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Looking at Service Models: HOW do we teach?

Service models have been on my mind lately.

So in my world of English Language Learning, there has been a REALLY BIG PUSH for push-in. My new principal—before he was hired—mentioned SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) and asked how widely it was used in the school. (After a little more questioning, I determined this was an acronym he heard in a training, not one he is intimately familiar with.)

But to answer his question, it’s not widely used. And it’s not widely used because 1) teachers have not really been trained in using it, and 2) resources are scarce. At my school in Burlington, Vermont, we have 61 children that need to be serviced by 2.5 teachers (I must clarify that our .5 is a full-time teacher, shared between two schools, needing prep, travel and lunch time, leaving us with 2.25 hours of her day that she can actually be teaching, and she must spend 30 minutes of that in our sheltered English program that primarily serves newcomers, effectively adding another handful of children to our caseload.).

Confusing, isn’t it. My colleagues and I think so too.

And to confound matters, we fall under the Special Education umbrella, where the new way to make sure that everyone is getting services in a classroom is to work toward a co-teaching model, so that all the children on Individual Educational Plans can get their services in one fell swoop. I feel that they (the ever-present “they”) want the teachers of English Language Learners to do the same, though there is no additional time set aside for teachers to plan today.  Somebody somewhere at the top of the food chain has read that push-in is the best model. There has been no mandate. But the feeling is there nonetheless.

I spent 40 minutes with my principal the other day, educating him as to what we do, how we cover our caseload and how we are trying to help our students progress. His response? “So are you doing this in the classroom? I don’t want children to be singled out, taken out of instruction.”

I went on to explain that we try to pull children out as much as possible during the time that they would be expected to do independent reading, so they would not be missing direct instruction from the classroom teacher. One exception is for those students who really should not be taking Spanish as a third, fourth or fifth language because they still haven’t mastered the second.  Another is that I pull students from grade-level read-alouds because they cannot quite understand what is going on because their mastery of the language is still quite undeveloped.

He graciously said he’d leave us alone—for now. We seemed to have a plan, and he wouldn’t mess with it until he saw it in action.

It’s difficult finding a service model that works.

I recently became more active in the Thinkfinity Community, a social network for teachers. Thinkfinity, by the way, is a very cool site, if you haven’t checked it out. It’s backed by the Verizon Foundation and  You can search for lesson plans and for potential tech integration elements by grade level or by topics you plan to cover.

In August, I posted a question in the community asking about service models and what works.

The question has been viewed more than 300 times by my colleagues across the nation, but there are only six responses. Three are mine. One person. One. Is excited about what her school and district are doing, enough so that she sent me electronic versions of some of the planning that went into it. Others looked and left, which I interpret as being a sign that not too many others are too excited about what they are doing in the world. There are no answers.

I recently, though, got an email from researchers at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. Jingjing Jiao (jiaoj@uwec.edu) and Elizabeth O’Brien (obrienep@uwec.edu). They just happen to be researching service models. But let them say it themselves:

Dear NNETESOL Board Members,

Greetings! We are from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire researching models of English as a Second Language (ESL) or English Language (EL) instruction. My colleagues and I are trying to connect with a diverse array of ESL/ELL teachers in the United States, specifically grades K-12. We would like to know how effective push-in and pull-out models of ESL instruction are.

We are collecting data by way of an electronic survey. The research survey does not require personal information (although you may enter their name into a drawing for a free textbook), nor does it take much time (less than 30 minutes).

We are emailing you to inquire if you would generously pass the survey along to your network of English as a Second Language teachers, if you could post a link to the survey on your webpage, or include a link in your newsletter. If you are willing or would like to review the survey yourself, please click on the link. 

https://uweauclaire.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_6Rwzo7Ckb4GeZDe

If the link does not work, copy and paste the web address into the address bar of your web browser.

Your time and consideration are greatly appreciated.

I don’t know how much research has been done on this topic, but I do know that we, as active practitioners in the field, need as much help as possible to know what we should be doing and a way to perhaps counter the (I believe) ill-informed idea of administrators that instruction must happen inside the classroom or it’s wrong. I took the survey. I think you should too. Maybe in the end of all of this, we will finally find something that works.

I’ll put in another plug now, too, and that is for our conference next month. One strand will focus on Systemic Functional Linguistics as part of a grant that has been running through St. Michael’s College. I’ve been to a couple of conferences that have focused on this topic as well, and I am fascinated.

I hope to see you at the conference. And if you have some insight into service models, we should do lunch.

–Beth Evans, NNETESOL Webmaster

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