Organizing and Assessing in the Content Area Class

Organizing and Assessing in the Content Area Class

by Judith O'Loughlin, Judie Haynes

How do you help mainstream teachers accurately monitor for student comprehension, organize the content class, and design realisitic assesments? These questions will be addressed in this article, which is the second part of "Meeting the Challenge of Content Instruction."

In the first part of this article, Meeting the Challenge of Content Instruction, we discussed how ESL teachers can provide staff development for mainstream teachers in order to help them adapt their curriculum to the language needs of their ESL population. We addressed the areas of advance preparation, teaching techniques and learning strategies. In this second part we will address the following questions:

Monitoring for student comprehension

If you ask second language learners, "Do you understand?" embarrassment causes them to say, "Yes," whether or not they really do comprehend. Although teachers need to check periodically for student comprehension during a lesson, employing a hierarchy of questioning strategies will provide teachers with a better preception of current student comprehension.

Questions should be structured to the ESL students' language ability. Even newcomers can be asked to point to a picture or word to demonstrate basic knowledge. Using visual cues, teachers can ask beginning students to point or simply respond "yes" or "no." As language develops students can respond to "either/or" questions in which the answer is embedded. Finally, they can advance to simple "Wh" questions. Breaking questions into several steps will allow students to retrieve complex information.

By choosing easy questions and structuring the form of the question to current language ability, students will be encouraged to participate in content classes. Some students will participate more readily if they know what questions they will be asked. in advance. This allows the students time to think and prepare responses. At all levels of student ability teachers should be cognizant of the need for "translating time." Second language learners are translating the question into native language, mentally constructing the answer, and then translating back into English to respond.

Teachers need to understand that ESL students should not be overly corrected in front of their peers. The correct response and/or sentence structure should be modeled by the teacher.

Organizing the content class

Teachers should utilize classroom organizational patterns and tools which best help their ESL students to learn content. The following suggestions will help second language learners.

Cooperative learning groups or teams provide the ESL student with varying language and learning style experiences within the content classroom. The student becomes a real member of the content classroom instead of a silent observer.

Teachers can pair peer partners or buddies in a variety of ways. Advanced ESL students can help those peers who are less proficient in English. Same age/grade native English speakers can be paired with non-native speakers. Second language learners can also be paired with buddies or tutors from another grade level classroom.

Community members can greatly enhance the students' learning. Partnerships with high school community service projects can be developed to provide students with after-school help. Bilingual parent volunteers are often willing to tutor students in their native language. Concepts explained first in native language are much easier to learn in English. Senior citizen volunteers and university students are another source of one-on-one instruction.

Designing realistic assessments

English-language learners do not have to be assessed in the same way or with the same testing materials as mainstream students. Tests are not sacred documents or determiners of ESL students' ability. Students with limited English need to be graded on whether or not they are making a sincere attempt to understand the content material at their current level of English language ability.

ESL teachers may need to initiate the accommodations mentioned below by helping design suitable assessments for their students. Once mainstream teachers see how much their ESL students are learning, they will be more motivated to provide alternative assessments. Some testing accommodations can include:

Connecting with the content classroom and fostering positive relationships by working with mainstream teachers as professional partners, is crucial to the success of second language learners in content area classrooms. Forming these professional partnerships requires additional time and work on the part of both the ESL and mainstream teachers, but this endeavor will be well worth the extra effort. Your English language learners will reap the benefits o f these professional relationships. It is hoped that the suggestions above will encourage ESL teachers to take the first steps toward this goal.

This article originally appeared in the print edition of TESOL Matters (June/July, 1999).

Related Links

Challenges for ELLs in Content Area Learning
Do you want to help classroom teachers in your school with their English language learners? Begin by understanding the challenges ELLs face in their content area learning.

Understanding Second Language Terminology
Do you need to teach ESL methodology to your mainstream teachers and administrators? There are some essential terms that they need to know in order to understand basic second language acquisition theory.

Teach to Students' Learning Styles
It is especially crucial to take your students' learning styles into account when you are teaching English language learners. This articles gives a brief description of each style and how you can teach to it.

Graphic Organizers for Content Instruction
Graphic organizers make content area information more accessible to second language learners. They convert complex information into manageable chunks. Download graphic organizers from this page.

How to Develop Questioning Strategies
Involving English language learners in the discussions in their content area classes can be frustrating if teachers do not develop strategies for asking questions.

Tips on Communicating
Show your school's mainstream teachers and students how to communicate with your newcomers from the very first day.

Meeting the Challenge of Content Instruction
Discover how the standards movement currently sweeping the US will have a positive impact on the education of ESL students, while also presenting instructional challenges to ESL and mainstream professionals.

SIOP: Making Content Comprehensible for ELLs
The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) was developed to make content material comprehensible to English Language Learners. This model is the result of the work of Jana Echevarria, MaryEllen Vogt and Deborah J. Short.

Resource Picks

Making Content Comprehensible for English Language Learners
Making Content Comprehensible for English Language Learners is a book about the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP). This book is by Jana Echevarria, MaryEllen Vogt and Deborah J. Short. It is an important reference if you want to teach classroom teachers to use content-based ESL instruction methods.

About the Authors

Judith O'Loughlin recently retired as a K-8 ESL teacher in Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J. She is a Past President of NJTESOL/NJBE and an e-list monitor for the Elementary Interest Secection of TESOL. Judy has presented numerous workshops in New Jersey and at TESOL.

Judie Haynes is a former ESL teacher, author and professional development provider.