Volume VII - May 1, 2004


Welcome to the E-Comp!, a complimentary monthly newsletter for language educators brought to you by Prolinguistica.com.

And the winner is...

National Teacher of the Year Teaches ESL
Kathy Mellor was recently named National Teacher of the Year for 2004. For 24 years, Mellor, has taught English language learners at Davisville Middle School in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. She is the first ESL teacher to receive this national honor.
You can read about her at:
and at:

For your reading pleasure…

Language teaching starts early in Finland
Ginko Kobayashi / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

About 10 immigrant children at the Meri-Rastila Lower Stage School in Helsinki for children aged 7 to 12 rack their brains over mathematics textbooks filled with colorful pictures. Coins, notes and wallets are portrayed on the page, and the children have to figure out how much they will be left with if they have 5 euro and spend 2 euro.

"How many coins will you have now?" A Finnish teacher asks the question a couple of times until it sinks into the children's brains. Some immediately understand the question, but others take time as their level of Finnish comprehension is not yet high. But this is no cause for worry. Two other teachers who can speak several languages assist these students in understanding the question.

The school, located in the eastern part of Helsinki, caters to children from different ethnic backgrounds and with varying language abilities. Although immigrants account for only about 2 percent of Finland's population, the school is located in an area where many immigrants live, and 90 of the school's 385 students, more than 20 percent of the student body, are immigrant children.

The city of Helsinki requires schools to instruct immigrant children in their mother tongues for two hours a week. At the Meri-Rastila Lower Stage School, 15 non-Finnish languages are taught for such students.
In addition, some classes taught in Finnish, such as mathematics, have teachers on hand who can speak the immigrant children's languages in case the children need assistance. The children not only learn the subject, but improve their Finnish-language ability at the same time.

Improving literacy is emphasized throughout children's formative years, whether they are Finnish or foreign.
At home, it is customary for parents to read stories to their children before putting them to bed, says Eeva Penttila, head of international affairs at the City of Helsinki's education department.

Schools play their part as well. At the Meri-Rastila Lower Stage School, children compete with each other in the number of books they read. They also look forward to visits by library buses--loaded with all kinds of tomes--although the school has its own library as well.

The children from time to time write stories and send them to a local paper, which sets aside space for their contributions. The paper also supplies free copies to the school so the children can study the stories.
Finnish children also start learning foreign languages at the age of 9, including English, Swedish (5 percent of the population's mother tongue is Swedish), Russian, German and French.

Although there is some anxiety in Japan over the idea of officially introducing foreign-language learning to the primary school curriculum as it may hinder their Japanese education, there is no such concern here.
To the contrary, it is believed that learning other languages strengthens children's abilities in their mother tongue, Penttila says.
More freedom, autonomy
In Finland, teachers are granted a considerable degree of decision-making authority over management, school policy and teaching. For example, teaching materials are not inspected or defined in advance and individual teachers decide which materials to use.

More autonomy is better, say some Finnish academics in a report titled "The Finnish Success in PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment)--And Some Reasons Behind It." The report analyzed reasons why the nation's 15-year-olds posted the best literacy scores in the PISA, which was conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2000.

"As a rule...countries with greater degrees of school autonomy, including Finland, attained a higher average level of student performance than those with lower levels of school autonomy," the report said.
Keiko Yoshizaki, a Japanese architect at the Helsinki City Planning Office, cites a consideration of the school environment as a factor in Finnish success.

"Children spend many hours at school during the day. So Finnish educators believe that the schools should be the most comfortable place for them to be. If the environment is good, they will learn better--this's how the educators think," Yoshizaki explained.

The Meri-Rastila Lower Stage School is a good example. The school facilities have a warm, bright image, with white walls decorated with colorful drawings created by children.

Children chatter over warm meals at lunch in the school cafeteria. Next to it is a room for children with special needs. The school frequently organizes events that all children can participate in.

The school also has a youth center and arts and crafts workshops where children can spend their afternoons after class before their working parents come to pick them up.

"Here, we want our children to feel at home," says Sami Aarto, assistant principal at the school.
Problems, problems
Finnish education, however, is not problem-free. For one, there is a widening gap in the level of students' performances by gender. Emphasis on literacy has created a situation in which women--who tend to be better at languages--are winning more university seats than men.

This also is causing an imbalance in the selection of courses. "Girls take more foreign languages because it is easier for them. So when they enter universities, we do not have enough students who want to study the sciences and mathematics," Penttila said.

A gap in educational levels between young adults and the middle-aged is also a problem, says Sari Turunen-Zwinger, apprenticeship training adviser at the Helsinki municipal education department.

In the 25-34 age group, 83 percent have completed at least an upper secondary level degree, while only 37 percent in the 55-64 age group have done the same.

The late-start students have in their working lives is also a problem. As it is customary for a teacher to get a master's degree and common for them to achieve additional qualifications, teachers start working as late as 28, instead of between 22 or 24 as in other European Union countries. The shortened duration of their working lives means their pension contributions are less than those of previous generations, which is worrisome for an aging Finland.

One solution is to allow a considerable number of immigrants into Finland. But Finland--like Japan--has not yet decided its stance on this issue. Finland's birthrate is 1.8, the highest among European Union nations. But as the population of young mothers is currently low, new births are not effectively offsetting the decrease in population.

Finland, in effect, finds itself with an increasing number of well-educated young people in an aging nation. This is a problem that is now shared or will be shared in the future by industrial nations like Japan.

There is one thing, though, that no one in Finland seriously talks about though it is often discussed in Japan: finding a correlation between an increase in women going to universities and the dropping birthrate.

Education official Turunen-Zwinger, in her early 30s, refutes this link. "It is terrible to talk about education and the birthrate as a single item. In our age group, we are very well-educated and still have children."

Penttila adds that although there have been various analyses of why Finland has achieved good educational results, "our most recent research shows that the only definite reason--if ever--was this: When the educational level of mothers is high, children are also well educated."

Infusing Language Teaching with Culture
For today’s foreign language instructor, competence in a foreign language involves both linguistic mastery and an understanding of the values and traditions of the people who speak that language. An important emphasis in foreign language instruction should be in gearing the student to become aware of the cultural norms and behavioral patterns of that language. To read the rest of the article go to:

Bilingual Vocational Ed: Teaching Trades and English Together
Alejandra Casado doesn't fit any old stereotypes of a welder. She is in her 40s, a mother of three, and an immigrant from Guadalajara, Mexico. Her voice is even and soft. Leaning against a metal gate she helped piece together at Cerritos College, Casado pulled up the sleeves of a purple sweater recently to proudly reveal an impressive collection of scars from welding sparks. "Look at my ladies' hands!" she said in Spanish, laughing, showing off a fresh scab. "Look at my horrible nails." But, she added, shrugging: "When you like your job, when you see you're doing something positive, you keep working." Casado learned her new trade in a growing field of education: bilingual vocational programs. Cerritos College in Norwalk, in particular, has gained recognition for filling a special need in the immigrant communities of Southern California by teaching trades and English together. The goal, being copied by more two-year colleges, is to get new English learners into the job market faster. Read more at: http://susanohanian.org/show_atrocities.php?id=2243

Student Creates Spanish Directory to Help Immigrants
Miguel Medina, 14 years old, created a Spanish-language community directory to make immigrants and visitors to the Houston area feel more welcomed. Originally this was a classroom assignment. To read the complete article, visit:

Oneida Nation Helping Tribal Members Learn to Speak Oneida
The Oneida Nation has signed a charter that outlines a language immersion plan for their tribal members in an attempt to revive the declining language. In addition to hiring a linguist fluent in the language the charter calls for the creation of a teacher certification program to expand on the number of teachers of Oneida. The hope is that in seven generations the Oneida people will all once again speak their language.
To read the complete article, visit:


Latin Lessons Go Hi-Tech

By Janet Murray
Pupils at a secondary school in Brighton are giving up their spare time to bring Latin into the 21st Century. The after-school Latin club at Patcham High School is open to students in the first five years of the school. It currently attracts up to 20 of them every Monday. A number of the students are on the school's "gifted and talented" register and some are already recognised as capable linguists, but children of all abilities can attend. The course, which has been running since November 2003, was developed with help from the Cambridge Online Latin Project. This aims to support the teaching of Latin in secondary schools and provide digital learning resources. Read the whole article at:

Resources you might be interested in….

Jecris.com is a French language website for early childhood and elementary education, offering a variety of sections, with games, songs, worksheets, poetry, art collections, riddles and more.
Check it out at: http://www.jecris.com/

Not surpisingly... good stuff is shown to work
In Learner-Centered Instruction and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences with Second Language Learners, Marjorie Hall Haley presents the results of an action research study of 23 teachers and 650 students from eight states and three countries. The study applied Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences (MI) to foreign and English language learners in grades K-12. Results showed that students in experimental groups receiving MI-based instruction outperformed those in the control group. Marjorie Hall Haley is associate professor of education, George Mason University. Her article appears in the January 2004 issue of Teachers College Record (volume 16, 1, pp. 163-180). For information, contact:
Teachers College Box 103
Columbia University
525 West 120th Street
New York, NY 10027
Email: tcrecord@exchange.tc.columbia.edu
http://www. TCRecord.org

New Publications from CREDE

* Research Report 13: The Development of Bilingualism and Biliteracy from Grade 3 to 5: A Summary of Findings from the CAL/CREDE Study of Two-Way Immersion Education, by Elizabeth Howard, Donna Christian, and Fred Genesee
The study looked at the language and literacy development of both native Spanish speakers and native English speakers in two-way immersion programs. The report is unique in that it examines achievement of both groups as they progress over time in a multidimensional format and with a national scope. Included are the research design and analysis of data gathered in this CAL/CREDE study. For more information, visit: http://www.cal.org/crede/pubs/

* Engaging Students in Reading Comprehension Using Instructional Conversation (video) produced by, Peggy Estrada
This video features CREDE's Five Standards for Effective Pedagogy through a reading lesson in a first-grade classroom. Filmed in a documentary style, the video shows a two-way immersion teacher instructing a small group of students in the reading process. Throughout, the teacher models Instructional Conversation—sustained, purposeful teacher-student dialogue. For more information about this video, visit: http://www.cal.org/crede/pubs/

* Designing Effective Activity Centers for Diverse Learners: A Guide for Teachers at all Grade Levels by, R. Soleste Hilberg, Ji-Mei Chang, and Georgia Epaloose
This CREDE occasional publication is a step-by-step reference guide for designing and implementing Activity Centers in K-8 classrooms. At the core of the theory of practice are CREDE's Five Standards for Effective Pedagogy. A rich array of cross-curricular classroom examples are provided to help the reader visualize the concepts. For more information about this document, visit: http://www.cal.org/crede/pubs/

Thinking about it…

Marion Brady's commentary in the Orlando Sentinal (Florida) begins with observations about how we react to certain words, and goes on to raise questions about the accountability movement. No matter where you stand on this issue, his column is an opportunity to think carefully about what we've been doing.

Key to accountability: What are we locking out?
By Marion Brady
Special to the Sentinel
April 22, 2004
Certain words get a free ride. When we read or hear them, they go directly to our emotions without passing through our brains. "Natural" is such a word. In my local supermarket, it appears in big letters on boxes, bottles, jars, cans and wrappers, helping to sell bread, jelly, peanut butter, baby food, eye drops, hair spray, shampoo, hand lotion, Popsicles, ice cream, beans, cake mixes, cookies, cereal, digestive-system fiber, and much else. Fine print may point out that the word refers to only one ingredient, but fine print rarely gets read. If the word helps nudge a product off the shelf and into the grocery cart, it's done its work.

We have many such words and phrases: Lite. Freedom. NEW! Democracy. Competition. IMPROVED! We. Quality. Fat-free. Original. Organic. Liberators. Add "accountability" to the list. Attached to "standards," as in the political mantra "standards and accountability," it's successful in the same way that the word "natural" is successful. It goes directly to voters' emotions without passing through their brains.

What does the word really mean? The dictionary isn't much help. It says that one should be accountable for one's acts; responsible; behavior should be defensible.

I don't know any teachers or school principals who reject the need for accountability. What's tearing a great many of them up, and sending some to early retirement, is deciding to whom they should be accountable. Official policy demands one thing; their desire to do what's best for kids demands something else.

Of course, most of those who're currently making education policy don't think that's a problem. They're sure that their demands are identical with what's best for kids, sure that everything important about educating can be measured and the result summed up in a single number or letter grade, sure, therefore, that No Child Left Behind's requirements for standardized testing, grade retention, school grading, public shaming and so on are real reforms.

And they've been very successful at convincing the general public that they're right, that their policies are the key to accountability. Those who oppose them -- those who point to mountains of contrary research and firsthand experience showing that the new policies are simplistic and will prove to be disastrously counterproductive -- get written off as unwilling to be held unaccountable.

There are, however, an increasing number of professionals angry enough to take a stand, and Nebraska's commissioner of education, Doug Christensen, is one of them. Nebraska's schools have a good reputation, and he aims to maintain and improve that reputation. What, then, should one think when he says, "I don't give a damn what No Child Left Behind (NCLB) says. I think education is far too complex to be reduced to a single score. . . . If it's bad for kids, we're not going to do it."?

Is he refusing to be held accountable? Irresponsible? Self-serving? Or is he seeing "accountability" as something owed to students rather than to politicians whose views are too often skewed by political considerations?

Christensen doesn't think Nebraska's schools are exemplary. But neither does he buy Washington's contention, echoed in most state capitols (with an eye on federal money), that NCLB is the key to improvement. He thinks the real problem is that schools really haven't changed much in the past hundred years and need more flexibility to rethink what they're doing and why. He argues that the curriculum lacks clarity, focus and coherence. He says schools -- particularly those above the elementary level -- are far too big, aren't sufficiently integrated with the communities they serve, and don't make adequate provision for how kids differ from each other. He thinks student educational experience doesn't flow smoothly from one level to the next, and believes research is a better guide to reform than what often passes for common sense.

Think about Christensen's list of problems. Not a single item on it lies primarily in the realm of teacher or student control and responsibility.

Everything he thinks is necessary to improve the quality of schooling requires a loosening rather than a tightening of centralized, bureaucratic control.

Which means that the education-improvement monkey should be taken off the backs of students and teachers and put where it belongs -- on the backs of legislators in Washington and in state capitols. They've hung the "standards and accountability" slogan in the wrong place, and milked it for political advantage long enough.

Call or write those legislators. Tell them that Doug Christensen has it right, that more and more of their constituents know it, and you're going to hold them accountable.

Marion Brady, a longtime educator, lives in Cocoa. He wrote this commentary for the Orlando Sentinel.


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