Bethanne Patrick: It takes a lot of work to teach young English Language Learners well. Learn more about effective training and professional development in this segment of the Colorin Colorado webcast, preschool for English Language Learners.
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Bethanne Patrick: Hello. I’m Bethanne Patrick. In the previous segments of this webcast, we discussed language and academic instruction for young English Language Learners or ELLs. In this segment, we’ll talk about what it takes to make that good instruction happen. Welcome, Dr. Becky Palacios.
Becky Palacios: Thank you.
Bethanne Patrick: Thanks for being here. You taught young children for more than 30 years. What skills and qualities does a preschool teacher of ELL’s need to succeed?
Becky Palacios: Well, you need a quality professional development. Many people start out and they become really good strong early childhood teachers that they really don’t have the training to become teachers of English Language Learners, so an important component is professional development if they’re already in the classroom. Many seek to go back and get a certification, but many can’t. So what we need to do, as schools and school systems, is support the teachers in the classrooms already that are using increasing numbers of professional development seminars to develop ideas on how to teach those children to use strategies and instruction that are appropriate for that population of children.
Bethanne Patrick: What are some of the challenges that preschool ELL teachers face on a daily basis?
Becky Palacios: Well, a lot of the challenges are; one, not being able to communicate with the families or communicate with the children, and that’s one of the most difficult pieces because, then you can’t communicate with a child in another language. You don’t know exactly where they are, cognitively or language-wise, so those are some of the challenges that are huge at the very beginning. Where do I begin? How do I start? What can I do? And part of that is reaching it with families using people in – that are in your community or in your school that can remain part of your team that you can trust, your counselor, your school nurse, your assistant principal or principal that can help provide some of that training the teacher needs to be able to sustain that learning and growth in the classroom.
Bethanne Patrick: How does a preschool program recruit and retain the educators that can best meet the needs of the ELLs?
Becky Palacios: Well, again, it all begins with appropriate types of training. You just can’t put any teacher in to work with English Language Learners. You have to have someone that’s highly-trained and highly-skilled and using appropriate strategies and knowledge of child learning and development when it comes to language acquisition in that classroom. So to be able to recruit them, you need to either home grow them, use them in your school, or you need to recruit them from programs that are graduating those types of students. For example, one of the things that we did in our school is that, as students’ teachers came to me in my classroom, I was able to mentor them and work with them in the classroom, but then one of the things that the university did well was to go ahead and leave them there for their student teaching year. They were able to either continue in that same year or then the following year, learn from me or from the teachers that were there with in the second year, learn about that school community. And we could do on-the-job kinds of training, so when they graduated, they were able to be hired back into our school and use that second language learning knowledge of how children grow and develop in that school community they were already familiar with.
Bethanne Patrick: Very, very smart. Let’s imagine a preschool program with a growing ELL population and limited ELL experience. As more of the ELLs enroll, how does the program address this transition effectively?
Becky Palacios: Well, it all begins, I think with the administrator because, if there are children coming in with special populiticous [Phonetic], special needs, then the school and the administrator needs to be fully versed in what to do and what resources to go seek. So I’ve worked with those types of school systems before and what they have done is they have gone to either the state agency, or they’ve gone to a university and said, look, this is what I’m facing. How do I get training from my teachers? What can I do? What are some of the resources available? And people like me have gone out as teachers leading other teachers in the classroom and working with them on a professional development component that is sustainable over time, because you can’t just go in and do, here’s the training, okay, we’re done. It’s something that needs to occur for that professional over time as well, to be able to make sure that they’re using appropriate strategies as situations change, how to work with families, how to work with programs, how to work with students.
Bethanne Patrick: Excellent. What are the roles of different members of the school community while making this kind of transition?
Becky Palacios: Well, all the school community use to be fully aware of who your population is. So you need to know the culture. You need to know who are those parents they facing, whether or not those parents have had any schooling, no schooling, are fearful of the American school system. Who is your population? So you begin with that type of maybe formal or informal survey of the people that you’re going to be working with because, I think one of the hardest things is to make everything generic. You don’t want to do that. I think that’s the easy fix, rather. You could just say, okay, these are English Language Learners all the same but, in reality, everybody has a different type of experiential background. Every single person is coming to you with certain fears, certain needs, certain wants, certain expressions of expectations for that school, so everyone in that school community needs to be very supportive, whether it’s a nurse because the children have some medical issues, or the librarian, or the counselor. ? professionals who play a huge role in that classroom. Sometimes, those ? professionals are the only person in that classroom who speak the native language. So they are an important bridge to the parent community. And they need to be highly-trained as well, to be able to sustain those types of communication links and to make them positive and welcoming and warm and nurturing.
Bethanne Patrick: You’ve been addressing this, but let’s talk a little bit about how program leaders can build staff confidence while working with young ELLs.
Becky Palacios: Well, I know one of the things that we’ve done before is begin with team building because, if you don’t support the program and you don’t support the changes that it’s making, it’s going to be really hard to be part of that program, and that’s one of the things that I see. Change is very hard for people. Very hard. We’re used to teaching the same way, do the same things over and over but, we forget we are changing. Technology has changed. I mean, five years ago, my cell phone was very different and things are changing exponentially for children when it comes to science and technology. So, if we can remember; that we can’t always teach the same way we’ve always taught; that the populations that are coming to us may not always be the same population that we’ve had in our school; that we need to research and find out what needs they have, how we can better meet those needs. After all, they’re our clients. They are our customer. So we are accountable to the needs of the children, and the needs of the families in that community. And we can only do that by team building, and be accepting.
Bethanne Patrick: What can the staff do to create and maintain high expectations for the young learners themselves?
Becky Palacios: Well, I think it all begins with the discourse between the teacher and the parent. And it’s just not a top-down kind of thing but in a two-way street kind of discussion. So maintaining high expectations and explaining to them the goals of the program, what you want them to do when it comes to the support at the home, and what they expect me to do when it comes to the support in the school because, everything to me, is not about me. It’s about who the child is and what that child needs and what the family needs. So we have to stop and think about that in ways that we can communicate with the families and say, you know, what strengths do you have at home? What can you help in, in the school? And what are ways that we can find ways that you can learn about the school system? But yet we’re helping you, you know, come in and help us to teach the children in the classroom.
Bethanne Patrick: What kind of ongoing professional development is needed for the staff while they’re dealing with this transition?
Becky Palacios: There’s so many types of professional development when you’re working with English Language Learners. One of the main things that I find teachers say is I really need to know what to do. What do I do? I have these materials already. Do I need more? What do I do? So first step in professional development is just learning about a different program model. You may not always be teaching to just English-speaking children. You’re going to be working with English Language Learners, which is the same content but a different skill set. So how do I deliver this instruction, make that input comprehensible? What do I need to do to slow down my speaking notes? Speak real fast? Then the classroom, very slow, very deliberate in how I present and how I use visuals and how I use gestures and how I point and show things or use puppets, and so learning those types of strategies is what I do teach for teachers and telling them these are the things you have to do to make your program successful now. You just have to use different strategies. It’s the same content. It’s just delivered a little bit differently.
Bethanne Patrick: In general, what kinds of professional development do preschool ELL educators need?
Becky Palacios: Well, they need to know, basically, about the population, about the children, about the culture, about the diversity. How to bring in resources and books that display – especially books – children in a variety of situations because, the children that are coming in need to know about themselves, how they fit in, in the school environment, and how they see themselves portrayed in literature. So using those types of resources, their professional development for them, needs to know; how do I use these strategies? Where can I find them? Where can I go and look for them? And, of course, again, colorincolorado.org is one of the best ways to find what those are and what the pieces are that are missing if they want to do personal types of professional development. But sitting with the administrator making long-range goals and plans of this is year one, year two, year three of this transition program of how we develop these types of activities and strategies over time because again, those teachers will need practice. It doesn’t happen overnight. It needs some really well-thought out sustained plan of implementation.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, what about their development in language and content areas?
Becky Palacios: Well, and that’s an important piece depending on the program that we spoke again about before, whether or not it’s a dual language, a bilingual, or an ELL program. The teacher needs to know which is going to be best. Which is the one that I’m implementing. How am I going to deliver this best? What do I need to do to create lessons that are comprehensible for children? How do I write my lesson plans out differently? How do I create activities and materials that are going to help the children, not just in the classroom, but at home, because that home environment is going to be very important to sustain native language growth so that they can foster their growth in English.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, why is it so important for preservice and new ELL teachers to have a good mentor?
Becky Palacios: Well, when you’re talking about all those different strategies and skills that I think doesn’t happen overnight, if you have a teacher in a preservice teacher in the classroom, which I’ve had before, it really opens their eyes that first year. There’s no way they’re going to implement all that right away because there’s so much coming at them. There’s so many things to know and do. So leading them, helping them in the classroom, using examples, being the mentors, saying, now watch what I’m going to do and pick out three strategies that I used. And so as I delivered the lesson, we would debrief and say, okay, explain to me what I did? Why do you think I’ve chose those? What was the population of children? Why did I tailor it that way? Why didn’t I choose this instead? So having a preservice teacher go through that the first year is crucial, then when they’re student teachers, they can really start to themselves, implement those and it kind of turns out the other way, then it’s my turn. Well, why did you choose that? Why did you choose this strategy? Why was that important to that population of students?
So then they become the ones that are doing the actual teaching and you’re questioning them and helping them. You modeled for them and work with them, and so having that type of second and third-year scaffold for them is important, and then when they become first-year teachers, having an actual mentor who can ask you questions, well, how’s it going? How are you doing? We lose those teachers the first three years of teaching because they don’t have mentors, and they don’t have support, they don’t have someone to call and talk to, and that’s huge. You need to have that link with the veteran teacher.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, so walk us through some steps, if you would, of how a mentor guides a new teacher.
Becky Palacios: Well, one of the things that they do is they talk about what is this plan? What is the curriculum? Who were the children? And so in mentoring and guiding teachers first of all, it’s incumbent upon me to model. I model what is good practice. We look at the research. We look at the standards that are available in the disciplinary areas. We look at the curriculum. And we ask a lot of, I ask a lot of questions and say, why is this important? So I’m modeling. And then mentoring is also about them demonstrating what they’ve learned in practice, using that and questioning them and having them reflect and keep a journal every day of what they’re doing, what they’re writing and what the difficulties are, and so in the mentoring capacity, to me, it’s again, over time. You don’t want to lose them. I still have contact with student teachers that are five-year experienced teachers that still call me and say, what do I do? This is what happened, you know, so when you have this type of experienced teachers sustaining new teachers, we find that we don’t lose them as quickly.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, who were your mentors?
Becky Palacios: Well, I actually had some really good mentors when I first started teaching back in the seventies. There was a program that was called “Follow-through”, was the other component of “Head-Start”. And we had teacher mentors that would come in and teach and model for us different types of lessons. Then we’d come back and watch us afterwards. So I had really good strong models at the very beginning from teacher mentors that were paid to come in and model for us appropriate bilingual teaching strategies and skills.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, is there a teacher you mentored who stands out in your memory?
Becky Palacios: Well, I have quite a few because they have been very successful. But I have one that I had about three years ago, and her name is Denise Calera and she was also featured in another series that we did, but she was in one of my preservice teachers. She was a student teacher, and she was also the parent of one of my students. She was one of our community parents. And she was just so gung-ho about working with second language learners, English Language Learners. And she has made a great impact on the first year of her kindergarten year that she taught her first school teaching year. She was actually featured in our city newspaper as the beginning teacher, and they followed her throughout the year to see how she was surviving, and how she was doing. It was a wonderful program. And they gave other teachers the impetus to say, I can do it. And then she started her own dual language program just this past year at a new school in a pre-K program. So, basically, the seeds that we planted have now grown in a different place. So I’m very excited for her and the hard work that she’s doing with her co-teaching partner.
Bethanne Patrick: That’s wonderful. Thanks so much, Becky.
Becky Palacios: You’re welcome.
Beth: We’ve come to the end of this segment but there’s still more of this discussion to come. Please join us for Part 4 of this webcast when we’ll discuss parent outreach and engagement. You can learn more about English Language Learners and watch other segments of this web cast at www.colorincolorado.org.
[Background Music] Funding for this Colorin Colorado webcast is provided by The American Federation of Teachers. Additional support from The National Council of La Raza.
Dr. Palacios discusses professional development for preschool programs that have new ELL populations, as well as the benefits of teacher mentoring.