Minigrant projects, 2002

The following projects are being undertaken during the spring and summer of 2002. Participants' original proposals for funding appear below. Sharing sessions/presentations of their work will be scheduled for the fall.

Color Coded Vowels

David Henry, Director, Gloria Dei ESL

I have taught English as a second language for 8 years. Two years in Taipei, four years in Shanghai and for the past two years in Rhode Island. In October I started Gloria Dei ESL, an outreach ministry of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Providence.

I am applying for a mini grant for developing a system of using color codes to teach ESL students pronunciation of standard North American English vowel sounds.

In my practice, I find students always want to tie the pronunciation of words to the letters used to spell the words. When I model a dialogue with the books closed, they accuratedly produce the same sounds as I do: when I model the dialogue with the books open, it's as if they can't even hear me. They pronounce the words as they are written.

Three years ago, when I was teaching English Speaking to college freshman in Shanghai, I began experimenting with an idea suggested in Teaching Pronunciation (Celce-Murcia, Brinton and Goodwin, Cambridge University Press, 1996,) of using colors to represent vowel sounds (green is the long e sound, silver the short i, mauve the aw sound, etc.; sixteen colors for sixteen vowel sounds). I posted the colors in the classroom and referred to them when correcting pronunciation. It seemed to help a bit, but I wasnít sure what I was doing and the colors soon fell into neglect.

After moving back to Rhode Island, I resurrected and modified my "color coded vowels" for a class I was teaching at Smith Hill ESL. I could not post the colors on the wall, so I carried them into class every day on sheets of copy paper. I put them between initial and final consonants written on the chalk board to guide the students to the correct pronunciation of words. Often students would not recognize the word they were saying even though it was a part of their active vocabulary. When I eventually wrote the word on the board, students realized the difference between their usual pronunciation of the word and the more standard pronunciation produced with the vowel color.

With the color cards in my hands, I found myself manipulating them more effectively and readily inserting them into grammar lessons and discussion sessions to correct pronunciation quickly and relatively unobtrusively.

In another class I taught for RIRAL at Childrenís Friend and Service in Central Falls, I began to use the colors for listening distinction between minimal pairs. The two sides of the minimal pair list were identified as "Green" words and "Silver" words. When I spoke a sentence that included one of the minimal pair words, students identified the word by its color. If I said "I want a sheep," the students would respond "GREEN." When I said "I want a ship," they responded "SILVER." With practice, they learned to hear the distinction and to associate the distinction with the color codes.

Because I emphasize speaking and listening skills when I teach, I have tended to view the color codes as release from the tyranny of the printed word. Students may continue to have trouble producing the "purple" vowel sound but at least they realize they are aiming at the same sound for "her," "heard," "bird," "word" and "hurt." With practice their pronunciation of the sound definitely improves as well as an understanding that the different spellings do not indicate a different sound.

For the past six months at Gloria Dei ESL, I have continued to work with the colors, developing different techniques. Student pronunciation certainly benefits from the system; but it hasn't done anything to help them learn to spell the words they pronounced so well.

Last semester I began to work with the colors to help teach reading and spelling. I worked up a small set of vocabulary cards with the vowel portion of the word printed in the sound color. For example, in the word "walk" the "al" would be written in mauve; in "work" the "o" would be in gold. I quickly ran into logistical problems: "black" being the color for the short a, was not a suitable color for printing the consonant letters; "white" being the color for long i, is a poor choice for a background color. Pedagogical questions also hindered me; which words should I use as examples of the various spelling options for a given vowel sound. How can I best present letter combinations that represent two or more vowel sounds? The concept shows great promise; but it needs to be worked out and tried.

This mini-grant will allow for basic resources (card stock, markers, and ink cartridges) as well as the time to: a) write down what I have learned so far into a form that can be easily taught to and adopted by other teachers and: b) extend the concept to other uses such as reading and spelling.

Gloria Dei ESL has expanded rapidly this term. We recently hired three additional teachers and I have asked them to use the color coded vowel system as a standardized teaching tool. I propose to use the grant to allow me to introduce this technique to our staff and encourage them to experiment with other applications.

My final presentation will demonstrate the best uses of the system based on the experience of our staff, with critical feedback from them. I will also include a document that will help other teachers implement the system in their own practices.

read David's final report

Students actively constructing their own knowledge

Brenda McGill, Asst. Director, Access to Opportunity, CCRI Pawtucket COZ GED program instructor

I have always been enthralled with inquiry-based instruction in science topics with GED students, because most of our class work is independent or small group instruction at its best. Utilizing inquiry-based tasks allowed the class to enter a realm of discussion through exploration of a concept, addressing terms and principles as they arise in the class dialogue. With this focus on the development of concepts as an introduction to a larger problem, students learned to use scientific methods, and to apply them to new situations. How wonderful to enliven the reading-writing-lecture structure into a milieu of discovery! When we completed the science section of the GED, however, and moved to the Social Studies, my creation inquiry projects hit a stone wall and led me to reconsider the constructivist view of teaching and learning.

Therefore, my project will be to consider the constructivist design to social studies instruction, that will require students to "mediate and construct knowledge with the aid of public media and others. The key idea is that students actively construct their own knowledge." (Woolfolk, 1993, 485). My purpose is to create a GED learning environment that supports the sit-and-listen method with instruction where students are actively involved in meaningful group with work, within the time constraints and attendance reality of the GED classroom. My reason for pursuing this topic evolves from a personal need to pursue the ëstate of the artí of instructional methods to improve the understanding-retention and application of knowledge, in this case within the social studies arena. I anticipate the outcome of pursuing this thread to be the development of a curriculum support that will help GED teachers and students engage in an interactive learning environment by incorporating the " five!principles" of constructivist values into social studies.

Principle 1. Maintain a buffer between the learner and the potentially damaging effects of instructional practices.
Principle 2. Provide a context for learning that supports both autonomy and relatedness.
Principle 3. Embed the reasons for learning into the learning activity itself.
Principle 4. Support self-regulated learning by promoting skills and attitudes that enable the learner to assume increasing responsibility for the developmental restructuring process.
Principle 5. Strengthen the learnerís tendency to engage in intentional learning processed, especially by encouraging the strategic exploration of errors. (Lebow, 1993, 5-6)

I would appreciate the opportunity to develop this project and present it this fall to the LR/RI conference.

Lebow, D. 1993. "Constructivist values for instructional systems design: Five principles toward a new mindset." Educational Technology Research and Development, 41 (3) :4-16.

Woolfolk, A. E. 1993. Educational Psychology. Goston: Allyn and Bacon.

Balanced literacy framework

Theresa Watson, Washington County Adult Learning Center

I have been an ABE/GED instructor for the Washington County Adult Learning Center for the past five years and will again be teaching for this agency in the fall. My proposed project focuses on developing the comprehension skills of adult students in Rhode Island.

I teach ABE/GED at Westerly High School. My students are mostly young students who recently have dropped out of school. A smaller number are older adult returning to get their GED. Most students, when pre-assessed, fall into the adult basic education group. They need basic skills before they can master many of the concepts needed to successfully pass the GED test. I find the basic skills the students need to pass the test are the ones that they lack, basic comprehension skills. They also lack a varied vocabulary and decoding skills to find context clues. As adult students, we expect them to come to class equipped with these basic comprehension skills but increasingly I find the skills not only lacking, but not evident at all. As a whole they do not read on their own, not even the daily newspaper. The lack of skills inhibits their ability to not only grasp concepts, but also to understand what they are asked to do on the test. They become frustrated, and many of them stop coming to class. As an instructor, I am frustrated because they are being asked to complete tasks they cannot.

I am proposing to develop an adult education Balanced Literacy Frameworkbased upon the work of Connie Prevatte for use with ABE/GED classes. For those students who struggle with comprehension, The Balanced Literacy Framework can be an important tool in developing the growth and development of a student's reading and writing proficiency. Specifically, the framework has seven components: Teacher Read Aloud encourages the joy of reading and motivates the students to read; Self ­Selected Reading develops reading fluency and vocabulary growth; Home Reading allows for reading at and independent level and affects reading achievement, vocabulary growth, and fluency; Teacher Directed Reading is where thinking and reading comprehension strategies are actually taught; Word Building teaches students word attack skills that they can apply to find meaning from text as well as spelling; Small Group Instruction ensures group instruction at their instructional reading level; and Writing which develops the reading/writing connection and allows students to create a text to communicate meaning and will focus on the criteria established to score the GED writing part of the test.

The focus on this project will be to develop a format that is easily transferable to the structure and culture of the adult classroom. Because we meet only 6 hours a week, three of which is reading/writing, a focus of this project will be to design a framework that will maximize the use of this limited time while at the same time develop the necessary skills.

I am undertaking this project because of my continued frustration in not meeting the needs of my adult students. I need to change and improve not only my delivery method, but also the material that I am delivering. I need to address the void in skill I repeatedly find in my students. The purpose is to equip students with the skills that will successfully allow them to complete the GED test in a new and innovative manner. I am in hopes that the outcomes of this project will be a more skillful and successful student.

I recently went to two-day training byConnie Prevatte and I am in possession of the Balanced Literacy Framework materials. The funds I am requesting will be used as a stipend for the time it will take to develop a a semester of lessons. I will the share my work within the agency I work, and with others that are interested.

page created June 28, 2002; updated February 25, 2003

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