Step-in teaching model in ESL classes
"I wish I was given these opportunities to learn a second language at such a young age," reflected Elizabeth Weiss, English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at Trailside Elementary. She said the youngest ESL students at Trailside learn English really fast because they start at almost the same place as everybody else.
Students in Mark Etheridge’s kindergarten class at Trailside Elementary were divided into groups of four to six, each group working at a different station. At some stations, students used an auditory system while reading, "Clifford the Big Red Dog," books. At other stations, students manipulated building blocks, colored with crayons, worked at computer stations, or took a snack break. Etheridge, Weiss, and another classroom aide migrated from station to station to help whichever students needed a little extra assistance. Etheridge’s class is a mix of ESL students and traditional students, which is the norm at Park City schools.
Each student is given a home language survey during elementary registration in Park City. If they indicate that a language other than English is spoken in their home, they are given a placement test to determine oral, reading, and writing proficiency in English. It’s at this time that students are selected to be part of the ESL program. McPolin Elementary School ESL teacher Janet Lignugaris-Kraft explained that ESL students fall into one of three categories, based on their language proficiency level determined by the placement tests.
Trailside Elementary School has 64 ESL students out of about 500 students, according to Weiss. Trailside has two, half-time ESL teachers and one full-time aide to meet the school’s ESL needs. Mary Ramirez, the ESL aide at Trailside, is bilingual and does a majority of translation and family outreach.
About 35 percent of the student population at McPolin Elementary is part of the English as a Second Language (ESL) program, according to Lignugaris-Kraft. Most of those students are in McPolin’s youngest grades, kindergarten through second. McPolin has two full-time ESL teachers, along with two full-time ESL aides. Jeremy Ranch Elementary has 50 ESL students enrolled out of about 580 students.
This year, the local elementary ESL programs are focusing on a step-in model, explained Weiss, instead of separating students into different classrooms. Weiss said that ESL teachers and aides spend time in each classroom providing support as needed. Sometimes, classes are working on large projects and students need additional help. This is when ESL staff may provide additional support outside of the classroom, Weiss explained.
Lignugaris-Kraft said that all the teachers at McPolin are working on getting their ESL endorsements, and use specific teaching techniques so all the students in their classes are learning simultaneously. These techniques include using a lot of visuals and hands-on activities in their lessons. Lignugaris-Kraft explained that they frequently use student assessment tools and pay attention to a student’s background to make sure everyone is being challenged academically. The goal of the ESL department is to determine what information and skills a student lacks, and fill-in that information.
PCSD teachers are trained to use, what Weiss called, differentiated instruction methods. Teachers use a variety of teaching methods to present the same material to all students, from those identified as at-risk to talented and gifted. Weiss thinks that teachers at Trailside are capable of meeting the needs of all their students.
One method all Park City elementary schools have implemented is a reading program they call power hour. It is 60 minutes of intensive reading instruction. At this time, students are split into small groups to create a teacher-to-student ratio between one-to-one and one-to-four, explained Lignugaris-Kraft. Students are taught at whatever their reading level is, and additional help with vocabulary is provided at this time.
ESL teachers and aides rotate through all the classrooms to assist during power hour. Power hour is useful because it challenges all students, regardless of whether they’re reading at, above, or below their grade-level, according to Lignugaris-Kraft.
Also, Lignugaris-Kraft said that McPolin receives money through Title 1, which is a federally funded program that awards money to schools based on the socio-economic profile of the surrounding area. She said that McPolin uses Title 1 money to support their reading programs.
Trailside has an hour-long homework club that meets every day after school to provide additional help. The homework club is open to any interested student who wants extra help with their homework. Students can get help at homework club from certified teachers, high school volunteers, and community members who are willing to donate their time.
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Park City officials are preparing to take what is considered to be an important step in protecting the Treasure land from wildfires. City Hall in early June requested proposals from firms interested in the work.