Education Reform From the Teacher's Perspective

Friday, August 9, 2013

I just finished two days of exceptional training in using academic language in an English learner classroom. Day one of the training was conducted by none other than Doctor Kate Kinsella, a tireless advocate of increasing the academic register, most especially among second language learners.

In an article published in the Journal In the STARlight, Dr. Kinsella bodly states that "The ability to converse in English with relative ease is not a bold enough instructional goal." Simply being able to speak English fluently is not enough because fluency does not necessarily imply the ability to succeed in college and the workforce. Dr. Kinsella argues that students need accurate fluency or "the ability to effortlessly produce error-free, contextually-appropriate language.

As an educator of second language students, this concept is eye-opening when examples of what we actually are asked to teach our students. How many of us are stuck in the "drill-and-kill" model of education that the previous generation of standards with its bubble test mentality produced? Educators tend to be generalists in their academic field and do not spend enough time with our most at-risk students developing their real-world skills. It is a common complaint among educators in nearly every faculty lounge across the country that when students are asked questions, they give one word answers or the infamous "I don't know," and the sad reality is that most of us give the students a pass because at least he or she responded at all.

Dr. Kinsella has several suggestions that will promote academic language and prepare second language students for not just the common core, but the period beyond when they enter the career or college arena.

1. Augment core English-Language Arts classes with a dedicated English Language Development period. This dedicated class should not be a mere continuation of the core English Language Arts class but an actual time set aside every day devoted solely to developing academic register and accurate English fluency.

2. Explicitly teach language elements within meaningful content. Form-focused, explicit instruction that isn't simple choral reading but an in-depth breakdown of grammatical and academic vocabulary targets increases dramatically the chances that second language learners will develop fluency.

3. Utilize consistent instructional routines. Teachers and administrators are great at introducing new instructional strategies, but they are not nearly as effective at keeping their instructional repertoire regular and consistent. A consistent group of instructional routines with well defined teacher and student roles will maximize student engagement as well as development of second language fluency.

4. Orchestrate peer interactions with clear language targets. It is ineffective for second language learners to be required to read and understand vocabulary that they cannot articulate verbally. Arranging the instructional period with regular and frequent opportunities to verbalize language with partners, groups and as a class will encourage students and increase their ability to recognize and utlitize academic vocabulary.

5. Monitor language production and provide productive feedback on errors. It is critical that second language learners are monitored for their use of language and provided positive and productive feedback that will reduce or eliminate errors that may become habitual and further impact their development of academic English.

Second language learners are so often stalled in their language acquisition, and this problem will only intensify as the Common Core rolls out. Educators must recognize the reasons for this stall and work to develop these students verbally and linguistically because they will only fall more and more behind if we do not do something, and soon.


Kinsella, K. (2011). Research to inform english language development in secondary schools. In the STARlight, (8), Retrieved from

Dr. James Norwood is a middle school teacher (English/Language Arts and Drama). He is very passionate about true education reform that reaches all students and all parents. Dr. Norwood possess a PhD in the area of curriculum and instruction and spends much of his time working with his school and district developing a more holistic approach to the curriculum. Contact me


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