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.
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.
All Academic Conversations Academic Vocabulary Academy Accommodating Accommodations Administrator Anchor Chart Assumptions Automaticity Bloom's Taxonomy Building Relationships Content Objectives Cooperative Learning Coteach CoTeacher Courses Differentiate Differentiation Discourse Ear To Ear Reading ELLs ELPS Empathy English Learners Expression Fluency Foundations Getting To Know Your ELLs GLAD Gradual Release Instructional Language Development Language Level Language Objectives Language Rich Levels Linguistic Maslow Maslow's Hierarchy Model Modeling Nonfiction Observation Online PD Oral Language Partners Procedural Professional Development Q Triple S A Readers' Workshop Reading Scaffolding Sentence Starters Sentence Stems Small Group Somebody Wanted But So Structured Conversations Summarization Supporting ELLs SWBS Talk Talking Heads Teacher The Power Of Talk Toolkit Verbal Vocabulary Workshop Writers' Workshop Writing
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