College of Education

WOU receives nearly $2 million in grant from U.S. Dept. of Education for Project SPELL

MONMOUTH – Western Oregon University has received a grant of nearly $1,915,069 million from the U.S. Department of Education for Project SPELL (Sustainable Practices for English Language Learners), which will support teacher training and improve classroom instruction for English language learners (ELL). This project is a collaboration between WOU and two school districts (Salem-Keizer and Woodburn). The project will reach almost 20 percent of the 65,410 ELL students in Oregon.

Project SPELL will provide sustained professional development activities to improve instruction for ELL students and assist district personnel to meet high professional standards. The project will utilize a professional development model that maximizes job-embedded professional learning through Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), university coursework specifically designed to scaffold in-service teachers’ prior knowledge with research-based strategies, pre-service teachers placed in classrooms with English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) endorsed mentors (classroom teachers), and district-based professional development coaches who provide on-going support. Project SPELL will emphasize the use of ESOL strategies in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

According to Dr. Maria Dantas-Whitney, project director and associate professor of teacher education at WOU, Oregon schools have seen a tremendous growth in ELL student enrollment (over 110 percent growth in the last 10 years). As a result, there’s been a huge demand for high quality professional development of teachers that is rooted in up-to-date research-based practices which are known to raise student achievement. “What is exciting about this grant is that it provides a model for long-term, continuous improvement of classroom instruction, and a dynamic collaboration among in-service and pre-service teachers. In addition to university coursework, we will be working with teachers (and student-teachers) within their classrooms to discuss issues related to their day-to-day teaching situations, evaluate student achievement data, and adjust teaching interventions on the basis of results. This focus on providing engaging and academically meaningful activities for ELLs in fact benefits all students,” said Dantas-Whitney.

“These grants will provide much needed assistance to colleges, universities and their local school partners in helping prepare new teachers and improving their content skills to better serve English Learners.” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Teacher training is very important in our effort to ensure that all English learners have competent and capable instructors in the classroom.” The announcement by the U.S. Dept. of Education read, “These grants are awarded to promising programs that will help educational personnel working with ELs to meet high professional standards, including standards for certification and licensure in language instruction educational programs.”

WOU has had a tradition of collaboration with local school districts for many years, and the idea for the project came from our shared desire to provide long-term support for teachers who complete our program, to add a focus on science, mathematics and technology content areas, and to incorporate pre-service teachers into the training model.


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Contact for media:
Dr. Maria Dantas-Whitney
Associate professor and coordinator of WOU’s ESOL/bilingual education
dantasm@wou.edu or 503-838-8636

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