VANCOUVER – Professor Gisela Ernst-Slavit, who teaches at WSU Vancouver, has been named the Floyd and Judy Huie-Rogers Faculty Fellow in Diversity by the WSU College of Education.

Ernst-Slavit will use her two-year, $20,000 fellowship to build upon her recent research into the ways that teachers’ language use affects content-area learning for fourth- and fifth-grade students – especially English language learners, students in poverty and minority students.

“My graduate students and I will observe and analyze not just the teachers’ use of words, but the students’ spoken and written language,” Ernst-Slavit said.
“I’m thrilled and honored by the Huie-Rogers Fellowship,” she said. “This support allows us to continue work that could eventually impact educational policy nationwide and guide teacher preparation programs such as WSU’s.”
In her recent studies, Ernst-Slavit has discovered that even teachers well-schooled in English language learning (ELL) techniques used figurative language and expressions that confused their ELL students. For example, they used sports expressions, such as “touchdown,” or talked about “Uncle Sam.”
In one math lesson, a teacher used the word “that” five times without clarifying what the word referred to: “We’ll get to that later… That tells us to do what? … Is that top number bigger? … Could we reduce that? … Some of you have figured that out.”

Teachers’ reliance on casual language in classes such as math and science may hinder students’ ability to understand textbooks, which often are written using academic English, Ernst-Slavit said. In addition, if students can’t use academic English they won’t perform well on standardized tests and assessments.

Based on Ernst-Slavit’s research findings, her graduate students who are teachers are analyzing their classroom language so they can make necessary adjustments.
Doctoral student Michele Mason will accompany Ernst-Slavit to April’s American Educational Research Association meeting, where the professor will give an address explaining her work.
Floyd Rogers and Judy Huie-Rogers created the competitive fellowship for WSU College of Education faculty in 2005. The Seattle couple believes the recruitment and retention of students of color into the teaching profession are more likely to succeed when instructors are concerned about the needs of diverse communities.
The Rogerses both graduated from WSU in 1974 with degrees in computer science; both worked in the software industry. Judy Huie-Rogers earned a master’s degree in education from Seattle University and taught math in public schools.

For more information on Professor Ernst-Slavit, see her faculty profile.