Announcer:

This podcast is produced by Benchmark Education.

Kevin Carlson:

ELs. SIFE. Zombies. Polysemous words. What are these acronyms and terms all about? They're all about best practices for vocabulary development for newcomers and other multilingual learners. I'm Kevin Carlson and this is Teachers Talk Shop.

Dr. Margarita Calderón:

Vocabulary, by the end of first grade, is a predictor of either reading success or reading problems in middle school and high school.

Kevin Carlson:

Dr. Margarita Calderón is a Professor Emerita at Johns Hopkins University and the author of Benchmark Education's RIGOR Program. RIGOR is also an acronym: Reading Instructional Goals for Older Readers. The program is designed for students in Grades 4 through 12 who read at a third grade level or below. Often these students are newcomers and English language learners. Those are the ELs. Sometimes they're categorized as SIFE: Students with Interrupted Formal Education. What about zombies and polysemous words? Those are words that have more than one meaning. Dr. Calderón will get to all of this and more in her conversation with author and educator Patty McGee.

Patty McGee:

Dr. Calderón, so happy to be here with you today and to be able to spend some time talking about practice-oriented instruction, research-based vocabulary instruction for newcomers and multilingual learners. I first am wondering if you could start by sharing just a definition of newcomers and the topology of newcomers and really today, the diversity of newcomers.

Dr. Margarita Calderón:

Yes. Hello, Patty and everyone. It's my pleasure to be here. This is wonderful. I've worked with Benchmark forever, it seems, and so I'm delighted to talk about newcomers and especially the diversity of newcomers. As we all probably know, the term multilingual learners has kind of encompassed the English learner world. And yet within this multilingual learner category, there's a lot of diversity. And so when we think of newcomers, we think of children who are coming and have had very little schooling, maybe two years of school at the most. When they arrive, they are categorized as SIFE - Students with Interrupted Formal Education. And they're the ones that need a lot of assistance, not only with language, but also with literacy and of course, content.

And then there are the other newcomers who are highly schooled and those lined up almost immediately in the gifted programs. So these are newcomers, ELs, that are gifted. Some newcomers, of course, will have learning disabilities or other disabilities, and that's another category. It's very diverse in that sense, but a teacher will probably wind up with other English learners, the long term ELs, those ELs that have been in schools, in U.S. schools since kindergarten or first grade, and in middle school they're still ELs. And so they have missed out on a lot of language and literacy development.

Patty McGee:

It's so important to think about the different newcomers that we will encounter in the classroom. And that kind of detail really gives us a lot more understanding of newcomers and multilingual learners, thank you. So maybe we could also begin talking about some misconceptions that are still alive with vocabulary development for newcomers and multilingual learners. I know that in my own family, when my dad was young, he was not allowed to leave kindergarten until he learned English and has since forgotten all of his German. And I know for sure that that's one of those, as you call them, zombies, right, of multilingual learning. So could you share a few for us to really consider? And I think about this as teachers, we have so much that we use in our repertoire of teaching, but we need to make space for some new concepts to pull in. So when we can think about the zombies, we can make space for those new approaches.

Dr. Margarita Calderón:

The zombies. I love the term that Brian Goodwin came up with in a leadership magazine this month. He describes the zombie ideas as some bad ideas in education that just won't die. All these misconceptions that have been around for years despite the fact that research shows that they don't work. And we have some zombies in multilingual education as well, as you mentioned, sometimes they want to hold the children back, whether it's in first grade, third grade, when it's critical for them to be learning and someone teaching them explicitly the vocabulary that they need. Another zombie is that students have a silent period, and they shouldn't talk from day one or read from day one or write because it might affect them emotionally. Now we see these folks who have gone through training, wonderful educators, teachers’ assistants who have the right tools to make them feel comfortable, a lot of social-emotional support. And yet the newcomers can start talking, reading, and writing from day one.

And that's why we developed RIGOR because we knew that they could do this. We could embed RIGOR into their learning–RIGOR with a small r–without having them take that long period of silence that becomes detrimental. And in my perception, that's one of the reasons why we have so many long term ELs in every school. The majority of ELs are long-term ELs. But it's because there was such a long wait for them to start speaking English, which doesn't make sense. Yeah, that's what I think typically happened.

Kevin Carlson:

After the break, creating an environment and community that supports newcomers and multilingual learners, starting with vocabulary. First, some more information about Benchmark's RIGOR program. Stay with us.

Announcer:

Today, more than half of America's secondary students struggle to read their textbooks, and for newcomers and English language learners, the problem is even worse. But most intervention programs don't target the needs of these older students. The solution is RIGOR from Benchmark Education, a flexible program that empowers students with the literacy skills they need to succeed at their grade level. RIGOR is designed for fourth through 12th grade students who are reading at a third grade level or below. The program was developed by author and literacy expert Dr. Margarita Calderón.

Dr. Margarita Calderón:

What's really at the core of rigor is its comprehensiveness. That's what the teachers like about RIGOR. It's very teacher oriented.

Announcer:

RIGOR's components can be used by both literacy and content area teachers. The program's high interest nonfiction books enable students to build process writing skills and academic oral language. RIGOR supports educators with robust teachers guides, assessment and practice materials, and online components on the award-winning digital platform Benchmark Universe.

Dr. Margarita Calderón:

Teachers love RIGOR because it maps out everything from phonics, the scientific way of teaching reading all the way to text-based writing skills.

Announcer:

Find out more about RIGOR at BenchmarkEducation.com

Patty McGee:

So then right from the get-go, what can we do to create the environment and community that supports newcomers and multilingual learners?

Dr. Margarita Calderón:

Well, we can start with vocabulary. Vocabulary is critically important because the command of a large vocabulary bank in their heads or little heads will definitely set them apart from less successful children. And we know that the average six-year-old comes to school knowing about 8,000 words or a few more, and thereafter learns 3 to 5,000 words per year. By the time they finish elementary, they should have a command of 25,000 words, at least. And by the time they finish high school, it should be 50,000 words in order for them to be successful either in their jobs or and in college. And we also know for a fact, and this is critical, I try to alert all the elementary schools that vocabulary by the end of first grade is a predictor of either reading success or reading problems in middle school and high school. So we know early on and therefore it behooves us to teach as much vocabulary as possible because vocabulary correlates with reading comprehension and reading comprehension correlates with content knowledge, knowing the subjects, what they're learning. And unless they know 90 to 95 percent of the words in a paragraph, in a text, or in a test question, they're not going to really comprehend.

Patty McGee:

Oh, that's big, that's just such important and compelling information that really, obviously, vocabulary is the first place to start. So what are some things that you do then? So if we know we prioritize vocabulary, where do we go from here?

Dr. Margarita Calderón:

Well, we integrate it into everything we do. We don't teach vocabulary as an end in itself. We don't take a long list, then teach words. And we know that they will have forgotten those words by, you know, by Friday. And so it's important to integrate vocabulary into reading, into writing, into everything that we do in a class period. And things like social-emotional learning (SEL) can also be integrated into everything that we do. When students are reading together, that's when they can practice those competencies. When they're writing together, same thing or in vocabulary. So SEL is not something you do at the top of the morning, at the end of the day. It's integrated into all of this so that the newcomers feel safe, feel appreciated, and understood.

Patty McGee:

Wonderful! What else?

Dr. Margarita Calderón:

Well, the vocabulary has to come from the text that the students are reading. As I said, not from long list, but what are the students going to read this class period? And in order to select the words that they need, we need to think, oh, is this word critical to understanding the concept? Or is this word going to appear in a test? Is it critically important to the discipline or the unit? And then the teachers can ask themselves, do I want to hear this word or this phrase when the students are reading with their partners and they're summarizing verbally? And do I want to see it in some written assignment?

Patty McGee:

That's really helpful in determining which words to teach because sometimes we as teachers are just given a whole collection of words that are predetermined. But when we have some say in that, when we especially know our students and especially our multilingual learners, that helps us kind of narrow down and prioritize the words that are the most powerful words for students to learn. Wonderful. So selecting words to teach, using SEL throughout the day, throughout reading, writing and vocabulary. What other ideas do you have for us?

Dr. Margarita Calderón:

Lots of ideas. Do we have three hours?

Patty McGee:

I know, right? So maybe two more ideas that are important for us to keep in mind.

Dr. Margarita Calderón:

Ok. The other thing is that we tend to see teachers focusing on Tier 3 words. Those are the words that are very specific to a subject area. Sometimes they're called academic words, but it's all academic. Every word that happens in a classroom is academic. And so it's not just Tier 3 words that are important. What's really more important are those Tier 2. These are the words in long sentences. Let's say that a teacher wants a student to really understand osmosis. Osmosis is usually nested in these long sentences with a bunch of words over here and a bunch of words over there. If they don't know these words, they won't be able to understand osmosis. And so the Tier 2 words are the ones that are critically important. And there's a whole series of these words that have multiple meanings, transition words, connectors, all of those are important. And of course, the newcomers will need those real easy, basic words. And so that's what we recommend, the focus on the Tier 2 as a selection to teach every day at least five words at the beginning of each period. And that will equate by the end of the year to 3,500 to 5,000 words.

Patty McGee:

Wow! You know, this advice is just so useful because it just feels intuitive to teach the Tier 2 words, but it feels like the Tier 3 words are the trickiest. But when you explain it in the way that you're not going to understand the Tier 3 words, if we don't teach the words that surround them and then thinking about just doing that in a simple way, five words right away before we start anything that adds up to, oh, my gosh, all that vocabulary by the end of the year.

Kevin Carlson:

After the break, Dr. Calderón discusses polysemous words, words with more than one meaning, and shares some final thoughts. Stay with us.

Announcer:

Benchmark Hello! is an eight-week program for newcomers in Grades 3 through 5. Hello! is a unique and comprehensive program that promotes newcomers' conceptual, procedural, and linguistic knowledge. Using a culturally responsive and asset-based approach, Hello! equips newcomers with the oral language they need from day one while supporting their social-emotional needs. Benchmark Hello! is designed to meet the needs of newcomers who have little or no experience with English, may have experienced trauma and upheaval, may or may not have previous schooling, may need extra social-emotional support, and need opportunities to connect with peers and practice social and basic academic English. Learn more at BenchmarkEducation.com.

Patty McGee:

And how about one more idea for us?

Dr. Margarita Calderón:

I'll just mention polysemous words and why it's so difficult for newcomers to understand simple words like 'table'. What is a table? Well, we know that a dinner table or a table where I currently have my laptop on, that's a table. But then a coffee table. Students know what coffee is. They know what a table is. But when you put them together, do they really understand what a coffee table is in comparison to a dinner table? And then in science, so they go from language arts to science and then science is talking about a water table, and so the students are thinking, "What? A table made out of water?" And then they go to another class and now they're talking about a table of contents. So what does that mean? Then they go to math and the teacher says, "Find the value of X on the table." "Oh, but there's nothing on the table here, teacher. I can't find the X." And then finally they go to maybe social studies, and the teacher says, "OK, let's table this discussion." It's just one example of so many polysemous words. They look so easy, you would think that all students know them. But then when we start saying, like with leg, the leg of a journey and break a leg, shake a leg, no leg to stand on, the idioms, all of that becomes very, very difficult. So that's why polysemous words are so important.

Patty McGee:

Wow. So let me just recap what you shared with us before I go on to, I guess, my final question for you. So what you shared with us in supporting multilingual learners and newcomers is that social-emotional learning is not something separate or just set up at the beginning of a period or the beginning of the year and isolated. But it is the oil that greases the wheels, so to speak, that pulls together reading, writing, and vocabulary so that the student feels welcomed and valued. And then you also shared with us some places to start, to begin with vocabulary and knowing that the more vocabulary we teach, the more multilingual learners will learn and the more successful they can be in school. You shared with us what to focus on in vocabulary, that those Tier 2 words taught five at a time at the beginning of the class and how important that can be in the learning of students and how cumulative that is across the year, up to 3,500 words learned across the year if that practice is taken on.

And then finally, and we know this isn't the end, this is just the beginning of the possibilities but the last thing that you brought up and shared with us was really paying attention to the polysemous words, all those words that have more than one meaning and how they can be used in different contexts, especially thinking about multilingual learners who join us in the grade levels that are departmentalized so that teachers need to have some conversations about those polysemous words prior to supporting that multilingual learner, because they can think about the different contexts that those words would be used in their classrooms.

So you really gave us a lot to think about. So I guess as our final question, you've been around the block in this type of teaching, we certainly can say, and I'm curious, what changes have you seen in both newcomers and multilingual instruction and what changes do you anticipate?

Dr. Margarita Calderón:

I was so delighted to have been asked by a school district nearby in Virginia to enter a conversation with the district superintendent, assistant superintendent, psychologists, counselors, elementary director, middle school, high school directors, and, of course, the Office of English Learners. They got together and they will continue to get together to discuss what can we do to set up for this new influx of newcomers that we are expecting and they're already estimating, well this school will have 150, this school will have 80. And so they have come to the conclusion that it has to be a systemic approach. The lonely ESL, ELD teacher cannot do it anymore. The district Office of English Language Learners by itself cannot do it anymore. It's a whole system. We're talking about the health, the well-being of newcomers. It's reaching out to the community, making sure that they can find volunteers to bring in glasses and things that the students are going to need. And it's beyond language. It's beyond language.

And yet the teachers are going to go through extensive comprehensive staff development as a whole school, not just the ESL teachers again, not just the sheltered English teachers, but the whole school, especially in the middle schools and high schools. Every single school, every single teacher, instructional coach, counselors, everybody will be going through something like this, beginning with vocabulary and then moving into how do we teach reading comprehension, how do we teach writing skills within each content area.

Patty McGee:

Wow, that is fantastic, and one thing I know for sure is that when we dig deep into learning more about instruction and support for newcomers and multilingual learners, we are also becoming better teachers of all students. So it helps us really address the challenges that all students face when we dig into the multilingual learner learning that we can do as educators. So it's a win-win for everyone.

Kevin Carlson:

Thank you, Patty. Thank you, Dr. Margarita Calderón, and thank you for listening to Teachers Talk Shop. You can learn more about Benchmark Education's RIGOR program at BenchmarkEducation.com. If you enjoyed learning from Patty's conversation with Dr. Calderón on the show, please tell a colleague about it or share it in your social network.

For Benchmark Education, I'm Kevin Carlson.