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Learning How To Teach Kids Who Don’t Speak English

Rosanna Boyd
Kelly Hauser and Matthew Carter learn about teaching math and science to students who don’t speak English at a workshop at UNT. Dawn Osborne, a consultant for Region 10 Education Service Center, helps explain some of those strategies.";

More than 800,000 students whose first language is not English attend Texas public schools. About a quarter of them are in North Texas classrooms. The challenge for many educators is figuring out the best way to teach these students. A hotly-debated question is whether they should learn English through immersion or some other technique such as bilingual education.

Last week, teachers from the Denton Independent School District attended a two-day workshop at the University of North Texas to learn strategies for teaching math and science to non-English speakers.

The program, called Project Nexus, is paid for with a $985,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. UNT is one of 101 universities that received this grant. The university is partnering with the Region 10 Education Service Center and Denton and Lewisville school districts to offer workshops through 2017.

I reached out to UNT about what teachers are learning in this program. Rosanna Boyd, director of the Bilingual and ESL Teacher Certification Programs at UNT, responded by email to my questions.

What are some things teachers learned during this two-day workshop?

They learned about the Frayer Model, a strategy that uses a graphic organizer to help students develop vocabulary. This strategy requires students to define key vocabulary words or concepts, generate examples and non-example and create visual representations. They also learned techniques to incorporate academic vocabulary in lessons.

Teachers learned about the SKIM-method that helps students read and comprehend quickly. This strategy requires students to read the first paragraph and the last paragraph of a reading selection and then work in groups or pairs to guess the concepts in the rest of the text.

How will they use what they learned?

Teachers will use the strategies and techniques they learned to helps students develop academic vocabulary in mathematics and science and to problem solve.

Teachers will help students develop reading strategies to help them develop comprehension in a gradual manner.

Teachers will reinforce the instructions for assignments by writing and verbalizing them to make sure that English Language Learners comprehend them.

Were there any surprising revelations during the training? For example, was there something that teachers hadn’t considered when teaching English language learners?

The teachers were very surprised about the efficiency and the effectiveness of using group activities that incorporate music and chanting so that students can remember ideas.

The teachers were surprised about how Latin root words can be used to generate many other words. They also learned many cognates (words that have a common origin) can help the transfer of knowledge from one language to the other.

Why are workshops like these important?

The workshops are very important because they increase the repertoire of strategies for teachers so that they can purposely and intentionally help English language learning students understand, learn content in English and have access to a meaningful curriculum.