Addressing the Nation’s English Language Learners

Posted by Paula Paine on August 4, 2014 in "Your OU" Almost 15 percent of the U.S. school population is classified as ELL (English Language Learners). Thomas and Collier (2002) estimate that by 2030, the number will grow to an astonishing 40 percent.

The impact that statistic has on our teachers is profound, especially in the state of Kansas, which has one of the highest increases in ELL students in the nation. Though not yet required, the National Accreditation Standards board is encouraging all teacher candidates to receive ELL training to prepare them to meet the needs of this growing student demographic.

Dr. Nilufer Guler joined OU’s School of Education faculty in the spring of 2014 as lead faculty for Kansas Teacher Initial Licensure Programs. She was also immediately tasked with updating ELL curriculum for the University’s teacher education programs, as well as an ELL endorsement that can be added to any teaching license.

Dr. Guler’s PhD in English Education with an emphasis in ELL Education made her the perfect candidate for the job. In fact, her dissertation was titled “Preparing to Teach English Language Learners: Exploring the change in mainstream teachers’ perceptions of ELL students in two online certification courses.” In addition, she holds an MA in Linguistics from Ohio University (Athens, OH) and a BA in English Education from Middle East Technical University (Ankara, Turkey). She is widely published, has presented at numerous conferences, and has more than 10 years of ESL/ELL teaching experience at the high school, undergraduate and graduate levels.

“Dr. Guler is a gift of wisdom and joy for the teacher education unit,” says School Dean Dr. Amy Hogan. Kansas Education Licensure Specialist Denise Cook agrees. “Nilufer is a wonderfully sweet and kind person who is absolutely willing to work as a team and share ideas,” she says. “Her knowledge of reading and ELL brings a great new dimension and depth to our campus students. She holds students accountable, but shows understanding and kindness as she helps them become professionals.”

As an English Language Learner herself, Guler understands that ELL students come with different social, cultural and learning needs. And with the growing numbers, she realizes that every teacher who graduates from OU’s education program will have ELL students in their classroom.

“It is very important to train our mainstream teachers in ELL methods,” she says. “English language learners in America’s public schools have the highest dropout and lowest graduation rates of any student population, so it is very important to learn how to effectively educate those students. That’s why I am really excited about these courses. Our education majors will have a huge advantage with this training added to their degree.”

In fact, all OU education majors are now required to have ELL experiences, whether through formal ELL courses or their general practicums. Guler offered the first ELL Methods course in the spring, giving students the opportunity to make connections in the local school districts and combine ELL philosophy with practice.

“The education students went into local schools and worked directly with ELL teachers,” said Guler. “They observed the challenges encountered by the students and the teacher and recorded information that they used to complete their final projects and papers. They did a wonderful job. I was very proud of them.”

Following the course, Guler used the students’ work as the basis for an article that she has submitted to the Advocate Journal, the publication of the Kansas Association of Teacher Education. Titled “Understanding the Role and Challenges of ELL Departments at Public Schools; An Inquiry from Pre-service Teachers’ Perspectives,” Guler named the students as authors of the article and herself as corresponding author. The article is currently under review.

Seeing the greater need for ELL training within the local educational community, Ottawa University will be offering four ELL workshops to mainstream teachers in nearby school districts this fall. Area teachers can also earn their ELL endorsement through the University. OU education students will further the reach of their ELL exposure in the future when they gain access to Kansas City schools with which OU is partnering.

Guler’s knowledge and talents will continue to be utilized in exciting ways in the future, as she has been tasked to work with Professor and International Student Coordinator Dr. Murle Mordy to again offer ESL services to international students. She is also working on developing curriculum for a new Master’s of Education in English Language Learning.

“I was attracted to Ottawa University because OU has a very strong teacher education program,” says Guler, “I believe in the role and power of education to transform students academically and personally, which eventually will improve the whole society.”