Paraprofessional practice in ESOL programmes: Part 2 Publications
This report forms the second part of a two year study on the practices of ESOL paraprofessionals working with ELL migrant students.
Author(s): Dr Sharon Harvey, Heather Richards and Karen Stacey, AUT University. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.
Date Published: September 2009
Paraprofessionals have become a significant feature of the school landscape in New Zealand as they have in other parts of the Western world. In New Zealand, numbers of paraprofessionals (usually designated as teacher aides) in schools have risen from 10,046 in 1998 to 14,231 in 2008. These numbers do not include kaiāwhina who are paraprofessionals assisting students with Māori language in schools. The rise in numbers of paraprofessionals can be set against a rise in teacher numbers from 42,605 in 1998 to 50,950 in 2008. This represents an increase in the deployment of paraprofessionals from 24% to 28% over the ten year period1.
Numbers of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) paraprofessionals, specifically, cannot be firmly ascertained for several reasons. Firstly, there is often overlap between paraprofessional roles in schools, i.e. some paraprofessionals provide in-class support and at other times withdraw students, some paraprofessionals are employed to work with ESOL students as well as other kinds of students such as those with special needs. Consequently many paraprofessionals are funded from a mix of ESOL and other funding. Secondly, schools self report on the use of funding, and whether they report and what they report on, can vary. Nonetheless, in 2008, 627 schools (representing 50% of the 1,217 schools funded for ESOL support) reported that there were 189 schools that utilised Ministry of Education (MOE) funded paraprofessionals to provide in-class ESOL support and 255 schools that employed MOE funded paraprofessionals to provide small group withdrawal ESOL support. These figures no doubt overlap considerably because in our experience many paraprofessionals are employed for both purposes in the same school, depending on student need. Further, these schools identified that they also provided ESOL support from their own funding of paraprofessionals. One hundred and ten schools self-funded paraprofessionals for in-class ESOL support. One hundred and eight schools self-funded paraprofessionals for small group withdrawal ESOL support. Some schools used their own funds to employ more paraprofessionals and others used their own funds to extend the hours of MOE funded paraprofessionals. From this data, tentative though it is, it is obvious that paraprofessionals are a prominent feature in the educational lives of many English Language Learner (ELL) students2.
This report forms the second part of a two year study on the practices of ESOL paraprofessionals working with ELL migrant students. The first part of the study (Harvey, Stacey & Richards, 2008) was carried out in 2007 and described the practices of ESOL paraprofessionals working in initial reading programmes. This large regional study bridged all levels of the New Zealand school system and was carried out across the Auckland isthmus. The research resulted in a number of findings, the most predominant of which was the need for ongoing specialised ESOL training for paraprofessionals as well as professional development for the teachers who direct their work.
This second part of the research describes and evaluates the efficacy of the Ministry sponsored English Language Assistant (ELA) professional development programme through an analysis of the changing practices of ten ESOL paraprofessionals who participated in the programme. Each of the paraprofessionals and their Coordinating Teachers (CTs) were interviewed at the beginning of the course and at the end of the year. The paraprofessionals were observed teaching ELL students three times over the course of the year.
In this chapter, we present a short overview of the general paraprofessional literature, focusing on that which we found relevant to the general topic of ESOL paraprofessional practices. Following that is a summary of the key areas of development for paraprofessionals identified in our 2007 study (Harvey et al., 2008) and then a brief overview of the history of the ELA professional development programme and its goals. The chapter ends with an outline of the organisation of the report.
Paraprofessionals and the literature
Much of the current literature on paraprofessionals has arisen from paraprofessional work with special needs children. However, many of the issues are salient for paraprofessionals working with ELL students. The majority of paraprofessionals are women who tend to be re-entering the workforce after a period of absence and generally live near the schools they work in (Pickett, Likins & Wallace, 2003). Significantly, paraprofessionals predominantly teach and support in areas of high specialisation, for example, students with learning disabilities, students from very diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds and students with high physical needs. Giangreco (1999) notes that one of the biggest concerns with paraprofessionals is their lack of training coupled with the considerable time they spend with high, or at least, extra needs students.
Consequently the issue of ongoing training and education for paraprofessionals has been an area of considerable interest in the literature. This ranges from sharing ideas for school-based inductions and focussed training sessions with teachers (for example, Cobb, 2007; Hauge & Babkie, 2006) to the analysis of comprehensive career advancement programmes (Pickett et al., 2003). In the United States, these latter programmes began in the 1960s as a way of moving paraprofessionals and other non-traditional students into teacher education (Pickett et al., 2003; Kaplan, 1977) at a time of low teacher numbers and in recognition of the need to train teachers more able to relate to the communities in which they were teaching.
Professional development for paraprofessionals remaining in the role, however, seems to be patchy (Giangreco, 2003). This is a concern because many paraprofessionals have an inadequate repertoire of strategies and educational theories for the range of instructional situations in which they find themselves (Forster & Holbrook, 2005; Harvey et al., 2008). This is because, for many paraprofessionals, their work has evolved well beyond the original paraprofessional role of administrative support. Increasingly the paraprofessional role involves instruction and is often unsupervised (Forster & Holbrook, 2005; Likins, 2003; Harvey et al., 2008).
Added to concerns about paraprofessional training is the lack of teacher direction in planning and the paucity of time paraprofessionals spend in preparation for teaching sessions with learners. A two year evaluation of the work of classroom assistants in Scottish primary schools illustrates a number of these points. Classroom assistants in the study were not grouped according to the type of teacher/student they supported, however the group did include assistants supporting ELL students. With reference to planning, 84% of classroom assistants were assigned tasks by teachers only when they arrived in the classroom; 53% liaised with teachers informally at breaks; 50% of participants listed planning tasks in a diary or notebook; 35% of participants met teachers occasionally without pupils present and only 25% met teachers regularly without pupils present (Wilson, Schlapp & Davidson, 2003, p. 200).
Related issues are those of paraprofessional relationships and communication with teachers. Giangreco (2003) writes that teachers can be so relieved at having a paraprofessional in their classroom to deal with a student/s with special needs that they disengage from teaching the student/s themselves. Moreover, if the paraprofessional has had any level of training (or many years of experience) they may well be deferred to as the person with the expertise as far as a particular student or group of students is concerned. Giangreco (2003) warns against this and urges teachers to take responsibility for directing learning for all their students including those with high/special needs. A corollary is that teachers need more training themselves in how to direct the instructional activities of paraprofessionals, either through pre-service or in-service training (French, 2001; Downing, Ryndak & Clark, 2000; Wallace, Shin, Bartholomay & Stahl, 2001). An important feature of the ELA professional development programme sponsored by the Ministry of Education, is that CTs attend the six day course run over one semester alongside the paraprofessionals that they direct.
Part one of the research: Description and evaluation of paraprofessional practices in supporting initial reading programmes
The first stage of the research is reported in Harvey et al. (2008). This was a qualitative study which included as participants, twenty eight supervising teachers and twenty four paraprofessionals. Data for the project was gathered through interviews with teachers and paraprofessionals and observations of paraprofessionals working with ELL students across primary, intermediate and secondary schools. Interview and observation data was augmented by ERO (Education Review Office) reports for all the schools involved, as well as ESOL verification reports obtained through the Ministry of Education.
The range and diversity of settings, practices and materials paraprofessionals supported students with in their initial reading and wider ESOL programmes was considerable. Concomitantly, the levels of effectiveness of paraprofessionals across all school sectors also varied widely with some paraprofessionals working very effectively, while there were others who were not. In situations where paraprofessionals were not working effectively, they tended to be working in roles which exceeded the Ministry's guidelines (Ministry of Education, 2006) that is, they were working largely autonomously without clear teacher direction or supervision. A clear finding of the report was that professional development is needed for paraprofessionals working with ELL students. Areas that the researchers found needed particular attention were as follows:
- Planning: Researchers found that sessions were more effective and student learning optimised where there were clear routines and guidelines for students and paraprofessionals to follow. Planning was most effective where paraprofessionals were working in dedicated ESOL units with ESOL teachers who incorporated paraprofessionals explicitly into their planning. It was important in these situations that there was ongoing incidental and scheduled face to face communication between the ESOL teachers and paraprofessionals.
In many instances, however, liaison between the paraprofessionals and/or the ESOL teacher and mainstream teachers was sporadic, relying on chance meetings in the staffroom or school grounds. Some participants (teachers and paraprofessionals) raised the concern that paraprofessionals were only paid for their hours teaching students and not for any planning time. This tended to mitigate against regular planning sessions between teachers and paraprofessionals.
- Group size: Paraprofessional interactions with students at all levels seemed to be most successful when they were working with groups of four or fewer students, although some particularly successful sessions were observed in intermediate schools of paraprofessionals working with very large groups of students (with some students trained as peer tutors). In small groups, the researchers found that students were engaged and very keen to learn from paraprofessionals. Many students enjoyed the extra attention and gained confidence in smaller withdrawal groups.
- Questioning: While some paraprofessionals in the study were effective questioners, others consistently lost learning opportunities by not pushing students to consider a range of issues in relation to texts. The research team observed a predominance of questioning in relation to the meaning and pronunciation of individual words but there were fewer predictive, endophoric and exophoric questions.
- Feedback: Paraprofessionals, on the whole, gave ongoing, encouraging, positive feedback to students but often this was neither specific nor differentiated according to purpose or learning context.
- Materials and resources: Particular areas needing development were the ability of paraprofessionals to select appropriately levelled material and the practice of providing strong visual support for written texts.
- Language support: Some paraprofessionals found it difficult to gloss new vocabulary for students and to explain language points effectively.
- Working with culturally and linguistically diverse students: Some paraprofessionals treated students differentially according to their ethnic background and needed more awareness around their own practices in this regard. Another area for attention was the status of the home language in the classroom and how to best work with this.
The ELA programme
The English Language Assistant (ELA) professional development programme began in 2002. It was introduced as part of realising the government's goal of 'increasing the participation and achievement of migrant students across all areas of education3'. A key platform of the goal was to increase ELL proficiency in English and by 2002 a number of paraprofessionals were working with ELLS in schools in order to help realise the goal. The project description noted:
The need for training for those who assist in English language learning is supported both by anecdotal evidence, from verification reports on the use of ESOL funding and by data from formal and informal surveys and research commissioned by the Ministry of Education on provisions both for students funded for ESOL support and for international fee paying students4.
In 2002, training for paraprofessionals working with ELLs focussed on tailoring the course to Pasifika paraprofessionals. In subsequent years the focus of participants shifted as sources of targeted funding changed. For example, in 2003 the course was funded from migrant professional development money but in 2004, funding for international students was used and the focus for training shifted to ESOL paraprofessionals working with international students. Since 2002, 652 participants from 146 schools have taken part in the ELA professional development programme. Courses have been held predominantly in Auckland, but also in Wellington, Hawkes Bay and Hamilton.
Quality indicators for the ELA programme as identified by the course leader in Milestone One were described as follows:
- Optimise the English language teaching and support ELAs provide for students from language backgrounds other than English.
- Enhance and expand ELA's professional and personal capacities.
- Develop further the understandings, abilities, skills and practices of ELA's in English language teaching and support.
- ELAs to gain a better understanding of their role in the school and in language programmes, and become fully participatory and effective in their role and position, recognised and effectively utilised.
- ELAs to become more confident to deliver and apply enhanced understanding and competencies in Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), as well as general oracy and literacy development, teaching and learning.
- ELAs to develop as lifelong learners.
- Participating schools to have a number of trained ELAs, with enhanced understandings and practices in learning and English/language development, recognising them as key contributors to the educational progress of selected students.
- Target students, that is, Pasifika, Māori, Non-English speaking background/ New learners of English (NESB/NLOE) students with special needs in learning and language, will show gains in English language development, in oracy and literacy.
- The coordinating teachers will have undertaken the key role of coordinating, supporting and organising the effective delivery of the ELAs' work in the school, with identifiable personal and professional gains (van Hees, 2004, p.5).
ELAs themselves were to:
- have gained a better understanding of their role in the school and language programme;
- have become more fully participatory and effective in their role and position; take an active part as professional staff members and be recognised and effectively utilised for their specific areas of expertise and work;
- have developed enhanced, understanding and competencies in English language oracy and literacy development, teaching and learning, especially with Pasifika and new migrant, dual language, dual culture learners;
- be better able to diagnose learner strengths and needs, and make informed decisions about approaches and ways of working that progress their learning and English language acquisition;
- have confidence to communicate well with teachers, to work effectively alongside them, and independently, in order to maximise English language outcomes for students;
- through this training, have opened up and enhanced their present capacities and extended their professional/lifelong learning pathways in this specialised area of work.
Quality indicators were also indentified for schools, coordinating teachers and students (van Hees, 2004, p.5).
The course was delivered in six full day workshops. These were entitled:
- Language assistant effectiveness: 'The Heart of the Matter'.
- Developing and enriching concepts and language: First principles.
- Developing and enriching concepts and language with a bilingual student.
- Scaffolding for language.
- Effective reading 'to' and 'with' children.
- Effective writing development with students: How to make the difference.
Organisation of the report
This report is organised into eight chapters. The focus of the entire report is to describe the changes in paraprofessional practices over 2008 as a result of participation in the ELA course. The second chapter describes the design of the research as well as the approach to analysis. In this chapter, we consider the limitations of the research and also describe the demographics of the participants and schools. Chapter three provides biographical data about participants and examines organisational and affective aspects of paraprofessionals' roles in schools. Chapter four analyses how paraprofessionals' practices and knowledge of pedagogy changed over the year while chapter five considers the changes in participants' understanding of English language and their ability to impart this to students. Chapter six looks at the use of resources in detail and chapter seven considers the connection between the ELA course and ongoing learning for the paraprofessionals. Chapter eight provides a summary of findings and issues to consider for ongoing ESOL paraprofessional development.
- This information has been obtained through personal enquiries to the Demographic and Statistical Analysis Unit, Education Information and Analysis Group, Ministry of Education, Wellington, January 2009.
- Researcher correspondence with Ministry of Education, January, 2009.
- Letter to Principal introducing training, 2003.
- Project Description in personal correspondence from Daniel Haddock, January, 2009.
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