FOR RELEASE: Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Federal Grant Will Train ESL Teachers
College of Education and Health Professions establishes partnership with Springdale schools to serve growing population of English language learners.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Every year, the Springdale School District in northwest Arkansas hires more than 150 new teachers. Every year, more children enroll who need help learning English in order to succeed at school. The district can’t keep up with the need for teachers specially trained to teach English language learners.
Curriculum and instruction, the academic department at the University of Arkansas that educates teachers, received notice last month that it has been awarded a federal grant to help ease the shortage. The university formed a partnership with Springdale called Project Teach Them All. The grant proposal explains that it’s imperative for teachers with English as a second language endorsement to teach in all subject matters and at all grade levels.
The U.S. Department of Education grant pays $1.3 million over five years, with the end result that 100 teachers will earn the state endorsement to teach English to speakers of other languages, referred to as ESOL. Janet Penner-Williams, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, said that, because the project emphasizes teacher learning communities, it is expected to increase the knowledge of other teachers in the district as well, and it could become a model for other districts in the state to use.
Penner-Williams developed the proposal with the help of Shannon Davis, formerly the director of research for the College of Education and Health Professions and now assistant dean for research in the College of Engineering; Diana Gonzales Worthen, former ESOL assistant curriculum supervisor for Springdale Public Schools who will direct the new training project; and Judy Hobson, recently retired ESL/migrant program supervisor for the Springdale district. Hobson now directs the Education Renewal Zone office for English language learners based in the College of Education and Health Professions.
The grant seeks to replicate a program developed by Kansas State University. The project will work with selected teachers at J.O. Kelly Middle School, George Junior High School and Springdale High School. Also participating will be teachers in a district program called the Alternative Learning Environment, which offers a solid educational path for at-risk and nontraditional students in an intimate and flexible learning community that aids the students.
Creating small teacher learning communities is key to the model’s success.
“The advantage of this model created by Socorro Herrera and Kevin Murry at Kansas State University is that the teachers learn from each other in a professional learning community,” Penner-Williams said. “They may watch a DVD, but then they talk about it and reflect after they work with the students. They have class and try the strategy right away, and there is a project director to coach and manage people.”
Mary Bridgforth, who recently became the Springdale district’s ESOL program director, said the district is looking forward to working with the university.
“The participating schools will have the unique chance to serve in small learning communities of teachers to learn second language acquisition theory and methodology and investigate strategies that will help their English language learners become more successful in content classes,” Bridgforth said. “A majority of the teachers chosen will come from the content areas (such as math, science and history) because the teachers who chiefly serve our English language learners already hold an endorsement.
“This project will allow for more of our teachers to receive the training necessary to effectively teach our English language learners, which will increase academic opportunities for those students.”
According to figures from the 2006-07 school year, the Springdale district had 16,500 students, and the proposal to the U.S. Department of Education lists the number of students in the district who are English language learners at varying skill levels at 6,150. In several of the district’s schools, this population is greater than 50 percent.
Gonzales Worthen will take on the role of project director. A Holmes Scholar and educator with more than 20 years of experience in teaching science, sheltered instruction and professional development, she earned a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of Arkansas in 2004. She has led and implemented numerous programs for English learners, immigrants, language-minority parents and first generation college students. She has been recognized by the Arkansas Education Association, the Washington County Coalition for Women and the National Science Foundation for excellence in mathematics and science teaching. She serves on the board of directors for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, La Casa, Washington Regional Medical Foundation, Youth Can and the National Association of Holmes Scholars Alumni.
ESL constitutes an additional teaching endorsement in the state, and University of Arkansas students can take ESL courses while working on their Master of Arts in Teaching degree. However, that doesn’t address the need for already certified teachers to gain the endorsement. The Arkansas Department of Education sponsors an ESL Academy around the state for two weeks each June, but there’s a waiting list to take the courses.
Courses typically taught for ESL certification are second language acquisition theory, assessment, working with diverse student populations and ESL methods. Gonzales Worthen teaches each summer at the academy, which accommodates about 80 teachers at each site.
“That was the first initiative in Arkansas but that opportunity is not enough to fill the need,” she said. “Even if Springdale was able to send 80 teachers in K-12, we have well over 1,000 teachers and, with the growth of the district, more than 140 new teachers are hired every year. We can never catch up to the number of highly trained teachers that we need.”
Penner-Williams said the University of Arkansas felt compelled to step up to the challenge.
“We have these courses here and the university really wanted to be involved in ESL teaching of teachers in the area,” she said.
Because the courses will be delivered during the school year, there’s no lag time following a summer course that could affect retention by teachers. They will put what they learn into action in the classroom immediately, guided and supported by other teachers who form learning communities. The grant will pay for university tuition and supplies for the courses.
Gonzales Worthen will demonstrate lessons and coordinate peer coaching and peer observation as well.
“Once teachers have a firm grasp, really internalize strategies and methods, often the first thing they want to do is share with other teachers,” she said. “These teachers in Springdale will be pioneers and leaders.”
Janet Penner-Williams, assistant professor of curriculum and
Diana Gonzales Worthen, director of Project Teach Them All
Heidi Stambuck, director of communications