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7 Steps to a Language Rich Classroom: Conversation with John Seidlitz

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A gold standard in teaching is creating a language-rich environment where students - especially English language learners - are receiving the proper support to participate in discussions and learning activities. Amongst numerous articles and techniques available that address this goal, there is one paramount, research-based resource that has reached teachers and classrooms across the country.

We were excited to catch up with our friend and colleague John Seidlitz, founder and CEO of Seidlitz Education. John is widely recognized as the co-author of the book 7 Steps to Developing a Language-Rich Classroom, which is a staple for educators at all points in their career. Seidlitz Education's mission is to support school districts and teachers with increasing academic achievement for English Language Learners.

He returned to the Highest Aspirations podcast to discuss the recently released second edition of the book, including an indepth look at the research involved in the implementation of the 7 steps. Listen to the entire conversation on our podcast, and find a few highlights below.

How were the 7 steps developed?

In a nutshell, John describes the overall concept as an approach to developing language in academic core content area classrooms. It was developed by himself and Bill Perryman in collaboration with secondary teachers across Texas. They experimented with several initial models, and rethought their structure when they noticed that teachers were enthusiastic about the approach at the trainings, but were not implementing them in their classrooms. Bill and John then realized that they needed to back load the steps, beginning with the most high level, engaging activities.

“They're kind of a sequence of things starting with hyper easy to implement, really, really easy to do and then teach kids what to say when they don't know what to say. Step one being an easy entry all the way to step seven, which is harder, reading and writing activities. So we developed this approach to try to bridge the gap between what research says is effective and what's happening with the teachers we work with.” 

What are some key takeaways from that research on how the 7 steps are working ?

The research on the effectiveness of the 7 steps occurred in three different phases at five different campuses. The goal was to look at the effect on student performance on math, reading, and TELPAS of students and teachers that were coached/trained in the seven steps.

In Phase One, they looked backwards to analyze how students and teachers that were trained or coached in the seven steps performed compared to teachers and students who were not.

“Students of teachers who were trained and coached in the seven steps significantly outperformed students of teachers who were not trained and coached in the seven steps for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade on math.” 

They found that the biggest gains were in math performance, but also saw significant growth in the reading and writing classrooms.

In Phase Two, the team is currently looking at how the fidelity of the implementation of the 7 steps affects student gains and growth, and the preliminary data shows that it does make a difference.

“You don't have to do all of it to get any effect in a classroom. You can get an effect, a change in student performance by doing two or three of these steps….but it was designed as a system where teachers could easily do high level conversations in writing with kids who were at varying levels of English language proficiency and background knowledge….so my experience has been that when you're not doing all of it, you're not able to do the kind of high level discussions and writing and reading that includes everybody.” 

In Phase Three, they will be tracking the students over the next few years to see how they perform compared to their peers who did not have the seven steps training. They will measure how they score on the language assessment and how they do in math and reading, as well as attendance and graduation.

“I think that what happens is when we're sending those kids out and they've gotten used to speaking in the classroom this way, it becomes a culture that they're used to and they get comfortable with it. We've moved an entire class or entire group of kids from being kids who aren't comfortable raising their hand to having their hand up all the time, from not talking in class to talking in class.”

What do teachers and administrators think about the use of the 7 steps in their schools?

Initially, there was some concern about a cookie cutter approach to getting all teachers to do the exact same thing in their classrooms - but in implementation, there  are ample opportunities for teacher agency. John emphasizes that there is no one singular way to improve academic discourse in the classroom, and their new edition includes holistic approaches to involving the students in higher level, individualized critical thinking.

“You could have a lot of engagement, a lot of dialogue but if it's not creating deep understanding about the content, then there are going to be gaps. That's one of the reasons why we kind of, in the new edition, we tweaked some things like to step it up. We added this section for each of the steps, step it up, which involves the kids in higher level thinking about content about each step. Because it's not just the engagement or the language acquisition, there are other pieces that are also necessary a teacher's relationship with their kids. Do they feel safe? How am I relating with my students? There's other things that are also a piece to the puzzle.”

Link to full episode transcript.

Episode Resources:

John Seidlitz is an independent educational consultant and the author of Sheltered Instruction Plus: A Guide for Texas Teachers of English Learners; Navigating the ELPS: Using the New Standards to Improve Instruction for English Learners; and a contributing author for The SIOP® Model for Teaching History-Social Studies for English Learners. He is the co-author of numerous publications including the 7 Steps to Developing a Language-Rich Interactive Classroom®. He has also been a guest lecturer for many regional and national language development conferences. John taught social studies and ESL, served as a secondary ESL program coordinator, and held the position of education specialist at ESC Region 20 in San Antonio, Texas. In 2005, he founded Seidlitz Education which is dedicated to the mission of Giving Kids the Gift of Academic Language™.