Building and sustaining strong partnerships with the families of our English learners is an essential part of their success. In this article for Seidlitz Education, I outline how to prepare for conferences with families, what to do during the conference, and how to continue to sustain communication after conferences.
If you know me, you KNOW I L.O.V.E. what I do. I've always loved it. No matter my role in education, I bloom where I'm planted. I think this is because (like many of you) education is not a job for me, it's a calling. I live and breathe it. It's not a 7-4 job. There are no hours that limit my time doing what I do.
But I have to be honest with you, the year I transitioned from a classroom teacher to an ESL teacher who pulled students out and co-taught, wasn't all roses. I struggled...a lot. So if this is your first or second year out of the mainstream classroom and working as an ESL specialist, pull out teacher or co-teacher, you may be able to relate.
I was a mainstream, third grade teacher in a public school in a suburb outside of Houston, Texas when I began teaching in 1997. Our school had one designated teacher that served English learners through a pull-out program. I understood my job was to teach students the general education curriculum while she taught my English learners the language. I never knew exactly what they did when they were with the ESL teacher. And I’m not sure if she knew what they were doing when they were with me.
Fast forward to 2019.
Looking back, I know that this was not a great structure for teaching content or language to our students. I can only imagine how much more and how much quicker our students would have learned language and content had we collaborated…had I recognized my own role as a language model for the students.
ALL educators, administrators, and stakeholders need to know how to serve ALL students including English learners.
Each year that we are in education, we grow wiser. We realize what worked and what didn’t. We learn just as our students do. We learn from reflecting on our experiences and from others. Recently I asked Larry Ferlazzo, Carol Salva, Rita Platt, and Andrea Honigsfeld if they would kindly reflect on their own careers as educators and share with us some advice or something they wish they did differently. Here’s what they said…
The first few days of school lay the groundwork. They help to create a foundation and atmosphere for the rest of the year. Here are a few of my favorite ways to start the year off with students. You can adjust these to meet your students’ age level, but mostly they can be accommodated to fit K-12.
I picked these activities because they keep ELs at the heart by building community, encouraging interaction, lowering the affective filter, and they can be used later in the year for more academic lessons.
Are you hoping to get hired as an ESL teacher or specialist? Take a look at the questions compiled below from colleagues and experienced ESL teachers that have been in your shoes.
Hopefully, these will begin to give you ideas about how you might answer questions that the interview committee could ask you.
6 Things you can do now!
First of all, WELCOME! We are glad to have you in our professional learning network. If you are reading this, I want to formally welcome you to a wonderful, passionate group of ESL educators and advocates who will support you along the way. In this article, you will find ideas for professional learning, resources to dig into, leaders in the field, and much more.
So you secured an ESL position. And you're wondering...how can I prepare for this job?
I've heard ESL teachers say that on their campus they feel less valued as a team, as educators, and as a department.
They are frequently asked to do duties other than serving English learners. Duties like covering classes when teachers are in a pinch, running copies, covering lunch duty, and more when they should be serving students, English learners.
The other day, I posed a question to my Twitter PLN. I asked what their non-negiables were for teaching English Learners. The responses were overwhelming. Just imagine if we set aside time as campus or district teams to develop non-negiables and then live by them. This would be a great practice for ESL and bilingual teams. Here are some of the responses from Twitter followers:
The 'summer slide' is a real thing. When summer hits, many students digress in learning. Sadly, English learners can become victim to the 'Summer Slide'. We can help our students and their families by giving them some information before summer starts!
What is the difference and Why should we care?
Well, first and foremost, we should care if we want our students to speak like scholars. If we want our students to be marketable after they graduate. If we want them TO graduate! Then we should care! Sentence stems and frames are scaffolds as students learn language and content.
Sometimes educators use the terms sentence stems, sentence starters and sentence frames interchangeably. You may wonder...are they the same thing? The answer is no, they are are not the same. They have their own form and function.
Teaching language structures is one of the most important things we do with our English learners. Embedding academic vocabulary into the language structures is key to their academic success. Making it interactive, engaging, and fun bumps it up ten notches! The Sentence Patterning Chart (a GLAD strategy) that I wrote about last January is an excellent way to build content knowledge and help students acquire language structures through authentic shared writing.
So if you haven't tried it yet, I highly suggest it. And if you have tried it, here's your next move!
Often I'm inspired to write by something I've encountered either through reading a professional book, visiting a campus or classroom, or through conversation (in person or online). This post was inspired by recent conversation online. Let me set it up for you.
A teacher wanted advice regarding a student she has who is new to the United States. The student's primary language is Spanish and the teacher is having difficulty serving the student in a main stream English classroom while also serving the other English only students. The teacher mentioned that she had yet to have a conversation with the student. Many other teachers responded giving advice. Some said it's impossible to help this child. Others said that the student first must learn English before she can learn grade level content. Some said the other students in the class will suffer if the teacher employs techniques to support the one beginner.
This post was completely deficit based and many of the comments to it really touched a nerve. "I see no benefit in having her..."
So if you feel that you're in a similar situation or you know someone who is, here's some advice:
Do you remember when you were in school and your teacher said it was time for read aloud? I don't know about you, but for me, that was a joyous time. It was a time for my imagination to soar. I could take the words that were flowing so eloquently from her mouth and create a movie in my mind. I loved it.
As a classroom teacher, reading aloud to my own students became my favorite thing to do (maybe because it was magical for me as a child). I wanted to share that experience with them. But I also wanted to lift the level of learning a notch. Rather than this time being only a time for input, I was hoping to create some opportunities for output as well.
ENTER Interactive Read Alouds!
In the last post the focus was an overview of literacy components. This article will zoom in on just the mini lesson. The goals are to:
The next few posts will be related to one another regarding the topic of literacy instruction as it pertains to English learners. The focus will be specifically on supporting English learners in English Language Arts classrooms and accommodating instruction and materials to promote growth and success.
But let's begin by setting the foundation for our work with some common definitions or terms.
If you told me a couple of years ago that I would have a professional learning network that spans around the globe filled with authors and educators K-adult ed, I might have laughed at you. Well, maybe not laughed, but I would have given you a crazy look for sure. A "no way" look.
In the spirit of November, the month of gratitude, I am filled with a thankful heart. A heart filled with joy and blessings knowing that I am surrounded (virtually) by a community of professionals that I can count on who support and inspire me. How did this happen?
Though I opened my Twitter account many years ago, I only began to capitalize on it's strength as a tool in my career in December 2016. It wasn't until then that I realized HOW to use Twitter to learn from others and build a network of colleagues that I can call my PLN (professional learning network).
Some might ask, "Why is this necessary? Why do I need a PLN through Twitter? I already have colleagues at my school and in my district." Well, I can tell you why. I, too, have a PLN at work. I still work in a K-12 district. I work with amazing professionals whom I love and adore. They are brilliant educators. And I learn everyday from them. However, learning from others in various districts, counties, states, countries, and continents, has given me a myriad of perspectives that I cannot have from within my own district. Learning from a wider scope opens up new opportunities and experiences.
It's similar to your neighborhood. Look down your street. You might notice that the trees and flowers at each home are quite similar. Everyone is planting similar things because we get ideas from our neighbors. But if you go to a neighborhood across town, their landscapes are filled with different plants.
Growing your PLN will help you grow new ideas and try new instructional methods with your students.
Who to Follow:
My heart is filled with gratitude because of the connections I've made with eduheroes like Larry Ferlazzo, Carol Salva, Tan Huynh, Emily Francis, Katie Toppel, Carlota Holder, Jess Bell, Leticia Trower, Andrea Honigsfeld, and many more! In addition to these Tweeps, I enjoy collaborating with Middle Web, Seidlitz Education, MindShift, Teacher2Teacher, Education Week Teacher, Talking Points, and so many others.
If you are still hesitant about Twitter, here's what I can suggest to you:
Core beliefs should anchor what we do. We all have beliefs about life, about learning, about people, about all things. It's important that we reflect and think critically about what are CORE, essential beliefs are about the things that are important to us.
Once we identify our CORE beliefs, we can use those to help ensure that we are doing what is right for students.
Take a moment before you read on, to think and jot down 3-5 of your CORE beliefs about language or language acquisition. Then I will share mine with you.
Paraprofessionals...The unsung heroes.
Paraprofessional educators truly serve more than students. They serve the teachers on the campus as well. They have one of the most challenging jobs. If you are a paraprofessional educator reading this article, let me commend you. You do so much for so many people. If are a teacher reading this, thank your paraprofessionals. Give them some extra love. And pass this article along to them so they can grow in their craft.
The intention of this piece is because as a presenter, teacher trainer and professional development specialist, I recognized that there is little out there written specifically for paraprofessional educators. The need is clear. So this is for you.
Personally, I have worked with many paraprofessionals in my career. I have learned from each of them. And all have had their strengths. Many have either been certified teachers themselves who didn't want the extra responsibilities of a teacher and therefore took on the paraprofessional role, or were in the midst of becoming teacher certified. No matter their own educational experiences, they were each dedicated to the students and teachers. And that's what makes the difference.
The roles of paraprofessionals who work with English Learners are many. But here's a starting point for you.
Recently I read a post on a Facebook group asking whether or not teachers allow their English learners to speak in their primary/native language in class. Now to me, there is no need to think about the answer. It's a no brainer. Do I allow my students to speak in their native language in class?
& What to do instead
In some parts of the world, school has already started. The first day has passed. Eager teachers welcomed students into their classrooms. Nervous students began their year in a new environment. Whether you have already started your new school year or you are about to launch it soon, you might find these 3 mistakes familiar. Over the years, here's what I've learned about how to make the best of the first day with my English Learners (and frankly all students) so that the rest of the year can by successful.
Mistake #1 Focusing on rules
When I was in elementary school, I was an English learner. I remember vividly sitting in reading block with a book. Peering over it to see what everyone else was doing. I used the book as a shield to cover myself so no one would notice that I was lost in DEAR time or sustained silent reading. I couldn't read the book that was in my hands, but I could certainly look like it. I knew how to pretend I was reading. I observed what everyone else was doing and I played along.
For many English learners this is the experience with independent reading. We know that reading is the best way to become a stronger reader. But for English learners this period of the day can be a waste if support is not provided by the teacher.
Well, to begin with, I had a one hour layover in Atlanta from Houston to South Carolina. However the flight from Houston ran 30 minutes late. Turned out when we landed in Atlanta, I had 30 minutes to make it to my connecting flight.
I had never been to the Atlanta airpot before. Those of you that have been to the Atlanta Airport may see where this is going.
Whether you are reading this during your summer break or during the midst of the school year, just the fact you are reading it means you are looking for self-directed professional learning. And I applaud you!
Just like students, teachers, too, can suffer from a "summer slide" or plateau in development unless we connect with other educators, attend professional learning, or read books that invigorate our craft.
Summer offers the perfect time to reflect on our teaching practices, refine, and reclaim our roles as leaders of learning. But ongoing learning can happen throughout the year!
Here are a few ways to stay fresh!
As teachers, one of our goals is to foster a LOVE of reading in our students. We want them to leave our classrooms WANTING to read for pleasure. We want them to pick up books on their own. We want them to carry a book around where ever they go and read it in their free time.
In order to achieve these high expectations, we have to create an environment, a happy place, to read willingly in our classrooms. Our classrooms have to say, "Hey, come in here, grab a book and snuggle up." The question is, how do we do that?