North Penn takes new approach to teaching EnglishThursday, January 24, 2013
By Jennifer Lawson
The most common non-English native languages are Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Gujarati, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese, according to Marilyn Loeffler, coordinator of English as a Second Language and Sheltered Instruction and Observation Protocol.
Some languages are so obscure, they’re spoken by only one or two students.
“There are many, many dialects within the continent of Africa, and many within India as well,” Loeffler said.
Families emigrate to the North Penn area for a variety of reasons, Loeffler said, including better educational opportunities and medical care.
The district will also get an influx of students from certain areas depending on what’s happening in the world.
“For example, when Egypt was going through unrest in the past few years, we saw an increase in students from Egypt,” said Donna DeTommaso-Kleinert, a 29-year veteran of the district who currently teaches at Penndale Middle School.
Not only do students need instruction in learning English, they also must be able to understand their mainstream content courses, such as science and social studies, which is often a bigger challenge, Loeffler said.
As a result of a $1.7 million Keystones to Opportunities grant, the district is expanding its practice of Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, which is a framework for planning and delivering instruction in content areas to non-native English speakers.
Last summer, 30 teachers — both ESL as well as content teachers — were trained in SIOP.
Due to the popularity of this approach to teaching, another 60 teachers will be trained this summer.
The principle behind SIOP is language is gained faster while learning content, because the language is placed in context and used in meaningful ways.
Using a planning framework, teachers modify the way they teach so the language they use to explain concepts and information is comprehensible to non-native English speakers.
“By sheltering, it’s sheltering them from failure,” Loeffler said. “It’s giving them the skills they need to understand what is happening in their content classroom. Reading and writing isn’t just used in reading and writing classes. It’s taking these skills an English teacher uses and bringing it across the board.”
A teacher that uses SIOP has more interaction with the students, Loeffler said, noting that sitting back and listening is not an effective way to develop language.
For example, a teacher might ask the students to look at the person next to them and explain a concept.
“A key concept of SIOP is the phrase, ‘You need to verbalize to internalize.’ If you can verbalize it, say it, explain it, it’s part of your being. If you can’t explain it, you’re never going to be able to get it.”
A teacher who practices SIOP will have clearly defined objectives for every lesson, DeTommaso-Kleinert said.
Then the teacher will “put scaffolding in place,” such as providing background information, showing pictures and graphs.
Students will often work in small groups, as well as independently.
SIOP methods aren’t just for non-native English speakers — they can be used in all classrooms.
“We’ve seen a lot of success [with SIOP] across the board,” DeTommaso-Kleinert said.
Non-native English speakers are in ESL classes for three or four years, on average, Loeffler said.
To test out, they must pass a state exam demonstrating English fluency.
North Penn School District students will be taking the test from Jan. 28 through March 1.
The results will be available in the summer, Loeffler said. This could be a way for the district to assess the effectiveness of SIOP.