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?
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.
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:
How to handle resistance from teachers
This topic has been rolling around in my mind for quite some time. I hear about the problem from EL teachers around the nation. Not to mention that as an EL teacher myself, I encountered this struggle too many times.
I remember vividly having a meeting with a gen ed teacher. One of our students was struggling in her class. He hadn't been in the US very long, only a bit over a year. So I asked that we meet to discuss how I could help to plan with her and accommodate instruction. I was met with resistance from the moment I walked in the room. The teacher explained that she felt that this student (along with all the other ELs) should not have anything different than everyone in the class. She explained that she has heard him speak and that he is capable of doing the work. She went on to tell me that the grades were reflective of defiance and not ability.
I listened. Quietly. But it was difficult. And then when she finished, I carefully shared with her his language levels in each domain explaining the difference between social and academic language. We took a look at the types of accommodations that were appropriate for a learner at his language proficiency. In the end, it took a while for this teacher to come around. It took support, scaffolding, and leading the teacher to find the best way to make progress with the student. And to begin with, rebuilding their relationship came first. This student needed to know that the teacher genuinely cared about his education and growth.
So what can you do if you are faced with a similar dilemma? Here are a few tips I've learned along the way:
1. Build a caring relationship with the teacher.
The teacher will not trust you unless a solid foundation is there. Begin by casual conversations that have nothing to do with school. Get to know the teacher beyond work. Ask personal questions (but not too personal). Then start talking about content. Discuss the learning that's happening in the classroom. Finally talk about specific students, how they are doing, what they need to succeed, etc. This will not happen in one day, not in a week...it will take time.
2. Scaffold the teacher's learning.
Model for the teacher (if you can) what you would like for him/her to do with students. If the teacher would benefit from understanding language development. Scaffold that instruction for him/her. Introduce it in small chunks or provide visuals.
3. Model lessons.
The best professional development is learning from other educators or our peers. Model lessons for the teacher that highlight accommodations. If you are a co-teacher, then this will work out great. If this is not possible, set up a time when the teacher observe another educator to see a lesson. This is great because it not only helps your teacher who is struggling but also builds capacity for the other teacher.
4. Suggest professional learning opportunities.
When the teacher is open to learning more, suggest professional development that will help to build on his/her practice. This can be in-district PD, out of district PD, online learning, professional books, twitter chats, etc. Each teacher will have his/her own learning style. Some like face to face while others prefer to read on their own or learn on line. The good news is that there are many options available these days.
Being culturally aware and responsive to our students' needs is critical to their success. The more we support them during their learning, the better they will perform when it counts. I have found it helpful to share this cultural proficiency continuum (shared with me at a training) with educators and let them self-reflect.
Let's back up a little and break it down. What is culture? Culture has many meanings and it depends on who you ask or which source you use. If you review most definitions, they all have somethings in common. Zion and Kozleski describe culture as the "shared beliefs, views, values, customs, behaviors and artifacts that the members of society use to interact with their world and with one another (as cited in Fenner & Snyder, 2017).
From this definition, I know we can gather that everyone has a culture. We all have beliefs and views. We all carry values and customs. We all have certain behaviors and artifacts related to our own society that we use to interact with the world and with others. This leads me to the conclusion that being culturally responsive is not only going to benefit my English Learners, it will benefit every child in my classroom.
Create a Welcoming Environment
1. The BEST ESL teachers know how to make their students feel safe and valued. They are able to break down the walls of anxiety and fear so students feel ready and eager to learn. These teachers do this by using verbal and nonverbal cues. The way they speak with their students tells them that they are wanted, valued, and loved. These teachers make room for all students.
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.
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.
Have you ever walked into a classroom and looked around in awe at the beautiful charts and posters? The beautifully decorated boarders and store bought matched sets? But when you ask the students about them, they don't have a clue what they are for or how to use them?