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Grant to improve English literacy in local schools
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Researchers at the University of Georgia recently were awarded a $2.9 million grant to test new teaching methods in school systems in Gainesville and Hall and Clarke counties.

Their ultimate goal is to improve English literacy among non-native speakers.

"If this is effective, we want to make sure it's in every classroom," Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.

The four-year study will include 1,152 predominantly Latino third- and fifth-grade students and 144 teachers.

The researchers will examine a teaching method based on small group dialogue, which includes questioning, answering and sharing, Dyer said. The model is known as instructional conversation.

If the research shows positive results, it could have huge implications for educational policy in Georgia and across the nation, according to a university news release.

"Current instruction often fails to connect with immigrant children's learning potential and does not make the most of the cultural capital these children bring to our education system," said Pedro Portes, executive director of the College of Educator's Center for Latino Achievement and Success in Education.

"The instructional conversation pedagogy that is the focus of this research makes those connections..." he said in the release.

One method used in schools today for English language learners is the cemetery model, in which students sit in rows and listen to the teacher speak.

Dyer said Gainesville has a method similar to instructional learning. However, she expects there will be some helpful changes.

"This will identify something we can do consistently across classrooms," Dyer said.

The study comes at a time when Latino students, who make up 80 percent of English language learners, are three times more likely than non-Hispanic white students to come from homes in poverty, Portes said in the release. Each year they fall further behind, so by high school they have the highest dropout rate of any category of students.

Dyer said the study was designed to increase Latino achievement.

"It uses a way of teaching and that makes learning more interesting for everyone," she said.

For the study, coaches who will be trained this winter will be assigned to each school. Many will be teachers who retired from the schools.

"What makes this different from any other research we've done is that the coach is someone who has taught at the school before. Usually a researcher comes in," Dyer said.

Academic progress will be measured by examining results on standardized tests, such as the Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, and other achievement data.

Dyer said Gainesville and Hall County were chosen for the study because of the high number of English language learners within the school systems.

A few teachers and potential coaches have already expressed interest in the study and the model will be implemented by fall 2011, she said.

The $2.9 million grant was awarded by the Institute of Education Sciences.

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