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?
On June 23, 2018 I was asked to participate as a presenter for the 2nd Annual VirtuEL Conference. What an honor! I presented on Growing Literacy with Visuals. This presentation is less than 16 minutes and gives teachers an explanation for the Picture Word Inductive Model. You can learn the why, how and what! You will be able to easily implement this instructional strategy into your k-12 content classroom to grow language! Watch the video below to learn more. And click this link to watch all the other amazing presenters as well including Jana Echevarria, Larry Ferlazzo, and Emily Francis!
If you are a co-teacher, you might wonder how co-teaching fits in with the components of balanced literacy. Or you might be a main stream (general education) teacher that has a co-teacher and you wonder how to best utilize two teachers in the room during workshop. Many ESL teachers co-teach in classrooms that embrace the reading and writing workshop. It's important to know which approaches fit best with each part of the balanced literacy classroom.
The best thing about the workshop model is that it allows for differentiation for all students. Students are reading and writing on THEIR level.
The best thing about co-teaching is that it lowers the student-teacher ratio allowing for more interaction with individual students and the ability to customize instruction.
It is about relationships
For years teachers have been told that the first day of school is all about setting boundaries, being firm, and even "mean" to students. I say we take this bad advice and dump it!!
Day ONE is not about rules, it's all about building relationships.
Recently I saw a graphic that shared the percent of children's books that have main characters that are diverse. You can learn more about the article here. The statistics were alarming. It reported that the majority of main characters in on our library shelves are either White or Animals/Objects. I thought to myself, no way...my bookshelf is not representative of that. But then I looked. I started sorting out my books. I made stacks. I was shocked and saddened that my bookshelf truly was not as diverse as I imagined.
We know that our kiddos benefit from seeing themselves in the books they read. They also gain much knowledge and learn empathy from seeing others in the books they read. So why aren't our shelves filled with books that have diverse characters?
If you've ever questioned why your students aren't interested in the books on your shelves, you might stop to think about the types of books that are there. Do they represent your students? Can the kids connect with them?
I also learned about a non-profit organization called We Need Diverse Books. Check it out. They share a lot of information including lists of diverse books.
In my quest for making my shelf more diverse, I have found some great books. I'll keep adding to this and if you have suggestions, please comment and include a picture if you can.
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!
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.
As teachers, we've probably heard of "book tastings" for students. But have you every held one of these for your colleagues?
This is a unique type of professional learning that can promote more learning and individual growth.
Here's how I recently held one with my colleagues:
Reflecting back on my own years in elementary school, I bet my parents may have seemed like they were not very involved with my education. We were new immigrants. And they spoke very little English. Adding to that, the cultural norms for school interaction were different where we came from. It may have seemed to my teachers that my parents were absent from my education. In fact, they were extremely present (at home). But maybe not they way that my teachers expected them to be. Not in the traditional American sense.
My parents didn't come to parent teacher conferences. Well, that would have been a challenge. My dad worked every minute of overtime that he possibly could just to keep a roof over our heads. We had one vehicle so that meant my mom was at home without transportation. And even if she could come up to the school, she had my baby sister to care for. Oh and my mom's English speaking skills were the least developed.
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.
English language structures can be confusing for a student who is learning English as a second or other language. Language structures may differ and cause
English learners to struggle with language structures in English. Enter...The Sentence Patterning CHART.
The Sentence Patterning Chart is an excellent method for exposing learners to English language structures while teaching content. The benefits of this technique are amazing:
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!
Why is that when we teach our students about numbers, we show them the number one visually. We hold up one finger and maybe place one object in front of them. But when we teach them new vocabulary, we rarely start with the visual--instead we begin with the written word and then move to the visual...maybe. In math we move from concrete to abstract but we rarely do that with other content areas.
Research indicates that our brains process visuals 60,000X faster than text. Why are we reluctant to tap into that and use it to our advantage in the classroom?
As tradition has it, at the start of a new year, many of us reflect on the year that passed and begin to set goals for the year ahead.
This serves as an ideal time for us to help our students set learning goals too!
English language learners (ELLs) may feel like they have a lot on their plate. Some are learning about a new country, culture, content and language all at the same time. We can help our ELLs by setting a few language goals so they have a clear view in mind and a path to follow in order to get there.
States have varying ways to help us determine the language levels of our ELLs. In Texas, where I live, we have adopted the English Language Proficiency Standards (ELPS) and we use Proficiency Level Descriptors (PLDs) to guide and assess instruction. Many other states have adopted the WIDA English Language Development Standards. States that use WIDA have access to CAN DO Descriptors. These are excellent for goal setting with students and really personalizing instruction.
YEARS ago (and I mean YEARS), I was introduced to a book that was practical and served all students. This book was not meant solely for teachers of English Language Learners but for teachers of students-all students. At the same time, the techniques supported ELLs.
The book is 7 Steps to a Language-Rich Interactive Classroom by John Seidlitz and Bill Perryman. Not only is the layout of this book super reader-friendly but it is also filled will practical, research-based instructional moves that are applicable to all content areas k-12. Some are obvious and when I read them I felt validated. Others were new for me and helped me to make my classroom room accessible to all students.