English language students inspire new learning strategies for the classroom

English language learners are a growing and vital component of the American classroom.

In southern California, educators found that the strategies used to teach children a new language were beneficial for all kinds of learners – from the low-achieving to the gifted. The program GLAD — Guided Language Acquisition Design — was developed to both assist second language instructors and provide a collection of best practices for all classrooms.

“It’s super creative for teachers and students,” said Orcas elementary teacher Catherine Laflin. “It’s highly visual and is very much based on student interaction and language.”

Nearly 30 staff members from the school districts on Lopez, Shaw, San Juan and Orcas participated in a two-day training course led by Orcas Island Elementary School and Montessori Public Principal Lorena Stankevich and Laflin, who teaches third and fourth grade.

The two finished instructor certification in the GLAD program in 2019, but due to COVID were unable to lead a course until this August. As a result of the session, all OISD K-8 teachers are now trained in the first tier of GLAD’s curriculum.

“This is the first step in an ongoing process and part of a collaboration between the districts,” Stankevich said.

Those who finished the first tier training said they learned to make time and space for more student talking; students will follow you if they believe what you believe; and tell EL learners that they process faster and are more flexible.

This fall, she and Laflin will choose a San Juan Island primary class to model strategies in over the course of five days. Other teachers will be invited to watch and take part. The two are hopeful that the GLAD professional development sessions will continue for years to come.

Laflin was the district coordinator for the English Language Learner program for a decade. She originally brought the idea to Stankevich, who was a participant in a GLAD training at her previous school district. She wholeheartedly dived into the project, and they were trained through the Orange County Department of Education over a year and a half. The endeavor was funded by the Orcas Island Education Foundation, federal dollars and the school district.

Some of the GLAD strategies employed to motivate and engage students include orally processing new knowledge with peers; creating group charts and prompts; retelling what has been taught and encouraging interaction between the teachers and students.

“Humans are natural storytellers,” Laflin said. “Everyone has access to the content, so even a non-reading learner has access to what you are teaching.”

Stankevich added, “The content becomes embedded in them.”