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Think Twice about Dr. Suess


Think Twice about Dr. Seuss

Assistant professor of education argues latest buzz-worthy learning method needs to take into account experiences of English language learners

(March 29, 2011)

Michael OroscoEnlarge

Michael Orosco

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) -- A University of California, Riverside assistant professor of education will receive a national award next month for his article that raises questions about a new teaching model quickly being adopted by school districts.

In the article, Michael J. Orosco argues English language learners often don’t respond to Response to Intervention (RTI), a model that provides early assistance to children having difficulty learning, because school personnel often don’t understand the sociocultural experiences of students for whom English is a second language.

“RTI is a hot issue,” Orosco said. “Some of us are saying we need to slow down on this because you want to move schools this way, but they may not be adequately equipped and prepared to meet the cultural and linguistic needs of these students.”

He continued: “The problem with RTI is that we were given the In-N-Out Burger menu: burgers and shakes. But, you can’t use the one-size-fits-all approach in education.”

Orosco will receive the Frank Pajares Award on April 10 during the editorial board meeting of Theory Into Practice, a peer-reviewed journal founded in 1962, at the American Education Research Association meeting in New Orleans.

He will be honored for his article, “A Sociocultural Examination of Response to Intervention with Latino English Language Learners,” which Theory Into Practice published in October.

Orosco’s article was selected over 40 articles written by more than 100 scholars from throughout the United States and world, said Anita Woolfolk Hoy, the editor of Theory Into Practice and a professor educational psychology and philosophy at The Ohio State University.

His paper was selected for two main reasons: it uses the practices of English language learner reading teachers to push the theoretical assumptions of RTI into new territory by considering the role of language and culture and it addresses how RTI might work with the largest growing minority populations in the United States, Woolfolk Hoy said.

The award means a lot to Orosco, especially considering the subject of the paper strikes a personal note.

His mother had only a sixth grade education. His father, who was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and came to the southwestern United States as an agricultural worker through the Bracero program, was illiterate. When he was eight, Orosco remembers signing his father’s payroll checks.

Despite this, Orosco’s parents stressed education and bilingualism. Orosco, who grew up in southeastern Colorado, went to the University of Northern Colorado for his undergraduate degree and to the University of Colorado at Boulder for his master’s and Ph.D. His dissertation focused on Latino English Language Learners’ and their response to RTI. It formed the backbone of the paper that will be honored next month.

That paper begins with background on Response to Intervention, which was introduced by Congress in 2004. It built upon the tenets of the No Child Left Behind Act that were grounded in the findings from the National Reading Panel in 2000.

The panel’s goal was to find scientific-based research knowledge that would improve student reading. However, the panel did not address issues relevant to second language learning students and therefore legislation did not reflect the needs of those students, Orosco said.

With that said, he points out that English language learners continue to underachieve in public education. Only 14 percent of black students, 17 percent of Latino students, 20 percent of American Indian students and 45 percent of Asian students are reading at a proficient or advanced level, according to The Nation’s Report Card 2007 Fourth Grade.

In his paper, Orosco presents an example of teacher in a classroom of English language learners not understanding the sociocultural experience of children. The example comes from observations he did while a doctoral student.

In the example, the second grade teacher is using the Dr. Seuss book “The Lorax” to teach reading. In his article, Orosco wrote that he observed virtually no teacher-student interaction.

He writes that the teacher assumed that the students had encountered Dr. Seuss because she had. They had not. The teacher didn’t recognize the mismatch between the book vocabulary and the students’ vocabulary and sociocultural knowledge because her past personal experiences and professional development told her the instruction was appropriate.

Orosco argues teachers need professional development that not only helps them understand RTI program components but also research-based practices that have been validated with English language learners.

This includes: instructional approaches that are effective with English language learners; understanding how language acquisition affects learning to read in English as a second language; building on English language learners’ background knowledge and making connections with prior learning; differentiating instruction to meet students’ needs; and developing the attributes of successful culturally responsive teachers.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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