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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

So Much Research, So Little Time for Teachers to Put It Into Practice

By Larry Ferlazzo — April 16, 2024 10 min read
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This post continues a multipart series highlighting research that could potentially be helpful for teachers to know ...

‘Racial Noticing’

Erica Silva leads professional development with schools and districts across the country to advance racial equity. She is also an adjunct assistant professor and former elementary/middle school teacher and instructional coach. Follow her work @doctorasilva on X/IG:

As we strive to build anti-racist classrooms, the work of Shah & Coles (2020) conceptualizes the idea of “racial noticing” with preservice teachers in elementary classrooms. Racial noticing is “the process of attending to, interpreting, and formulating responses to racial phenomena in learning settings” (p. 586). Their framework on racial noticing provides clear examples of how educators can 1) attend to, 2) interpret, and 3) respond to racial phenomena in their classrooms, thus, empowering them to understand and attend to the racialized experiences of students.

The transformational work of Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz presents a racial literacy-development model that highlights the importance of developing the racial literacy of educators. In order for educators to become racially literate, they must engage in the Six Components to Racial Literacy Development which include: critical love, critical humility, critical reflection, historical literacy, archaeology of self, and interruption. By engaging in this deeply reflective work focused on the excavation of one’s beliefs, biases, and experiences, educators can be better equipped to interrupt racism and effectively work toward building socially just classrooms rooted in equity.

Rita Kohli and Daniel Solórzano highlight how students in K-12 schools experience racial microaggressions that could be connected to the mispronouncing of their names in schools. Their 2012 qualitative study looks at how students with non-Western names experience “othering” in school by having their name changed by someone at school or how they change their name to assimilate and/or avoid embarrassment due to the mispronunciation of their name.

Kohli and Solórzano argue that students who experience the mispronunciation of their name in school is a form of a racial microaggression and diminishes their cultural heritage and identity. If we want a student to authentically show up as their whole self in school, we must begin to honor their given name—without changing, altering, or shortening it so that their name is easier for us, as teachers, to pronounce.

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Supporting Multilingual Learners

Min Oh is an Institute of Education Sciences postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia. Oh’s research focuses on understanding language and literacy development of multilingual learners in the United States:

Asset-based approaches for supporting U.S. multilingual learners have continued to receive attention in the field of education. It is crucial to underscore that bilingualism—which is often misconstrued as a risk factor for academic achievement—is in fact not a risk factor for multilingual learners’ education outcomes.

To the contrary, there has been increased recognition that multilingual learners’ linguistic and cultural knowledge are assets that can—and should be—incorporated into their learning. At the same time, educators and researchers have called out the disconnect that exists between the positive discourse surrounding multilingual learners’ rich linguistic knowledge and the reality of exactly how educators might foster an asset-based classroom culture to build on multilingual learners’ strengths.

An important area of research to highlight is the significance of teachers’ expectations for multilingual learners and their beliefs and knowledge about bilingual development. Teachers play a significant role in students’ learning. This is especially true when it comes to the education of U.S. multilingual learners who are not only building English-language proficiency but also acquiring academic content using their developing English-language skills.

Teachers’ Expectations and Beliefs About Multilingual Learners’ Learning Matter

Multilingual learners’ ability to engage with academically challenging content should not be overlooked. This echoes concerns about “dumbing down” of content or minimizing academically challenging coursework instead of offering multilingual learners both high challenge and support for successful learning.

However well-intended, less rigorous curriculum does a long-term disservice to multilingual learners. In fact, multilingual learners often face a cycle of watered-down instruction—commonly known as the “rigor gap”—which has been linked to teachers’ beliefs about effective practices for teaching multilingual learners.

In a study exploring teacher beliefs about English learners (ELs; i.e., a formal school-assigned label to multilingual learners identified to need additional English-language instruction), my colleague and I found that teachers’ well-intended leniency towards ELs (e.g., patience in instruction and assessment, acknowledgement of effort over achievement) was negatively linked to ELs’ reading achievement.

That was surprising because teachers’ patience in helping ELs learn English at a comfortable pace has been recognized as an important disposition in teaching language learners. Patient, understanding teachers are undoubtedly important for all learners, particularly for ELs who are acquiring a new language and academic content in their developing language.

So, why might this be? This finding led us to discussions about educators’ “laissez-faire approach” proposed by Theresa Roberts, Ph.D. (2014). She explains that this approach stems from popularization of the “silent period”—a period early in second-language development when children tend to remain “silent” with native speakers of the second language (e.g., English). She argues that the widespread acceptance of the silent period as a natural, beneficial phenomenon has the potential to leave multilingual learners exposed to mostly informal language in classrooms. Along this line of reasoning, low expectations of language production based on the belief that ELs are actively—albeit silently—processing English could potentially minimize ELs’ exposure to meaningful input and production of language. Importantly, these perspectives deviate from empirical evidence that underscore the value of meaningful language input and output during second-language development.

In other words, well-intended lenient expectations should be carefully balanced with opportunities for ELs (and broadly, multilingual learners) to engage with complex classroom content to build language and literacy skills.

The field has continued to emphasize the need for well-prepared teachers who understand the second-language development process, so that they can serve as effective advocates for multilingual learners. Of course, a concerted effort to not only support multilingual learners but also the teachers of multilingual learners also matter. It is imperative for schools and policymakers to examine the conditions and external factors (e.g., availability of resources, language policy) that might influence teachers’ beliefs and how they are translated into practice. These efforts are a valuable step toward reinforcing research-grounded, asset-based beliefs about multilingual learners and building on their strengths with intention.

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‘The Wisdom of Communities’

Marilyn Chu, Western Washington University professor emeritus, developed ECE (Early Childhood Education) higher education professional development courses and programs for entering and experienced teachers in Washington state. Her work, locally and internationally, has focused on family engagement for systems change, mentoring, and coaching among working and preservice teachers and the prevention of child maltreatment in the early years:

Teachers who are working to enact evidence-based strategies “with fidelity” often experience the frustration of making these practices relevant and effective in their specific context. While there are many complex reasons for this common dilemma, one aspect of this challenge may be the way teachers are encouraged to participate in related professional development (PD) and how they are involved in understanding what evidence is needed to implement new teaching and learning approaches.

Questions to consider include: Did the PD process keep the heart (feeling) and the mind (thinking) together, where regular collaboration, reflection, knowledge, and skill building were integrated to solve dilemmas of everyday practice? Was teacher learning designed to be ongoing, reflective, and goal-oriented and involve mentoring or coaching from peers?

Were structural supports for teachers to “think together” in professional learning communities or in co-inquiry groups offered as opportunities to reframe a problem of practice into questions to collectively investigate? When relevant approaches, based in research, were identified, was the wisdom of local families and communities included as a part of the decisionmaking process for considering what works?

What if all of these efforts still resulted in some teacher and student learning needs unmet and not considered? What else might be missing to make a school a more equitable space?

Implementation science offers both immediate and longer areas for consideration when practices don’t achieve expected outcomes. Did teacher leaders and school administrators consider, before implementation, the readiness, feasibility, and motivation for implementing change? Was an iterative process of adapting methods, programs, and practices to a context designed into creating the best fit for any innovation?

Considering when past “innovations” fell flat should inform new efforts. Wondering together with teachers, families, and members of local communities, “What might work here?” is usually the best first step. Considering how to make a school community feel more equitable by engaging groups of families and community members over time to develop more trusting relationships and access to school power structures may help identify central problems and offer more relevant pathways for solutions.

The wisdom of communities, which should especially include those persons and groups often excluded from decisionmaking, is part of the essential evidence base for making change. This evidence includes learning the communities’ history, cultures, values, lived experiences, and current daily lives to have any chance of bridging research and the real world. How might this huge process begin? Do teachers ever ask families, “What are your hopes and dreams for your children?” Do teachers listen, observe, collect data, reflect, plan, act, and revise over and over again, with families’ knowledge and perspectives as central to their work?

This opens the longer discussion of who the communities in any school want to be teaching their children. Who can be recruited, over time, who already understand, or who have the disposition to humbly learn and respect their specific school and community context? How can many sources of evidence be used to create a school where everyone is learning?

See references here.

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Thanks to Erica, Min, and Marilyn for contributing their thoughts!

Today’s post answered this question:

What are one to three research findings that you think teachers should know about but that you also think that many of them do not?

Part One in this series featured responses from Ron Berger, Wendi Pillars, and Marina Rodriguez.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email. And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 12 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list here.

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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