A rigorous new English curriculum known as “Learning English in action” is a new k-12 teaching approach introduced in December by a group of educators whose mission is to raise the quality of education for all learners, regardless of their language proficiency.
Headed by School of Education Professor, Kenji Hakuta, and with the involvement of educators across the United States with expertise in disciplinary knowledge, language learning and instructional improvement, the Understanding Language initiative will officially launch a pilot effort in Denver, Charolotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. and Chicago starting in January.
The Understanding Language initiative is to help English language learners whose first language is not English to attain rigorous English language arts standards while developing their English proficiency at the same time. It aims to help those students who are in the process of learning English to meet new standards in English language arts being required by the new Common Core state Standards.
The Common Core is a set of rigorous educational standards focused on helping students become better prepared for success in postsecondary education and the workforce. The core is adopted in California and 44 other states. It requires students to go deeper by doing things like using text-based evidence to make arguments.
The curriculum consist of a five-week unit, called “Persuasion Across Time and Space: Analyzing and Producing Complex Texts” which was developed by a team at WestEd, a San Francisco nonprofit organization that works on education reform, and led by ,Aída Walqui, director of the Teacher Professional Development Program and a doctoral graduate of the Stanford School of Education.
The five-week unit helps seventh-grade intermediate-level English language learners work directly with challenging documents such as Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream and Robert Kennedy’s On the Assassination of Martin Luther King. Students must then produce persuasive speeches of their own. Unlike in the past where teachers may have given English language learners simplified versions of such texts, or they may have pre-empted their learning by explaining such documents before students even had a chance to read them, “Persuasion Across Time and Space,” in contrast, provides learners with multiple supports they need to delve into the texts themselves.
This kind of curriculum consists of historical background primers, close readings of the texts with the teacher, guided questions, peer activities which motive students to dig deeply into the language while engaging in rigorous intellectual activity and allow students to work together.
This new approach pushes beyond the old, sequential mode of teaching grammar and then having students apply their language knowledge to the real world. It also raises the bar on what student work should look like, which integrates well with the new Common Core.
When the curriculum was pre-piloted in the summer of 2012, a student gave great feedback stating the program allows for more learning in one summer than in an entire year of English class.
Video documentation will allow the work to be shared more widely in the future. The open-source curriculum is currently available on the Understanding Language website.
Understanding Language will release similar resources to support English language learners in math in February and science next summer.
The effort is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, through grants to Stanford.