What does it mean to make content comprehensible?
Imagine for a moment that you are sitting in a classroom in a foreign country surrounded by new classmates and a teacher speaking a language that you don't speak. Keep in mind, you have to stay all day and you are expected to follow directions, do the work, and understand the language.
How would you do? Would you become frustrated? Would you get off task? Maybe begin to fidget, doodle, or get mad? Sometimes when our ELLs experience this, they react in ways that we may not understand. Learning a new language, culture, and content is not an easy task by any means. It's important that we respect the job they are doing and support them through it.
The best way to support their content needs is to make content comprehensible.
What kind of word wall is on your walls? Does it support your learners or is it just there as part of the wall paper creating wall pollution?
Let me tell you first hand...I used to have a traditional word wall and I wholeheartedly thought I was doing what was best for my students. It was alphabetical and I put words on it that were Tier I, Tier II, and Tier III (thinking that I was supporting everyone). I tried playing games with my students using the word wall and I even let them add their own words to it so they could take ownership of the wall.
But as a lifelong learner I embrace new information and when I find something that is better for students, I recognize it. Recently I learned about Interactive Word Walls from Dr. Julie Jackson. She is a professor at Texas State University and travels to deliver professional development regarding these amazing word walls. Her expertise is in the field of science but I think the word walls can work in any content area.
Let's back up a little and break it down. What is culture? Culture has many meanings and it depends on who you ask or which source you use. If you review most definitions, they all have somethings in common. Zion and Kozleski describe culture as the "shared beliefs, views, values, customs, behaviors and artifacts that the members of society use to interact with their world and with one another (as cited in Fenner & Snyder, 2017).
From this definition, I know we can gather that everyone has a culture. We all have beliefs and views. We all carry values and customs. We all have certain behaviors and artifacts related to our own society that we use to interact with the world and with others. This leads me to the conclusion that being culturally responsive is not only going to benefit my English Learners, it will benefit every child in my classroom.
Create a Welcoming Environment
1. The BEST ESL teachers know how to make their students feel safe and valued. They are able to break down the walls of anxiety and fear so students feel ready and eager to learn. These teachers do this by using verbal and nonverbal cues. The way they speak with their students tells them that they are wanted, valued, and loved. These teachers make room for all students.
Have you ever sat through a lecture bored out of your mind? Sometimes our students face the same doom when we don't allow them time to interact with the information that we are trying to input into their minds. Eventually, they tune out and nothing is gained. It becomes a giant waste of time.
Interactive lectures are lectures that allow for student participation and active engagement with information.
Here's what won't happen when you employ INTERACTIVE LECTURES in your classrooms and why:
These supporting documents have been in high demand and are in various blog posts on this blog. So I decided to put them all in one post for easy access. This is a one stop shop where you can find the supporting documents to shelter instruction in the content areas. Please feel free to share them with your teacher colleagues as they are meant to help all educators and students. These supports are not just for English Language Learners. ALL learners who need extra help will benefit!
Have you heard of escape rooms? They are pretty popular lately. Kind of an innovative way to build relationships while engaging a group of people in a real life puzzle.
Breakout EDU brings a similar experience to the classroom. And if you haven't hear of it, you need to check it out! Students work in heterogeneous groups to solve a series of puzzles related to a unit of study. Students must work together in order to reveal the codes which unlock several locks in a set amount of time (usually 30-45 minutes). Teachers can create Breakout EDU games that address the curriculum and state standards for the grade level they teach.
Does Breakout EDU support ELLs?
Building a relationship takes time as well as tons of effort. Being intentional about building a relationship is important. Mindfully going into co-teaching will benefit both teachers and the students. Some people are not naturally comfortable with having another person in their classroom, so easing into co-teaching may be necessary.
To begin with, meet ahead of the year and get to know as much as possible about one another. In my experience, there have been teachers who are more open to sharing and others who are less. That's okay! As long as your co-teacher knows you care and you are interested, that's a start.
Do you remember when you were in school and your teacher said it was time for read aloud? I don't know about you, but for me, that was a joyous time. It was a time for my imagination to soar. I could take the words that were flowing so eloquently from her mouth and create a movie in my mind. I love it.
As a classroom teacher, reading aloud to my own students became my favorite thing to do (maybe because it was magical for me as a child). I wanted to share that experience with them. But I also wanted to lift the level of learning a notch. Rather than this time being only for input, I was hoping to create some opportunities for output as well.
ENTER Interactive Read Alouds!
In a traditional read aloud, the experience is a one way street. The teacher reads and the students listen. There is no interaction, discussion, or time for students to express themselves during the read aloud. It's probably what I disliked most about read aloud when I was a kid. No one was allowed to talk while the teacher read.
On the contrary, during an Interactive Read Aloud, the teacher provides ample opportunities for students to interact with the text. Students talk with a partner, act out parts of the book, draw a picture related to the reading, or respond in writing. The best Interactive Read Alouds are carefully pre-planned by the teacher. The teacher can stop to ask questions or have students respond at critical parts of the book when the planning is done ahead of time.
The term interactive refers to the active learning that occurs while reading aloud high-quality literature. It characterizes the teacher and students having a conversation as they process the text together. It provides students an opportunity to extend their understandings through talk. This talk provides evidence of their thinking. (Fountas & Pinnell, 2001, 2011)
In both cases, whether traditional read aloud or interactive, the teacher models proficient reading so students can hear what an expert reader sounds like and how a reader engages with text. The teacher also models thinking about the text. What is happening? What is the character doing and why? What am thinking now? Basically, students get to hear what happens in the reader's head. They are also able to experience a text that is at a higher level than they are capable of reading on their own.
Steps to creating your own Interactive Read Aloud:
•Select a book and a focus
•Preread the book and think about your thinking
•Select 3-7 vocabulary words or phrases to highlight
•Make purposeful stopping points and note them in your book with a sticky note
•Use gestures, eye contact, visuals and expression to support ELLs
In this video, Linda Hoyt explicitly demonstrates with students how to talk to your Thinking Partner while she shares an Interactive Read Aloud on a nonfiction book. (5 minute clip)
The value of a read aloud, whether it be interactive or not, cannot be underestimated. Children of all ages benefit from being read to regularly. I'm an advocate for daily! This TED Talk by Rebecca Bellingham speaks volumes about the benefit of reading aloud. If you have 9 1/2 minutes to spare, watch it and then share it with teachers and parents! We all need a reminder every now and then.
Research has demonstrated that the most effective read-alouds are those in which children are actively involved asking and answering questions and making predictions rather than passively listening (Dickinson, 2001).
Calkins, L. (2015). Units of study for teaching reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Hoyt, L. (2007). Interactive read-alouds. linking standards, fluency, and comprehension. Portsmouth, NH: First Hand Heinemann.
Social studies is a content area filled with domain specific vocabulary. It is generally content that is specific to the area or region where we live/teach. For example, in Texas, students learn a lot about Texas. They learn about the geography and history, economics, etc. Yes, of course they also learn about the United States too. But in Italy or Columbia, they may not be learning all about Texas or even too much about the United States. They learn about their country's geography, history and economics, etc. They explore historical figures that are important to their country. So when a student (especially in older grades) comes to America, they may be missing key parts of social studies that we expect our students to have.
I get it and I've been there myself. You have a lot of reading material to cover so you think Round Robin Reading (or Popcorn Reading) will do the trick. You want to make sure everyone reads it and stays on track. It seems really logical.
Round Robin Reading (RRR), for those that may need a definition, is when students read orally one at a time from the same text. Some say that this is the best way to get students to really despise reading. A variation of RRR is Popcorn Reading. It sounds like more fun--but don't be fooled. It's not. It's the same type of reading activity with the same negatives and benefits. In Popcorn Reading, the only difference is that students randomly and spontaneously call out a new student's name to be the next reader.
Why you should DUMP Round Robin Reading...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.)
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----
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.
For a couple of days now, I've been stewing. I'm unsettled. There are these questions just flooding my thoughts. So many programs out there that we buy into and try to implement. I'm not saying that all programs are bad. There are some that I love. My question becomes which comes first...the children or the program?
So let's say I have this awesome program. The district has researched it and put a great deal of money into training teachers to implement it. But when I look closely at the program, I notice that it comes from a place that is nothing like my state, my city, my district, my students. Should I be concerned? What should I do?
"A picture is worth a thousand words"...Yes, so how we get those words out? Picture Talks to the Rescue!
What is a picture talk and how do I use it to help my students with listening, speaking, reading, and writing?
You may be thinking that a Picture Talk is for primary students or for Beginner level ELLs. But that's not the case. Though picture talks do benefit primary students and Beginner ELLs, even intermediate and Advanced ELLs gain valuable insights from Picture Talks across all content areas.
Step 1: In a typical Picture Talk, the teacher begins by
I'm just going to be honest here because it's what's best for students. This may hurt some feelings or sting a little for some who read this, but it comes from personal experience and I feel like if we don't confront problems, we can't solve them.
I have co-taught in classrooms where the general education teacher has had little experience with ELLs. They have had little training in how to serve ELLs. Teachers with little experience or knowledge about how to serve ELLs tend to be intimidated by students who are newcomers or beginners at the entering phase of proficiency. Often teachers steer away from the student because of their own insufficiency. Inadvertently, the student feels that the teacher doesn't like them or doesn't care for them. Then the class notices as well. Suddenly, there is an underlying culture in the classroom that the ELL is not celebrated, rather they are cast away.
As teachers, we took this job because we love children and want to help them learn. ALL children. Never would we intentionally want a child to feel that we don't care for them. But this is how some ELLs feel when teachers avoid ELLs, give them coloring sheets (while the rest of the class does meaningful work), or put them on a computer to practice easy English skills.
I know you don't want any of your students to feel unwanted. You want them to THRIVE and LOVE learning. Here's how to ensure that your ELLs are getting what they need:
1. WELCOME Them
As soon as you know you are receiving an ELL,
English Language Learners benefit greatly from the structure of Writing Workshop. However, there are a some small tweaks we can make as teachers to scaffold instruction for ELLs and truly make the experience advance both literacy and language.
ELLs vary vastly. Some are born in the United States and experience similar American cultures and traditions. Others have little formal education or come to America with drastically different cultures and traditions. Factors such as age, intrinsic motivation, proficiency in native language, and educational background also affect the student's development of English. For these reasons and more, we have to take a good look at each child individually and know how to adjust the Writing Workshop so that the child will grow as a writer because of the workshop structure.
What I noticed in classrooms is that teachers are embracing the Writing Workshop. But some feel they can't vary from the pages of Units of Study or other programs they use. This isn't true. We have to remember, we are teaching students first. If we keep students at the forefront we can't go wrong.
With sequenced, targeted, and focused support in writing, ELLs can make leaps and bounds! Here is how I support English Language Learners in Writing Workshop. Download is available below the picture.
Each kid benefits from seeing how to write before they DO the writing. BUT for English Learners this is even more important because language structures may vary from their native language. For example, if I want my students to write about themselves describing their age, I might show them that in English we write: " I am nine years old." This is different from other languages like my native language where a person might say, "I have nine years." Modeling what we expect from students gives them a clear goal for their writing.
2. Be Explicit