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.
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.
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 lot of research has been done on the amount of talk that takes place in an average classroom. Research has found that ELLs spend less than 2% of their school day improving their academic language! Unfortunately, the one doing the most talking is usually the teacher. And as we know...the one talking is the one learning. When we talk, we process, we negotiate, we internalize. Teachers are doing a lot of the work and students are zoning out.
To shift this workload and learning, students need to do the talking. As teachers, we should give students engaging topics and esssential questions to discuss and turn it over to them. There are many ways to achieve a room full of students who are talking about the work. But I think as teachers, our biggest fear is that they won't talk about the work...they will get off topic or they won't talk at all. A secondary fear is that there is so much curriculum to cover that if we let them talk, it won't get covered. Here are 3 ways to ensure that your classroom talk is effective.
ONE. Be explicit in the talk structure and routine. Teach your students HOW to hold the talk conversation so that it is accountable. Students of all ages need to hear the teacher say that partners need to sit facing one another. They need to know that one person talks while the other(s) listen(s) and nod(s). They will need to see how the partners pass the conversation to one another. For example, when I'm finished talking, how do I let my partner know it's his/her turn? I might say, "What do you think?" In this day in age, kids are intrenched in technology, social media, and this lack of face to face communication leads us to the need for excplict instruction about conversation. Modeling what you expect is important. Model, model, model. Show your students what the conversation will look like and what it should not look like.
TWO. The question or topic you pick is key to the success of the conversation. If your district utilizes unit plans, they will include essential questions and enduring understandings. Those are excellent for selecting what you want your students to discuss. Just be sure that you have already exposed your students to the information. They can't talk about questions that they haven't studied yet. If your district does not use unit plans, you can look at the TEKS or state standards that your lesson is addressing. Take the standard and turn it into a question. Don't change the vocabulary in the question to make it "easier" for them to understand. Instead, teach them the vocabulary using visuals and synonyms if you need to. Once you have a question in mind, post it visually for your students. Otherwise, once you ask kids to discuss with their partner, you'll hear, "What are we supposed to talk about?" and then they will get off topic. Posting the question ensures that two modalities have been addressed: verbal/oral and visual. Those kids that need to hear it, heard it. Those kids that need to see it and read it, can!
THREE. Give them sentence stems or starters to propel their thoughts. ELLs are cognitively capable of answering questions and thinking deeply. They lack the English language. Sentence stems provide a scaffold and support for the structure of the sentence. Remember when you were first learning to ride a bike? Someone ran behind you holding the seat and keeping you balanced. Then when you were ready, they let go. That's what stems are like. Just like when learning to ride a bike, we all need a different amount of support. With beginner and intermediate ELLs, stems will be more basic. They also benefit from a word bank or visual/picture. Advanced and advanced high ELLs still need stems too. Their stems can be longer and push them to explain more.
If you are looking for more to read about talk, here are a few excellent resources:
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.
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 war torn 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.
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 Immigrant Instructional Language Development Language Level Language Objectives Language Rich Levels Linguistic Maslow Maslow's Hierarchy Model Modeling Nonfiction Observation Online PD Oral Language Partners Picture Talks Procedural Professional Development Programs 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 Total Physical Response TPR Verbal Vocabulary Workshop Writers' Workshop Writing