Teresa's-BWP

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

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Proposal for Action Research

Each school year new students enter my room with nervous anticipation and eagerness to learn. They come from all over the world speaking other languages than English. My job as an English as a Second Language teacher is to help these students become literate in English as quickly as possible due to high-stakes assessment in the U.S. educational system. Research studies suggest that it takes six to eight years of instruction in order to reach true fluency in a language.

One particular student, Tran walked into my classroom with eager slanted eyes, silky black hair and brown skin. Unable to speak a word of English, she had moved to the United States after completing fourth grade in Vietnam. According to the translator, she was at the top of her class in reading, writing, and math, but her parents wanted her to have a better life with many opportunities. I met Tran at the beginning of her fifth grade year. She had completed one school year (repeating fourth grade at her parent’s request), acquired basic communicative skills, and read at a beginning second-grade level. I thought an angel had walked through my door. All teachers dream of having students like her in their classroom. She listened attentively and soaked up learning like a sponge. She never complained and would give a hundred percent at any task given to her. Every night she took library books home to practice reading and wrote long stories in her native language of Vietnamese. Learning filled every desire she had.
Tran was allowed only three years to become literate enough in English to pass a state-mandated test to be promoted to the next grade level.

For the entire year I did everything possible to catch her up with her peers. I read to her; she read to me; we read together. I wrote for her; she wrote for me; we wrote together. I reviewed regular classroom teacher’s lessons with her when she was confused or needed more help. Then entering sixth grade, her third year in US schools, Tran was required to take three benchmark tests. Every time she took a test, she worked meticulously and gave it her best effort. Sadly, each time the results came back and her scores were not passing.She could read and comprehend. She had proven that numerous times. All in all, vocabulary was the issue. The tests used vocabulary two years above grade level and the reading material in content area had vocabulary she was not familiar with. Even in math, her strongest area, she still needed explanation on some words in the problem to know what mathematical operation to perform.

The cards were stacked too high against her.Vocabulary and state mandates engulfed Tran. She needed many tools in order to win the battle. As a classroom teacher I have a burning desire to know what else I can do to prepare her. How can my instruction and classroom activities send her off to victory?

Literature Review
In 2001, President George W. Bush signed The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The NCLB Act was designed to level the educational playing field for all children regardless of diversity and income by raising standards and providing monetary allocations based on student achievement (Winograd, Flores-Duenas, & Arrington, 2003). Five years later the children who NCLB was designed to not leave behind are exactly the students who are being left behind-- children who are diverse by culture and language, color, and poverty. Experiences, languages, and cultures have changed not the children. At least one-third of the school age population is nonwhite (Kluth & Straut, 2001). In Texas alone, one hundred thousand minority children dropped out of school as a result of the TAAS test. Minority students have been sorted and segregated by test scores through tracking, admitted to special programs designed for handicapped students, and retained (Shepard, 1991). The weight of federal and state mandates has turned the educational system backward into an unequal system (Paris & McEvoy, 2000).

Allington (2006) says the teacher is a critical link to successful learning in the classroom. When teachers understand literary learning they can adapt the environment, materials, and methods. A teacher’s knowledge begins with an analysis of how children learn and acquire language, along with instructional practices to help children construct and take responsibility for their own understanding and learning (Pransky & Bailey, 2003).

The constructivist theory accommodates learners by connecting prior experiences with social interaction in order to make sense of the world around them. Vygotsky (1978) and Krashen (1985) hold that language occurs in an area between two developmental levels-an actual developmental level and a potential level by social interaction. Vygotsky labels it the “Zone of Proximal Development”. This area of learning, or zone, varies for each child because of history and interaction. As a child interacts with others, language skills gradually build from the native language to the second language (NCTE, 2006). Conversational language skills develop first followed by academic language taking approximately five years or more (Cummins, 1994). The amount of comprehensible input and output is a direct determinant of the development of second-language proficiency (Krashen, 1985).

With children coming from culturally different backgrounds, languages, and learning styles; the teacher can maintain high standards for all by implementing a libertarian education where the goal of schools is to help students learn new meanings through new experiences rather than simply to learn meanings that others have created (Poplin, 1988). A Freirian method provides an equal partnership between a teacher and students relying on cognitive acts and meaningful communication (Friere, 1970).

Mazzoni and Gambrell (2003) outline some principles of best practices based on the constructivist theory teachers can utilize to help culturally diverse students to become not only functioning literate members of society but also leaders of tomorrow (National Writing Project & Nagin, 2006).

Learning is Meaningful
Students need opportunities to read, write, speak, and listen for authentic purposes. Significant academic gains are produced with the integration of thinking processes when content learning is paired with language acquisition (Diamond & Moore, 1995; NCTE, 2006; NWP & Nagin, 2006).

Prior knowledge guides learning
Vogt and Shearer (2003) declare “Culture is the lens we look through to see the world” (p123). Culture influences a student’s values, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a variety of social settings. Multicultural literature and process writing activities allow students to activate what they already know to make sense of something new (NCTE, 2006; Shepard, 1991).

Scaffold learning through a gradual release of responsibility model
Teachers support the learning process by making the task transparent with sequential steps of instruction, guidance, and support. First, the teacher models what the student needs to learn, then provides encouragement and feedback as the student gradually takes on the learning (Pransky & Bailey, 2003).

Social collaboration enhances learning
Learning is a social and cultural process (Pransky & Bailey, 2003; NWP & Nagin, 2006). Students learn by interacting with others building on their own language and the language of others (Diamond & Moore, 1995). Reading and writing are means of communication and expression of one’s thoughts. The more opportunities one has to express thoughts and ideas, the clearer they become (NWP & Nagin, 2006).

Learners learn best when they are interested and involved
Students become empowered when they are provided choices to engage in learning (Strickland, Ganske, & Monroe, 2002).

Develop high-level strategic readers and writers
As students engage by reading and writing across the curriculum, they learn to accomplish increasingly complex tasks (Strickland, Ganske & Monroe, 2002).Reading improves writing; writing improves reading; and they both improve language. Instead of learning to read, the focus is on reading to learn.

Informed decision making
Assessment is to improve instruction and benefit students (IRA, 2006). Teachers base instruction on student needs starting with what they know and drawing data from a wide variety of authentic tasks where reading, writing, and language are involved (Winograd, Flores-Duenas, & Arrington , 2003).

Methodology
I would like to propose a case study based on the Theory of constructivism and implementation of best practices through the Frierian method. The study would focus on answering the question: What instructional and classroom practices can a teacher provide to accelerate language and literacy acquisition for second language learners? How does this practice compare to a traditional classroom where instruction and classroom practices are based on the banking concept?This study would include a classroom in an urban elementary school setting with approximately 780 students. The students would range in ages from eight to thirteen and come from a variety of language and cultural experiences. Participants would be second language learners with an emphasis on English acquisition based on Texas Education of Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards.
The students will participate in a reading-writing workshop with integration of content-area curriculum. The students will work on activities individually, with partners, and in whole group with emphasis on meaningful activities and communication. The teacher and students will participate in equal partnership roles relying on cognitive acts and communication.
Data will be collected before instruction begins, during instruction, and after instruction ends. Before the study, an electronic pre-attitude survey, oral proficiency scores and the previous year’s TAKS scores will be documented as a beginning point of reference. During the study, data from the teacher’s anecdotal records, teacher’s lesson plans, written response journals, district benchmark scores, and recordings of student discussions will be collected. After the study, TAKS scores, oral proficiency scores, TELPAS data, and a post-attitude survey will be collected. The designated time of study would run from October to May. With the accumulative data, a n examination of language and literacy acquisition, along with student attitudes towards learning will be examined.

References
Allington, R. (2006). Kids need to develop thoughtful literacy. What Really Matters forStruggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs (pp.109-139). Boston:Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
Cummins, J. (1994). The acquisition of English as a second language; In K. Spangenberg-Urbschat, & R. Pritchard (Eds.), Kids come in all languages: Readinginstruction for ESL students (pp.36-62). Newark, Delaware: International ReadingAssociation.
Diamond, B.,& Moore, M. (1995). Generating meaning through writing experiences with multicultural literature. Multicultural literacy: Mirroring the reality of the classroom (pp. 132-167). White Plains, NY: Longman.
Freire, P.(1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group. International Reading Association. Second language literacy instruction: A position statement of the International Reading Association. Retrieved June 20, 2006 from http://www.reading.org/downloads/position/ps1046_second_language.pdf
Krashen, S.(1985). The input hypothesis: Issues and implications. New York: Longman.
Kluth, P.,& Straut, D. (2001). Standards for diverse learners. Educational Leadership, (September), 43-46.
Mazzoni, S., & Gambrell, L. (2003). Principles of best practice: Finding the common ground; In L. M. Morrow, L. B. Gambrell & M. Pressley (Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction (2 ed.) (pp. 201-238). New York: Guilford Press.
National Writing Project & Nagin, C. (2006). Because Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Our Schools. SanFrancisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Paris, S.G., & McEvoy, A.P.(2000). Harmful and enduring effects of high-stakes testing. Issues in Education, 6(1/2), 145-160.
Poplin, M.(1988). Holistic/constructivist principles of the teaching/learning process: Implications for the field of learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 21, 401-416.
Pransky, K., & Bailey, F.(2002). To meet your students where they are, first you have to find them: Working with culturally and linguistically diverse at-risk students. Reading Teacher, 56(4), 370.
Shepard, L. A. (1991). Negative policies for dealing with diversity: When does assessment and diagnosis turn into sorting and segregation? In E. H. Hiebert (Ed.), Literacy for a diverse society: Perspectives, practices, and policies (pp. 279-298). New York: Teachers College Press.
Strickland, D., Ganske, K., & Monroe, J. (2002). Instructional frameworks for focused intervention; In Supporting Struggling Readers and Writers: Strategies for Classroom Intervention 3-6 (pp.41-55). Portland, Maine: International Reading Association.
The National Council of Teachers of English. (2006). NCTE position paper on the role of the English teachers in educating English language learners (ELLs). Retrieved June 20, 2006 from http://www.ncte.org/about/over/positions/category/div/124545.htm?source=gs
Vogt, M. & Shearer, B.(2003). Addressing issues of culture and language; In Reading Specialists in the Real World (pp. 121-136). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Winograd, P., Flores-Duenas, L., & Arrington, H. (2003). Best practices in literacy assessment. In L. M. Morrow, L. B. Gambrell & M. Pressley (Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction (2 ed.) (pp. 201-238). New York: Guilford Press.

Literature Review

The swinging motion of the pendulum gathers momentum as educators and policymakers search to find the “right fix” to make American children literate and more competitive in the world market. To compound the issue, the demographics of American school children have changed with five million English language learners (ELLs) enrolled in U.S schools (NCTE, 2006). Additionally, business leaders express disdain over high school graduates joining the workforce without the necessary skills to get a job done. As a result, President George W. Bush signed The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001. The NCLB Act was designed to provide the needed change by leveling the educational playing field for all children regardless of diversity and income by raising standards and providing monetary allocations based on student achievement (Winograd, Flores-Duenas, & Arrington, 2003). Five years later the children who NCLB was designed to not leave behind are exactly the students who are being left behind-- children who are diverse by culture and language, color, and poverty. Experiences, languages, and cultures have changed not the children. At least one-third of the school age population is nonwhite (Kluth & Straut, 2001).
The weight of federal and state mandates has turned the educational system backward into an unequal system (Paris & McEvoy, 2000). In Texas alone, one hundred thousand minority children dropped out of school as a result of the TAAS test. Minority students have been sorted and segregated by test scores through tracking, admitted to special programs designed for handicapped students, and retained (Shepard, 1991). In contrast, students with high test scores received instruction from teachers with high expectations asking challenging questions, and who prepare for class instruction; whereas, the low-scoring students receive more rote drill and practice from workbook pages. Instead of equalizing the educational opportunities, inequalities have multiplied.Allington (2006) says the teacher is a critical link to successful learning in the classroom. When teachers understand literary learning they can adapt the environment, materials, and methods to fit student needs. The search for knowledge has brought researchers to identify common ground known as “best practices” based on the constructivist theory. Best practices are approaches teachers can use to help all students regardless of diversity or poverty become literate, but are not to be considered a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Teachers should continue to make instructional decisions based on student strengths and weaknesses informed by assessment (Kluth & Straut, 2001; Mazzoni & Gambrell, 2003). The purpose of this literature review is to analyze how children learn and acquire language, along with instructional practices to help children construct and take responsibility for their own understanding and learning (Pransky & Bailey, 2003).
Vygotsky (1978) and Krashen (1985), leading researchers in language acquisition, hold that language occurs in an area between two developmental levels-an actual developmental level and a potential level by social interaction. Vygotsky labels it the “Zone of Proximal Development”. This area of learning, or zone, varies for each child because of history and interaction. As a child interacts with others, language skills gradually build from the native language to the second language (NCTE, 2006). Conversational language skills develop first followed by academic language taking approximately five years or more (Cummins, 1994). The amount of comprehensible input and output is a direct determinant of the development of second-language proficiency (Krashen, 1985).
In addition, Freire (1970) contends the type of social interaction has an effect on acquisition from two different forms of education: banking and libertarian. In the banking concept children are empty vessels or “banks” where “deposits” from the teacher are dropped. There is no real communication since the students only receive, memorize, and repeat information given to them by the teacher. Conversely, a libertarian method provides an equal partnership between a teacher and students relying on cognitive acts and meaningful communication.
The constructivist theory of learning, adopted by specialists in all areas of subject matter, embraces the libertarian education where “the goal of schools is to help students learn new meanings in response to new experiences rather than simply to learn meanings that others have created” (Poplin, 1988). With children coming from culturally different backgrounds, languages, and learning styles; the teacher needs to maintain high standards for all and change the delivery of instruction to address the differences (Jackson, 1994). The constructivist theory accommodates learners by connecting prior experiences with social interaction in order to make sense of the world around them.
Today students have to read and write, but they also have to be good communicators and problem-solvers. Mazzoni and Gambrell (2003) outline some principles of best practices teachers can utilize to direct culturally diverse students to become not only functioning literate members of society but also leaders of tomorrow (National Writing Project & Nagin, 2006).

Learning is Meaningful
In everyday life, people read, write, communicate, and problem-solve in order to perform tasks. The newspaper is read to gather local and world knowledge; grocery lists are written to record what food is to be bought at the store; a phone number is found in the telephone book to call a repairman to fix the refrigerator. Students need opportunities to read, write, speak, and listen for authentic purposes. Significant academic gains are produced with the integration of thinking processes when content learning is paired with language acquisition (Diamond & Moore, 1995; NCTE, 2006; NWP & Nagin, 2006).

Prior knowledge guides learning
Vogt and Shearer (2003) declare “Culture is the lens we look through to see the world” (p123). Culture influences a student’s values, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a variety of social settings. The more a teacher knows about a student’s culture, the better he/she can connect it with school culture and learning. Students use their prior knowledge and experiences to generate meaning when they read and write (Diamond & Moore, 1995). Multicultural literature and process writing activities allow students to activate what they already know to make sense of something new (NCTE, 2006; Shepard, 1991).

Scaffold learning through a gradual release of responsibility model
A teacher’s task is to ensure all students have a point of entry into the learning process (Pransky & Bailey, 2003). Teachers can support the learning process by making the task transparent with sequential steps of instruction, guidance, and support. First, the teacher models what the student needs to learn, then provides encouragement and feedback as the student gradually takes on the learning.

Social collaboration enhances learning
Learning is a social and cultural process (Pransky & Bailey, 2003; NWP & Nagin, 2006). Students learn by interacting with others building on their own language and the language of others (Diamond & Moore, 1995). Jackson (1994) argues that cooperative learning provides a more appropriate match for instruction and learning styles cultivating culturally responsive pedagogy. Reading and writing are means of communication and expression of one’s thoughts. The more opportunities one has to express thoughts and ideas, the clearer they become (NWP & Nagin, 2006).

Learners learn best when they are interested and involved
Students become empowered when they are provided choices to engage in learning (Strickland, Ganske, & Monroe, 2002). The power to choose what book to read, topic to write about, way to respond, and group project to create provides authentic, meaningful, and exciting avenues.

Develop high-level strategic readers and writers
Reading, writing, speaking, and listening, all use cognitive abilities. As students engage by reading and writing across the curriculum, they learn to accomplish increasingly complex tasks (Strickland, Ganske & Monroe, 2002).Reading improves writing; writing improves reading; and they both improve language. Instead of learning to read, the focus is on reading to learn.

Informed decision making
Assessment is used to improve instruction and benefit students (IRA, 2006). Teachers base instruction on student needs starting with what they know and drawing data from a wide variety of authentic tasks where reading, writing, and language are involved (Winograd, Flores-Duenas, & Arrington , 2003). The data informs the teacher when selecting instructional materials, teaching strategies, curricular goals, learning environments, and lesson formats.

The purpose of this literature review was to furnish teachers with knowledge in order to provide an equal education to a diverse population of students. The constructivist theory explained how students acquire new knowledge and language by building on prior experiences supported by best practices for instruction. Best practices help create high-level strategic readers and writers through meaningful activities, social interaction, and active learning across content areas by a teacher who uses a variety of assessment data to scaffold learning.

Critical incident

Each school year new students enter my room with nervous anticipation and eagerness to learn. They come from all over the world speaking other languages than English. My job as an English as a Second Language teacher is to help them become literate in English as quickly as possible. The immediacy is due to high-stakes assessment the educational system in the United States is based on.
One particular student, Tran walked into my classroom with eager slanted eyes, silky black hair and brown skin. Unable to speak a word of English, she had moved to the United States after completing fourth grade in Vietnam. According to the translator, she was at the top of her class in reading, writing, and math, but her parents wanted her to have a better life with many opportunities. I met Tran at the beginning of her fifth grade year. She had completed one school year (repeating fourth grade at her parent’s request), acquired basic communicative skills, and read at a beginning second-grade level. I thought an angel had walked through my door. All teachers dream of having students like her in their classroom. She listened attentively and soaked up learning like a sponge. She never complained and would give a hundred percent at any task given to her. Every night she took library books home to practice reading and wrote long stories in her native language of Vietnamese. Learning filled every desire she had.
But this story does not have a happy ending. Tran was allowed only three years to become literate enough in English to pass a state-mandated test to be promoted to the next grade level, even though previous research studies suggest that it takes six to eight years of instruction in order to reach true fluency in a language.
I read to her; she read to me; we read together. I wrote for her; she wrote for me; we wrote together. I reviewed regular classroom teacher’s lessons with her when she was confused or needed more help. For the entire year we did everything possible to catch her up with her peers.Then she entered sixth grade, her third year in US schools. Every three months I was required to administer a benchmark test to Tran. Every time she was filled with nervous anticipation knowing each test would help decide the fate of her promotion to the next grade level. She worked meticulously and gave it her best effort. Sadly, each time the results came back and her scores were not passing.
Tran and I continued to work together preparing for the final test in April. I designed lessons around her strengths and weaknesses. We worked on good test-taking strategies by eliminating choices, locating two good answers, and marking the best answer. We continued to read and write together. However, time and time again upon reviewing the test I would hear the same words, “I didn’t know what any of the answers meant, so I just guessed”. Or she would ask for clarification on what the words in the questions meant. In the meantime, vocabulary continued to cause difficulty in the content area classes too.
She could read and comprehend. She had proven that numerous times. All in all, vocabulary was the issue. The tests used vocabulary two years above grade level and the reading material in content area had vocabulary she was not familiar with. Even in math, her strongest area, she still needed explanation on some words in the problem to know what mathematical operation to perform. The cards were stacked too high against her.As a teacher I wanted her to be successful. I wanted her to experience the sense of accomplishment for a job well done. I wanted her parents to be proud of her for all the hard work she had endured. Yet the only thing she and her parents saw were failing test scores. They didn’t see the progress she had made in reading and writing ability.
The dragon I am trying to slay is not one of reading competence; it is a dragon where vocabulary and state mandates engulfed the reader. I want to give each child the necessary armor in order for them to win the battle. They need many tools in order to win the fight. As a classroom teacher what can I do to prepare them? How can my instruction and classroom activities send them off to victory?