Q&A: OCDE’s Project GLAD trains educators to build literacy and language skills

This week, nearly 100 teachers, coaches, consultants and administrators are engaging in in-depth conversations about language acquisition and multiliteracy at the 26th Annual OCDE Project GLAD® NTC Conference.

The two-day conference, featuring keynote presentations from experts on language and dual immersion along with breakout sessions to share best practices, kicked off Wednesday and continues today at the DoubleTree by Hilton Anaheim.

photo of Nicole chavezIf you’re not familiar with Project GLAD®, the acronym is short for Guided Language Acquisition Design, and OCDE runs its official National Training Center. The goal is to share strategies that have been proven to build literacy and language skills for students, particularly English learners.

While there are variations, the basic Project GLAD® program spans two days, followed by four to five days of classroom demonstrations that allow participants to see how the strategies actually work with students. There are also customized follow-ups.

“We work with schools and we work with districts to identify what their needs are and then create customized supports for implementation,” Manager Nicole Chavez says.

Leading up to the conference, we sat down with Chavez to talk about the history of Project GLAD®, how it works, and its capacity to assist educators at all levels. (Some responses have been edited slightly for length.)


Tell us a little bit about Project GLAD®?

Project GLAD® is a framework that helps you go from the theory of what’s best to do, to actually doing it well in the classroom. So, it’s the how — how to best support your students and, most specifically, your language learners.

Can you share some examples of what educators and trainers learn through the program?

All of the strategies move toward this idea of teachers supporting students in being able to speak and then transfer that speech into writing, which we know is one of the greatest ways to achieve command of a language.

So we train teachers on how to make content come alive through sketching, through pictures, and media with language that corresponds with it. We show them how to use chants that the teachers and students develop, and singing, which we know has deep connections to cognition.

We show teachers how to create collaborative workgroups where students who don’t necessarily know English can participate and develop their 21st-century skills. We show teachers how to make writing fun for non-English speakers — and all of their students. That’s usually a place where a lot of them get hung up.

We teach teachers how to look at oral language growth, which is one of the hardest things to do. There really isn’t an assessment that you can get immediate feedback on for that. And if you’re looking at proficiency growth, you’ve got to know on a daily and weekly basis the growth that students are making. So we train teachers how to listen and look for those opportunities to build language in everything they do.

So the focus becomes on language development and not just content?

In education, we oftentimes listen for content accuracy. Did they get the answer right? But we don’t always listen to whether they communicated that in a way that we can understand. And right or wrong, what was the language they used to get there? And for a language learner that’s going to be something that the teacher really needs to listen to to then be able to help. And that’s not typically the way we think about what we do.

Often, general ed teachers are focusing on the ideas within content. “Have students gotten the ideas of photosynthesis, and the way in which the sun and the plant and the chlorophyll all work together?” But how many words did I just use right there that are content-specific? Those are not only terms you need to teach, but also understand how are you going to make that accessible to a non-English learner.

Education is often very content-focused.

Yes, but here’s the thing: We’ve got to teach language through the content. That’s what students are interested in.

Tell us a little about the history of Project GLAD®. How did it begin?

It started in Fountain Valley more than 35 years ago with a group of teachers who were required to support a classroom of students who were newcomers — refugees whose primary language wasn’t English.

At the time, there weren’t the same types of expectations we now have. So they sought out researchers, and during that era there was a lot going on in terms of research for education. So in short, they took almost 10 years to develop a version of what we see today. Then they got federal and state acknowledgement and as well as a grant to essentially mobilize this to the national level, and that’s when it came here to OCDE.

What does participation look like today?

If we break this down, we have about 472 certified trainers nationally in 28 states, and trainings range from 23 to 46 participants.

Who is the ideal candidate for this type of training?

This work that we engage in shows the general education teacher how to teach language through their content areas. We also have general education teachers and instructional coaches who come to be trainers in this work. And we do have some who are specifically English-learner directors or coordinators.

If students don’t have access to the content that’s being delivered, which is usually in English, they’re not going to make the gains to go to college. So I would say that this is applicable to all teachers in the most rural or the most densely urban cities. This is your integrated approach to teaching language.

What have you seen in terms of student outcomes?

Since we are nationwide, there isn’t one metric to look at language acquisition proficiency across the states. So we rely on our trainers. They have really looked at oral language proficiency assessments and seen increases in students’ language proficiency gains. Locally, Westminster showed huge gains in their reclassified student populations, which has pretty rigorous criteria. Across the states, a lot of individuals also look at gains in their state content assessments. So for California, (Smarter Balanced state assessments) would also be something to look at, because if we’re doing a great job within language development, then they should have greater access to the content that’s being delivered.

How has this work changed over the years?

In the past, the Project GLAD® model was seen as a great series of strategies for students, and that’s a part of it. But the bigger picture is really training adults to really think differently about their teaching practices, and what best supports students. So we’ve done a lot more work with adult learning, having them think differently about what language looks like with the expectations today.

When this first began, there also weren’t (instructional) standards. There weren’t even the same types of assessments, right? So now we’re completely aligned to our state standards, as well as assessments and policy.

So if I’m an educator or a trainer who is interested, how do I get involved with Project GLAD®?

You can check out the Project GLAD® website and see the different training opportunities that we’ve got. 

Essentially, we do two types of trainings. We do open enrollment where we host trainings here within our local school districts, and our local school districts can get some of that at discounted rates or free for being a host site with us.

Secondly, we can go to them. So if we get a contract with a district and they’ve got 23 or more teachers, we can go to them and provide all of these trainings in their own schools and within that district.

What is the goal of this week’s conference?

The emphasis is really looking at language. What we want people to walk away with is recognizing this model can serve as a framework, a construct to look at everything that you do. So we’re really flipping it. We’re making the attention on language and themes that are associated with language and how the model can support with language development.

We hope that this brings awareness and interest to teachers, administrators and coaches that this is an avenue to take what they’re already doing well and amplify it to best meet the needs of language learners.