JPS, BOCES Collaborate To Help English Language Learners Excel

Washington Middle School seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher DeeDee Schuver is using new strategies in her classroom to help English Language Learners (ELL) excel. Schuver, who teaches beginning and intermediate ESL students, is using strategies taught and modeled by the coordinators from the Regional Bilingual Education – Resource Network (RBE-RN) West based at Erie 1 BOCES. Lisa Eppolito, RBE-RN coordinator, is in the Jamestown Public School district once a week to work with ESL and content area teachers.

One way Schuver has introduced a new ELL strategy is a vocabulary concept chain, which had both ESL and non-ESL seventh-grade math students compare how math terms are related and provide examples when given a graphic organizer. The language objective was for student to be able to write a summary sentence showing how math terms, and those concepts behind the terms, are related.

Eppolito first modeled the activity for the students, then, they worked in small groups to not only talk about the math vocabulary like simplify or order of operations, but also to discuss with their peers and work collaboratively to use the math word in one- to two-word sentences and how the words relate to each other. Finally, students complete a poster-sized vocabulary chain and summary sentences of the math vocabulary.

“The goal is to get ESL students interested in language through reading, writing, listening and speaking,” said Schuver. “I have always been used to having math objectives, but now I am also focusing on language objectives. Part of the strategy with ESL students is the 20-60-20 rule. Twenty percent of the class should be the teacher modeling the behavior or input, 60 percent of the time is student working collaboratively and talking with their peers, or intake. The last 20 percent is the actual finished projects or student output, in this case, the actual poster vocabulary chain. As a teacher, it is great to have Lisa come into the classroom and actually model the different ESL strategies that work in the classroom. I’ve learned a lot about the best way to teach my content area to ESL students, and I have found to my surprise that it also is really effective with the non-ESL students too. I used to not call on the ESL students because I didn’t want to embarrass them in front of the class, but by working in small groups with their peers it gives them a comfort level that helps them learn.”

Eppolito’s work in teacher classrooms is just one of the many ways she is helping JPS students and staff. The Regional Bilingual Education-Resource Network (RBE-RN) West is part of a statewide system of support funded by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to enhance the knowledge and competencies of educators, parents and community members for promoting the academic excellence of limited English proficient/English language learners (LEP/ELLs) in New York state schools. It is their goal to provide the highest quality technical assistance, professional development and resources to ensure success for English language learners.

“Mrs. Eppolito is a resource for our teachers both ESL and content area to help them look at data, use the data to influence instruction in the classroom, model good ESL strategies and perform professional development workshops,” said ESL Coordinator Tamu Reinhardt. “She is a wonderful expert and resources in ESL that the district can utilize to help our students.”

Eppolito shares the “how-to’s” helping to change teachers’ practices and impact professional development in the classroom. She not only shares the process verbally, but gives the teachers the ability to see it “in action” by modeling the strategies. She also works with PLC groups at various schools to help integrate ESL and ELL into the collaborations.

“Teachers who implement peer interaction in their classroom have noticed an increase in student performance. My goal is to help teachers put into practice peer interaction to support the student intake of new content and language,” said Eppolito. “ELLs require time to orally rehearse and practice their developing language. The strategies we use are good for all students, as supported by years of research. In our field, literacy strategies are not only ‘good,’ they are essential and necessary for ELLs to develop language.”