$1.8 Million Federal Grant Expands ESL Program for Teachers
May, 2012A new federal grant will allow the University of Arkansas to expand a program that led to 90 Springdale teachers receiving endorsement in English as a second language. With the new funding, six additional school districts will take part in the next five-year cycle of the $1.8 million grant from the office of language acquisition in the U.S. Department of Education.
Teachers who earn endorsement in English as a second language from the Arkansas Department of Education are specially qualified to teach English language learners in all content areas and at all grade levels. ESL endorsement is an additional licensure area that teachers can add to their teaching licenses.
Janet Penner-Williams, an assistant dean for academic affairs and assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education and Health Professions, wrote the grant proposal with Diana Gonzales Worthen, director of Project Teach Them All, the partnership with the Springdale School District. The expanded program, also to be directed by Gonzales Worthen, will be called Project RISE – Realizing and Increasing Student Excellence.
Another 90 to 100 teachers in the Bentonville, Decatur, Farmington, Fayetteville, Gravette, Prairie Grove and Springdale districts will take courses leading to ESL endorsement under the new proposal. The courses will be delivered in the schools where the teachers work.
Throughout the program, Gonzales Worthen will coach teachers on new strategies that will be immediately implemented in the classroom, and she will train teachers as advocates for culturally and linguistically diverse students. Those teachers who complete the program will be mentors and leaders at their schools.
Penner-Williams said teachers and administrators in other districts called Gonzales Worthen while she was working with teachers at 12 schools in the Springdale district. They wanted to know how they could take part in the ESL program.
"The success of the first grant created demand for Project RISE," Penner-Williams said.
"Word gets around when you have a model that works," Gonzales Worthen said. "This new grant allows us to continue to serve some of the districts in Arkansas with the highest populations of culturally and linguistically diverse students and to reach out to several rural school districts."
The program will again replicate a model created by a team at Kansas State University, which Penner-Williams and Gonzales Worthen describe as a research-based professional development program for in-service teachers that results in improved classroom instruction for English language learners.
The two women have presented information based on Project Teach Them All at the national, regional, state and local levels. Two book chapters, a monograph and several articles have been published describing the program and its results.
"Research from classroom observations showed that teachers in the program utilized more appropriate strategies for English language learners than did teachers who did not have the training," Penner-Williams said.
Focus groups conducted this spring with teachers from Springdale who took part in Project Teach Them All during the past five years indicated they preferred it, when compared to the traditional university-based or summer intensive ESL programs, for several reasons: they could put what they learned into practice immediately in class, one course each semester fit well into their teaching loads, and the professional learning communities that were part of the program allowed them to learn from their peers about how to adapt the strategies to various grade levels and content areas.
"They said the program was more thorough and gave them time to practice strategies and get to know other teachers using them," Penner-Williams said. "They also liked the aspects of camaraderie and collaboration."
Penner-Williams and Gonzales Worthen believe the program offers broad policy implications.
"In the future, this model can be delivered across the state utilizing distance learning and impact student achievement of English language learners across Arkansas," they wrote in the grant proposal.