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North Kitsap teachers become students during summer break

Thereza Przekota keeps the teachers up to speed by sharing the learning strategies being applied while Ana Filipek teaches in the background. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Thereza Przekota keeps the teachers up to speed by sharing the learning strategies being applied while Ana Filipek teaches in the background.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

POULSBO — It’s difficult for students to adequately learn core subjects if they aren’t equipped with an in-depth English vocabulary.

Students must become vocabulary and language experts to become masters of learning and knowledge.

“Language is your common denominator, without language how do you communicate your knowledge?” said Dixie Husser, North Kitsap School District assistant director of Teaching and Learning.

Therefore, Monday through Thursday approximately 40 NKSD teachers were back in school learning a few tips, techniques and strategies for effective English language instruction that can be applied to core subjects.

Ana M. Filipek, an educational consultant from Garden Grove, Calif., and Thereza Przekota, a Seattle Public Schools teacher of more than 25 years, guided the teachers through Access the Core training.

Access the Core aims to improve and refine English language instruction within core content areas by providing educators with research-based and effective best practices to close the achievement gap in the classroom.

The program focuses on equipping English Language Learners (ELL), native-English Language students advancing their academic English and high-poverty (lacking resources) learners with the necessary vocabulary to excel in all subjects.

But it’s more than just teaching language, it’s helping teachers implement various teaching techniques to reach all students through various learning styles — kinetic, visual, audible, photographic, etc.

Filipek said the stand and lecture or read and answer formats no longer cut it.

“The key is to teach to all modalities and learning styles,” she said. “The truth is we need to make sure we’re hitting all the styles of learning for all kids. That means coming out of the traditional roles.”

The teachers spent two days learning strategies and two days observing the strategies applications and then created their own lesson plans.

Among the strategies: pictorial story maps, group collaboration, sequencing of events, problem and solution, cause and affect and chants.

On Wednesday at Wolfle Elementary 10 third-grade summer school students were Filipek’s guinea pigs, while more than 20 teachers observed.

For the first 45 minutes of the three-hour strategy application session Filipek entertained and engrossed the students with pictorial learning, teamwork and vocabulary processing questions.

She introduced herself by drawing a map of California and then a Mickey Mouse head, and asked the students where she lived.

Instantly all the hands went up. Disney Land of course, but first she asked them to discuss among themselves.

And they did, all the students participated.

“In kindergarten, first grade, primary they do not even know how to turn to each other and talk. It is a taught practice,” Przekota said to the teachers. “This is where you get the silent student to come out easier than always the alpha students who dominate the classroom.”

Filipek had the students repeat “cooperation” twice and then define it.

One by one they raised their hands and Filipek wrote their definitions — sharing, teamwork, helping each other, responsibility, working together — for all to see.

They repeated the same exercise with what cooperation looks likes, sounds like and feels like.

“Always give them the opportunity to negotiate a meaning prior to giving it out. It emphasizes the speaking and listening component,” Przekota said. “When teaching teamwork and cooperation you’re also teaching the English language in written form and what comes out is the English language so it’s also teaching communication.”

Husser said 75 NKSD teachers have gone through Access the Core training, and she’d love for all the district’s teachers to participate.

“The research shows that it’s working,” Husser said. “In schools where the whole staff is trained their scores are going up. By using strategies that reach all the kids we will be able to capture their imaginations and they will be able to process further and faster.”

It also rejuvenates the teachers’ teaching spirits.

Husser said one teacher who’d taught for 25 years was ready to retire, but after she experienced Access the Core, she was revamped for another 25 years.

“It’s empowering, engaging and very motivating,” said Karen Trudeau, a first/second-grade teacher at Pearson Elementary. “I’m motivated to go back and use the information. It’s absolutely a professional development opportunity I will use in my classroom.”

The district provided Access the Core training in August of 2007, January and April via Title I and Title III grant funds. Another session is slated for later in July. Husser said the program is being offered now because eight years ago there were 40 ELL students in the district. Today there are 205 ELL students and several others who need help but don’t qualify for the ELL program.

She said approximately 20 percent of NKSD students are non-native English speakers.

“It takes generations to learn English and this is a way you can reduce the learning time and level the playing field,” she said.

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