in North Miami Beach, Fla., had earned a national reputation for its quality instructors and courses. Wilkinson says the majority of NSU’s ESOL instructors are current or former district teachers and very familiar with the challenges their colleagues face with ESOL students.

So in 2002, the district contracted with the Fischler School to deliver ESOL training, which consisted of five compressed eight-week courses:

? “Methods of Teaching ESOL” introduces teachers to phonetics and explains how to diagnose problems encountered by students learning English.

? “ESOL Curriculum and Materials Development” offers an overview of curriculum design and helps teachers evaluate and adapt classroom materials for students.

? “Cross-Cultural Communication and Understanding” examines cultural factors that influence learning and encourages teachers to make practical changes in their classroom to facilitate learning.

? “Applied Linguistics” shows teachers how to identify problems students experience when translating information from their language into English and help students sound out words and better understand their meaning.

? “Testing and Evaluation” investigates traditional and alternative forms of assessment—referred to as portfolio assessment—so teachers can document children’s learning experiences.

Early on, the Fischler School designed a blended training model for the School District of Palm Beach County that offered flexibility. The program alternated between classroom and online sessions. Then in 2003, the Fischler School introduced yet another option. Teachers could attend one classroom orientation and complete all of their coursework online.

So far, over 1,000 teachers have completed the program. Based on their quality experience, some have signed up for more graduate courses while others have received a master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Likewise, the Fischler School developed other courses for administrators and guidance counselors who need an ESOL course to be in compliance. Next year, an international program will be available for district teachers from foreign countries.

Wilkinson says the district has received commendations from the State of Florida for its ESOL staff development. Likewise, the training has also made a difference in the classroom. Teachers now feel more competent about interacting with students from different cultures, more confi dent in breaking down language barriers and more committed to improve student learning.

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