I started teaching in the winter of 1997. Hired in a wonderful suburban district outside of Houston, Texas. The campus experienced a little growth and needed a teacher mid year, so I was the lucky one hired in December just as I received my college diploma and teaching certification.
My college pre-service classes taught me little about what the classroom experience would truly be like. And with wide-eyes I walked into my first classroom and found myself teaching third graders who had a myriad of needs I was ill prepared for. Some students needed special education support, others dyslexia, and some were learning English. I quickly found that the big white binder of curriculum didn’t hold the answers I needed to give these kids the support THEY needed.
I'm hearing from colleagues, family members, close friends, and educators around the globe that they are worried about students not getting enough instructional time right now while schools are closed due to the Corona virus. Parents are stressed. Teachers are overworked. Kids are confused. And we're all just trying to figure this out while it's happening (very quickly)!
The biggest concern from teachers is about the kids they aren't hearing from on online platforms or through other means of communication. What are they doing? Are they learning? What's going on? And how can I help?
Guess what...students are learning a lot at home. We might just have to help families refine daily practices a little. So here's what I suggest.
The first thing we do with students can set the tone for our time together. Starting the period off on the right foot is critical to a successful lesson. Read on to discover five ways to start your class period in engaging and welcoming ways whether you are a general education teacher or an ESL teacher that pulls students out.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
I know...it's about to be summer. You're probably thinking why are we talking about parent-teacher conferences? Well, this is actually a great time to set a plan that will make the most of your time with parents of ELs. Building a team to support your students is like building a foundation. It's either going to be sturdy and strong or it's going to be weak and easily broken. Which do you prefer?
If you're like me, you want the strong foundation. Here are my tried and true suggestions for amping up your parent-teacher conferences.
advocating for English Learners
When I first began my role as an ESL teacher, I have to admit, I didn't know much about ELLs other than my own experiences. My experience growing up as an English learner helped me form my beliefs about language learning and helped me as I worked with ELs in my general education classroom.
But the year I left the general education classroom and moved into the role of an ESL teacher who supported all grades, co-taught, and pulled newcomer students out for intense English instruction, I realized that I needed to learn more and do more. I was seen as the ESL/ELL specialist on my campus. And that meant a lot to me. The students were counting on me to support their language development and to support their teachers. I had to step up my game and FAST!
Picture your classroom...What is it like? What are students doing? What does it sound like? How does it feel to be a kid in there?
Recently I watched this awesome TEDtalk and it resonated with me. It made think about what we are asking of our students each day, and it made me reflect on whether or not our beliefs align with our practices.
18 ways to Support English Learners in your classroom in 2018 (or EVER!)
2018 is going to be a year where your English Learners thrive! Your ELs need some extra scaffolds and supports to level the playing field. They are learning a new language while navigating content at the same time.
Here are 18 ways that you can help support them with their journey. Not every EL will need all of these scaffolds. Some will need more than others. And once they no longer need the scaffold, remember to release it and let them soar!
A huge part of balanced literacy and a workshop setting is conferring with students. Conferring allows for maximum differentiation to meet specific instructional needs for students. But when we serve students who are also learning English, there is a need to accommodate the way we confer. After years of conferring with ELLs and tons of reading in the field, here are my tips for conferring with ELLs.
By identifying what effective readers and effective mathematicians do, we can use the strengths from one content area to capitalize on the other.
After attending the Title III Symposium in Austin this July, I began to reflect on one session I saw in particular. The presenter was Alex Kajitani, California Teacher of the Year, and his session was titled, How to Connect Math and Literacy: Get Students Reading, Writing, and Speaking in Math Class. Now, I don't claim to be an expert in the area of math, but I know a thing or two about students, reading, writing, and language development. I was immediately taken in because he connected my knowledge of those things with math (something more new to me).
This is a post I wrote for Tan's Blog. It was shared on EmpoweringELLs in May 2017.
When I stop to reflect on what is BEST practice for my elementary ELLs in reading, writing, listening, and speaking, the answer comes to me quite clearly…the workshop model. Why? What I know about the needs of my ELLs is that they require explicit instruction, modeling, guidance, routine, and practice. Here’s how the reading and writing workshop models promote progress for ELLs in listening, speaking, reading and writing.
What kind of word wall is on your walls? Does it support your learners or is it just there as part of the wall paper creating wall pollution?
Let me tell you first hand...I used to have a traditional word wall and I wholeheartedly thought I was doing what was best for my students. It was alphabetical and I put words on it that were Tier I, Tier II, and Tier III (thinking that I was supporting everyone). I tried playing games with my students using the word wall and I even let them add their own words to it so they could take ownership of the wall.
But as a lifelong learner I embrace new information and when I find something that is better for students, I recognize it. Recently I learned about Interactive Word Walls from Dr. Julie Jackson. She is a professor at Texas State University and travels to deliver professional development regarding these amazing word walls. Her expertise is in the field of science but I think the word walls can work in any content area.
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 sat through a lecture bored out of your mind? Sometimes our students face the same doom when we don't allow them time to interact with the information that we are trying to input into their minds. Eventually, they tune out and nothing is gained. It becomes a giant waste of time.
Interactive lectures are lectures that allow for student participation and active engagement with information.
Here's what won't happen when you employ INTERACTIVE LECTURES in your classrooms and why:
Have you heard of escape rooms? They are pretty popular lately. Kind of an innovative way to build relationships while engaging a group of people in a real life puzzle.
Breakout EDU brings a similar experience to the classroom. And if you haven't hear of it, you need to check it out! Students work in heterogeneous groups to solve a series of puzzles related to a unit of study. Students must work together in order to reveal the codes which unlock several locks in a set amount of time (usually 30-45 minutes). Teachers can create Breakout EDU games that address the curriculum and state standards for the grade level they teach.
Does Breakout EDU support ELLs?
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 love 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 for input, I was hoping to create some opportunities for output as well.
ENTER Interactive Read Alouds!
In a traditional read aloud, the experience is a one way street. The teacher reads and the students listen. There is no interaction, discussion, or time for students to express themselves during the read aloud. It's probably what I disliked most about read aloud when I was a kid. No one was allowed to talk while the teacher read.
On the contrary, during an Interactive Read Aloud, the teacher provides ample opportunities for students to interact with the text. Students talk with a partner, act out parts of the book, draw a picture related to the reading, or respond in writing. The best Interactive Read Alouds are carefully pre-planned by the teacher. The teacher can stop to ask questions or have students respond at critical parts of the book when the planning is done ahead of time.
The term interactive refers to the active learning that occurs while reading aloud high-quality literature. It characterizes the teacher and students having a conversation as they process the text together. It provides students an opportunity to extend their understandings through talk. This talk provides evidence of their thinking. (Fountas & Pinnell, 2001, 2011)
In both cases, whether traditional read aloud or interactive, the teacher models proficient reading so students can hear what an expert reader sounds like and how a reader engages with text. The teacher also models thinking about the text. What is happening? What is the character doing and why? What am thinking now? Basically, students get to hear what happens in the reader's head. They are also able to experience a text that is at a higher level than they are capable of reading on their own.
Steps to creating your own Interactive Read Aloud:
•Select a book and a focus
•Preread the book and think about your thinking
•Select 3-7 vocabulary words or phrases to highlight
•Make purposeful stopping points and note them in your book with a sticky note
•Use gestures, eye contact, visuals and expression to support ELLs
In this video, Linda Hoyt explicitly demonstrates with students how to talk to your Thinking Partner while she shares an Interactive Read Aloud on a nonfiction book. (5 minute clip)
The value of a read aloud, whether it be interactive or not, cannot be underestimated. Children of all ages benefit from being read to regularly. I'm an advocate for daily! This TED Talk by Rebecca Bellingham speaks volumes about the benefit of reading aloud. If you have 9 1/2 minutes to spare, watch it and then share it with teachers and parents! We all need a reminder every now and then.
Research has demonstrated that the most effective read-alouds are those in which children are actively involved asking and answering questions and making predictions rather than passively listening (Dickinson, 2001).
Calkins, L. (2015). Units of study for teaching reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Hoyt, L. (2007). Interactive read-alouds. linking standards, fluency, and comprehension. Portsmouth, NH: First Hand Heinemann.
I get it and I've been there myself. You have a lot of reading material to cover so you think Round Robin Reading (or Popcorn Reading) will do the trick. You want to make sure everyone reads it and stays on track. It seems really logical.
Round Robin Reading (RRR), for those that may need a definition, is when students read orally one at a time from the same text. Some say that this is the best way to get students to really despise reading. A variation of RRR is Popcorn Reading. It sounds like more fun--but don't be fooled. It's not. It's the same type of reading activity with the same negatives and benefits. In Popcorn Reading, the only difference is that students randomly and spontaneously call out a new student's name to be the next reader.
Why you should DUMP Round Robin Reading...