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Peabody helping school leaders manage challenges in ELL

Sep. 16, 2014, 11:51 AM

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools has joined with the Vanderbilt Center for Nashville Studies and Peabody College to create a platform to provide detailed, reliable and recurring information about the commitment of major employers to the public school system. This is the latest installment in a series that tells the story of collaborative involvement between members of the Vanderbilt community and local public schools.

preschool class
(iStockphoto)

by Jane Sevier

Ensuring the educational success of an increasingly diverse and growing population presents a challenge to school districts across the state, particularly urban school districts such as Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. To help meet those challenges, MNPS and Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development are working collaboratively to develop tools and workshops to boost instruction for English language learners (ELLs).

“Peabody’s home is Nashville, and Nashville is home to students from a wide array of cultures and languages,” said Camilla P. Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development. “Our commitment is to help students achieve and to support teachers in their professional growth.”

Peabody’s Project PROPEL, funded by a five-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition, is representative of collaborative MNPS-Peabody partnerships to improve student learning.

Lisa Pray, professor of the practice of teaching and learning, and Robert Jiménez, professor of teaching and learning, conceived of the project with key staff in the Office of English Learners in MNPS.

The PROPEL team works closely with approximately 15 MNPS elementary school teachers to help them earn the additional English as a second language (ESL) endorsement needed to work with Metro’s growing ELL population. Teachers take foundational courses that explore the cultures and languages of Nashville’s diverse communities, and they learn ELL methods and assessments.

PROPEL also sponsors leadership institutes to keep school administrators and teachers up-to-date on the latest developments in ESL instruction. At a recent s summer institute, Jiménez introduced participants to Project TRANSLATE (Teaching Reading And New Strategic Language Approaches To English-learners), an instructional model he is now developing.

Translating helps students understand that comprehension is more important than mechanical processing, explained Jimenez. Children translating for their parents, for example, use higher-order thinking skills, engage in decision-making and employ “pragmatic communicative competencies.”

For many ELLs, English may be the first language in which they learn to read and write. Findings from a Peabody-MNPS collaboration that targeted low-income children in pre-kindergarten, Enhanced Language and Literacy Success, proved that a language-rich pre-K curriculum paired with coaching, feedback and professional development for teachers can improve student outcomes significantly.

“We’re honored to work alongside MNPS to strengthen teaching and learning in our local schools,” Benbow said. “With the aid of Peabody researchers, Nashville teachers are working to ensure that all children have the language, conceptual knowledge and literacy skills required for long-term success.”

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