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 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.
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
If you are not using a structured conversation or talk technique regularly in your classroom yet, this is THE one to implement NOW. It's not only easy to implement right away, but it can also be used in every grade level and content area. There is practically no prep work need yet the benefits for students rock!
The benefits of academic talk are too great to avoid. If, as teachers, we do all the talking, then WE do all the learning. Talk makes learning stick. Students must verbalize to internalize.
I HAD AN EPIPHANY! I HAVE TO SHARE IT WITH YOU. ESPECIALLY THOSE OF YOU THAT HAVE EVER WONDERED...
"WHY DO I HAVE TO WRITE MY CONTENT AND LANGUAGE OBJECTIVES ON THE BOARD?"
I USED TO THINK IT WAS FOR ADMINISTRATORS TO SEE WHAT WAS GOING ON IN CLASSROOMS. THAT WAS EVEN A RUMOR IN THE BUILDING. TEACHERS WERE ALL A BUZZ OVER THE NEW EXPECTATION.
IN HINDSIGHT, IT WOULD HAVE REALLY HELPED TO KNOW EXACTLY WHY WE NEEDED TO PUT THESE OBJECTIVES UP ON THE BOARD.
BUT WHEN IT HIT ME, IT HIT ME! IT WASN'T FOR THE ADMINISTRATORS AT ALL. HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED...
As a leader in your building, it's important to keep current with all the best practices in education. Knowing what is new and cutting-edge in each content area is difficult yet crucial. As you walk into classrooms and observe teachers, students and the environment, how do you know that all students' needs are being met. ELLs are the fastest growing population in the United States. Are classrooms meeting the needs of their diverse students?
Here's what to look for:
I have written about my personal experience before on my blog. I have even shared it publicly in my school district to help raise awareness about the ELL experience. But lately, it has become so much more than my story.
As a Collaborative Teacher or Co-Teacher, you may go into multiple classrooms and various grade levels each day. This type of schedule has its advantages, but it also can be quiet a heavy load as far as planning is concerned.
In my own experience, I have been in the shoes of the classroom teacher and the ESL teacher coming in to co--teach. In both cases there were times when planning together just wasn't possible. I found that having a toolkit with me was a lifesaver as I came into classrooms to serve students.
One thing I know for sure is that before kids can learn in an academic setting, their basic needs must be met. Their bellies must be full, they have to have had a full night of sleep, they must feel safe, and they need to feel that they belong. Maslow's motivational theory contends that what motivates our students do to what they do and behave the way that they behave is the desire to fulfill basic needs.
One of my favorite ways to let students practice reading for automaticity, fluency and expression is with Ear to Ear Reading. There are so many benefits to this easy to implement strategy! Because it is done in pairs (or triplets in rare cases) it lowers the affective filter for students and helps to build interdependence among students.
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?
Scaffolding...when I hear this word, I think of the small tress that were planted in my front yard. Around them, the gardeners placed metal tree stakes as supports. Scaffolds in teaching are like the stakes around the tree.
Interestingly enough, it is suggested that the sooner the stakes are removed, the sooner the plant can develop a strong trunk and root system. And staking a tree that does not need it can do more harm than good. So in essence, though stakes in general seem like a good thing, if implemented incorrectly, they can harm the tree.
Summarizing to the Next Level...Somebody Wanted But So
I'm going to venture to say that as educators most of us have either used SWBS or seen it used with students. In this post, I hope to show you how it can be leveled up a few notches. And rather than spread thin, we can help our kids dig deep into summarizing using this strategy which can be pretty powerful if used with fidelity.
Here's what I USED TO do with my students:
The courses offered include:
The ELPS Linguistic Instructional Alignment Guide or LIAG is aresource also available to educators. It is not a course but a resource that is handy for planning instruction. As a classroom teacher, the LIAG can a used to tailor listening, speaking, reading, and writing goals and instruction for each English Learner in your classroom.
Sheltered Instruction videos are coming soon! So be on the look out! And share this awesome resource with your colleagues.
Just wondering...for those of you who don't live in the GREAT state of Texas, does your state/country have something like this for teachers? Please comment.
TEXAS teachers!! Have you heard about Texas Gateway???
This is an AMAZING, FREE resource library for all Texas educators and parents created by the Texas Education Agency. The courses offered are self-paced, online courses. Some even include videos and classroom support documents. As an advocate for English Learners, I truly love that the Texas Gateway offers several courses related to supporting teachers and administrators of ELs. Teachers can take the courses and receive professional development credit for them too! But BEST of all, teachers and administrators will gain valuable knowledge about how to effectively support English Learners in their classrooms and schools utilizing the English Language Proficiency Standards aligned with the TEKS.
Have you ever walked into a classroom and heard a teacher say, "I love how quiet you all are. Keep it up."? Quiet classrooms are dangerous for English language learners and most other students as well. Talk is key to learning. If the goal is to lift the level of language, how can we do that in a quiet classroom?
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?
I can't count on my fingers how many times someone has come up to me and asked me a question in Spanish. Then when I respond in English with... "I don't speak Spanish," I'm met with a puzzled and unpleasant look. A look that says, why don't you speak Spanish? You are clearly Hispanic.
Well, no...I'm not. People frequently ASSUME that I am Latina based on what they see and probably from my last name as well. Making assumptions about people is a dangerous thing. The only way to avoid or correct a misconception is to get to know people, ask questions, build relationships. Without this knowledge, we tend to make up our own stories about one another.
Making assumptions about our students and their families is even more dangerous.
When I was a kid, my parents rarely went to our school for conferences or other events. Chances are you probably have kids in your class with similar situations. Their parents are not coming to school functions. Why? I can only hope that the teachers didn't "assume" my parents didn't care. My parents, in reality, cared VERY much about my education. They actually cared so greatly that they left everything behind to move us to America so we could have a better education and future. If my teachers asked, they would have known that my dad worked a great deal of overtime so we could afford our little home. If my teachers asked, they would have known that my mom was still struggling to learn English, had an infant to care for, and didn't have an extra vehicle to drive. If my teachers asked, they would have known that my parents worked with me every night, instilled in me that school was of utmost importance, and read to me before bed each night. If my teachers asked...
I will never forget my first few years as a young teacher. I taught in a wonderful school that was filled with great families and amazing teachers. There was just this one teacher who often said things about her students that didn't sit well with me. One day she came into where we were eating lunch as a team and she said with great unhappiness, "Well, I'm getting a new student. And the kids are hiding all their things because the new kid is Mexican." I was shocked and saddened. She didn't stand up for the new student who hadn't even stepped foot in her room yet. The poor child was already labeled and no one had even met him yet. Why? I have never been able to forget this. At the time, I was a baby teacher and she was a seasoned veteran. I didn't stand up for the child. Now, I would tell my young self to speak up and be an advocate for the student. This veteran teacher made terrible assumptions about an innocent child and allowed her assumptions to sway the thoughts of her other 20 students. What a shame. A terrible shame.
Never assume that our students have experiences that we have. Even things we may think are basic and simple such as visiting a zoo. Don't assume all your kids have been to a zoo. Case in point...my niece was well into her teenage years before visiting a zoo. And sadly I didn't realize it until then either. I assumed she had been. When asking your class about experiences, think carefully about how you phrase the question. For example, don't say, "Who has never been to the circus?" It creates a singling out effect. It may embarrasses students who haven't had the experience. Also don't ask, "Does everyone understand?" It is rare that students who don't understand will actually answer by saying, "No". Instead ask specific, clarifying questions.
We make assumptions at times. It's really human nature. The important thing to remember is that when it comes to our students, the better we are at getting to know them by asking them questions and being genuine, the better we will be at serving them the way they need it. When we understand who they are, where they come from and what their lives are like, we will be able to reach them in a way that is powerful. Connecting by building meaningful relationships allows our students to feel important, valued, and part of their own growth in education.
Today I had the privilege of attending a great workshop in San Antonio called Making Words Real. It was presented by Joanne Billingsley, the author of the book, Making Words Real: Proven Strategies for Building Academic Vocabulary Fast. The session was very informative, interactive, and relevant for K-12 across content areas.
Joanne reminded us that words have a great deal of power for all students. They help us understand, be understood, and connect. Word knowledge leads to world knowledge. Key for us to remember as educators is that we all teach language. We teach the language of our content. Some of us teach math while others teach social studies or science. But we are all language teachers. We teach the language of our content because the situation demands it. There is a direct link between vocabulary knowledge and academic success. When our ELLs are missing vocabulary they lag behind academically creating a gap.
As teachers, we should be cognizant about how much talking we are doing and how much academic discourse we are allowing our students to practice. If we are doing all or most of the talking, then ELLs will continue to lack progress in speaking and consequently in writing and reading. There is a direct link between speaking, writing and reading as well. The more our kids practice the language, the stronger they will become as readers and writers. Exposure to academic is not enough. Students must have time for guided talk, purposeful conversations, and explicit instruction.
In her book, Joanne shares many examples of how to create a language rich environment that breads academic vocabulary. I will not go over each one, but I will say that most (if not all) of them include the employment of gestures, visuals, physical movement, and sentence stems.
Joanne reminds us that it is critical that students VERBALIZE to INTERNALIZE. Words become real when kids use them in speaking and writing not if they memorized them for a vocabulary test.
Nearly four decades ago, my parents were young newlyweds in a poor, economically unstable country in Southeastern Europe. They made a very difficult decision to leave almost everything behind and come to America. And they did it for the hope of a better future for their two kids. They left the former Yugoslavia with one suitcase and less than $200 in their pockets. But the dreams they had for us were worth it. They risked everything because they knew what staying there would lead to, and they heard about the promises of America.
It wasn’t easy when we first arrived in the states. We didn’t quite fit it. There were the obvious differences like language, clothes and food. Aside from language and clothes, we also smelled different from everyone else. My aunt (who came to America a few years before we did) came when she was in high school. She remembers being called the stinky girl. You see, cabbage is a staple in lower socioeconomic Serbian homes, so I imagine she smelled like cabbage and didn’t realize it. It was normal to her. But she was teased a lot for it back then. I'm sure it was hard for her self confidence. When she was in Yugoslavia, she was a very liked and well respected girl. The change was a shock for a teenage girl.
My family spoke no English at all when we got here. None of us, not one. My dad actually learned Spanish before he learned English. His coworkers were mainly Spanish speakers so he started to pick it up pretty quickly. Now some of the words he learned were not appropriate for daily conversation. None the less, he learned Spanish.
When my brother and I began elementary school, my parents learned English alongside us. We brought home our spelling list and they learned the words too. It was a game we played. My dad worked so hard to make sure we had a house to live in and food and clothing. He wasn’t home much because he was working and picking up overtime as often as he could, and my mother didn’t drive or speak English. I don’t remember either of them going to a parent teacher conference. I wonder if the teachers thought my parents didn’t care. When on the contrary…they cared A LOT. That’s why we left our home country and everything we knew and loved.
Below there's a class picture of me in kindergarten. Look at my little hand knit vest… We wanted desperately to fit in and to be like everyone else. To be accepted. After some time, my family met a Serbian woman who was married to a doctor here in the Houston area. They were well off and coincidentally had 3 kids who were all just a little older than we were. This family donated clothes to us. I can’t tell you how excited we would get when they brought over bags of clothes for us. It was like Christmas X 10! After that, we went to school in Polo and Esprit but they were all hand my downs…donations. People make assumptions all the time. We all do. It’s pretty natural. We were still the same poor family, but on the outside, it may have looked like we had some money or that we spent all our money on clothes. I wonder what people used to think!
Anyhow, as a student in elementary school, I was very quiet. I could sit and listen all day without saying a single word. After all, my parents told me to "Be a good girl" and that meant no talking in school. In our culture, the teacher holds all the knowledge. Students are there to learn from the teacher. So I took it all in and unless the teacher explicitly spoke to me, I could go the entire day without speaking in English. Then I would go home and tell my mom everything I learned. Only I would tell her in Serbian. My academic English did not advance as well or as quickly as it possibly could have.
Being different is hard for children. Especially those who come here with one culture and then are faced with learning a new culture. Essentially, they have 3 cultures. Their first, the new one and a combination of the two.
Here’s the thing…my story is not the only one. It’s one of MANY. This story is happening every day. The ELL population continues to grow in Texas and in the United States. Families from around the world are risking everything, leaving everything because they want a better future for their kids. It’s important to share our stories with one another. It helps us connect and understand each other. And in the absence of knowledge people make up their own stories.