Diversity and Education: EAL Learners

Abstract

This reflection explores the issues related to diversity and education. English as an Additional Language Learners (EAL) are one diverse population of leaners. EAL education poses many challenges, both professionally and educationally, to our current structure of education. Things like student placement, labels, and support or resource allocation are things that need to be considered. EAL learners bring with them a variety of stories, strengths, weaknesses, and language experiences that need to be addressed and reflected in the overall school environment and classroom. This involves a high level of differentiation and the implementation of various assessment measures to ensure academic success and confidence with the English language. Like any students, EAL learners are shaping their own identities as adolescence and need environments that provide a safe place to grow. Within our current structure, tensions between stability-change and diversity-uniformity need to constantly be addressed when considering our diverse population of EAL learners.

Keywords – EAL, diversity, education, English Language Arts (ELA), educational assistant (EA), response to intervention (RTI), sheltered program, mainstream, modified, differentiation, belonging, academic achievement, 21st Century learners, globalization, technology, tensions, stability-change, diversity-uniformity, fair and equitable treatment, advanced placement English (AP)

 Diversity and Education

I had the privilege to observe Ms. P’s Grade Ten English as an Additional Language Learner (EAL) English 10 class, while pre-interning at a Regina High School. This was a new experience for me and the diversity of these learners was overwhelming. The learners included three Caucasian students, fourteen students from the Philippines, a refugee from Sudan, a refugee from Afghanistan, three exchange students, and three students from Africa. Ortmeier-Hooper notes that “immigrant students represent one of the largest categories of ELLs in our schools” (2013, p. 7) and this proved true at this school. The class is structured or administered as a “sheltered” English course. Ortmeier-Hooper explains sheltered instruction as classes where “subject matter instruction is organized to promote second language acquisition, while teaching cognitively demanding, grade-level appropriate material” (2013, p. 15). This means that students complete the exact same outcomes as a regular class. However, a regular English 10 class would complete more indicators. Since the completion of outcomes is what matters, this class appears on a transcript just like any Grade 10 English Language Arts (ELA) course would.

The purpose of a sheltered program is not to teach English per say, but to allow students to adjust and function to our Canadian school system. Students are familiarized with our western teaching practices, such as persuasive writing, rubrics, presentations, rules, and group work. This highlights the tension between uniformity (maintaining the current structures and traditions) and diversity (adapting to incorporate diverse learners and learning styles). Ms. P’s sheltered EAL class is a pilot project for all Regina Catholic schools. Since it is a trail, other EAL learners in the school who require explicit English instruction are placed in separate or modified courses. Other EAL learners work alongside their peers in mainstream courses, which is a more progressive and inclusive practice. However, these learners often struggle academically and face a daunting workload, due to the lack of supports and modifications that are usually present in mainstream classes. Ortmeier-Hooper recognizes that although mainstream classes are the ideal, we need to remember that EAL students need to balance “school and home expectations and struggles, [learn] a new language” and create their identity as an adolescent (2013, p. 9). Whether or not an EAL learner is placed in a modified or mainstream program is based on testing results from the Welcoming Center or an EAL consultant. I view “sheltered” EAL English courses as a way around structural tensions of change-stability and uniformity-diversity; sheltered courses allow students to receive the supports they need, while working on the same curricular outcomes. This structural adaptation is an attempt to balance stability and change because we are adapting our current system to incorporate a third placement option.

Even within a sheltered classroom, the needs vary; some of Ms. P’s students have been in Canada for years, while others have just arrived within the past month. Furthermore, some students are learning English as a third or fourth language. Each student has their own distinct experiences and educational backgrounds, regardless of a shared EAL label. As an inclusive education minor, I am very aware of the necessity and value of labels. However, I often find that labels – which serve a structural purpose of determining instructional choices, supports, and resource allocation – are the very things that undermined students’ distinct experiences, linguistic diversity, and educational backgrounds. Beyond the label is a learner with their own strengths and weaknesses but these labels often “shape [educators’] understanding of these students” about what they can and cannot do (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 6). Labels can limit educational opportunities for students. I find that when students have a label, educators have a “tendency to look for deficits, focusing almost exclusively on concerns and challenges in teaching them” (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 94). Furthermore, the labels we use continually change, causing some confusion. The current term is EAL but recent textbooks often use terms such as English Language Learner (ELL). The tension between our need to identify our learners and the tension between treating each student as an individual with unique strengths and weaknesses is one of the main structural challenges.

With our desire to label students comes the issue of determining whether or not an EAL student has an additional disability. It is hard to decipher between a lack of language proficiency and extensive learning challenges. Within Ms. P’s classroom, four of the students require their own individualized programming; however, they are not officially on individualized program plans (IPP) but are on the waiting list to meet with an educational psychologist. These students require instructional and assignment modifications, as well as, extra supports. However, an educational assistant (EA) had not been assigned to any of the students and the community EAL consultant only showed up twice. Instead of in-class supports, Ms. P will be sent to SIOP training in April. This lack of support puts a lot of onus on Ms. P, who is a new educator with no formal EAL training. Sadly, a lack of supports is a reality in many of our schools and illustrates the gap that remains between our ideals.

At the end of the day, it is our job as professional educators to try our best to differentiate instruction and collaborate with our colleagues to help our students succeed, regardless of structural flaws. Although differentiation is important in all classes, I found that it is vital within a sheltered English class. Ms. P meets with eight colleagues to discuss the direction of sheltered EAL English classes on her own accord. She also varies the reading levels of her materials. When studying Macbeth, three different graphic novels at various reading levels were used. She also modifies exams. For instance, one of the refugees just arrived in Canada this month. She let this particular student use their graphic novel to write the test. Another student did not think this was fair, showing the tension between fair and equitable treatment. Ms. P handled the situation by saying,“You’re telling me that when you just came here no one ever made accommodations for you?”

Ms. P also utilizes Response to Intervention (RTI) Tier 1 interventions as a way to make inclusive modifications for the entire class. For example, she utilizes culturally responsive practices, immerses technology into her regular instruction, and creates various groupings. Currently, the desks are together on either side of the classroom with a space in the middle and working tables at the back. This allows students to assist one another and work through the English language together. They often sit beside peers who share a similar language background so that they can translate together. Although this allows them to succeed academically, it creates an issue of students being segregated into racial groupings. Thus, Ms. P changes the seating plan on various occasions.

Another important consideration for EAL learners is creating a positive environment and sound routines. This can be hard because our current structure is not formed around EAL learners. However, Ms. P’s classroom and routines have been structured with her learners in mind. Posters with the writing process, parts of speech, and new vocabulary words act as extra supports. As students read or hear new words, they get added to the chalkboard. “My Journey” posters were on the walls around a map of the world. Each student’s background, culture, family, and experiences with the English language were represented.

Not only did the environment foster support and belonging, but so did the daily routines. On Monday and Wednesday students read silently, alongside their teacher. Tuesday is #talktuesday and students get a chance to speak informally to their peers about their lives. On Thursday they have #throwbackthursday where students share stories about their childhood, culture, family, and past. Friday is #phoneticfriday and it is dedicated to grammar instruction. Ms. P constructs these lessons based on the grammatical errors that the class is making as a whole. For instance, students learned about when to use dashes, ellipses, and brackets after they misused this punctuation in their previous writing assignment. Students benefit from this explicit instruction. The routines allow them to express themselves and work on skills – speaking, writing, and reading – that they may be insecure about. Ortmeier-Hooper notes that “as students get older, the most valuable gift we can give them is a sense of confidence in their voices and their written expressions” (2013, p. 163) and our routines in EAL classrooms must encourage voice and belonging.

Before this experience, I thought the biggest concern with EAL learners would be academic success. However, it is surprising how much EAL learners are capable of if the expectations are high. The main thing that Ms. P had to do to ensure the academic success of her students was vary her assessment. Students write, act, create videos, draw, etc. She also found out that comprehension questions are not as challenging as application and opinion questions for EAL learners. Since comprehension questions are things that 21st century learners can simply Google, these activities are completed as a class, before and during reading. After reading, students are evaluated on their ability to use their comprehension of a text as a springboard for their opinions and inquiries. This type of instruction is the difference between looking up a definition of a word – instigator, for example – versus being asked to apply the term in a sentence – Do you think Lady Macbeth is an instigator?.” On exams, Ms. P provides more writing opportunities rather than less. This means that fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice questions are almost non-existent. This helps students get rid of their insecurities about writing and develop their vocabulary. Furthermore, as Young et al. point out (2007), “writing is a means of self-expression, creativity, and a way to tell a story or explain our thinking” (p. 16). This is a vital skill to have in our globalized and technological economy (p. 4). These types of assessments allow students to draw from their own personal experiences, knowledge, and thoughts rather than their ability to regurgitate answers. This is a prime example where modernized teaching practices take precedence over traditional methods.

Our current educational structures seem to be slow to change but “more recently there has been an increasing, though by no means universal, tendency to allow greater diversity in the schools” (Young et al., 2007, p. 90). I believe that Ms. P’s sheltered English class is an example of breaking away from the stability and past traditions of our schools. Although learners are still expected to assimilate to our current system of education in many ways, we are slowly adapting our instructional practices, assessment measures, routines, and environments to accommodate a more diverse group of leaners. I believe that this sheltered program will only continue to improve and receive supports. Some improvements that I would like to see are a buddy system between EAL learners and advanced placement (AP) English learners. This buddy system could be structured as a tutoring system or even through collaboration during extra-curricular activities such as, yearbook, school newspaper, book clubs, writing clubs, or research programs. EAL learners would benefit from extra exposure to the English language – as many of these students do not speak English at home – and native English speakers could also benefit from extra writing and reading time. Ortmeier-Hooper (2013) notes that “learning to write [and read] in a second language is a lifelong process” (p. 158) and I think there are many opportunities to expand beyond our English classrooms and create environments that foster belonging and academic achievement for all students grappling with the English language, whether as their only language or one of many. Our population of learners is very diverse and we need to create an educational structure that is flexible enough to meet these needs and balance the tensions.

Resources

Ortmeier-Hooper, C. (2013). The ELL writer: Moving beyond basics in the secondary classroom. Columbia University, New York: Teachers College Press.

Young, J., Levin, B., & Wallin, D. (2007). Understanding Canadian schools: An introduction to educational administration. (4th ed.). Toronto: Thomson.

 

 

Advertisements

ECS 410: Assessment and Evaluation in Secondary Schools: Case Studies

Abstract

This reflection looks at Case Study 2: Interim Report Card Grades, Case Study 4: Hiring a Student, and Case Study 6: All or Some. Case Study 2 highlights the effects of assigning a zero and how detrimental this practice can be to a student’s overall grade. Furthermore, zeros are misleading and do not accurately represent what a student achieved or learned during a semester. Case Study 4 analyses how grades can be misinterpreted and often do not provide a clear picture to students, employers, teachers and parents about what a student knows and can demonstrate. How teachers choose to weight assignments has an impact on the overall mark a student receives and this choice can vary from school to school and/or classroom to classroom. Case Study 6 deals with number crunching and evaluating students before they have had adequate practice time. To deconstruct these case studies, current research on high school grading trends and personal experiences will be used.

Keywords – number crunching, assessment, evaluation, grade reporting, overall achievement, feedback, gradebook, zeros

 Case Studies

Case Study 2: Interim Report Card Grade

In Case Study 2 the student received a zero on one assignment because they were absent. As a result, the report card shows that they have a 68.8 percent overall average after the first four weeks of classes. However, the lowest mark the student received was a 62.5 percent on one assignment that was weighted out of eight. The student received a 90 percent or higher on the majority of their assignments. If the zero was not reported the student would have an 81.6 percent average.

I personally would give the student the 81.6 percent because I believe it better reflects what he or she has learned and/or demonstrated. I also think the student will be more motivated to keep up the good work if they see an 81.6 percent versus a 68.8 percent. The current research suggests that zero grades are an unfair and inaccurate marking practice and this case study illustrates how misleading a zero grade can be. A 68.8 percent is not a fair representation of this student’s overall achievement, when the majority of their assignments are in the 90 percent range or higher.

What bothers me most about the student receiving the 68.8 percent is that they were absent for the test. Todd Rogers, a psychologist from University of Alberta, suggests that “a zero indicates the student knows nothing about a topic when they might actually know plenty… the mark of incomplete is more honest” (Sands, “Educators defend no-zero rule”). Based on the other marks that the student has received, I believe he or she understands the content and could do quite well on the test, if given the opportunity. I think the student should get a chance to take the test and in the meantime the assignment could register as ‘incomplete’ so that it does not skew the overall average for the first four weeks. The goal is for students to meet the curriculum outcomes; if students are not given the chance to demonstrate their knowledge then zeros are used to punish their behavior rather than representing their knowledge of an outcome (Bower, “Giving zeros a power trip”). I am just starting to grasp this concept, as I am very much imbedded in our grading system. I used to agree with the critics that the no-zero policy would not prepare kids for “the real world” and that fifties would become the new zeros. I also used to think that giving second chances or extended due dates was not fair to students who met the deadlines and were present. I am now realizing that all students have different circumstances and furthermore, giving zeros does not hold students responsible to complete their work. This case study has taught me that the zero – which actually represents that the student missed a day of classes in a four week period – not only punishes the student but disrupts the learning process. This zero does not indicate that the student does not know the content or only knows 68.8 percent of it, for that matter. Instead, the zero is used to punish a behavior that has nothing to do with the student’s overall understanding of the curricular outcomes.

This case study highlights many tensions amid our current grading system. First and foremost, it shows that zeros can be detrimental to students because they are misleading and an inaccurate representation of the acquired knowledge. Also, in this case study students are receiving grades for every assignment, including daily work. This means that their practice time is being evaluated. Davies (2011) notes that “students need a chance to practice” and she proposes that “increasing the amount of descriptive feedback, while decreasing evaluative feedback, increases student learning significantly” (p. 2-3). The numbered average does little to show how the student is doing, in regards to the curricular outcomes, whereas, feedback would be much more informative. Bower suggests that we treat assessment like “a needed conversation between a teacher and student” rather than “a spreadsheet” of misleading grades (“Giving zeros a power trip”). Giving a zero would most likely result in an unmotivated student who now has an inaccurate perception of their overall achievement. Bower notes that students who receive zeros are more likely to drop out or become unmotivated (“Giving zeros a power trip”). I would have had an emotional breakdown if this would have happened to me in high school. Thus, I do not think a grade of zero is appropriate (assuming that the student has not refused the opportunity to retake the test) and I believe that feedback after four weeks would be more beneficial and create a continuous learning process.

Case Study 4: Hiring a Student

Case Study 4 illustrates what grades fail to communicate about student achievement to parents, employers, educators and students. Based on the information in Scenario A, Student 1 would get the job. They received 0/25 in practical knowledge – which makes me question if they missed the test or assignments? – and 71/75 on theory. Student 2, on the other hand, received 25/25 on practical knowledge but only 27/75 on theory. Thus, when the weights of practical and theory are rated out of 25 and 75 respectfully, Student 1 receives an overall grade of 71 percent and Student 2 receives an overall grade of 52 percent. If a manager at the local auto repair shop looked at these marks, he or she would hire Student 1 because they appear to be more competent.

However, in Scenario B Student 1 receives an overall grade of 47 percent and Student 2 receives an overall grade of 68 percent. This is because both practical and theoretical aspects were weighted equally out of 50. Student 1 receives 0/50 and 47/50 but Student 2 receives 50/50 and then 18/50. In Scenario C, the weights of practical and theoretical knowledge are weighted 75 and 25 respectively. This reverses the weights in Scenario A. Student 1 receives a 0/75 and a 24/25, resulting in an overall grade of 24 percent. Student 2 receives 75/75 and then 9/25, resulting in an overall grade of 84 percent. Therefore, if a manager was comparing marks based on Scenario B or C, Student 2 would receive the job.

This case study shows the discrepancies of grades and the effects of teacher choices on the worth of course components. Guskey (2011) notes that “what one teacher considers in determining students’ grades may differ greatly from the criteria used by other teachers… even in schools were established grading policies offer guidelines for assigning grades” (p. 85). This affects student motivation, class choices, post-secondary admissions, job choices and scholarship success. I think we need consistent assessment practices because grades determine the future for our students. I would allow students to choose how to weight their assignments and tests so that they could play to their individual strengths, yet still complete all course components. This choice could be made within assignments on the rubrics or between all of the class assignments through a student-teacher contract.

I honestly do not know what scenario I think is fair because I do not know what each component encompasses. This once again highlights how poor report cards are at communicating learning achievement and tasks. One suggestion I would have for this teacher is dropping low quiz scores or providing second chances. I used to believe that students should not all have eighties and/or get second chances but I am now realizing the purpose is for students to meet the curricular outcomes – albeit, at their own pace – and learning is not about competing for grades. As Guskey (2011) notes “grades have long been identified by those in the measurement community as prime examples of unreliable measurement” (p. 85). I think this will be one of the biggest challenges in teaching: how do you decide what learning or skills are more important than the others? Unless we create consistent guidelines to follow, grades will continue to be misleading and very few students will benefit.

Case Study 6: All or Some

Case Study 6 shows the parachute-packing test results of three students. Student 1 was above the competency/mastery level for the first five tests. However, tests six to nine are scored well below the mastery level. Student 2 started at the mastery level, scored above the mastery level on tests two, four, six, and eight, but below the mastery level on tests three, five, seven, and nine. Student 3 was well below the mastery level for the first three tests, fell just below the mastery level on tests four to six, but made improvements on each test thereafter and scored above the mastery line on tests seven to nine.

Based on these results, I would want Student 3 to pack my parachute. Student 1, although he or she started strong, is well below the mastery level on the last four tests. Student 2 has very inconsistent results. But student 3 has consistently improved since test one and has been well above the mastery line for the last three tests. This student has the most consistent and reliable results and I would feel safest with them packing my parachute. It does not matter to me that Student 1 used to be able to pack a parachute and I do not want to take a chance that Student 2 is having a good day.

If this was represented on a grade book, it would look very similar to the chart below (the grades are an estimate):

Test

Student   1

Student   2

Student   3

1

70

50

20

2

60

65

25

3

70

45

35

4

60

75

47

5

80

45

45

6

45

75

45

7

40

45

60

8

35

60

75

9

30

45

85

Total:

54.4%

56.1%

48.55%

Student 1 and 2 would pass but Student 3 would fail. However, this is contradictory to my prior answer that Student 3 is competent at parachute packing. This is because grades do not accurately show how a student is achieving the outcomes without additional feedback. Student 3 would benefit from Shepard’s idea of “replacement assignments and replacement tests or throwing out test scores when learning is verified in later assignments” (2006, p. 44). Student 3 has demonstrated that they can complete the task but he or she is being held back for learning at a slower rate.

Another issue is that the initial tests are marked. As Laurie Gatzky mentioned in her presentation, we should evaluate the recent work rather than averaging the entire course work because students need learning and practice time. It is not fair to evaluate students so early. Davies (2011) also states that “when students are acquiring new skills, knowledge, and understanding, they need a chance to practice” (p. 2). When I coached basketball I did not mark students at the first practice but instead I gave them feedback throughout the season. The “test” or evaluation occurred in the final few playoff games. Noskin (2013) stated that “assessments must be formative and frequent with timely feedback; a summative assessment should follow at the unit’s end” but not before then (p. 73). If students would have been marked solely on test nine, Student 3 would receive an 85 percent, Student 2 a 45 percent and Student 1 a 30 percent. However, this would not be represented on most gradebooks. I would personally give “descriptive feedback during the learning” and evaluate tests eight and nine (Davies, 2011, p. 2).

Conclusion

In the end, all three case studies highlight the tensions and inadequacies of our current grading practices. I know evaluation will be a constant stress and concern that I have as a teacher. However, I am learning the benefits of giving more feedback and fewer grades. Furthermore, I understand that students need practice time and choice, whether it is the choice of how they demonstrate their knowledge or what their assignments are worth. Giving zeros punishes students for their behaviour or attendance issues and disrupts the learning cycle. Every student deserves a second chance, especially since learning is a lifelong process. Our goal as educators should be “to create a learning culture… instead of a grading culture” (Shepard, 2006, p. 41) and in order to do this we need to make learning an intrinsic reward rather than a competition for the best mark, which is an extrinsic motivator that poorly communicates a student’s understanding of the curricular outcomes.

Resources

Bernhardt, S. A. (1992). Teaching English: Portfolio evaluation. The Clearing House, 65(6), 333-334.

Bower, Joe. (2012). Giving zeros a power trip. Edmonton Journal, pp. A.20.

Davies, A. (2011). Making classroom assessment work. (3rd Ed.). Courtenay, British Columbia:  Connections Publishing.

Found, Rob. (2012). Not giving zeros also skews marks. Edmonton Journal, pp. A.11.

Guskey, T. R. (2011). Stability and change in high school grades. NASSP Bulletin, 95(2), 85-98. doi:10.1177/0192636511409924

Noskin, D. P. (2013). Toward a clearer picture of assessment: One teacher’s formative approach. English Journal, 103(1), 72.

Rodgers, Bob. (2012). Why giving children zeros is a “good” idea. Airdrie City View, pp. 9.

Shepard, L. A. (2006). Creating coherent formative and summative assessment practices. Orbit, 36(2), 41.