Tailoring Teaching for English Language Learners by Kathy Mayer
Assistant Professor Trish Morita-Mullaney (left, front) with students from the Community Schools of Frankfort during their campus visit.
Bienvenido. Funyihng. Karibu. Hwangyong-hamnida. How many languages does your school need to know to say “welcome” to new students? And how will educators best teach English language learners? As both the number of students and the variety of languages spoken has grown throughout the U.S.—in Indiana alone, 263 languages are the first language of K-12 students—so has the need for new insights on teaching. That’s the research interest Trish Morita-Mullaney, assistant professor in literacy and language education, has chosen. And much of it occurs as she assists school corporations with their challenges. Several factors contribute to the rise in the number of English language learners, she says. They include an increased number of international companies operating in the U.S. and universities that draw international students.
Work in the Schools Feeds Her Research
The Logansport Community School Corporation in Indiana is one. Emily Graham, the English learner director there, found Morita-Mullaney to be a great resource when she needed a solid professional development plan for her teachers. In the 1990s and nearly overnight, the school district's diversity skyrocketed. Today, 30 percent of its students are English language learners, primarily with Spanish as
One of the biggest results of our work is that teachers are now more intentional about getting English language learners to speak more. Research shows that the more students practice speaking, the more progress they will make. Trish Morita-Mullaney Assistant Professor Literacy and Language Education
their first language and some Burmese. Most have come to the community for jobs at a large pork processing plant. “We are not a large school district—4,300 students at seven schools—and our resources are somewhat limited,” says Graham, who has turned to Purdue for ongoing assistance. Rather than a canned presentation, Morita-Mullaney’s approach is based on the school corporation’s needs, Graham says. “That’s what sets her apart. She figures out where the teachers are, the culture of the school, and has personalized her approach for us.” That’s meant growth in the school corporation’s abilities to provide quality instruction for English language learners, Graham says. “One of the biggest results of our work together is that teachers are now more intentional about getting English language learners to speak more, particularly in the older grades. Research shows that the more students get to practice speaking, the more progress they will make.”