The longer I have been in education, the stronger I believe in small group instruction. It truly is the heart of instruction. In a small group, the ratio between student and teacher is drastically reduced allowing the teacher to identify individual student needs and easily differentiate instruction.
No matter the content area in elementary school, small group instruction has a greater effect on student learning than whole group.
Some may say that it's too difficult to pull small groups so they continue to instruct in a whole class setting. I agree that in the beginning it may be difficult to get the structure and routine down for both the teacher and the students; however, once good classroom management is put into place and the routines are set, the ball will get rolling and small group becomes the best way to teach.
After all, as educators I think there aren't many who don't agree that we want to do what is best for students. While whole group instruction may be easiest for teachers to plan and implement, it can't be best for students who are diverse and unique--all at various levels with different background knowledge.
Overall, most teachers are pretty good at pulling small groups for reading instruction in the primary grades. But even that seems to taper off around third grade. What we know is that when we gather a small group of roughly 4-6 students and give them what they specifically need at the moment greater progress occurs in language and in content knowledge. So why don't we continue to pull small groups as kids get older? And how about pulling them in other content areas such as math, science, and social studies?
Some may wonder...What are the other kids doing while I pull a group? Won't they get off task? Well, that's up to you as the teacher.
The Benefits of Small Groups:
For ELLs one of the other benefits of small group instruction is that it lowers the affective filter. You know that feeling of fear or anxiety when you are in a situation that is high stress? Well, English Language Learners can feel that anxiety in a whole group setting more than in a smaller setting. When everyone is waiting and all eyes are on you anticipating your response it can be intimidating. This feeling is amplified when you are new to the country, have an accent or need a great deal of support.
When teachers meet with students in small groups, they are more apt to individualizing instruction and truly meeting students where they are. In a smaller setting, teachers are able to ask more questions to individual students which allows the students to interact more with the teacher. This also has an added benefit which is building the student teacher relationship.
Another benefit of small groups is that students are given more opportunities to talk. When students are in a smaller setting, they feel freer to talk, ask questions and grapple with ideas. This allows them to think critically and negotiate for meaning while having academic discussions more openly. On the other hand, in a whole group setting, the teacher asks a question and one student responds while everyone else zones out.
CREATE A WELCOMING ENVIRONMENT FOR ALL CULTURES
Creating a welcoming environment for families is step one. When parents feel welcome to come to school, they can then support their child’s education at home too. The bridge between school and home is stronger. Research behind parental involvement in education shows that when parents volunteer and are part of the school community, their children have a higher success rate, make better grades, have a higher attendance rate and are happier in school overall. But in order for parents to be involved, it’s our job as leaders to WELCOME them. This means we have to form connections and invite them in to our campuses. Our doors need to be open. When we walk into a school, we are usually greeted first by the office staff. These critical members of the campus need to know that their presence, their body language, and their customer service is key to how parents perceive the school. They either say, “Come on in. You are welcome here.” Or they say, “Uh, excuse me. What do you think you are doing here?” For our ELL families and immigrant families, we have to keep in mind that they may be coming from a county that has different customs and traditions where school is concerned. In their home country, school may not be a place where parents are welcomed and wanted. So they may not know that we want them to come and be a part of their child’s education. It’s our job to show them that they are wanted and welcome in our building.
HOLD PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR ALL STAFF
Most teachers enter the classroom doors with little or NO professional development in the area of Second Language Acquisition. They are thrown into the experience of teaching ELLs and expected to know how to effectively teach English learners just like that. Many teachers become frustrated simply because they are ill-equipped and feel helpless. It then becomes the school district’s responsibility to provide teachers and all staff members with training so they can support their diverse students. Serving students who are learning both content AND language, acclimating to a new culture and come with various degrees of literacy in their native language is a massive challenge…one that should never be expected to be done without high quality, ongoing training.
When implementing professional development plans on your campus, be sure to include all staff members. Keep in mind that all teachers serve ELLs. Music, art and physical education teachers also work with ELLs and will benefit from understanding how to accommodate instruction for their students. Recently I worked with an awesome principal who reached out to me and asked me to come train her front office staff regarding cultural awareness. I thought this was great since all staff works with ELLs and their families.
ENSURE THAT ESL SPECIALISTS AND CONTENT TEACHERS HAVE TIME TO PLAN TOGETHER
I can tell you first hand (because I’ve been on both sides of this coin) that planning is essential to the success of the students. Content teachers need the specialized expertise of the ESL Specialist. And the ESL Specialists have much to share with the Content teachers. The ESL Specialists often push in to classes as co-teachers. But here’s the thing…most campus have just a few ESL Specialist so they are spread pretty thin. Their schedules tend to change as new students enroll and as current students advance in language proficiency. Designating set times for ESL Specialists to plan with Content Teachers may seem impossible, however it is truly necessary and in the long run will benefit more students and staff members. When the ESL Specialist plans with Content Teachers he/she is aware in advance of what the students are learning. This allows for the ESL Specialist to pull accommodated materials and plan for appropriate scaffolds. In addition, planning together allows the Content Teacher to gleam language development advice from the ESL Specialist. The specialist is able to support the language development portion of lesson planning while the Content Teacher supports the academic portion of planning. Together they create lessons that both rich in language and content.
The key is carving out and protecting planning time for these two teachers to meet regularly. It can happen. I have done this before and it has been successful.
MONITOR THE PROGRESS OF ELLS ON YOUR CAMPUS
If we expect teachers to monitor progress of their students, we must model that as well. Now your campus and where the students are. Do you have a lot of immigrants? Are most of your ELLs newcomers? Or is your ELL population more on the long term side? How far have they come this year as a whole? Where do you expect them to be? Set the expectation and let the staff know the goal.
In my state, we use Proficiency Level Descriptors to formatively assess students in listening, speaking, reading and writing. We also use these rubrics to summatively assess students in the four domains each year. Knowing where students are and where we want to take them is essential to their success in language development and academic success.
What do you do on your campus to make kids feel successful and teachers feel prepared? If you have an awesome idea, please share in the comments below.
I must confess. I'm not a math specialist. In fact, as a classroom teacher, I've never taught math myself. I have supported math as an ESL Specialist in a co-teach position but never taught my own math class. However, what I can offer are linguistic supports for teaching in a math setting.
The misconception out there is that math is a universal language. This is far from true. Math is supported by language and if students are learning English, then learning math in their target language can be a struggle.
If you take anything away from this document, I hope it's that your ELLs NEED to talk about math using key vocabulary and may need sentence stems as scaffolds for conversation. Talk, or academic conversation, helps students develop language while internalizing learning, negotiating for meaning and cementing learning.
Please feel free to share this document with others as I hope it benefits language learners. If you have other suggestions or comments regarding math and ELLs, they are welcome here.
Resources I leaned upon:
Bresser, R., Melanese, K., & Sphar, C. (2009). Supporting English language learners in math class: grades 3-5. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions Publications.
Bresser, R., Sphar, C., & Melanese, K. (n.d.). Supporting English Language Learners in Math Class, Grades K-2.
Driscoll, M., Nikula, J., & DePiper, J. N. (2016). Mathematical thinking and communication: access for English learners. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
So you either came across this article because some gave it to you, you found it on line or you found it through Twitter! Let's talk about the power of Twitter and what it can do for you professionally. If you are already using Twitter, great! You may read this and think, "Awesome, I'm doing all of this." Or you may have some ideas that I didn't write about, so please share those with us in the comments below. Mostly, I wrote this for teachers and other educators who either aren't using Twitter at all yet or are using it a little but haven't realized the potential.
Twitter, what have you done for me lately?
Gosh! So much!! I began using Twitter as a way to find support from others who are in the boat. I searched for educators who also taught English Language Learners. I sought out educational organizations that support English Language Learners and I began following these people and organizations. I posed questions and sometimes commented on others posts. I began to form connections around the world with like-minded people! Little did I know, I was building a Professional Learning Network (PLN) that would help me grow over the years! Along the way and through these new friends and educational organizations, many new resources started to surface. People around the globe use different resources when working with ELLs. And learning from them brought new ideas to me! I started to read from authors I had not encountered before, new books came in my direction, various APPS were introduced that I could use with my students, etc. I was growing professionally without evening realizing it. And it was on my own time! When I had a few minutes to get on Twitter and check out some feeds that I liked, I would. Or I connected with some of my new friends and we shared ideas. Other times, I dedicated an hour to a Twitter Chat that I felt I would benefit from.
Soon, I was encouraged (through one of the chats) to begin a blog (yes, this one right here). It started out slow but once I got on a roll it has been an amazing experience for me. Blogging has really helped me to go deeper into my field. And I would not be doing it if it weren't for Twitter. The articles that I started to write even began to get some attention when I posted them on my Twitter feed! Yes, I was surprised too! I didn't think anyone would want to hear what I had to say. But low and behold, there is always someone out there who needs to hear what you have to say. This even lead to being asked to write some articles for other publications! And even to present information at conferences.
And all of this happened because of Twitter.
Where do I go from here?
My suggestion for those of you starting out is to begin by following a few people in your field of expertise. And RETWEET some of their posts when you like them. Look into popular hashtags related to your field.
If you are further along in your Twitter journey, start joining some Twitter Chats. They are a really easy way to build a PLN and learn from others who are like-minded.
Then try out a Twitter Chat of your own! This is one of my favorite things to do on Twitter. I've held a few of these myself and they are super easy to do. This is a great way to build your own leadership while fostering a community focused on a common theme.
A few tips for hosting your own Twitter Chat: