Academics in Action

Professor and Students Work To Close the Achievement Gaps
Between English Language Learners and Their Peers

by Damaris Dubon `14

THE SIGHTS AT PHILADELPHIA HOUSE CAN'T HELP BUT RESURFACE YOUR INNER CHILD. Colorful bookmarks created by the small hands of elementary students, homework “sticky notes”, an small stuffed mouse toy that peeks out from a desk hole.  It is the perfect setting to welcome students who are in pursuit of becoming the next leaders of education.

Professor Ivannia Soto-Hinman helps get them there.

Every fall, Professor Soto-Hinman’s Urban Education class gives students the opportunity to engage with public schools and help them close achievement gaps. For Soto-Hinman and her students, developing resources to help students learn English as a second language is crucial for school communities to begin closing achievement gaps.

“We study issues in urban schools,” says Soto-Hinman.  “We look at achievement gaps, low socioeconomic students, and students with special needs.  We get to see how the needs impact children at the schools.’’

Soto-Hinman created the English Language Learners (ELL) Shadowing Program, which allows a teacher to observe and take notes on how students use the English language through speaking and listening in class. The ELL Shadowing Program helps the observer, teachers, and school administration to understand the difficulties English Language Learners face in the classroom.

Implementation of the ELL Shadowing Program has taken Soto-Hinman and her students to local Morrison Elementary School to further their research. Principal Rudy Gonzalez of Morrison Elementary said to Ed Week, “We were concerned about giving kids access to the core curriculum versus giving them access through knowing academic language.  That was our downfall as a school. That’s where the achievement gap exists.” As a result of the ELL Shadowing Program at Morrison Elementary, teachers realized that they needed to focus more on teaching academic language to their students. Since the end of the research, Morrison has been outperforming other schools in its surrounding area for about three years now.

“We have successfully closed the achievement gap there,” said Soto-Hinman. “[Students at Morrison] are beating the odds. Assisting with the process of closing this achievement gap was a very humbling and rewarding experience, as it demonstrated the power that efficacious teachers, as well as sound professional development and training could make on ELLs.  It also made me want to share the success further, both by having study tours of the school for Whittier College students, and with other educators in the field, who now have a model of what works.’’

Soto-Hinman’s continued motivation for teaching urban education initiated from her previous occupation as a public school teacher, ‘’Teaching in an urban setting taught me how to teach high needs students. It taught me to view all students from a mentoring model, and what they bring to table, so that I could build upon that. I also wanted students to get interested in education at an earlier stage in case they wanted to become teachers.’’