• Katie Welch, Ph.D.

Practicing What We Preach

Updated: Jun 8, 2019

Prepping teachers of ELs using ESL strategies

Today, I am leading a training for pre-service and in-service teachers who are wanting to challenge the Texas ESL Supplemental exam and add this critical endorsement to their professional portfolio. And because I believe in teacher educators practicing what we preach, we'll be reviewing key components of the exam via "best practices" for working with ELLs.

We'll be co-creating visuals and anchor charts, doing some role play, learning cooperatively via Kagan Strategies, and playing some interactive games together. In this way, we can learn how to best meet the needs of English Learners in both word and deed. And besides, just because we're reviewing for a test and looking at multiple choice questions doesn't mean it has to be three loooooong hours of sit-and-get!

We've all heard horror stories of teacher educators lecturing about cooperative learning strategies and student-centered instruction while speaking in a monotone voice and clicking mindlessly through powerpoint slides in the front of the room. This do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do approach to teacher ed sends mixed messages about whether we truly believe in the pedagogy we say we want our #futureteachers to enact in their own classrooms some day. As I think back to my own early years preparing teachers, I cringe thinking how horribly mismatched the medium and message were. Thankfully, some timely professional development opened my eyes to a better path.

My approach to teacher education shifted several years ago after being trained through the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. Our NIET trainer challenged attendees to not only model best practices but, more importantly, to "name" the strategies that were being modeled and explain how and why these can be implemented in the classroom. About that same time, I was asked to squeeze an additional chapter of material about speaking and listening strategies into an already-packed Second Language Acquisition course. I knew I couldn't cut any of the theoretical content, so I decided I needed to adopt a "kill two birds with one stone" attitude and teach the theory content via the speaking and listening strategies the students needed to master.

Practically, this meant that students would be learning about Krashen's Monitor Model through a jigsaw activity, or that they would argue the merits of language acquisition theories in a class-wide debate, or that we would review grammar concepts by creating anchor charts. And as each class period would arrive, I would begin the class by naming not only what we would be learning that day (the content objective) but also how the instruction would be delivered (the pedagogy objective, if you will).

I adapted a graphic organizer similar to the one pictured, and each week we would color in the strategy we were using that day. (If I were really on top of things, I would have made them into BINGO cards and #gamified the process!) At the end of the class, we would debrief with each other about the students' experiences using the strategy and would brainstorm why the strategy would be beneficial for English Learners.

In the end, I covered all the material I needed to cover, plus we were able to make strong theory-practice connections by the end of the semester. We not only had named and experienced many cooperative learning strategies, we could also speak to which theoretical perspective they aligned to, since I had not needed to water down the theories portion of the course to accommodate the additional pedagogical content.

Similarly, as I lead the test prep session later today, we will pin over-sized name badges to ourselves that identify us as playing the role of a student, parent, administrator, or teacher and will act out our assigned roles in a simulation of a Texas Language Proficiency Assessment Committee (LPAC) meeting. The content objective is, of course, to understand how ELs are identified and assessed in the state of Texas. But the by-product of learning this information in role-play format is that students will also be experiencing the pedagogy objective: to gain awareness of a common strategy used with ELs to make the content more comprehensible. By naming this strategy and explaining how it benefits ELs, I not only raise awareness of best practices, I can also rest easy knowing that my instruction is aligned in both word and deed.

And how about you? In what ways do you as a teacher educator ensure that you practice what you preach? Leave me a comment and tell me what creative things you do in your class.

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