June 26, 2012
Are Focus in Teacher-Led Project on Common Core
Lesli A. Maxwell
A select group of 1st, 4th, and 8th grade teachers in Albuquerque,
N.M., are in the middle of a major project to develop specific
lessons and methods for teaching the new, more-rigorous common
core standards in English/language arts to English-language
learners. These teachers are doing the kind of concrete, nitty
gritty work that I suspect scores of their colleagues across
the country are hungry for as more states and districts move
into the era of putting the common standards into practice in
Albuquerque project is a unique collaboration of the local teachers
union, the American Federation of Teachers national union, and
Colorín Colorado, a bilingual website that offers comprehensive
resources on English-language learner issues to educators, parents,
policymakers, and the general public. Colorín Colorado
is an educational service provided by WETA, the public television
broadcaster in the Washington region.
group brought in Diane August, a language acquisition researcher
and a former teacher of English-learners, to advise them. The
local unionthe Albuquerque Teachers Federationhas
a two-year, $266,000 grant from AFT's Innovation Fund to support
at AFT's headquarters in Washington, Ms. August presented some
of the work that the Albuquerque teachers have already done
to a small audience of union leaders, language acquisition experts,
advocates for ELLs, and federal education officials. The teachers
will be putting the lessons they've developed into practice
this fall and their efforts will be videotaped and shared on
the Colorín Colorado website.
August highlighted the steps that the group took to develop
a lesson around a text for 8th grade English language arts:
The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin.
teachers settled on that short story, written at the turn of
the 20th century, only after first choosing several other texts
that Ms. August said were "about three grade levels below"
what they needed to be for 8th graders. Selecting texts that
are below grade level is too often a problem, especially for
English-learners, she said.
second step in developing the lesson was identifying the types
of supports that ELLs would need to understand this particular
August advised the teachers to start with a "very strong
mainstream lesson" that would be taught to non-ELLs and
then "back up" to figure out what supports ELLs would
need to gain full understanding. She emphasized that "there
is no packaged program to do this," and that any lesson
that teachers develop will require a great deal of time, attention,
and care to adapt it for English-learners.
the first read-through of the Chopin text, the teachers will
ask English-learners to answer basic questions about the story,
and will show those answers visually in a Power Point presentation
to help them understand, and reinforce, the meaning of the text,
she said. Also, she said, the teachers designed a simple graphic
organizer to help ELLs understand who the characters are in
the story and their connections to each other.
a second read of the text, Ms. August said the teachers will
carefully select high-frequency words that recur in this story
as well as other texts as a strategy to teach vocabulary. One
example: the word "reveal." Teachers will provide
a definition, as well as synonyms in Spanish (assuming that's
the primary language of the ELLs) to help students understand
teachers have offered those various supports for ELLs to understand
what's happening the story, Ms. August said they will turn to
higher-level "guiding questions" to get a deeper discussion
going about the text.
size up how well the students have grasped the story, Ms. August
and the teachers devised a formative assessment that divides
them into small groups, has them review the guiding questions,
asks them to summarize a section of the text in their own words,
and requires them to create a visual tableau of their summaries
and photograph them before presenting them to the rest of their
keeps them very engaged," she said.
this lesson, and the others that are in the works, emerged from
collaboration, Ms. August said. Before that, the teachers "had
started with nothing."
hope to get out to Albuquerque this fall to write about the
teachers putting their new lessons into practice.