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.
HOLD PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR ALL STAFF
Most teachers enter the classroom doors with little or NO professional development in the area of Second Language Acquisition. They are thrown into the experience of teaching ELLs and expected to know how to effectively teach English learners just like that. Many teachers become frustrated simply because they are ill-equipped and feel helpless. It then becomes the school district’s responsibility to provide teachers and all staff members with training so they can support their diverse students. Serving students who are learning both content AND language, acclimating to a new culture and come with various degrees of literacy in their native language is a massive challenge…one that should never be expected to be done without high quality, ongoing training.
When implementing professional development plans on your campus, be sure to include all staff members. Keep in mind that all teachers serve ELLs. Music, art and physical education teachers also work with ELLs and will benefit from understanding how to accommodate instruction for their students. Recently I worked with an awesome principal who reached out to me and asked me to come train her front office staff regarding cultural awareness. I thought this was great since all staff works with ELLs and their families.
ENSURE THAT ESL SPECIALISTS AND CONTENT TEACHERS HAVE TIME TO PLAN TOGETHER
I can tell you first hand (because I’ve been on both sides of this coin) that planning is essential to the success of the students. Content teachers need the specialized expertise of the ESL Specialist. And the ESL Specialists have much to share with the Content teachers. The ESL Specialists often push in to classes as co-teachers. But here’s the thing…most campus have just a few ESL Specialist so they are spread pretty thin. Their schedules tend to change as new students enroll and as current students advance in language proficiency. Designating set times for ESL Specialists to plan with Content Teachers may seem impossible, however it is truly necessary and in the long run will benefit more students and staff members. When the ESL Specialist plans with Content Teachers he/she is aware in advance of what the students are learning. This allows for the ESL Specialist to pull accommodated materials and plan for appropriate scaffolds. In addition, planning together allows the Content Teacher to gleam language development advice from the ESL Specialist. The specialist is able to support the language development portion of lesson planning while the Content Teacher supports the academic portion of planning. Together they create lessons that both rich in language and content.
The key is carving out and protecting planning time for these two teachers to meet regularly. It can happen. I have done this before and it has been successful.
MONITOR THE PROGRESS OF ELLS ON YOUR CAMPUS
If we expect teachers to monitor progress of their students, we must model that as well. Now your campus and where the students are. Do you have a lot of immigrants? Are most of your ELLs newcomers? Or is your ELL population more on the long term side? How far have they come this year as a whole? Where do you expect them to be? Set the expectation and let the staff know the goal.
In my state, we use Proficiency Level Descriptors to formatively assess students in listening, speaking, reading and writing. We also use these rubrics to summatively assess students in the four domains each year. Knowing where students are and where we want to take them is essential to their success in language development and academic success.
What do you do on your campus to make kids feel successful and teachers feel prepared? If you have an awesome idea, please share in the comments below.
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. I searched for educators who also taught English Language Learners. I sought out educational organizations that support English Language Learners and I began following these people and organizations. I posed questions and sometimes commented on others posts. I began to form connections around the world with like-minded people! Little did I know, I was building a Professional Learning Network (PLN) that would help me grow over the years! Along the way and through these new friends and educational organizations, many new resources started to surface. People around the globe use different resources when working with ELLs. And learning from them brought new ideas to me! I started to read from authors I had not encountered before, new books came in my direction, various APPS were introduced that I could use with my students, etc. I was growing professionally without evening realizing it. And it was on my own time! When I had a few minutes to get on Twitter and check out some feeds that I liked, I would. Or I connected with some of my new friends and we shared ideas. Other times, I dedicated an hour to a Twitter Chat that I felt I would benefit from.
Soon, I was encouraged (through one of the chats) to begin a blog (yes, this one right here). It started out slow but once I got on a roll it has been an amazing experience for me. Blogging has really helped me to go deeper into my field. And I would not be doing it if it weren't for Twitter. The articles that I started to write even began to get some attention when I posted them on my Twitter feed! Yes, I was surprised too! I didn't think anyone would want to hear what I had to say. But low and behold, there is always someone out there who needs to hear what you have to say. This even lead to being asked to write some articles for other publications! And even to present information at conferences.
And all of this happened because of Twitter.
Where do I go from here?
My suggestion for those of you starting out is to begin by following a few people in your field of expertise. And RETWEET some of their posts when you like them. Look into popular hashtags related to your field.
If you are further along in your Twitter journey, start joining some Twitter Chats. They are a really easy way to build a PLN and learn from others who are like-minded.
Then try out a Twitter Chat of your own! This is one of my favorite things to do on Twitter. I've held a few of these myself and they are super easy to do. This is a great way to build your own leadership while fostering a community focused on a common theme.
A few tips for hosting your own Twitter Chat:
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.
They can’t do much. Let them color.
This misunderstanding is DANGEROUS. ELLs come with varied skillsets, backgrounds, and prior knowledge. Some have more English language than others. Some have a greater developed native language than others. All of this and more affects the development of their new target language. In the case of a new immigrant, assuming that they can’t do much, so we let them color or do another meaningless task, sets them back drastically. It’s important that we assess what the child DOES know and build on that knowledge. Making connections with what the student already knows and bridging languages as soon as possible is key to English language development.
Their parents don’t come to conferences. They don’t care about school.
This type of assumption hurts my feelings personally because I know firsthand that it’s not always true. Some parents (especially parents of ELLs) face barriers that we may not be aware of that prevent them from coming to school for conferences and school events. This does not necessarily mean they are not supportive of education. In many instances, such as my own, families are so supportive of education that they left everything behind to immigrate to America for their children’s education. Some barriers that tend to prevent parents from coming to school for conferences and events include language, transportation, child care, and even their own cultural traditions about school. When I was in elementary school, my parents faced every single one of these barriers. Eventually we had an AMAZING teacher who started making home visits to our house! GREAT teachers find a way to reach students and families where they are.
I heard them talking to their friends at recess…they don’t need accommodations on classwork.
I literally remember a conversation with a teacher who said these exact words. The student was struggling academically and behaviorally in class so I went to meet with her. My goal was to help her with supporting the child. He had only been in the United States for less than a school year all together. He was bright and had a lot of knowledge in his native language. The problem was that he was not happy that he had to move from his friends, his house, and leave his dog back home. He was angry at the situation that he had no control over. All of this was affecting his new language development. He needed support affectively, cognitively, and linguistically.
These, by far, are not all of the misconceptions we make. The best way to avoid these hazardous misconceptions and others is to simply talk to the students and get to know them individually. Building relationships and connecting with learners helps open the door to the potential for even greater learning to occur. And our kids deserve it!
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.
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.
We use Canvas to create online courses and classes not only for teachers but also for students. So I created a Canvas Course Book Study for 7 Steps to a Language-Rich Interactive Classroom.
Basically, teachers would read a chapter of the book, implement their learning in their classrooms, and then discuss the learning in the online Canvas course. 3 easy steps.
Since this was not a typical book study, I found that giving 3 easy steps helped teachers understand the structure.
Once the course was created, we targeted specific campuses in a number of ways. We either looked at need based on data or on administrative support. We knew that if we had a campus that would willingly participate in this unique professional development then the chances of success would be greater.
After meeting with administrators from the campus, we came up with a time line together for completion of the course. We also added in either teacher coaching or classroom demonstrations depending on campus need.
Teacher coaching meant that teachers were more experienced with the 7 Steps and wanted us to come in, observe and give feedback. Whereas the classroom demonstrations were for campuses that had less experience with the 7 Steps.
Another facet of our professional development was some face to face training. The sessions were tailored to campus need. On some campuses, it was decided that we brought in Seidlitz Education (see link here), the authors of the book we read, while on others, we came in and worked with teachers on created sentence stems to support students at varied language levels, we targeted structured conversations, or structured writing.
Many factors contributed to the success of this unique type of professional development:
The beauty of this type of professional development is that it continues to evolve. It has not ended. We are still visiting with the school we first started doing this with over a year ago. We continue the learning journey with these teachers. In fact, we recently held a Twitter Chat specifically about this book and invited the campuses that have participated in the Canvas Course/Book Study. The turnout was amazing! And the learning continues. In addition, we have even partook in a district wide Learning Walk at one of the campuses that participated in the Canvas Course Book Study. Leaders from around the district came to observe several classrooms to see the language rich environment that has been fostered at the campus. The pride and excitement that I saw in these teachers and the principal of the campus was beautiful. Something magical happened here. It was systematic change.
For the campus, the benefits are so great! Not only do their current students benefit from the learning their teachers have implemented, but because EVERY teacher on campus is speaking a common language, the following year students are hearing THE SAME language from their new teachers. This common language that the teachers have embraced because of the online book study, demonstrations, coaching, twitter chats, learning walks, etc. continues to increase the success of the students at the campus.
Have you found a unique way to provide professional development or create systematic change on a campus? Please share with us.
Below is an info-graphic about the book that we used for the Canvas Course Book Study discussed above. I highly recommend this book. It's relevant for grades k-12.
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----
Learning Walks can come in many forms and fashions and it's up to your campus how you structure them.
Prior to the observation, it is important for all teachers to understand the purpose of each observation.
For example: If teachers are going in to see readers' workshop, then both the demonstrating teacher and the observing teachers should have a clear list of what will be showcased. "Today you will see the class during readers' workshop. Notice that some students will be reading independently and writing on sticky notes while the teacher pulls a small group to work on stamina .Then the teacher will confer with a few students."
After teachers have mastered Learning Walks on campus, they may be open to allowing teachers from other campuses to come visit. It's nice to see how other campuses work and what they are doing. Visiting neighboring campuses to learn from one another can help both sets of teachers grow in their craft.
You might be thinking that you won't be able to get enough teachers on campus to buy into this idea. That may be true...at first. Baby steps. If you can get a few teachers to try it and be advocates then others will follow.
It's important as teachers that we open our doors and work in professional learning communities always learning to be better teachers than we were yesterday.
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. When we take a reactive approach, we might not plan for critical vocabulary instruction and then when the students are not successful, we react to the struggles the students have. Proactive teachers think ahead...what will students struggle with and how can I prevent that. We know that students struggle with vocabulary and making learning stick.
So here's how to implement TPR in your classroom:
Step 1. select critical vocabulary for your unit of study! Don't select too many words. Remember critical means vital. Which words are necessary for comprehension.
Step 2. introduce the words individually to the students and give them a clear, concise definition. Here's an example that I used recently:
Definition: being independent
Step 3. students repeat the word and definition.
Step 4. there are 2 ways to do this step...you can make up your own physical responses for the words or you can let students make up the physical responses and vote on the one the class will use. It's up to you and you can vary your approach as needed.
For my example with individualism: being independent, I showed them the physical response. We repeated it many times and I reminded them that as they hear the word in class, they will stop, repeat the word and definition, and use the physical response.
Watch an example lesson on the Teacher Toolkit. http://www.theteachertoolkit.com/index.php/tool/total-physical-response-tpr
It varies slightly from the steps above, but you are the expert in your classroom. Make it work for your kids!
You probably already realized that TPR benefits almost every student in the class. From beginner ELLs to students with ADD, ADHD, special education students, students who are auditory, students who are kinesthetic, students who are social, etc.
I recently walked into a classroom and while I was there the teacher used a critical vocabulary word in context. The class immediately went into TPR. They were alive, engaged and all participating. It was beautiful to see the students so excited about social studies.
TPR is really easy, yet super effective. You don't have to do it for every word, but at least try it for some of your most difficult, critical vocabulary words.
Ferlazzo, L., & Sypnieski, K. H. (2012). The ESL/ELL teacher's survival guide. ready-to-use strategies, tools, and activities for teaching English language learners of all levels. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Seidlitz, J., Base, M., & Lara, M. (2015). ELLs in Texas: what teachers need to know. San Clemente, CA: Canter Press
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?
Do we take the children and make THEM fit the program?
or Do we take the program and make it fit our children?
I hope the answer is as obvious to you as it is to me. Just because the program says to do it this way doesn't mean we have to do it that way. What may work for one state with certain demographics may not work the same way for another. Our children come first. We have to meet them where they are and adjust our instruction. If we believe that kids come first, then this would be our action to match that belief. Our actions should match what we believe.
This means we can take a great program, research it, learn how to implement it. But then the most important step will be to make it work for our kids. Our kids are unique and they are different every year. They will need accommodating. Some will need modifying. They will have specific needs and it's okay and expected that we are proactive as well as responsive to their needs.
We need a MIND-SHIFT from teaching TO learning. What is more important? Is it more important that we teach it? or that THEY LEARN it? I say the latter. But if our focus is on the program then we are not putting kids and learning first.
Here's the article that I read that stirred up many thoughts in my mind and drove me to write this opinion post.
Your comments and thoughts are appreciated.
"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 selecting a picture relevant to the unit of current study. If you teach science you might select a picture about the water cycle, life cycle of a butterfly, the Grand Canyon, etc. A social studies teacher might choose a picture from history such as The Boston Tea Party, Amelia Earhart next to her plane, the Constitution, or a map, graph, chart or timeline, etc. A language arts teacher may present a picture that exemplifies character traits or feelings, a picture that relates to a theme that is being showcased, etc. Even math teachers can use Picture Talks by selecting pictures such as pictures with shapes, graphs, clocks, money, etc.
Step 2: Share the image with students either in whole group or in a small group setting. (Day 1)
Step 3: Title the picture and label it together. (Day 1)
Step 4: Give students time to discuss the picture in cooperative groups and then orally compose sentences. Provide students with sentence stems, starters or language frames to support complete sentences. This step allows students to access their own background knowledge as well as tap into one another's knowledge. It builds on prior knowledge by supporting what they already know about a particular topic. For example, if you give students a picture of a tee-pee, and students share in their groups, some might say they see a house, while others would say it's a home or dwelling.. (Day 2)
Step 5: Next, record the oral sentences either on a chart or below the picture. This can be done whole group or in a small group setting. Students should read the sentences chorally with your after you write them. This reading practice supports language development. Not everyone will need the support of the teacher's example sentences. The students who can independently write their own sentences using the labels can work on their own while the teacher pulls a small group to model using the label to compose sentences. Consider asking the group the 5 Ws-Who, When, Where Why, What to help vary the sentences and create a strong understanding of the visual. (Day 3)
Step 6: Give students the opportunity to use the labels to write their own sentences. Provide students scaffolds as needed. Some will need sentence frames or starters. Beginner ELLs may need to copy your sentences. To push students who are at the Advanced level up a notch, give them the stem: Additionally, Furthermore, For Example. Teach them to use those stems in their writing. (Day 3)
There are many ways to vary Picture Talks to meet your own classroom and students' needs. There is no right or wrong way to do them as long as you are using pictures to develop language: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Picture Talks don't have to take long. They are not 45 minute lessons. And they are not solely for language arts classrooms. Pictures of historical events, cycles (water, life, etc.), geography, scientific experiments, math problems lend themselves beautifully to Picture Talk activities. Pictures are engaging, thought provoking, and help to make content comprehensible for students. The steps above are just suggestions. Make this model fit your students' specific needs. Try out a Picture Talk and see where it takes you. This language rich learning strategy requires students to listen, speak, read and write in the content area of instruction. That's why I love it!
Below are examples of a primary Picture Talk. The unit was on predators and prey. The teacher used the owl picture first to discuss one type of predator. After the Picture Talk cycle, the teacher modeled how to use the picture to support writing. Some students were able to write about a different predator or prey while Beginners and struggling learners wrote about the owl.
Ferlazzo, L., & Sypnieski, K. H. (2012). The ESL/ELL teacher's survival guide. ready-to-use strategies, tools, and activities for teaching English language learners of all levels. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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, learn as much as you can about their background and get your class involved. Build their excitement for the student! Learn a few words in the child's native language. Teach the class some simple words such as "hello" and "my name is.". Learn how the child would like to be called and pronounce their name correctly. Names are important and carry more than the identity of a child. They can carry culture and traditions, history and a family story. Value a child's name by learning to pronounce it even if it means trying over and over again. Get a desk ready for the new student and designate a buddy to help the new student get acclimated to the new school. If you have a student in your class who speaks the same native language, that would be a great buddy. Once your new ELL arrives, be sensitive to their needs. Some ELLs are shy while others are outgoing (just like all students). Either way, introduce them to the class and their buddy. I have had many an ELL walk through my doors and each was unique. Some were eager and happy to be here, while others were sad and visibly shaken. I have even had a few that were overtly angry. Being empathetic and trying to understand their situation is important to their success. Overall, when students feel welcome, their affective filter is lowered and the ability to learn is greater.
2. Build Relationships
Getting to know your ELL is key to their success. This step will unlock the door to their growth as learners of English. So many times, we think that looking in the permanent record folder will tell us what we need to know abut our students. Yes, this gives us information, but it doesn't build a relationship. A student could be a new immigrant ELL who has never spoken English before arriving on your campus. On the other hand, a student could be born in the US and only attended American schools. ELLs come with their own extremely varied backgrounds and without knowing them, we cannot serve them well. Asking the student or the parents questions, being sincere about wanting to know, and using the information to make connections and build language is the goal. For example, I had a student once whose family came to America to seek refuge from war. This student had not attended school regularly in her home country before coming to America. The gaps were evident in her native language. Working with her parents and building on her strengths is what helped to assure progress and success for this student. When kids know that we care and love them, they want to do well for us. It's important for ELLs especially to feel valued as unique individuals, loved, and part of the class community.
3. Keep a Pulse on Language Proficiency
As your ELL begins to listen, speak, read and write in English, you have to continue to raise the bar. If we keep givng our students the same type of instructional strategies and accommodations, then they don't have the chance to grow. That's why it's important to use language proficiency descriptors to help keep you data informed and drive your instructional steps that will lead to progress and growth. In the beginning, for example, I may expect my newcocmer student to listen and repeat what I say. I may expect the student to label and copy simple words and short sentences. Once they have mastered that, I will want the student to stretch further and talk using short phrases, write short sentences on their own with sentence starters.. Each state uses some type of rubric to address language proficiency. It's important to know it and use it as a way to formatively assess students throughout the year.
4. Adjust Delivery
The delivery of your instruction is super important. There are many things you can do to make your language comprehensible to someone who is learning it. For example, speaking slowly. Think about a language that you may know a little...for me it's Spanish. I can understand Spanish a little. But if my husbands family speaks at their normal rate, I lose all understanding. A friend of mine tells me that when she was a young ELL, a teacher once spoke loudly to her...that didn't work and embarrassed her greatly. Speaking clearly also helps. When students can hear each word individually, they are more likely to comprehend what is being said. Repeating and rephrasing when students look confused. Gauge the class by looking around. You can usually tell if students are not getting it. Try saying it a different way. Using gestures or pointing and talking works wonders! I have actually demonstrated the use of gestures and point and talk with adult audiences using my native language (which is Serbian). When I speak without them, the audience has no idea what I'm talking about. But when I use gestures and point and talk, they get most of the main points. For instance, if you are asking students to open your writing journals to page 7, grab the journal and demonstrate what you are asking them to do. So simple, yet so effective! Providing students with ample wait time is another way to support ELLs as they acquire English. When we ask questions,
ELLs need an abundant amount of time to practice the new language. Output is important but can take on various forms. Output, also called expression, can be in writing or speaking. Either way it must be scaffolded to meet the needs of the student's language level. Beginners will need more support than students who are more advanced. ELLs should practice writing and speaking in all content areas each day. Speaking socially is not enough to help an ELL advance in become successful in school or post secondary. The best way to assure that ELLs get the practice they need in a low stress environment, is to plan structured speaking and writing activities such at Q Triple S A, Talking Heads, Think-Pair-Defend, etc. The opportunity to work in cooperative groups and partners is best for ELLs. Learning from classmates and discussing in a small setting allows ELLs and all students to negotiate for meaning and process information.
Keeping a routine in the classroom helps ELLs to focus on learning content and language. When students know the structure of their day and the lesson, they can focus their energy on learning content and language rather than wondering and/or worrying about what will happen next. Routines provide a structure and support for students such as ELLs who have a lot on their daily learning plates. The more we can be explicit and structured, the better.
These tips are GREAT for English Language Learners, but really ANY child would benefit from feeling welcome, having a relationship with their teacher, and having a teacher who knows their language level and uses that to adjust instruction. Any child would thrive if their teacher adjusted the delivery of lessons to meet their needs and gave them ample opportunities to express themselves through talk and writing. These are practices that are good for all students. The difference is that ELLs NEED them.
This is just the beginning. To learn more about serving ELLs, seek professional development opportunities through your district office, or regional service center. Join organizations such as TESOL and participate in ELL or ESL Twitter Chats. Read books about ESL/ELL (see my suggestions here).
Ferlazzo, L., & Sypnieski, K. H. (2012). The ESL/ELL teacher's survival guide. ready-to-use strategies, tools, and activities for teaching English language learners of all levels. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Seidlitz, J., Base, M., & Lara, M. (2015). ELLs in Texas: what teachers need to know. San Clemente, CA: Canter Press.
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
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
Don't beat around the bush and hope that kids discover what you want them to learn. Literally tell me what the goal is and what the expectations are. Leave nothing up for guessing. Content and language objectives are a great way to start when being explicit. For instance, "Today we are going to revise our writing for word choice. We will do this by reading our draft to a partner and discussing sound words." Then use an anchor chart that supports these objectives. Show students how you to do it using simple steps and let them try.
3. Anchor Charts
Anchor charts that are made with students, clear, and interactive are best for all students. If kids can go back to the anchor chart while you are working with a small group and they use the anchor to support their independent learning, then you know it's a good one. The best anchor charts have minimal text and are supported with sketches, pictures or graphics. An anchor chart is like a finger print of the teaching that took place. In some cases, students need their own mini-anchor chart to keep in their writing journal for easy reference. Taking a picture of the chart and printing it small or making a copy of the chart on a sticky note is a way to give the student an artifact from the lesson.
4. Language Level
Keeping each students' English language level in mind while they learn to write in English is critical. Second language learners may not be on grade level YET. But they will if we support them using language scaffolds in writing. As beginners in language, they may first need to use pictures in their writing. Labeling, copying, and talking about the pictures will support their language and writing growth. The use of leveled sentence and paragraph frames will also benefit students as they continue to learn English. Remembering that even students who are near grade level in English will still benefit from support in writing. Academic writing and grammatical structures can pose a struggle for students who are learning content and language simultaneously.
5. Sentence Stems
The use of sentence stems has become more common. And that's a great thing. However, we can do better if we tailor the use of sentence stems to meet the specific needs of ELs. Beginner ELs have extremely different writing needs than Advanced ELs. Both have needs and we want both of them to grow in proficiency, but if we prescribe the same sentence stem to them, we are doing a disservice to them. It would be like if a doctor prescribed the same treatment to each patient that walked into his door. Instead, we need to assess each student and prescribe what they need at the time (not all year because if we do a great job, they won't need the same supports all year).
This seems pretty obvious but it's often forgotten. We all need targets. When I decided to go back to college to get my Master's Degree, I had to complete an Action Research Project. I had never heard of one before, so in my mind it was a vague project. It was totally new to me. I couldn't imagine how long it needed to be, what sections it had to include, what it looked like in general, etc. I needed examples of Action Research Projects in order to be able to hit the mark. Our kids need the same and these examples need to be attainable for them. They should be peer examples and not adult authors. Yes, mentor texts are great and I love reading them to my students, too. But I can't possibly expect my ELs to write like Kate DiCamillo right now. I need them each to feel successful and them I continue to lift the bar. Success and lift the bar and repeat.
Enough cannot be said about the value of student discourse in the classroom. Talk is vital for ELs. In the early stages of language development, they may be reluctant and that's okay. However, the opportunities for talk should always be present. Structured conversations don't have to take long (35 seconds to 2 minutes) but their value is tremendous! My favorites are using talking heads or Q Triple S A. We know that the person who does the talking is the one who is doing the learning. Unfortunately if the talk is mostly coming from the teacher, then the teacher is probably learning more about the subject than the students are. I have to be honest here and tell you that in my early years of teaching I was very guilty of being center-stage in my classroom and talking more than my students. I thought it was my job to deliver the content TO them. It was only after I realized that my talking was preventing them from uncovering the content that I had a mind-shift. I had to let them do the talking. I had to restructure the classroom environment and provide the students a way to discuss, negotiate for meaning, evaluate their thinking, and clarify by holding structured conversations. When students talk before they write, their writing becomes more solid and definitely greater than without talk.
Writing is not just a way to checking for understanding. Writing can help students to build on their existing knowledge. It can help them dig deeper into their thoughts and understandings.
Writing is a powerful way to support learning.
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.
When I was an ESL specialty teacher, I would spend the day co-teaching in various classrooms on my campus. One thing I noticed about classrooms, is that some were like rainforests. Picture this: plants of all types, flowers blooming, creatures crawling around, brightly colored birds and butterflies flying through, monkeys swinging through branches, frogs hopping about, etc. The rainforest was vibrant and alive and all types of life thrives in the ecosystem. While other rooms were like desolate, deserted islands...no life, no sound, no energy.
What made the classrooms vibrant rainforests where children thrived while others were desolate, deserted islands? The answer was ample opportunities for structured academic TALK.
Classrooms where talk was scaffolded, taught and fostered with fidelity bred a natural sense of community. In these classrooms students felt safe to take risks and speak about the thoughts going on in their mind. They felt safe to change their mind when new information was learned. Students and the teacher recognized that it was more important to process thinking than to get the answer right.
Q Triple S A is probably the best structured conversation technique that I have used. I first learned about it from the book 7 Steps to a Language-Rich Interactive Classroom written by John Seidlitz.
Begin by posing an open ended, essential question. Thought provoking questions are the best for structured conversations. Crafting great questions takes practice and collaboration with other teachers can help. Post the question so students can see if and easily refer back to it during their conversation.
Next, provide students with a sentence stem for the answer to the question. As a class rehearse how to say the sentence stem. This rehearsal not only helps students understand that they will need to use the stem but also helps if students aren't quite sure of how to say some of the words.
Third, tell students to stand or give a thumbs up when they can complete the sentence. It can be any signal that you think of really. I like to use hands on hips and thinkers chin. This step is critical for 100% participation. When you begin to implement this step, it may take longer than you would like. BUT don't skip it. Kids will test you. If you stand your ground they will learn that you EXPECT EVERYONE to participate. Remember: It's not about getting the right answer. It's about thinking and learning. Gone are the days that we ask a question and call on one kid to answer it while everyone else zones out!
Now that all kids are ready, we partner them up and let them share their answers. Partnering can take the form that you see fit. It may be a group share or it could be A/B partners. The important part here is that students know how they will share with their peers. Explicit instructions on sharing need to be delivered so that students who are reluctant speaks will understand the expectations while those that dominate talk will also understand where to draw the line. This share time gives the teacher an opportunity to listen in on conversations. The teacher can wonder the crowd and take notes that will guide the next steps in instruction. Note of caution: As you listen to conversations, be careful of your feedback. Often saying "Good job" can halt a discussion by making students feel they have completed the task. Perhaps feedback like, "You're on the right track. Can you say more?" or "What else can you tell us about that?"
The final step in Q Triple S A, is to assess. This simple means that the teacher will RANDOMLY call on a few students to share their answer with the whole group. Now remember, they've all been given the opportunity to share in small group (which helped to lower their affective filter). That opportunity also provided a listening experience for them, so they may build on their initial answer. The reason for randomly calling on students is that it helps us to avoid always calling on the same kids. It also keeps everyone on their toes. We hold our kids accountable to the learning.
Whether you are a kinder teacher or a high school algebra teacher, I challenge YOU to try this amazing technique with your kids! And let us know how it goes.
Seidlitz, J. & Perryman, B. (2011). 7 Steps to a language-rich interactive classroom: Research based strategies for engaging all learners. San Clemente: Canter Press.