Finding success in school can be a difficult prospect for students who are native English speakers. English-language learners face an even greater uphill battle as they learn how to speak, read and write in English while also receiving a comprehensive education in other subjects. At the School of Education, talented master’s students in the English as a Second Language (ESL) Dual Endorsement Program recently presented strategies and activities to instill successful English learning at a statewide conference.
Isabella Bartels, Marie Crumpton, Nicole Josemans, Emma Zahren-Newman and Mayzie Zechini attended the Virginia Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (VATESOL) conference on October 21 with the guidance of Katherine Barko-Alva, assistant professor of ESL/bilingual education. This year’s conference theme was Bridging the Divide: Communication, Compassion, and Community for English Learners. The group presented on two concepts important to the ESL world: PIES and oracy.
PIES is an acronym which stands for positive interdependence, individual accountability, equal opportunity, and simultaneous interaction. “PIES is the core of ESL and is the best representation of encouraging oral language production,” said Josemans.
Oracy scaffolds instructional opportunities to increase academic oral language discourse in the classroom. “The topic of oracy is one that we have seen come up again and again in our classwork, and also now in our student teaching placements,” said Bartels. “It’s an important and often undervalued skill for ELs, so we wanted to address it.”
The student group incorporated both ideas through several classroom activities they modeled during their presentation, including a guessing game that required students to explain pictures on headbands to each other. “The game promotes oracy because students are talking with several classmates to find their match, and have to rely on their classmates to explain their image since they can’t see it themselves,” Bartels said.
When asked how the group decided on a presentation topic, Bartels explained, “We based the presentation off lesson plans we created in Dr. Barko-Alva’s classes both last spring and this summer. Our class work is always very applied, and so creating specific lessons and strategies is something we’ve become familiar with.”
“In Virginia, it is not required to be ESL certified although every Virginia teacher will, at some point, have an English-language learner in their classroom. That reality has made me become not just endorsed in ESL, but also an ESL advocate,” said Zechini. After graduation, she hopes to teach in Richmond Public Schools as an ESL-endorsed grade-level teacher or an art educator.
Crumpton added that she believes that “Learning should not be stopped because of language; instead this difference in communication should be viewed as a wonderful asset to the classroom! Studying ESL under Dr. Barko-Alva has influenced the compassion I have while teaching and for all students.”