Jennifer Hafer 2014-05-09 05:00:50
Professor seeks to remove obstacles to English language learning When assistant professor Linda Evans looks into the big, brown eyes of her English language learners at Hasty Elementary School in Cherokee County, what she sees breaks her heart. “I watch them struggle and struggle in the classroom knowing that if someone would teach them in a way they could understand, they wouldn’t have to struggle so hard,” said Evans, an assistant professor of TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) in the Department of Inclusive Education. “I look at these children and think their lives depend on this and will change based on the level of education they are able to attain and how they see themselves as learners.” Evans arrived on the Kennesaw State University campus in the fall of 2011 from the University of South Florida in Tampa, where she was the co-principal investigator on a $1.5 million federal grant aimed at implementing a reading program at four schools to increase the identification of English learners for the gifted program. “English language learners are highly under-represented in those programs, the main reason being they’re assessed in English,” she said. “There are no assessments of children in their native language. A student’s native language isn’t paid attention to much, if at all, in education in Georgia and many other states.” Another obstacle for non-native English speakers, according to Evans, is the absence of a literacy evaluation. “All of that transfers to learning in general and learning a new language,” she said. “It’s really important to know what kids know when they come to school; what their skills are; what they can do that’s related to school, no matter what the language. These kids are really missing out on learning opportunities if the only opportunities they have are through a language they don’t understand.” With her scholarship focused on improving education, and thus achievement levels, for English language learners, Evans was recently invited to join the Georgia Coalition for English Learners. The coalition consists of more than 60 community organizations and individuals committed to making a transformative change for English learners in Georgia. Its goal is that by 2020 all English learners are on a path to read in English by the third grade. Evans serves as co-leader of the program models team, which is working to identify exemplary programs in Georgia and nationally, as well as ultimately to pilot those models in new settings in Georgia. “There is an alarming failure and dropout rate of children entering schools fluent in a non-English language,” she said. “The coalition offers a unique opportunity to look systematically for solutions, and I am pleased to add my expertise to the mix of amazing individuals and organizations involved.” One school day last fall, Evans was observing a Bagwell College of Education intern deliver a math lesson to English language learners. The lesson was on “greater than” and “less than.” There was one student she observed parroting back the last thing the student teacher said that caught Evans’ attention. “After the lesson, I saw her at the water fountain, and I spoke to her in Spanish,” Evans said. “Turned out she could do it. She understood the concept, but she didn’t get the language. Learning gets put on hold until they have enough English to access the curriculum, which is delivered in English.
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