Pioneering Linguistically and Culturally Responsive Teacher Preparation in Illinois
By Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro of the Latino Policy Forum
A vital question guiding my work at the Forum is not if all Illinois teachers and educational leaders should be prepared to meet the spectrum of linguistic and cultural diversity in their classrooms, but how to implement plans that improve their linguistic and cultural responsiveness. This question is motivated by two significant changes in education: newly minted intensified academic standards and a greatly changing student demographic.
The advent of the Common Core State Standards heightens the need for all students to master the academic language of the classroom. For the growing number of English language learners (ELLs), to achieve this requires a new level of expertise for educators on how to support and integrate a student’s home language—even if the teacher does not speak that language. Language, literacy, and content area teaching are the shared responsibility of both bilingual/English as a Second language (ESL) specialists and general education teachers.
According to 2006-2008 American Community Survey data, close to one of every four Illinois public school children speaks a language other than English in their home (22 percent). Many of them are or were identified as ELLs, now close to one out of every 10 students statewide, an increase of an astonishing 83 percent over the last 15 years.
Many general education teachers have received little, if any, preparation on ELLs. Even further, Illinois institutions of higher learning are not systematically required to provide training on the complexity of second language development, bilingualism, and culturally responsive pedagogy.
A formidable standout, Loyola’s Teaching, Learning, and Leading with Schools and Communities teacher preparation program has recently revamped to better prepare its candidates to educate diverse learners in a wide array of settings. Critically aware of the changing student demographics in Illinois, across the birth-12th grade continuum, all candidates at Loyola University Chicago will graduate with the Illinois English as a Second Language (ESL) endorsement—a first in the state. Even more, for those who specialize in early childhood education, they will graduate with an additional endorsement in special education.
Many Illinois-based universities encourage candidates to seek specialties in ESL or bilingual instruction. None, up until now, have required this for every candidate. Loyola’s programmatic revamp explicitly attempts to break the mold with two key changes: (1) emphasis on developing the specific skills and knowledge of all candidates to teach linguistic and culturally diverse students; and (2) the implementation of an entirely field-based apprenticeship model within a myriad of settings that spans the four years.
Loyola views preparing educators for linguistic, cultural, and ability diverse students on par with training for literacy in an era of Common Core and International Baccalaureate policy.
Specific programmatic attention to teaching linguistic and culturally diverse students. Instead of an optional avenue of study, the knowledge and skills that comprise the ESL specialty for Illinois are seen as part and parcel to preparation: foundational linguistic principles, first and second language development, foundational theories in practice, sociopolitical dimensions of language education policy, cross-cultural methods, and assessment.
For candidates who elect the early childhood major, they begin to apply the linguistic and culturally responsive theory and practice with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. This includes an amplification of their knowledge and skills to include understanding the complexity of language development of young learners with special needs. Recognizing the confluence of factors that influence the identification or misidentification of ELLs with special needs, all early childhood education candidates will earn the special education endorsement.
For all other candidates outside early childhood, they have the option of taking two additional modules to receive the special education endorsement, as the other state requirements are integrated into the program. In the same vein, while all candidates receive the ESL endorsement, those who seek the bilingual endorsement can add on two additional modules offered in the summer for the bilingual endorsement along with the language test. In addition, Loyola offers an optional School-based Language, Culture, and Pedagogy Immersion program in Mexico City where candidates live with host families and work with local elementary teachers.
Schools and communities are the epicenter for Loyola’s teacher preparation. A novel site-based program has been instituted where both faculty and candidates can consider the real life involvedness of teaching in a host of school- and community-based environments. Instead of faculty delivering instruction on a university campus, they are on-site facilitators and mentors to candidates. Through eight clinically-based sequences, candidates experience wide-ranging opportunities to learn in varied locales across the birth-to-grade 12 range: high-need urban classrooms, high-performing schools, and community-based organizations. The student teaching increases during the four years, referred to as a growth-based apprenticeship model embedded in schools and communities.
Candidates also participate in Professional Learning Communities led by university faculty with intensive collaboration with school- or community-site professionals. Teacher professionals are regarded as local experts, referred to as “co-teacher-educators.” They play a critical role advancing rich local understandings of history, culture, socioeconomic diversity and concerns with equity, community and family values. Teacher professionals are vital in educating candidates on the various contextual factors that influence student learning. These on-the-ground lessons complemented by deep pedagogy facilitate candidates to work with both teachers and faculty in the development of culturally relevant teaching techniques.
These programmatic advances are at the forefront of preparing candidates for 21st Century classrooms. As Illinois strives to meet the necessary challenge of quality learning for its growing population of diverse students, the reviewed pre-service changes serve as examples for how institutions of higher education can transform to meet the needs of today’s classrooms.
My work at the Forum is guided by a simple yet profound philosophy: the foundation for teacher effectiveness is how well they are prepared to teach the children who are in front of them. All educators — teacher, principals, service providers — need the same important training: they must be prepared to build on the cultural, linguistic, familial, and community influences their students bring to the classroom. Loyola University Chicago is one of many institutions of higher education in Illinois rethinking their preparation to provide candidates with knowledge, skills and dispositions that will help educators support the academic success of the multicultural students who make up today's student population. The future of Illinois is tied to the educational success of this vibrant and growing student population.