LANGUAGE SCIENCE: Central Falls High School physics teacher Alison Murray has begun correcting her students’ English mistakes. “I’m more in tune to how critical it is. And it’s making me more highly qualified as a teacher.”
One day in mid-March, Central Falls High School physics teacher Alison Murray asked her ninth graders to write about how the forces at work in building a bridge would make the bridge stronger.
It was a routine assignment, but because she is taking courses to further her professional development through a master’s in education degree in teaching English as a second language, she expanded the assignment from a single sentence to a paragraph, took the 120 paragraphs home, and proceeded to correct “every single English error” that classes full of Spanish-speaking, Cape Verdean and Portuguese students made.
The exercise enabled her to pick up on mistakes consistent across cultures – for instance the difficulty Spanish students have in matching the tense and agreement between subject and verb. They will write “he go” instead of “he goes,” for instance, she said.
“Normally, I wouldn’t go through their English and correct it,” she said, “[thinking instead], ‘Why do we have to teach literacy? I teach math and physics: Isn’t that enough?’ Now, I’m more in tune to how critical it is. And it’s making me more highly qualified as a teacher.”
Getting professional development in teaching might have historically meant climbing the ladder toward administrative posts, but in Central Falls, through an innovation lab in which the district is partnering with Rhode Island College in Providence, one focus is on getting certified or pursuing a master’s in education for teaching English as a second language.
The result: teachers are digging into their existing careers and broadening their skills – with the long-range goal of improving their students’ standardized test scores.
School District Superintendent Frances Gallo and high school Principal Joshua LaPlante have spearheaded the focus on high school-level professional development, three years after Gallo fired all the high school teachers to spur better performance. Months of unrest followed, drawing President Barack Obama into the dispute as he supported Gallo’s action as justified to help underserved students.