A glimpse into Stonewall Jackson High School classrooms shows how best practices in culturally responsive language instruction also lead to high level content learning
Posted on 05/01/2019
Robert Donaldson's Social Studies classroom of English language learnersWord is getting around about the high-level learning happening for English learners (ELs) at Stonewall Jackson High School (SJHS). In fact, when Associate Superintendent for High Schools Mickey Mulgrew got wind of it, he asked Lynnmara Colón, director of EL Programs and Services, to help him share examples of these strong instructional practices with other PWCS high school principals. The result, a series of videos showing how SJHS instructional leaders work together to combine lessons in standard subjects with language learning strategies that build vocabulary and communication skills and lead to a classroom that is supportive, culturally responsive, and ideal for successful student learning.

Thanks to the efforts of Maria Anderson, assistant principal, Laura ten Thije Boonkamp, ESOL Department chair at SJHS, and Chelsea Northman, El Program specialist in the Division’s Office of EL Programs and Services, who coordinated the taping, the videos will also help middle school administrators and Division educators to examine instruction through a language learning lens, producing high level learning across subjects for EL students.

In Gladys Kepler’s mathematics classroom, videotaping captured an Algebra I lesson, which she co-taught with Perpetua Cavalcanti Magalhaes, ESOL teacher.

“The teachers use both content and language objectives to frame the learning for students,” said Colón. “This footage was shared at the high school meeting but is also an exemplar for our middle school colleagues. Use of the Word Wall strategy, in which unfamiliar words that students will encounter are displayed in the classroom for easy access, has a marked effect on elevating the academic talk in the classroom.” 

A second video features Robert Donaldson, social studies teacher, during a Unites States/Virginia history lesson for EL students. In it, Donaldson displays careful lesson planning and structuring of the learning experience, as evidenced by engaged students invested in the work they do together. Donaldson encourages student interaction and connects new information to what students already know to promote understanding and retention.

By having students practice their presentations in their own teams before sharing them to a new audience, he builds student comfort and trust and demonstrates true language-focused planning. As a result of this supportive learning environment, students feel comfortable using their first language to express complex understanding of the concepts during the lesson and allows those who are able to interpret on the spot for peers and then summarize what they just read in English.

Footage of lessons in the Biology I class of co-teachers Jessica Hruska and Laura Nefissi were also taken, and additional filming is scheduled to capture and share these responsive practices.

Sharing best practices that promote successful learning for students across subjects is Positively PWCS.