What DO they need?


Lot’s of talk around the edublogosphere about equity in education, and what poor, language learners need to succeed. First, Scott McLeod points to an article out of Portland, Oregon to ask “To script or not to script?”.

The discussion continued at The Elementary Educator with Poor Minority Kids Need Scripted Teaching; Everyone Else Deserves Something Better

At the same time, Doug Noon has been talking about what and how we should be teaching students. Here is an example: Teaching the Controversy This issue becomes bigger when Tim Holt brought up the issue of diversity (or lack of) among edubloggers, which I wrote about here: Social Equity and the Edublogosphere Here is my two-cents on the issue of how we should teach poor and minority students. It’s based on what I’ve learned both from reading books, reading the blogs of others who teach these students (like Doug), and my own experiences in the classroom.

First, I do think their are differences in what ELLs need in the classroom. I’ll point to this comment from Nancy Bosch to start things out. Nancy talks about the fewer repetitions that gifted students need to “get it”. That’s compared to “normal” students. ELLs need even more repetition. They also need to have you help them make connections with what they know, and what you are trying to teach them.

Now, before anyone comes to the conclusion that I think they are “slower” or “stupider” let me now share another personal experience. I have a son with language issues such that he has recently been diagnosed with autism. He has many of the same issues my students. Many of the techniques I use with them (visual clues, making connections, etc.) work well with him. He is not stupid, my students are not stupid. They are just in a different place.

Sometimes I see lesson plans, or ideas for projects that might be considered “constructivist” and they are really great, but lack the scaffolding, and structuring that I think is necessary for my students, so I add that. Based on this I think that you can do hands-on, inquiry-based activities with these students, but you need to really put a lot of time and consideration on your Into or Set up to make them successful.

I want my students to learn something, so I have no problem with having objectives and learning goals (which are clearly stated–if not executed in scripted text). Now, how does this relate to scripted reading programs? I teach with a scripted program, and while there are parts that are convenient, and enjoyable, the whole idea is not just degrading, but ridiculous. To borrow from a wag, if scripted instruction programs are the answer, it must have been a very peculiar question being asked. In the particular program I use (Open Court), the scaffolding is poor, and the kids don’t seem to get much from it. As a result, teachers have to supplement with there own materials/methods.

I think this is because ultimately, you can’t always script this sort of teaching. Going back to a link from Doug Noon, good teachers are constantly “reading” their class, and adjusting their instruction. A script can’t tell you that. I think the teacher featured in the story that started all this gives a good example of how to make the learning accessible, engaging, and meaningful. I can only hope to do as well.

A recent piece on NPR from a testing “tutor” had some insights that are worth considering (among other things that weren’t so pleasant to contemplate). The points worth mentioning, there are no silver bullets to school improvement, just many small changes that will make a difference, and reforming schools is difficult because they have to keep teaching, we can’t stop and start over from scratch.

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.

4 Comments to

“What DO they need?”

  1. June 29th, 2007 at 10:35 am      Reply Mathew Says:

    If we’re talking about learning a new word in English, then maybe yes ELL students need more repetition. However, if we’re just talking about illuminating concepts then ELL students need to see realia, visuals (often aided by technology), and have instruction presented in ways that appeal to different learning modalities…without these, a teacher repeating and repeating the same things over and over does no good for any type of student whose not getting it.

    I agree with most of what you say about scripted programs. However, what upsets me is that the pieces of scripted programs that do allow for teachers to monitor and adjust their teaching (IWT/Workshop/Universal Access Time) are the least used by teachers. As if where the script ends, many teachers don’t know what to do. It upsets me that a lot of teachers accept the script that they’re given, want to complain about it, and then think that absolves them of a responsibility to monitor and adjust instruction where possible.

  2. June 29th, 2007 at 10:49 am      Reply alicemercer Says:

    Thank you for your comment. I know you are an expert in IWT, and I too would agree with you about that time not being used. As we speak, my district is trying to redo the training for teachers on “Inquiry” (Open Court speak for the time when students do higher-level thinking work about a selection or unit theme), because they have warehouses full of Inquiry Journals not being used (this suggests it’s not being taught at all).

    Rather than talking about why I think Workshop (Centers/IWT) is not being implemented, I’d rather talk about how I made it work in my class (which would obviously not be the only way to do it). First, I did largely ignore the Inquiry Journals. The projects are not structured in a way that is accessible to the students, so I didn’t use them. I replaced them with some of the online projects that my students did instead. Next, I put the time for workshop in my schedule, and stuck to it. If we didn’t get through the second read of the selection, so what, we could do it the next day, or skip it (god forbid). I made sure there was 20-40 minutes each day (except Friday) for workshop. Last, rather than sitting with a group in back all the time, I tried to circulate to monitor and clarify especially for students working on projects. I know you blog has more comments from other teachers, so if readers want to see more, they can look there.

  3. July 12th, 2007 at 4:23 pm      Reply durff Says:

    I most emphatically disagree with you. I taught kids who were also labeled as ‘minority’, ‘people of color’, or ‘disadvantaged’. What you describe is just good teaching. Any child with any label needs good teaching. It is to your credit that you provide that.

  4. July 12th, 2007 at 4:56 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

    Well, I think we agree on some things. You are amplifying my point (or Richard Allington’s) in paragraph 8.

    While I think there are elements of these categories that can be “labels” they are often very real differences, and they have to be addressed when you are teaching. I say that both as a teacher of these students, and the parent of a special education student.

    I’ll go back to my earlier post on teaching black students, I don’t try to treat them all the same, I want to treat them all fairly. Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, I don’t think that those two are always the same.


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