Professional development for ELL teachers changes teaching and learning for all

Professional development for ELL teachers changes teaching and learning for all

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Education granted the IU School of Education at IUPUI $1.5 million dollars to form a partnership between the School of Education and the Indianapolis Public Schools, funding a project to better prepare new teachers, develop skills of current teachers, and revise college faculty teaching methods for teaching English language learners. Fifty-five elementary, middle, and secondary teachers from three schools took part in addition to the 29 faculty members in teacher education. The project directed by associate professor of language education Annela Teemant is beginning to report data, and the signs are encouraging. “It’s changing how they teach every child,” Teemant said. “These standards have been shown to be pivotally important for English language learners, but they work for all learners.”

The key is instruction based around 5 standards for effective pedagogy. The standards promote use of collaborative products and activities, emphasizing language and literacy development, placing the learning in context students can understand, creating challenging activities, and teaching through conversations with the students. Teachers avoid a “stand and deliver” lecture. Teemant worked with a designated “coach” who met with teachers 7 times across the school year to conduct “instructional coaching,” emphasizing teachers’ work to transform their classroom methods and curriculum. “And what we’re seeing is dramatic transformation in the classroom,” Teemant said.

Before the program, participating elementary teachers spent two-thirds of classroom time in lecture mode—a large group configuration. “Only 25 percent of the time were students actually asked to read, write, speak,” Teemant said. “So in those conditions, it’s very hard for a student to gain English proficiency.” After a year of coaching, teachers spent 83 percent of their time in small groups—ones emphasizing the effective pedagogical standards. Following up a year after the change, the elementary teachers—measured on a quantitative scale—still maintained the new method.

Teemant said sustaining the changeover has been a little more difficult at the secondary level and preliminary data indicates more coaching sessions may be needed for high school teachers. While the methods are generally tied to better student achievement, specific findings from this study are still to come.

This video introduces some of the teachers at Meredith Nicholson Elementary (IPS #96) in Indianapolis, who talk about how the program has positively influenced or completely changed their teaching methods. You’ll see one of the first meetings of the teachers when the program began, hear the teachers’ thoughts about what it might mean and what it’s become. Teemant speaks about how this professional development program may evolve.