LAWRENCE— Students learning English face many challenges, even in ideal conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated those, causing students to lose supports for various reasons. The University of Kansas has secured funding to prepare more teachers with English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) endorsement and to provide professional development for early childhood educators working across the state as well.
The U.S. Department of Education, Office of English Language Acquisition awarded a five-year, $2.29 million grant to researchers in KU’s Department of Curriculum & Teaching for Project PEACE, which will promote English language learners’ academic achievement and cultivate educational equity through support of future teachers and development of current educators.
Most teachers will work with English language learner students in their careers, yet many do not have TESOL endorsement. Project PEACE will help Kansas teachers learn skills and strategies to provide evidence-based supports and ways to engage students in curriculum.
“Teachers may not always have ESOL endorsement because it is not required. We want to help them get endorsed and be more effective English language learner educators,” said Kwangok Song, associate professor of curriculum & teaching and principal investigator of the project.
Song will collaborate with co-principal investigators Hyesun Cho, associate professor of TESOL; online professional development leader Barbara Bradley, professor of literacy education; and educational equity coordinators Lonna Summers Rocha, associate teaching professor of TESOL; and Karen Jorgensen, teaching professor of literacy education, all at KU. The research team has already secured partnerships with the Shawnee Mission and Kansas City Turner school districts, and they will recruit additional partners across the state.
Project PEACE will work with cohorts of preservice and in-service teachers who are undergraduate and graduate students, respectively, at KU throughout the project, helping all attain TESOL endorsements. It will also provide online professional development programs for early childhood educators. Both preservice teachers and in-service teachers will learn strategies to effectively engage English language learner students. A common problem in schools is students who are identified as English language learners may be interpreted as the students being unable to participate in curriculum, and thus they may not always receive equitable opportunities. The program will equip future and current teachers with effective strategies to invite students in classroom activities to participate and to share methods they have successfully used as well.
“English learners come from families that do not speak English in the home. Teachers may not be aware of the supports these students need in school,” Song said. “Communication in the classroom is not always effective in these situations. We hope to provide teachers with strategies teachers can use to enhance educational equity.”
The project will begin offering support for preservice and in-service teachers who pursue ESOL endorsement in summer 2023. In all, Project PEACE will be able to secure endorsement for 48 preservice teachers and 55 in-service teachers and offer professional development for about 100 early childhood educators from across Kansas by 2027. Throughout the project, the research team will gather quantitative and qualitative data to evaluate and refine the offerings. They will collect data on participants’ content knowledge and information on how teachers put the skills to work in their classrooms.
The timing of the project is vital, as the pandemic made clear some of the challenges English language learner students commonly face as well as the new challenges it created. Students from low-income immigrant families were especially negatively affected, as many lost in-school supports and often did not have internet access for online learning when schools were forced to close. By boosting skills of teachers across the state, TESOL teachers will be in a better position to help all students achieve their full academic potential, Song said.
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