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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education

Last modified: Monday, October 3, 2011

$1.9 million federal grant to IU School of Education at IUPUI will build ESL teaching capacity

Funding for another 5 years for spreading what one teacher said "totally changed the way I teach"

Oct. 3, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS --The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) is granting $1.9 million to the Indiana University School of Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis for a five-year grant to prepare more teachers with techniques to more effectively teach English as a Second Language (ESL) students.

Annela Teemant

Annela Teemant

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Associate Professor in Second Language Education Annela Teemant is principal investigator for the project, which will build on a previous five-year grant of $1.5 million the USDOE awarded in 2007. The project, titled "IUPUI ESL Partnerships: Building Capacity Across and Within Institutions," is designed to expand that successful project into more teaching capacity for partner school districts.

"It's literally a seamless transition to the new grant," Teemant said. The first grant project focused on three Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) system schools, where the project prepared 55 "master teachers" to instruct new teachers on a more student focused method of instruction designed to help ESL students in particular, but useful with all students. The new grant continues work with IPS, but expands into the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township, adding three schools and preparing "coaches" who will work in all Pike schools.

"By the end of the grant, we should have 16 certified ESL coaches working in literacy contexts in Pike Township," Teemant said. Additionally, the project will expand certified ESL teachers by awarding 45 scholarships toward earning ESL certification over 16 months.

The project addresses an ongoing and continually developing need for ESL teaching in Indiana. The state's ESL population has quadrupled since 1997.

The instructional method teachers learn and spread to colleagues requires them to redesign classroom instruction so students spend more time working with each other and individually with the teacher rather than sitting and receiving instruction. "Teachers are not seeing themselves as monitors of behavior, but are actually responsible for intervening and assisting in learning," Teemant said. "That's where the energy comes from -- when they start to build off student thinking instead of being the sole voice and authority in the classroom."

Teachers who learned the new teaching style during the first grant have praised its outcome. "It totally changed the way I teach -- totally," said Deb Eckler, sixth-grade teacher at Meredith Nicholson Elementary in Indianapolis. "And this is my 27th year of teaching. This was the best thing I ever did."

Eckler said the method changed the appearance of her classroom as well. Most participating teachers moved desks from rows into clusters to enable more student collaboration. Many teachers also said the physical setting and the change from "sage-on-the-stage" lecture has meant students have become more invested in what they're learning. "I may set the stage for them so to speak," said Jessica Barnes, first-grade teacher at Meredith Nicholson, "but they take it where they want it to go."

The new grant will increase the reach of the teaching techniques both in the area schools and at the university level. "The fact that we're moving in Pike to a 16-coach model, that means you have a chance to influence every school in that district," Teemant said. This project will also increase the amount of support for teachers with coaching interventions by a year. Evaluations of the first project revealed that while teachers sustained many of the new practices, some dropped off. In the evaluation phase, Teemant will examine whether the extra support makes a difference. At IUPUI, a core team of faculty will begin work on spreading the effective teaching technique to all teacher education candidates. Faculty will also revise ESL curriculum to benefit pre-service teachers more directly in the areas of math and science education as well.

Teemant has documented success from the first federally-funded project and is eager to expand its reach with the new project. "When you have 20-year veteran teachers say you are helping me see students and student learning differently, you know you're onto something that makes a difference," she said.

To see more about outcomes of the first ESL grant project, see this video on the IU School of Education's Vimeo Channel.