Those are YOUR kids. Fix them.
One of the scariest things we can do is think that some of our students are someone else’s responsibility. When we embrace the understanding that “it takes a village” and that “we’re all in this together” our students will be better off. Our English Language Learners may be served by both a classroom teach and an ESL specialty teacher; however the ESL specialty teacher serves as a SUPPLEMENTARY teacher not as a replacement teacher. Every staff member that works with a child affects the child’s education…good or bad.
They can’t do much. Let them color.
This misunderstanding is DANGEROUS. ELLs come with varied skillsets, backgrounds, and prior knowledge. Some have more English language than others. Some have a greater developed native language than others. All of this and more affects the development of their new target language. In the case of a new immigrant, assuming that they can’t do much, so we let them color or do another meaningless task, sets them back drastically. It’s important that we assess what the child DOES know and build on that knowledge. Making connections with what the student already knows and bridging languages as soon as possible is key to English language development.
Their parents don’t come to conferences. They don’t care about school.
This type of assumption hurts my feelings personally because I know firsthand that it’s not always true. Some parents (especially parents of ELLs) face barriers that we may not be aware of that prevent them from coming to school for conferences and school events. This does not necessarily mean they are not supportive of education. In many instances, such as my own, families are so supportive of education that they left everything behind to immigrate to America for their children’s education. Some barriers that tend to prevent parents from coming to school for conferences and events include language, transportation, child care, and even their own cultural traditions about school. When I was in elementary school, my parents faced every single one of these barriers. Eventually we had an AMAZING teacher who started making home visits to our house! GREAT teachers find a way to reach students and families where they are.
I heard them talking to their friends at recess…they don’t need accommodations on classwork.
I literally remember a conversation with a teacher who said these exact words. The student was struggling academically and behaviorally in class so I went to meet with her. My goal was to help her with supporting the child. He had only been in the United States for less than a school year all together. He was bright and had a lot of knowledge in his native language. The problem was that he was not happy that he had to move from his friends, his house, and leave his dog back home. He was angry at the situation that he had no control over. All of this was affecting his new language development. He needed support affectively, cognitively, and linguistically.
These, by far, are not all of the misconceptions we make. The best way to avoid these hazardous misconceptions and others is to simply talk to the students and get to know them individually. Building relationships and connecting with learners helps open the door to the potential for even greater learning to occur. And our kids deserve it!
Have you ever baked cookies in the oven without preheating the oven first and expected them to be finished within the same time the directions said? Do you remember how they came out? I've done this before because I was too impatient to wait for the oven to preheat. My cookies were raw...not finished, mushy...If I wanted them to taste right, they would need to stay in the oven longer.
I would like to argue that when we don't build background for students, we are essentially doing the same thing.
Building background is like preheating the oven. It prepares the brain for the new learning that is going to take place. When we preheat (or build background) we are prepared to receive new information more readily. If we skip this essential step, we are risking that it will take longer for students to comprehend and the new learning may not stick.
Research says that when students have some knowledge of a topic they can better remember it and go into detail regarding the topic (Chiesi, Spilich, & Voss, 1979). Sometimes, as teachers, it's necessary for us to build background for our students when they don't have any.
Years ago I attended a 6 Day Project GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design) training. It was then that I was introduced to Observation Charts. They are a simply yet effective way to build background for students using images and cooperative groups. I love this technique for all students but specifically for English Language Learners because it involves the use of visuals and talk. Visuals are one of the best ways (in my opinion) to make content comprehensible and speaking is critical for ELLs in all academic areas. (On a side note-I loved and believed in Project GLAD so much that I later became a trainer myself.)
Here's how to implement this instructional technique in your classroom:
Sometimes I don't like to put the pictures on a file folder...I have them loose and hand a set to each group. In this case, they are called Picture File Cards. I let the students work in groups to discuss what they see and categorize them in an open sort. This means they get to decide the categories as long as they can defend them. If I give them the categories, it's called a closed sort.
Either way, students are thinking about the content. They are retrieving information they know and preparing to link it to new information. They are hearing their peers talk about it too and often hearing new vocabulary. For instance, one student may say, "I see a home. I think it's called a teepee." While another may say, "I see a shelter." They are picking up many ways to say the same thing.
Observation Charts can be used in all grade levels. I have seen them used in kindergarten through fifth grade. But I know they can be used up to 12th grade. Any area of study would lend itself to Observation Charts. Picture different composers, instruments, various forms of art, sports, inventions, animals, shapes, countries, etc.
The fact is that Observation Charts lower the affective filter for students which makes learning easier, they help to access prior knowledge and build background while working with cooperative groups or partners. They are a highly engaging way to begin a unit of study and connect old knowledge with new learning.
(Note: I will add examples here when I return to work...currently I'm off for Spring Break.)
Brechtel, M. (2001). Bringing it all together: Language and Literacy in the multilingual classroom. San Diega, CA: Dominie Press.
Echevarría, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2008). Making content comprehensible for English learners: the SIOP® model. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
Systemic, campus-wide change…if that’s what you are looking for, this may be the answer for you.
I’ve often heard that campus leaders are looking for “a common thread that binds the campus”… “a thread that weaves naturally through pre-K to 5th grade in all classrooms”.
Here’s how we successfully accomplished just that in our district in Katy, Texas.
Recently, I read a book that I found practical and relevant to all grade levels and content areas. The book is called 7 Steps to a Language-Rich Interactive Classroom by John Seidlitz and Bill Perryman. I loved that it was research based and reader friendly. I decided to make this book into a hybrid online and face-to-face book study that campuses in my district could use. But you can use any book that you feel is relevant to the needs of your campus.
We use Canvas to create online courses and classes not only for teachers but also for students. So I created a Canvas Course Book Study for 7 Steps to a Language-Rich Interactive Classroom.
Basically, teachers would read a chapter of the book, implement their learning in their classrooms, and then discuss the learning in the online Canvas course. 3 easy steps.
Since this was not a typical book study, I found that giving 3 easy steps helped teachers understand the structure.
Once the course was created, we targeted specific campuses in a number of ways. We either looked at need based on data or on administrative support. We knew that if we had a campus that would willingly participate in this unique professional development then the chances of success would be greater.
After meeting with administrators from the campus, we came up with a time line together for completion of the course. We also added in either teacher coaching or classroom demonstrations depending on campus need.
Teacher coaching meant that teachers were more experienced with the 7 Steps and wanted us to come in, observe and give feedback. Whereas the classroom demonstrations were for campuses that had less experience with the 7 Steps.
Another facet of our professional development was some face to face training. The sessions were tailored to campus need. On some campuses, it was decided that we brought in Seidlitz Education (see link here), the authors of the book we read, while on others, we came in and worked with teachers on created sentence stems to support students at varied language levels, we targeted structured conversations, or structured writing.
Many factors contributed to the success of this unique type of professional development:
The beauty of this type of professional development is that it continues to evolve. It has not ended. We are still visiting with the school we first started doing this with over a year ago. We continue the learning journey with these teachers. In fact, we recently held a Twitter Chat specifically about this book and invited the campuses that have participated in the Canvas Course/Book Study. The turnout was amazing! And the learning continues. In addition, we have even partook in a district wide Learning Walk at one of the campuses that participated in the Canvas Course Book Study. Leaders from around the district came to observe several classrooms to see the language rich environment that has been fostered at the campus. The pride and excitement that I saw in these teachers and the principal of the campus was beautiful. Something magical happened here. It was systematic change.
For the campus, the benefits are so great! Not only do their current students benefit from the learning their teachers have implemented, but because EVERY teacher on campus is speaking a common language, the following year students are hearing THE SAME language from their new teachers. This common language that the teachers have embraced because of the online book study, demonstrations, coaching, twitter chats, learning walks, etc. continues to increase the success of the students at the campus.
Have you found a unique way to provide professional development or create systematic change on a campus? Please share with us.
Below is an info-graphic about the book that we used for the Canvas Course Book Study discussed above. I highly recommend this book. It's relevant for grades k-12.
What happens when the phrase professional development is mentioned to teachers? It's rarely met with smiles and high fives. Unfortunately, the success of traditional professional development is not that great. When we attend a one day face-to-face pd and then return to campus never to hear about the session again, it is often forgotten and not implemented.
As I reflect on my own career in education, I can safely say that I learned the most as a teacher during the years that I traveled through the building daily as an ESL co-teacher. Why? Because I taught side-by-side with various teachers K-5 and learned strategies and techniques from my peers. I saw what worked and what didn't and I tried my new tricks right away. This was job embedded professional development at it's best. How can we recreate this for any teacher on campus even if they don't co-teach in multiple classrooms daily?
Enter Learning Walks----
Learning Walks can come in many forms and fashions and it's up to your campus how you structure them.
Prior to the observation, it is important for all teachers to understand the purpose of each observation.
For example: If teachers are going in to see readers' workshop, then both the demonstrating teacher and the observing teachers should have a clear list of what will be showcased. "Today you will see the class during readers' workshop. Notice that some students will be reading independently and writing on sticky notes while the teacher pulls a small group to work on stamina .Then the teacher will confer with a few students."
After teachers have mastered Learning Walks on campus, they may be open to allowing teachers from other campuses to come visit. It's nice to see how other campuses work and what they are doing. Visiting neighboring campuses to learn from one another can help both sets of teachers grow in their craft.
You might be thinking that you won't be able to get enough teachers on campus to buy into this idea. That may be true...at first. Baby steps. If you can get a few teachers to try it and be advocates then others will follow.
It's important as teachers that we open our doors and work in professional learning communities always learning to be better teachers than we were yesterday.
We've all been there...we teach a lesson and then assess students only to find that the learning didn't stick. We are left with questions like : What happened? How did we fail them? What went wrong?
Making learning stick is our goal. We want our students to be able to grab on to newly learned words and skills. The problem is that if most of what they do in class doesn't give them the opportunity to internalize then learning won't stick.
In 1982, Dr. James Asher introduced a learning method called Total Physical Response, TPR. This method connects language with a physical movement empowering students to stay engaged and active in learning and preventing them from becoming off task. Don't we all want that? Kids engaged, participating and actively learning! When we plan lessons that incorporate TPR, we become proactive in our approach to helping students learn and stay engaged instead or being reactive. When we take a reactive approach, we might not plan for critical vocabulary instruction and then when the students are not successful, we react to the struggles the students have. Proactive teachers think ahead...what will students struggle with and how can I prevent that. We know that students struggle with vocabulary and making learning stick.
So here's how to implement TPR in your classroom:
Step 1. select critical vocabulary for your unit of study! Don't select too many words. Remember critical means vital. Which words are necessary for comprehension.
Step 2. introduce the words individually to the students and give them a clear, concise definition. Here's an example that I used recently:
Definition: being independent
Step 3. students repeat the word and definition.
Step 4. there are 2 ways to do this step...you can make up your own physical responses for the words or you can let students make up the physical responses and vote on the one the class will use. It's up to you and you can vary your approach as needed.
For my example with individualism: being independent, I showed them the physical response. We repeated it many times and I reminded them that as they hear the word in class, they will stop, repeat the word and definition, and use the physical response.
Watch an example lesson on the Teacher Toolkit. http://www.theteachertoolkit.com/index.php/tool/total-physical-response-tpr
It varies slightly from the steps above, but you are the expert in your classroom. Make it work for your kids!
You probably already realized that TPR benefits almost every student in the class. From beginner ELLs to students with ADD, ADHD, special education students, students who are auditory, students who are kinesthetic, students who are social, etc.
I recently walked into a classroom and while I was there the teacher used a critical vocabulary word in context. The class immediately went into TPR. They were alive, engaged and all participating. It was beautiful to see the students so excited about social studies.
TPR is really easy, yet super effective. You don't have to do it for every word, but at least try it for some of your most difficult, critical vocabulary words.
Ferlazzo, L., & Sypnieski, K. H. (2012). The ESL/ELL teacher's survival guide. ready-to-use strategies, tools, and activities for teaching English language learners of all levels. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Seidlitz, J., Base, M., & Lara, M. (2015). ELLs in Texas: what teachers need to know. San Clemente, CA: Canter Press