A Reversal of Teaching Strategies : Education: Two Fountain Valley teachers have created a program for English that emphasizes oral skills first and sentence structure later.


With almost 100 languages spoken among Southern Californians, it is no wonder that 37 languages are spoken in the small Fountain Valley School District.

To some, however, it is a wonder that teachers can effectively cope with a classroom of multilingual students. And that’s why teachers from throughout the state and the nation are flocking to the Fountain Valley School District classrooms of Marcia Brechtal and Linnea Haley.

Brechtal and Haley have created a program called Guided Language Acquisition Design (GLAD), which mixes students who speak little or no English together with English-speaking students. Rather than teaching the students individual words and phrases in English and asking them to form sentences, the program emphasizes oral skills first and sentence structure later, which is believed to be a more natural way of teaching a language.

“By mixing students in heterogeneous groups, the children who are learning English are listening with comprehension to students who already speak English at a higher level, and they have good modeling,” Haley said. “The acquisition rate is so much faster in heterogeneous groups.”

Cross-cultural interaction is fundamental to GLAD. Students are mixed in groups of different languages and learning abilities and encouraged to teach one another. According to Brechtal, students develop a mutual respect this way, as well as learning the “metacognitive process,” or “thinking about thinking.”


“The strategies and curriculum model can be taught in any language,” Brechtal said. “Of course, in our district it is English in a multilingual setting. A lot of what are considered ESL strategies can help all kids, such as metacognition. The group that really benefits from this are the gifted kids, but all kids need these skills.”

GLAD curriculum targets second- to fifth-graders, but teachers in any grade can learn from the model program being taught in Fountain Valley schools.

Oversize books, charts, posters and other visual aids are used to help every student. Learning is reinforced by tutors or peers in a student’s primary language, and oral skills are practiced in English. Students are encouraged to actively participate, make connections between facts and develop comprehension skills both in English and their primary language.

“All too often you see teachers in classrooms who say, ‘Be quiet, sit down and do your work,’ ” said Haley, who has taught in the district since 1973 and has been an ESL instructor since 1981. “But kids need to get together and negotiate what they’re learning for meaning.”

The nationally recognized program has been so successful that it is now being taught to other teachers.

Last month, the Fountain Valley district learned that it was one of four school districts nationwide to receive the Academic Excellence Award, which includes a federal grant of $582,447 for September, 1991 through June, 1994. The Washington-based Academic Excellence Program recognizes and disseminates exemplary models of transitional bilingual education through its grants.