Serving English Language Learners

The Curry School has become an even more valuable resource for K-12 schools addressing exploding populations of English language learners (ELLs) since adding Amanda Kibler to the teacher education faculty. Kibler’s research explores the language and literacy development of multilingual adolescents.

Amanda KiblerIn the past five years since arriving at Curry, Kibler has studied home language and literacy practices of Spanish-speaking Latino preschoolers and their parents, multilingual adolescents’ longitudinal writing development, and peer interaction and social networks in linguistically diverse middle school classrooms.

Emergent Bilinguals

“Unfortunately, ELL youth are often viewed through a deficit lens, only in terms of their limited proficiency in English,” Kibler said. Yet, they have a lot to offer. “They come with very rich cultural and linguistic resources, and as many other people have noted, monolinguals can be seen as the ones who are limited, because they know only English,” Kibler said. “In this way, the conversation is shifting to think about ELLs as ‘emergent bilinguals.’”

As she studies effective language learning in the context of mainstream classes that support the learning of both the curriculum content and English, she is also learning how teachers can create a better environment—one recognizing that linguistic diversity in a classroom is a benefit for all students.

It is becoming clear through the research literature, she said, that to become skilled English speakers, ELL students must authentically engage with other English speakers in multiple settings. Merely sitting in a class with experienced English speakers is not enough. Teachers can help by carefully structuring interactions, because not all conversations with peers are the same.

“Scaffolding and modeling are so important in creating environments in which student talk supports both content and language development,” Kibler says.

She is already making an impact on the field nationally, having co-authored a brief from the Understanding Language Initiative titled “Realizing Opportunities for English Learners in the Common Core English Language Arts and Disciplinary Literacy Standards” and a TESOL paper, “Changes in the Expertise of ESL Professionals: Knowledge and Action in an Era of New Standards.” (Read an Ed Week Learning the Language blog post about the latter paper by Lesli A. Maxwell and an overview of it on the  Color in Colorado blog by Diane Staehr Fenner.)

Earning ESL Endorsement

Although Virginia has no specific course requirements for preparing teachers to integrate ELL students into the classroom, the need for these skills continues to grow. Virginia was among the top ten states experiencing the highest ELL population growth in the decade from 2000 to 2010.

To serve this need the Curry School offers a set of online courses for licensed teachers that fulfills Virginia’s requirements for an ESL endorsement. The courses are grounded in the latest research—some were developed by Kibler, herself—and they are taught by Curry School faculty and alumni adjuncts. Class sizes are limited to 20-25 students to cultivate a familiar community of professional learners, who often hail from all across Virginia and have experience with ELL students from a range of geographic origins.

Natasha Heny“The courses are very flexible,” says Natasha Heny (Ph.D. ’13 English Ed), assistant professor and coordinator of our online ELL program. “They are offered at multiple times throughout the year, and there is no set sequence, so teachers can create their own path.”

The Curry School also offers a discounted tuition rate for practicing preK-12 teachers.

Read more about the Curry School’s online courses.

Headline photo by Rosa Mielsch