Hooked on Books' benefits pre-service teachers, English language learners

Seven University of Wisconsin-Platteville pre-service teachers gained experience working with seven elementary-aged English language learners, thanks to “Hooked on Books,” an after-school reading program held this spring at Westview Elementary School in Platteville.

The goal of the reading program, now in its second year, is to provide pre-service teachers with hands-on experiences working with English language learners and to provide those learners with opportunities to increase their English and literacy skills. English language learners or English learners are those students who come from a family where the home language is different than English.

The reading program was made possible through a collaborative partnership between UW-Platteville and Westview Elementary School, led by Dr. Edina Haslauer, assistant professor of education at UW-Platteville, Dr. Peggy Marciniec, associate professor of education at UW-Platteville, and Valerie Shaw, Platteville School District ESL teacher/coordinator and CESA 3 Title III Program Manager.

University pre-service teachers planned and implemented mini-lessons for the elementary English language learners in an after-school format, providing targeted support, including vocabulary development and reading, listening, speaking and writing skills – although the main objective was to develop a love for reading. Lessons were based on WIDA principles and the English language proficiency of the elementary students.

Olivia Saucedo, a junior elementary education major from Hinckley, Illinois, said her most memorable moment during the program was when the student with whom she was working finally opened up and started interacting with her and with what was happening in the story they were reading. “She was very shy at first and would not ask or answer questions,” she said. “By the end of the semester, she was always asking questions about certain words in the book or ask if she could do the ‘flip-o-rama’ in the book.”

One of the challenges Saucedo faced was finding appropriate activities for the student to do that were related to the story but still challenged her. “I started out doing activities that were first-grade level, and I noticed that she would complete them very quickly and with ease,” she said. “I started making them a little bit more difficult and tested her creativity.”

Saucedo said she learned a lot from the experience – and from the student. “Not only was I helping her understand English and our culture, she was helping me understand her culture too,” she said. “Learning about the differences in our cultures really opened my eyes and helped me realize that we are all different, so everyone needs to be taught differently in some things.”

Haslauer noted it was a very diverse group of students. “Some children have immigrant parents, although the children might or might not have been born in the United States,” she said. “These students typically quickly pick up the language that is used in everyday interactions and demonstrate proficient pronunciation. While they are able to communicate on the playground, they often have difficulties with the academic language, thus, they need educational support much longer than it seems necessary.”

Haslauer said the “Hooked on Books” program helps socialize the pre-service teachers into the field of teaching. “It helps them understand and realize that every child can achieve,” she said. “It is a powerful feeling to know that you have helped a child achieve.”

Shaw said the need for best practices with English language learners is great in Southwest Wisconsin. “By providing these types of opportunities and trainings for districts around this area, the hope is that more teachers will be trained in best practices for English language learners, and that they will also feel comfortable in reaching out to CESA 3 with questions or concerns they have regarding English learners in the surrounding districts,” she said. “Additionally, teachers in training are able to connect what they are learning to the populations that they will ultimately serve upon graduation.”

Shaw explained it is important for English language learners to have an environment that is stress free and accessible in order to learn another language. “By providing the younger students with a university student as their ‘teacher friend’ throughout the semester, the level of stress was greatly reduced and the English learners were able to focus on having fun while learning language,” she said.

Prior to the program starting two years ago, Haslauer wrote a grant and was able to secure a library of books that the English language learners choose from while they are working with the university students. The books are housed in the Westview Elementary library for all students to check out, read and enjoy.

Haslauer, Marciniec and Shaw have been working together for the past two years to provide more opportunities for English language learners in the K-12 environment and for UW-Platteville education majors who will be the future teachers of this special population.

UW-Platteville students who participated in the “Hooked on Books” program included Saucedo, Jacob Nachtigal, Samantha Christian, Ashley Reuter, Dana Maxwell, Lindsey Bollig and Hannah Brudi.

This spring, the students also participated in a World-class Instructional Design and Assessment workshop, “Differentiation for Linguistically Diverse Students,” at UW-Platteville, sponsored by the School of Education and CESA 3. Another WIDA professional development workshop, for general classroom teachers and English language specialists who share instructional responsibility for language learners, will be held at UW-Platteville Aug. 13-14.