How do I make my anchor charts ELL friendly?
Have you ever walked into a classroom and looked around in awe at the beautiful charts and posters? The beautifully decorated boarders and store bought matched sets? But when you ask the students about them, they don't have a clue what they are for or how to use them?
Anchor charts should be an imprint of our teaching. They should be remnants we leave behind to remind students of the important parts of the lesson. They should serve as mini-teachers so that as we work with small groups, our independent readers and writers can rely on the anchors to guide them instead of interrupting the small group.
If anchor charts are not being used by students, then they are simply wallpaper.
For English learners, anchor charts can pose big problems. Not only can they be overwhelming wallpaper, they can be confusing due to the amount of words. They can cause more confusion than assistance. Here's how we can make sure that our anchor charts serve our English learners and all students and are all not a waste of space and time.
The first thing we have to consider when working with English learners and anchor charts is that the anchor charts should be made in front of the students. English learners (and all students) benefit from seeing and hearing the process that happens live in action. Seeing and hearing while making the chart in front of the students helps with brain imprinting. Modalities of visual and auditory are reached.
Second, anchor charts should be explicit. Here's how to___. Step one, step two, step three. Be direct and clear. Don't use a lot of unnecessary words. Just stick with the most essential parts of what students need to know. For example, if I want to teach my students how to talk with partners about nonfiction, my anchor chart might look like the one here.
Third, include graphics, icons, or pictures to support comprehension. Notice in the Nonfication Partner Talk anchor chart, I included specific visuals for my students to help them later when they use the chart without me. The pictures will remind them of what we discussed.
Last, location, location, location! Put your most important, most valued charts where students can see them and use them. Think about the real estate in your classroom. Where you place your anchor charts means something. Think about that ocean front property. It has value. Once they no longer need a chart, put it away where students can find it but it's not taking up prime real estate. Many students, especially English learners, benefit greatly from having their own small copy of important anchor charts. I achieve this by either making person copies on sticky-notes or taking pictures of my anchor charts and printing them out small for students who need them. They keep them in a section of their reading or writing notebooks.
Your students should know how to use the anchor charts in the class, why they are on the walls, and where to find them. If they can't answer those questions, then it's time to reflect on that chart.
Units of Study for Teaching Reading
A workshop setting is very conducive to differentiation. But how are we ensuring that our ELLs are not being forgotten? How are we making sure that the workshop setting is meeting the needs of our ELLs and pushing them forward in language AND literacy?
First and foremost, as teachers we have to remember that when we work with students who are learning English as a second language, we are not only teaching them to read and write, we are simultaneously teaching them the English language, language proficiency. It is important to keep a pulse of the students' levels in listening, speaking, reading and writing in English.
Being aware that some students come from countries where letters and symbols are different from ours is important too. Teaching ELLs how to decode letters will help empower them to read. Being explicit about letter sounds, capitals and lower case letter, and punctuation can be taught in small groups or during individual reading conferences with ELLs. Nevertheless, these are important lessons that our ELLs might have misssed depending on when they came to the US.
Often we ask our students to "sound it out...does it sound like it makes sense or sound correct?" Well, for an English language learner that type of question is difficult to answer. Some haven't heard enough examples of the English language to know if it sounds correct. For many, the classroom is the only place where they experience the English language. With ELLs, explicit instruction and modeling goes a long way.
If we want our students be excel in academics, we have to help them excel in language at the same time. Our ELLs need multiple opportunities to listen, speak, read and write during the day and this includes the workshop time. Recently while at an assessment training, the presenter discussed accommodations. I loved how she phrased it. She said that accommodations do not give ELLs an advantage. Accommodations level the playing field. I look at it this way...if a little girl can't reach the water fountain, what would we do? Would we let the child go without water until she grows tall enough to reach it herself even though she needs the water? Would we go get the maintaince crew to LOWER the fountain? NO! Of course not! The child deserves and needs the water and we will not lower the standards for her to reach it. We will give her a scaffold and little by little pull it back. The scaffold might be a stepping stool or some other type of device to allow her equal access to the water. She will get the same water that everyone else gets. Level the playing field.
See the document below for ideas on how to level the playing field for ELLs during workshop. Feel free to email me or reach out to me on Twitter and I will send you more information on this document.