Learning a new language like English can be tough. It’s even more difficult for students new to the U.S., many of whom had to leave their home countries under traumatic conditions.
“The biggest challenge for these students is that they are overwhelmed,” said Dr. Andrea Hellman, associate professor of linguistics/TESOL at Missouri State University. “We think it’s just a language learning issue for them, but it’s not. It’s a complete adjustment.”
In addition, these students sometimes face living and learning in an environment that’s not supportive and welcoming. This adds to the trauma they’ve experienced.
“We can help them by creating an environment where they can begin to heal, recover and try to catch up,” Hellman said.
Educating a growing group of English learners
Hellman recently received a five-year grant worth $2,999,665 from the U.S. Department of Education to improve classroom instruction for English learners (ELs).
She and her collaborators will implement the Show Me Multiliteracy project at six school districts in Missouri: Branson, Kansas City, Monett, Neosho, North Kansas City and Springfield.
In the past decade, the number of identified ELs in Missouri K-12 schools has more than doubled. ELs continue to be the fastest growing subgroup in the state. The six partner districts educate 22% of Missouri’s ELs.
The project will provide professional development activities to in-service educators in the partner school districts using strengths-based approaches. Hellman explains that a strengths-based approach involves building on students’ existing skills, such as background knowledge in their home language.
The focus will be on teachers already working in the districts and those who have ELs in their classes.
“We want to develop teacher leaders and teachers who support English learners in their schools, engage with their families, integrate them into the community, and use all the resources we generate to support students’ learning inside and outside the classroom,” Hellman said.
The grant also provides 50 full scholarships for teachers in the partner districts to earn the Missouri K-12 English Language Learner endorsement. This is a 30-credit add-on teaching credential.
What’s happening in year one?
For the planning year, Hellman and her team members will author the professional development program. It will include the: 3E (Equity for the Education of English Learners) inventory and TEAMS USA (Teaching English and Academics to Multilingual Students Using Strengths-based Approaches).
“We will also roll out the instrument that schools can use to continuously improve their services to language minority parents,” Hellman said. “And we’re working on specific strategies to use students’ home languages in the regular classroom. So, embedding dual language approaches in a regular education program.”
The Show Me Multiliteracy project is 100% supported by federal funds through the National Professional Grant program of the U.S. Department of Education Office of English Language Acquisition ($2,999,665 for FY 2021-26).