For maximum effectiveness, the VESL instructor should know the technical content of the vocational course and use good instructional materials paralleling vocational course content. Ideally, both instructors analyze and determine the specific oral and a written English skill … Teaching vocational education identifies tasks, safety precautions, technical vocabulary, teaching techniques and primary teaching materials, while the VESL instructor identifies language structures needed to understand and perform tasks and selects appropriate language teaching techniques.
A Trade Tech electronics class Platt observed as part of her research provided an activity example for intermediate-level ESL students. In this activity the electronics instructor had already introduced several terms having to do with the parts of an oscilloscope, an instrument that displays fluctuating electrical quantity through the fluorescent screen of a cathode-ray tube.
The instructor divided his students into groups of three to role-play the scenario of a job-seeking technician being assessed by his supervisor and an observer. The technician had to demonstrate the ability to manipulate the controls on the oscilloscope, used the terminology accurately and follow the instructor’s directions to compute the formula. This task involved lively discussion among the participants, each having the opportunity to play all three roles.
In one group, two of the students were helping a group mate with less English proficiency talk throughout the procedures. Platt suggested that the VESL instructor videotape the scenarios and afterward watch each one with the students involved. In one instance, Platt says, the VESL teacher and an exceptional Vietnamese student could determine what intervention, such as exercises to improve his pronunciation, was needed so that [his] expertise could be recognized. Sounds simple, right? Not really.
Soon after Platt’s research was published, the state grant supporting the VESL and vocational effort at Trade Tech ran out. The professional development classes ceased and soon the collaborative classroom activities petered out. But the strategies continue to be a part of classroom teaching methods for several vocational teachers at Trade Tech.
In addition to California, Platt also observed programs in Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York and Texas. In some instances, like in the case of Trade Tech in Los Angeles, the programs Platt included in her research have since folded. In the Corpus Christi Independent School District in Texas, however, some healthy aspects of VESL and vocational collaboration still exist. (A program also still exists at the Rindge School of Technical Arts in Cambridge, Massachusetts.)
Thelma Salinas, coordinator for career and technology education for Corpus Christi ISD, says that what began as a program for the vocational classes has worked well enough to catch the attention of administrators. Now aspects of it have spread into academic classes in an effort to improve the passing rate of students taking the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills test, which every Texas 12th grader must pass to graduate.