This book is part of the proposed English Language Learner curriculum for the Medford School District. - Jamie Lusch

A common language

Some of Stephanie Bartlett's students during a class at McLoughlin Middle School played the role of restaurant wait staff. Others pretended to be ordering from a menu. All of them were practicing how to speak English.

"We did a complicated dialogue on 'What can I get you?' and 'Would you like dessert?' " Bartlett said. "A few days later, one student said, 'I used the menu thing. We went out to dinner, and I used what we learned.' "

The lesson was one example of a new approach toward teaching English to students who speak another native language.

Medford school officials plan to complement the approach with a common, systematic curriculum throughout the district.

Like Bartlett, teachers throughout the state have been trained in Systematic English Language Development, an instructional methodology that focuses on teaching students practical English, from ordering a steak and baked potato at a restaurant to returning a defective product to a store.

By also adopting a curriculum, Medford officials hope to bring consistency to ELL instruction throughout the district and reinforce the instructional techniques teachers learned in their recent training.

In the past, reading materials and instructional methods for teaching children English have varied widely from teacher to teacher. Much of the instruction focused on translating the child's native language into English and feeding the students vocabulary words they would need to survive in math, science and social studies.

The curriculum under consideration in Medford emphasizes the grammar and sentence structure of English and learning vocabulary that can be used in everyday life.

"The students can bridge what they already know about reading into the English language grammatical structure, so it's easier to get into the new language," said Todd Bloomquist, Medford schools curriculum director.

The curriculum is visual, with colorful images of things such as food or animals that help students remember vocabulary words, Bartlett said.

Academic vocabulary linked to particular subjects is now the responsibility of content teachers.

"Learning the practical language is what gets you comfortable so you can later go to the academic language," Bloomquist said.

The proposed curriculum also includes 28 weeks of lesson plans for teachers.

"Once you've completed the 28 weeks you know you've taught your students everything they need to know for their level, so it's systematic," Bartlett said.

Despite a growth of more than 130 percent in the number of students in Oregon with no or limited English, the state did not require schools to adopt an ELL curriculum until last year in part because of a lack of choices from textbook publishers, said Charlie Bauer, migrant education coordinator at the Southern Oregon Education Service District.

Medford, with about 9 percent ELL students, is one of the last school districts in Southern Oregon to adopt a curriculum because officials wanted to wait until all of their teachers were trained in Systematic English Language Development techniques.

Medford's proposed set of textbooks and materials by Ballard & Tighe, a publisher specializing in English language instruction, are available for public review and comment through Jan. 31. The Medford School Board will consider adopting the curriculum on Feb. 5.

Most districts, such as the Phoenix-Talent School District, chose a curriculum last year after the state issued an approved list of textbooks and materials. All of the districts in Southern Oregon are either adopting a curriculum, piloting it or are rolling it out this year, Bauer said.

It will take three to five years before educators will have enough data to determine the impact of adopting a common curriculum for ELL students, he said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or

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