Over the last 10 years, nearly 10,000 refugees–many of whom are students–have settled in Onondaga County, New York, where the city of Syracuse is located. They come from across the world: Myanmar, Bhutan, Somalia, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Burundi, Eritrea, Sudan, and Cuba. For these students, nearly everything about their experience is different than what they are used to, including the weather (Syracuse averages nearly 10 feet of snow each winter!).

Understanding how best to serve emergent bilinguals is a growing and urgent need in education. “All educators are becoming teachers of language, and integrating the social-emotional needs of immigrant and refugee youth,” said Heather Woodley, clinical assistant professor of TESOL, Bilingual Education and Foreign Language Education at NYU Steinhardt. “Home language support, family engagement, and culturally relevant pedagogy are vital skills to be successful in the classroom and work towards educational equity.”

NYU Steinhardt’s Teacher Residency is in its first year at Grant Middle School in Syracuse’s Northside neighborhood, where four resident interns are learning to become career educators (the program has 15 resident interns within the district). Students classified as English as a New Language make up 24% of the student body and there are 23 languages spoken at the school.

“More and more schools look like Grant: diverse in all imaginable ways,” said Diana Turk, director of teacher education at NYU Steinhardt and one of the faculty who developed the residency program. “We want to be sure that teachers gain the skills they need to reach and teach all learners, and that our graduates are able to effectively serve, and are committed to teaching all of the students in their classrooms. This involves not only the skills to reach all learners, including those who are emergent bilinguals and students who have different learning profiles, but also a commitment to cultural responsiveness. We work with our residents to ensure that the classrooms they run are welcoming and safe places to learn for all of their students.”

The coursework resident interns receive in the program complements Grant’s pioneering approach to lesson design: combining personalized learning and blended learning. These techniques are used to create student-centered environments by tailoring instruction and integrating online and face-to-face instruction.

In Grant’s personalized and blended model, teachers divide their classes into three separate stations: teacher-led, digital, and collaborative. At the teacher-led station, students tackle difficult texts, work through tough concepts, and practice challenging skills. At the digital station, English language arts and social studies students learn reading and writing skills that are modified to their particular level. The science and math students conduct simulated experiments and practice solving puzzles and equations. At the collaborative station, students develop vocabulary skills, help each other with document-based history questions, and partner on science labs.

“The combination of the residency program and working at Grant Middle School has been incredibly rewarding. The culturally responsive education from the NYU faculty, year-long one-on-one mentorship, and hands-on teaching utilizing blended learning has fully prepared me to teach a diverse population in an urban setting. The experience has been so fulfilling. I have learned just as much from my emergent bilingual students as they’ve learned from me,” reflected Zac R. Lois, a resident intern in the program who is teaching sixth grade social studies at Grant.

Grant is modeling a shift in instruction that is happening across the country. Providing small group lessons as well as self-driven skill building are shown to improve language learning. And, tailoring instruction through technology-assisted learning is recommended for students learning English.

Teachers at Grant are beginning to notice a significant increase in student engagement and performance. In the years ahead, more middle schools in the Syracuse City School District plan to adopt this personalized learning approach. As the district’s partnership with NYU Steinhardt grows, resident interns–taught to serve diverse populations–will be well equipped to support the schools and the changing community.

Learn more about the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency and the school partners in this transformative teacher preparation program.

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