The Great Kabob: A Lesson in Mindful Teaching

Dr. Cynthia Lundgren is an English language development specialist at WIDA and formerly an assistant professor at The Center for Second Language Teaching and Learning at Hamline University's Graduate School of Education in St. Paul, MN. In this interview, Dr. Lundgren offers a blueprint for administrators who are serving a new or changing population of ELLs. Topics covered include creating a welcoming culture, assessment, language instruction, staffing, and professional development. In addition, Dr. Lundgren has contributed to the following resources from Colorín Colorado:

First, tell us about the courses you teach.

I'm currently teaching two courses at Hamline — ESL Methods and the Development of Second Language Literacy.

ESL Methods is the final course for students seeking their ESL license, so it's a pretty comprehensive course. In addition to synthesizing all the information about linguistics, assessment, second language acquisition we add the complexities of good lesson design and delivery. I prepare students for K-12 work, so we focus on best practices for ESL in that context. That means collaboration skills, teaching language through grade-level content, and making sure ESL students receive instruction in all modalities of language — listening, speaking, reading, writing.

In the literacy course, we look at the development of emergent literacy, as well as the learning to read piece and the reading to learn piece. We talk about the importance of native language literacy, and how that informs reading in subsequent languages. Since K-12 students come to school with very difference pre-reading and reading experiences, and ESL teachers are often given reading groups, we try to provide a comprehensive view of literacy development and instruction. We talk a lot about the differences and similarities between L1 and L2 literacy. This course is required for both our ESL and bilingual licensure teachers.

What are some of the strategies you teach in your literacy development course?

It's important to me to integrate current research about literacy into the course. Since the development of second language literacy shares strategies for developing reading skills in a first language, we use research and strategies from both L1 and L2 sources. For example, we break down reading into specific teachable strategies. For text comprehension, students are learning to write explicit plans for teaching visualizing, questioning, summarizing, and predicting, etc. We look at literacy skills and strategies before, during, and after reading.

We also spend a lot of time on vocabulary development and instruction. I really like Dr. Isabel Beck's research on vocabulary and teaching students to identify Tier 2 words for their lessons. I focus a lot on academic language — both vocabulary and structure — and the academic functions of language. We know oral language and listening comprehension are important in the development of second language literacy, so we explore ways to integrate more speaking and discussion into lessons.

What would you say are your primary goals as a teacher educator?

I try to teach my students to be mindful and intentional in their planning: to think about the purpose of the lesson and why they are teaching that particular lesson. I want them to look at their work through a critical pedagogy lens and think about the needs of their students, kids who are often marginalized by language, culture, race, and religion. I keep Reggie Routmans' call for "teaching with a sense of urgency" in my own planning and try to impart that sense of urgency to my students. This is even more critical during these high-stakes testing times. There is a lot of time in both my courses devoted to the development of strong, clear learning objectives and the alignment of those objectives with assessments and activities.

I use a map as a metaphor — once we know where we want to go (what we want students to learn), we can plan a route that takes into account the needs and interests of students. If you don't know where you're going as a teacher, your students can end up all over the proverbial map. Also, if you don't know where you're going as a teacher, you have no way of knowing if/when you've arrived.

My students talk about the Great Kabob in my classes. The Great Kabob is a visual for aligning standards, objectives, assessment and activities. I used to just draw this on the board until a student said it looked like a kabob. So, of course, I had to go get a garden stake and skewer Styrofoam shapes that I painted to represent these elements and get people to really see the importance of aligning purpose (objectives) with assessment and developing activities that allow students to practice the skills they will be assessed on. It's been a lot of fun and is my new lesson cry — "Remember the Kabob!"

You have a strong interest in helping your students develop a heightened cultural awareness and sensitivity. How do you take that objective on?

Well, I encourage my students to think about the relationship between education, language, and power. We talk about changing notions of knowledge and the importance of empowering the learner. I have my heroes and I try to bring in their thoughts and words to frame my teaching — Paulo Freire, Myles Horton, John Dewey. With the testing focus, I think we are losing sight of the basic reasons for educating people — to empower them. The testing agenda forces a focus on teaching that is self-serving to agencies, not to individual students. We have a responsibility to help students see education as something they set in motion for their own purposes, not just to complete because it fulfills someone else's agenda.

I also encourage my students to think about their own cultural backgrounds and to the values they have been socialized. We don't think about our own socialization because it's often quite buried in our unconscious, but it drives our beliefs, our behavior, and our understanding of the world. I believe this is particularly important for public school teachers: What do you believe about education? Who should be educated? This is the whole inclusion piece. If you're not deconstructing beliefs and behaviors, there is a good chance you are perpetuating practices that maintain insider/outsider status without even being aware of it. I try to get people to think about those things.

How do your students respond?

Many of my students are members of the dominant culture and society. As such, we generally don't need to question our own socialization. Working with students and families that are not part of the dominant culture requires that teachers become "culture workers." They need to be aware of the values, beliefs, and assumptions underlying schooling, which reflect society, and then help English learners navigate the new system. Teachers need to help parents see where there are conflicting world views in operation between schools and home and help build bridges between the two. You can't do that if you don't deconstruct your own awareness of self and self as a cultural being.

Part of this objective is for my students to think about the assumptions they are working under, and how those assumptions may inform or shape their actions, opinions, and decisions — all without them realizing it. We all work under assumptions, but if you don't create the opportunity to articulate, question or examine assumptions, it's harder to recognize, much less bridge the cultural gaps in a classroom.

How do you help your students prepare for the diversity of the classroom in which they will be working?

Talking about cultural differences is part of that preparation. Once students have begun to deconstruct culture for themselves they become more adept at thinking about how culture may play a role in the classroom, with student's habits or ideas, as well as how it may affect a relationship with students' parents. It also plays a role in student work — different styles of writing and thinking are reflections of cultural influence. I want my students to remember we are not just teaching children to speak English; speaking English and going to U.S. public schools reflects a much larger cultural conditioning — I guess I want my students to see their work as helping students become bi-cultural as much as bilingual.

Are there any particular resources you use as a cultural reference for your students?

For culture, I really like Joyce Blake Clayton's book called Many Worlds, One Classroom. I used to require that as a text, but like all teachers, I have more to teach than I have time for, so it is on my recommended reading list.

We also use a piece of literature in my literacy class that was written by an ESL teacher for her capstone at Hamline. It's called Hey Hmong Girl, Whassup? by Leah Rempel. It's a journal style novella about a young girl's journey as she tries to fit into her life in the U.S. It talks about her family, and her struggles with the adjustment and acculturation. I use it as a vehicle to help students plan lessons pre-during-after reading text comprehension, but it's relevant given our large Hmong population in Minnesota. My students really like the book and often use it in their teaching. It speaks to the struggles of most of our ESL kids…the walk between two worlds, so middle and high school kids are generally quite engaged with this text.

What kinds of teaching opportunities do your students have in your classes?

About half my students are already practicing teachers and the other half are new to teaching. I try to build in clinical experiences so people can get their feet wet, but also to have an opportunity to engage in reflective practice and good professional development strategies. In both literacy and methods, students not only develop their lessons (using the Great Kabob), but they go out and teach the lesson. I have students video tape their lesson and reflect on what they see that shows they met their instructional objectives. In literacy, since it is a class taken before methods, they watch the video themselves. They have guiding questions, but most people are nervous about video-taping so we start easy.

In methods, they actually use the video tape to solicit specific feedback about an instructional question from a group of colleagues. They use a process called a "tuning protocol" which uses the group of colleagues and the purpose is to go through student work and identify examples and non-examples of where students have met the instructional objectives. My graduate students are initially apprehensive about these processes, but find them powerful tools for reflective practice. I love seeing the growth and comfort with peer review!

What kinds of experiences do your students have once they leave the program?

Students often find when they get to the schools, after their own intense immersion in current best practices, decisions are being made that move the entire educational system back in time, which is very demoralizing. Part of that issue, I think, is that nationwide we don't use the available research to guide decision-making, and we have a very short sited approach to language teaching. We don't look at language learning using a long-term lens, but the quick and easy…the cheap fix. Program models are chosen by administrators lacking knowledge about second language acquisition and seldom reflect decisions based on the needs of students.

As a result, ESL programs are seldom even on the map…they're not fully woven into the fabric of school missions and programs. It's hard for our ESL teachers to advocate when you've got schools still wondering why they've got "those" kids, or when the ESL kids and families are invisible for the most part. It's a hard job being an ESL teacher. I tell my students they are T+1: a teacher and then some.

How do you help your students prepare for the assessment-heavy environment they are going into?

It's very helpful to have assessment-guided instruction. Not teaching to the test or multiple choices, but meaningful evaluations of student progress. Good instruction requires good assessment. This is the paradox of assessment — it is an essential component of lesson design and delivery, but so many of the assessments being used are irrelevant in the classroom. Teachers don't get the information they need about students' skills in a timely manner or the scores are irrelevant given they are normed on a totally different population. Schools manipulate scores and populations to avoid shaming and sanctions; non-tested subjects are no longer taught and programs are cut to bring in remedial and "boot camp" testing. Can you believe it? A "boot camp" for 3rd-5th graders weeks before the test — you've got to wonder about these decisions.

Assessment is important; we have a responsibility to adapt our teaching to the needs of students and to make sure they meet the criteria for graduation. We need to evaluate and change our teaching if our students are not doing well — consistent failure on the part of students says more about us than our students. When I was doing my dissertation research, a teacher said to me, "One thing I've learned is that the purpose of testing is not to trick kids, but to check on how well I taught — it's to see if I did a good job."

We spend a lot of time in my classes and throughout our program helping our students recognize good, authentic assessments…and of course, the relationship between learner objectives and assessments that measure what one is teaching! Good assessment — diagnostic, authentic, and on-going allows teachers to hone in on the needs of students. Too much focus on external testing measures puts undue stress on our kids as well as our teachers, leaving no time to differentiate instruction. This is particularly an issue in literacy…which is tested and tested and tested. If you don't know the specifics of students' struggles in reading, you can't develop instructional plans to address those needs./p>

And, since we have ESL students with such varied literacy experiences, differentiating instruction is critical. I think testing has put so much emphasis on reading skills that other aspects of language knowledge are forgotten. That's a challenge for ESL teachers when they get out into K-12 settings — how to keep language learning the focus and incorporate all the modalities into their teaching.

Who do you think should develop assessments?

This is a controversial topic. I think it is not the role of the federal government to set benchmarks. There are some excellent assessments developed by states with the input of teachers, community members, and researchers. Districts take those state standards and make them more accessible and specific to the population of the district. I think this is a good process. There is nothing wrong with standards. Accountability in education is nothing to be afraid of.

I think it is important…but it is most important to be accountable to meaningful measures and measures that contribute to our society long-term. Low-level testing creates a society of non-thinkers, of sheep…we're dealing with a population of students that needs tools — language skills and critical thinking skills to fight for access, fight for equitable access, fight for civil rights. I think that is the responsibility of public schooling, to prepare students to advocate for social justice. They need critical thinking skills and strong language skills, not minimal low-level skills.

How has your teaching changed as field of education has changed?

Well, I really try to walk my talk. I do more with rubrics, and I model everything. This has forced me to do the same kind of evaluation and reflection in my own teaching that I talk to my students about. I deconstruct the purpose of objectives of lessons for my graduate students and scaffold lessons, just as they need to do with their students. I model the various strategies and we discuss how to choose what is appropriate for different types of learners. I've learned that I can't assume students will "see" the connection — I have to help them deconstruct what they've experienced and build the bridge that connects their learning classroom with their teaching classroom. It's a lot of work, but it's been powerful.

How did you get into this field?

I love languages and language development has been part of every job I've ever had — although I never made that connection until I applied for my current job and was re-writing my resume! My bachelor's degree was in elementary education and Spanish. As an undergrad, I was tutoring at the Minnesota Literacy Council with adult ELs and became very interested in bilingual education. This was during the 1970s and Colorado was doing some innovated work in bilingual education. I was going out to Colorado for a visit, so I wrote to several schools in the area to see if I could come and observe in the schools. I was thrilled with my visits and what I saw the kids doing in multiple languages. That solidified my interest in and support of bilingual programs!

My first teaching job was in Montana, working with Crow students. All of my students spoke Crow as their first language. I became aware that while my students had excellent conversational skills and could tell me all about their weekends, they struggled with reading, word problems in math, and many of their older siblings dropped out of high school. This was where I really learned about the differences between BICS and CALP. At the time we had a Title VII program to develop native language literacy materials in Crow, which was fascinating to be a part of. These experiences eventually led me to a master's degree in linguistics.

I also have very strong beliefs about education. I came of age in the 60's, became a teacher in the 70's. Obviously, things were different then but those times molded my view of my profession. I became a teacher in an era that was focused on children's needs and saw education as an extension of the civil rights movement. I can't shake that foundation — in fact I think it's more important now because we've lost sight of those essential components in the process of formally educating children.

Any final words of wisdom or encouragement for teachers?

I have a tremendous respect for teachers — in spite of all the pressures, teachers do amazing things for and with kids. We have tremendously gifted teachers who manage to walk the line between testing pressures and creative, authentic teaching. Observing a good teacher is a magical experience! I'm very proud to be a teacher.


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