1. My first impressions about WWC:
I was impressed when I started exploring the What Works Clearinghouse website and it’s mission. In just over ten years, (since 2002,) they have reviewed 10,000 studies in a highly-rigorous manner. That’s fantastic. Their overall goal, “To be a resource for informed education decision making,” and ultimately to improve education is laudable. We need this. It’s also an amazing achievement that they have covered over 700 publications because of the highly-scientific methods they use. I’m excited that they review not just practices, programs, and products, but also policies. I will need information on all of these in the future. I’m also reassured that this will be a quality resource to use because all of their reports are evidence-based. The materials appear to be critical and quite transparent, (candid.) It’s surprising and reassuring, in a way, that many studies they have reviewed have been found to be somewhat lacking in various types of validity, sample sizes, and the like. What Works Clearinghouse appears to base their reports on a high standard of critical review, and that’s great.
2. Practice Guides: An Analysis.
I read a Practice Guide titled, “Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School.” The first recommendation, (there were four,) was familiar to me, and it had strong evidence to support it. My acquaintance with the recommendation: “Teach a Set of Academic Vocabulary Words Intensively Across Several Days Using a Variety of Instructional Activities,” was a big part of a workshop I took through C.A.L., or The Center for Applied Linguistics. The workshop speakers also emphasized the importance of focusing on academic vocabulary, (Tier 3 words,) and I try to do this. The recommendation suggests using as many modalities as possible, (listening, speaking, and writing,) and I have found that to be key with English Language Learners. Another aspect of the recommendation was to teach word families, such as affixes and cognates. I’m glad to know that research STRONGLY supports these practices because I have been taught to do these things, have been doing them, and have come to believe in them.
The second recommendation of the four was the only other one to have “strong evidence.” It was, “Integrate Oral and Written English Language Instruction into Content-Area Teaching.” Thankfully, that’s sort of the definition of my current teaching position, and most acutely with the secondary and higher-level English Language Learner students. I often teach patterns and rules of English through the context of assignments that older students bring to me, including writing papers. For example, I have been taught that it’s a good practice to grab the opportunity of an authentic assignment to teach rules of English, vocabulary, and the rest. This really works because the student is trying so hard to communicate for a real reason, and they are motivated by the content and the grade. An English Language Learner will, (I find,) forget his self-consciousness about his accent when he really wants to get his ideas and understandings across. Also, the recommendation supported the use of graphic organizers. I find these to be absolutely essential. For example, when a student is having difficulty communicating the pros and cons of something, I whip out a T-chart, and we brainstorm it out. So the second recommendation is one I’ve found to be hugely effective with English Language Learners.
I was genuinely surprised at the extent of evidence available to support these strongly-evidenced recommendations, (there were six studies referenced in the report,) and the rigor of their definition of “strong evidence.” To be labeled as having strong evidence according to WWC, a panel of experts must have found both high internal validity, (high quality causal designs,) AND high external validity, which means multiple studies with high quality causal designs. In addition, there needs to be a direct relationship between the research and the recommendations, (yes!) consistently positive effects on relevant outcomes, and more.
As a result of reading this guide, I will increase my efforts to use short videos and other visuals with my English Language Learners. This was strongly supported in the second recommendation, and it makes sense. Also, my students are motivated when they use their laptops or see videos on the Active Board, so this is something I’m happy to increase.
3. Quick Reviews:
According to a Quick Review of the Report, “Reading and Language Outcomes of a Five-Year Randomized Evaluation of Transitional Bilingual Education,” English immersion had a “substantively important,” or a favorable difference in outcome over transitional bilingual education in English reading and language achievement. Since this research met WWC evidence standards, I feel comfortable saying that research says English Immersion is at least as effective as Transitional Bilingual Education in English reading and language achievement.