Look ma! I can decode Hangul. . . and other stupid party tricks

Larry Ferlazzo shares this “winner” from David Duebelbeiss Sixth Edition of the ELL/ESL/EFL Blog Carnival. It discusses the misguided efforts of Florida legislators to eliminate specific training for teachers of English Language Learners. It shares some quotes from a teacher name Holly, who feels she doesn’t need special training for her job, teaching middle school aged Haitian students English. In fact she says she doesn’t teach them English, she herself says she teaches them phonics, and they are reading grade level text by the time she’s done with them. Yes, she concedes, they can’t pass the state Language Arts test at their grade level (probably because they have no idea what they are reading, even if they can pronounce it), but what do people want? Well, some understanding of what your task is as a teacher would be nice.

When I was taking my ELD methodologies class I had a really great husband and wife team from SFUSD teaching. They were well known, and did some travel and lecturing. One trip was to Korea to speak to EFL educators. The husband was taught the phonemes for the Korean alphabet by some Korean educators, and picked it up so well that he could “read” ads on the bus to the amusement of the Seoul natives. He had NO idea what he was saying, but it was a great party trick. That’s because he wasn’t reading, he was merely decoding. Those are not the same task, a mistake made by many people, and some educators.

As I started working in classrooms during my observations while taking classes, I noticed that I had students who were native speakers who couldn’t decode worth a darn, but if I read the story, and asked for a recounting, they knew it. On the other hand, I had language learners, who could give me a flawless reading of grade level text, but when asked what they had just read, had no idea at all. I have also run across EOs (English only speakers) that can’t do either, or like the ELLs (English Language Learners) decode without comprehension.

California solved the licensing problem by basically not training teachers (in state colleges/universities) for any other type of license except one that includes an endorsement to teach language learners English. There has been a multi-year (heck it’s been a decade) effort to get teachers with older credentials endorsed to teach language learners. Opponents claim, that all you need with language learners is “good teaching methods” and I agree with that, because I don’t think what Holly did was good teaching for EO students. I think the methods taught for ELD will be helpful should you have Special Education, or students who just think and learn differently (with IDEA, more of those students are in regular ed classrooms).
My own sense is that Holly and other teachers like her would probably benefit from taking some ELD methods classes not just to prevent them from doing instructional malpractice on language learners, but to make them better teachers for all their students.

2 thoughts on “Look ma! I can decode Hangul. . . and other stupid party tricks

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