Thursday, June 8, 2023

Nashville Public Schools Coordinator Debra Hopkins discusses accelerated learning techniques at Honors Lecture Series


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Photo and story by Cody Uhls / Contributing Writer

English Learning Coordinator of Professional Learning for Nashville Metro Public Schools Debra Hopkins spoke to Middle Tennessee State University students on Monday afternoon in the Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building about accelerating language learning techniques for students who use English as a secondary language. Students who want to improve their English skills should also do their research into finding an excellent resource to help them achieve their goal of speaking English confidently.

Hopkins spoke about her “day-to-day” work at Metro Nashville Public Schools.

“Urban school districts write a very complex system, so there’s no one description of a day, but what I do every single day is serve teachers who serve the students,” Hopkins said. “It’s all about the students. ‘How can we accelerate achievement for our students?’ My portfolio in particular is for English Learners, so ‘how can we accelerate achievement for our English Learners?’”

According to The Tennessean, there were 13,329 students requiring English assistance in the 2015-2016 school year. And, according to Hopkins, that number has risen to 13,499. There are more than 120 languages spoken in Nashville Metro Public School system.

Hopkins told the group that simplifying speech for those who don’t understand hinders their process as learners. When English speakers attempt to speak differently than they would in normal conversation, they are inherently giving the learners a false reality on how English is spoken, which, ultimately, complicates learning. How society combats this is quite simple, according to Hopkins. Speak like one always would. Hopkins said the phrase, “You can’t accelerate by slowing down,” meaning, English speakers cannot assist English learners by simply slowing down and talking louder, as many typically do.

Paradoxically, how English speakers help non-English speakers is by not helping. Strategically “teaching” them is what Hopkins travels to school to teach other teachers.

“What teachers want is not to be told what to do, they want to know ‘why’ and ‘how,’” Hopkins said. “A lot of times, professional development focuses on ‘what,’ but what we have really been trying to shift to and what has been showing results is (explaining) why it works and then showing what it really looks like in a classroom. You show how to do it and you anchor them in a more concrete sense, and how to implement new strategy and structural sequence.”

Teachers should help ESL students by giving them interesting text (magazines and storybooks instead of a typical textbook) and giving them materials they will actually see in the real world. After that, learning new languages will become easier than ever before, according to Hopkins.

One student in attendance, Nicholas Lembo, a senior studying political science, pre-law and philosophy spoke about the impact and importance of the lecture.

“We had a speaker come through and explain to us the importance of (teaching) English as a second language and the realities those students face,” Lembo said. “But she also expressed how English as a first language is something we take for granted, because we know it so well. Others don’t. So that struggle others face when they are involved in our society, if we aren’t ‘Scaffolding Up’ as she used, or showing them the ropes, then we are essentially holding ourselves back when we could be working together.”

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email

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