Online Teacher Education Resources in ELT: Language Portraits

As teacher educators, we constantly redesign our syllabi to include up-to-date content, respond to the ever-changing landscape of educating multilingual learners, and provide multimodal readings and resources. The need for contemporary and online resources has been especially critical after the transition to remote instruction.

In this new blog series, we share with you a variety of ways we have moved teacher education into the virtual space. In this first post, we grapple with the question:

What do we do to replace learning experiences
that normally occur through observation
and interaction in classrooms?  

Moving Teacher Education Online

Preparing teacher candidates to work in linguistically and culturally diverse Pre-K–12 schools requires teachers to develop subject matter knowledge specific to working with multilingual learners, as well as understand research-supported, asset-based instructional and assessment practices. But with the transition to remote learning, many of the opportunities to directly work with Pre-K–12 students we used to be able to offer in our courses disappeared. Moreover, even prior to the health crisis, some of our teacher candidates had limited access to classrooms with multilingual learners.

To provide opportunities for teacher candidates to develop the knowledge and pedagogy they need, we need to strategically draw from the myriad of resources available online.

Language Portraits

One of the most important practice-based experiences for teacher candidates is to observe and analyze multilingual learners’ language production to inform their instruction.

Purdue English Language Learner Language Portraits

One useful resource that includes speaking, reading, and writing samples from elementary, middle, and high school students is the Purdue English Language Learner Language Portraits, developed by Drs. Wayne Wright and Trish Morita-Mullaney. The portraits feature multilingual learners at different English proficiency and grade levels and include a writing sample as well as videos of each student presenting orally and reading aloud. Using these portraits, teacher candidates can hear, read, and analyze multilingual student language performance.

The portraits can be used to practice assessment of language performance: For example, the website allows teacher candidates to complete the Student Oral Language Observation Matrix – Revised (SOLOM-R) assessment, running records, and the Analytic Scoring Rubric for Writing. By filling out a Google form, teacher candidates can receive a summary of their scoring to share with their instructor. 

Supporting English Language Learners

Further language samples at different proficiency levels can be viewed on the Supporting English Language Learners website, created by the government of Alberta, Canada. Videos of students’ reading, speaking, and listening performance are accompanied by teacher commentary; additionally, the website offers writing samples by students at different grade and proficiency levels. The resource adheres to the Canadian system of measuring language proficiency, and can serve as an additional source of authentic student language for analysis. The teacher commentary accompanying the samples focuses not only on language, but on students’ ability to engage with content at different levels of language proficiency.

TELPAS Writing Samples

An additional  resource for analyzing students’ written work can be found on the Texas Education Agency’s website for the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System, or TELPAS. The  Annotated Examples of Student Writing feature narrative and expository samples from students in Grades 2, 3, 5, 8, and high school. Each student’s writing sample consists of five to eight papers and is accompanied by annotations on the strengths and needs in the student’s writing development.

The samples can be used for an analysis task with or without the accompanying annotations. A drawback of this resource is that it does not provide samples from students who are at different proficiency levels but in the same grade; however, having more than one writing piece per student is useful for illustrating similarities and differences in a student’s ability to write across genres.

Using Language Portraits for Assessment and Instruction

Compared to working with multilingual learners, the aforementioned samples are the next best thing to observing actual students. In our remote courses, we have used these resources for several purposes. Following, we outline some specific pedagogical practices that we’ve used with teacher candidates.

Illustrate Language Proficiency Levels

Language samples are a useful way to learn more about how language is used at different proficiency levels. In our context, student language proficiency is described using the WIDA levels, but these may remain abstract to our preservice teachers if not accompanied with actual samples of student language. The Purdue English Language Learner Language Portraits include the featured students’ WIDA levels and provide concrete opportunities to observe ELs speak, read, and write. For example, prior to a unit on teaching reading, we show our students clips of ELs reading aloud at different WIDA and grade levels.

Practice Analysis and Assessment

In addition to observing multilingual learners speak, read, and write, teacher candidates also need to develop their skill in analyzing and assessing language performance. For example, the TELPAS writing samples can be used for teacher candidates to practice evaluating writing. We provide preservice teachers with TELPAS writing samples and have them analyze the samples in pairs or small groups using existing writing rubrics, such as the WIDA Writing Interpretive Rubric. We can extend this activity by having teacher candidates prepare written or oral feedback that they might provide to the student writer.

Develop Targeted Mini-Lessons

One of the key learning outcomes in teacher education is for preservice teachers to learn to develop responsive, targeted instruction that facilitates language development. Drawing from the aforementioned resources, teacher candidates can create focused mini-lessons that address a specific language feature. For example, as previously described, we can select a writing sample that teacher candidates analyze with a writing rubric. Next, teacher candidates identify a particular language element based on their assessment and then design a mini-lesson that they would use with the writer.

Do you have experience with language portraits in teacher education? Share your experiences, thoughts, or suggestions in the comments below.

In our next post, we will discuss how online resources created by teachers in the field can offer similarly authentic experiences.   

About Christine Montecillo Leider and Johanna Tigert

Christine Montecillo Leider and Johanna Tigert
Christine Montecillo Leider is a clinical assistant professor at the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University. Her work focuses on antiracist and culturally/linguistically responsive pedagogical practices as well as policy and civil rights issues regarding teacher training and multilingual learners’ access to education. Johanna Tigert is assistant professor at the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Her work focuses on students’ right to maintain their home languages as well as on preparing content area teachers to effectively meet the needs of multilingual students.
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