Teachers learn to bridge the language gap

About 1 in 5 pupils lacks English proficiency

BANNING—Class was held yesterday in the old board room at Banning Unified School District headquarters, but the students were bilingual educators looking to raise their teaching skills to new heights.

Fifteen bilingual instructors, including coordinators, resource teachers and classroom teachers from Riverside and San Bernardino counties, were finishing a week-long seminar on how best to help limited-English-speaking students learn more than just social language skills.

The group spent yesterday sharing ideas and examples of state-of-the-art teaching techniques with such exotic names as “cognitive mapping,” “authentic evaluation,” “sheltered methodology” and “collaborative models. “

Led by UCLA professor Deanne Sobul, the sessions were meant to give participants new tools to help limited-English-speaking students develop higher thinking skills.

The need for modifying traditional bilingual instruction stems partly from California’s demographics, Sobul said, and the fact that 1.2 million youngsters statewide are classified as having limited English proficiency. That amounts to one child out of every 4.5 students in public education.

“That includes 100 different language backgrounds,” Sobul said. “These kids will eventually enter the economy of this state.

For them to acquire the skills they will need to go to college and enter the economy, we need to give teachers methods to get kids’ interest and keep it. ” Traditionally, Sobul said, bilingual educators have not gone into much depth in academic areas with students whose English is below par. The problem, she said, is that most educators were not taught how to present complicated academic concepts in meaningful, comprehensive ways to such students.

Under “Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English,” a program advocated by the state Department of Education, teachers have begun delving deeper into curricula and using innovative techniques to convey their lessons.

“Our purpose is to help teachers and teacher trainers develop the skills they need to help limited-English-proficiency students truly learn the content the same way native-English speakers do,” Sobul said.

A major aspect of that involves hands-on education. Bilingual teachers encourage students to work with charts, diagrams, graphs, illustrations and manipulatives. Teachers are taught special tactics and tricks to create meaningful links between what the student already knows in their native tongue and what they should know in English.

Yolie Finley, bilingual coordinator for the Corono-Norco Unified School District, said the seminar “really focused me” and got her thinking about differences between the old and new approaches toward bilin gual education.

Sobul’s method, Finley said, represents a much more rigorous approach toward teaching academics.

“It sounds trite,” she said, “but it’s just good teaching. “

Added Lilian Jezik, a resource teacher also from the Corona-Norco district, “We’ve all gained in-depth knowledge of how to make content more accessible to students. “

Sobul said she has been holding seminars statewide and attracting significant interest from school districts that have large populations of students with limited English proficiency.

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