Saturday, July 22, 2017

Modifying Instruction for Newcomer ELLs: Chunking


So, we've covered Scaffolding and Supports along with Comprehensible Input. That means it's time to dive into chunking- my third tip for modifying instruction for newcomers.

What is "chunking"?
You  may or may not have heard this term before. Sounds kinda strange, right? Think about it this way: when you eat an apple, do you shove the whole thing in your mouth at once? No- that would be overwhelming and unmanageable- you'd choke! You eat small bits or chunks at a time to make it manageable to chew and swallow.

In the same way- when we give our students too much at once, they become overwhelmed and are likely to shut down or "choke". This is particularly true for newcomers- its much easier for them to become overwhelmed. So, we need to "chunk" for them- activities, directions, texts, tasks, information- providing small bits at a time instead of giving it to them all up front.

How can I chunk information for my newcomers?
It's really as simple as providing small amounts at a time. Here are some examples:

Directions 
When giving directions for an activity or task, don't give all the directions at once. Give one or two steps at a time. When students have finished those steps, provide the next set of steps or directions. When possible, provide directions orally and written. Another great way to help your newcomer ELLs remember and understand your directions is to use picture cards.




Activities and tasks
If you're already chunking the directions you give as suggested above, then the tasks and activities will naturally be chunked as well. It's great to give an overview of the complete task, but when it comes to actually beginning work, break it down into small, manageable pieces with clear directions. One students finish one chunk, then give directions for the next chunk.

Texts
If you ever studied a foreign language and were presented with a huge text, you know how overwhelming it can feel. Break texts into small pieces (such as paragraphs) for students, with opportunities to check understanding, get clarification, and ask questions in between. For newcomers, make sure that your text "chunks" don't have more than one important piece of information, and are comprehensible for their level of proficiency.

How can I make chunking easy?
One great way to Simply use a folder and cut flaps in it to cover your different chunks. As the student moves through, they can open and close the different flaps to focus on one chunk at a time. I love this idea! You can even use old folders that have other things written on them, or a piece of large construction paper! Sticky notes work as well.

Another way, as suggested above, is to simply "chunk" activities or tasks by how you pace instruction and provide directions.

Next up in the series: Alternative Responses and Assessments!



Friday, June 30, 2017

Modifying Instruction for Newcomer ELLs: Comprehensible Input


I'm sorry for having such a huge gap between my first two newcomer posts, and this one. The end of the school year was just so darn busy! The second tip I shared in the wayback to help you modify instruction for ELLs is to use comprehensible input, so that's what we'll focus on today.

What is "comprehensible input"?
Comprehensible input is a hypothesis of second language acquisition first proposed by Stephen Krashen in the early 80's. The hypothesis states that our ELLs learn and acquire language when they receive input (written or oral) that is only slightly above their current language level (i+1). In other words, the oral and written input we provide students should be mostly understandable, with only a few words or structures that are unknown or new to the student. Students will be able to understand the message, and will acquire new language in the process.

At the newcomer level, comprehensible input is comprised of short, simple sentences, known or learned words and phrases (i), with a few new words or language structures added to get that +1 in the i+1.

This video, while it is foreign language teachers discussing the use of the target language and comprehensible input, is a really excellent illustration of how you can make content comprehensible in the target language for ANY language learner- whether it's a student acquiring English as a second language, or a student acquiring a foreign language.


Why is comprehensible input important? 
The image below illustrates about how much a newcomer student might be able to understand when attention is not given to ensuring that the input is comprehensible.
As you can see, the student is really only understanding high frequency words, a few numbers, and some articles and common prepositions. Is the newcomer understanding enough in this scenario to learn new information? Is the newcomer understanding enough to even know what they're being asked to do? At best, we can tell that it seems like some sort of math problem.

When the input a newcomer receives is not comprehensible, they're likely to simply shut down. When the student shuts down, no further learning is possible- of language or content.

How can I make the input I provide to my newcomers comprehensible? 
There are many ways to ensure that the input you provide your students is comprehensible. The image below shows a few.

You can also provide visuals with oral or written input (visuals, visuals, visuals!). In one of the schools that I worked with this past year, the ESOL department chair created a shared Google Drive folder, with subfolders for subject area and topic. As the teachers went through the year and taught certain topics, they added images from Google and elsewhere to the shared folder. Since many topics span grade levels, it was easy for teachers who needed images for a topic to find what they needed to enrich learning and make input comprehensible. The teachers still continue to build and use this shared resource of visuals for their ELLs.

Another great way to make oral speech comprehensible is to use a lot of gestures and body language, or to even act things out for and with students.

Making input comprehensible does not mean "dumbing it down".
Its important to remember when you focus on comprehensibility that you are simplifying the language, not simplifying the content. It is possible to convey complex ideas in simple language, especially if you are using appropriate scaffolds and supports, as discussed last time!





Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Modifying Instruction for Newcomer ELLs: Scaffolding and Supports



So, last time, I introduced you to 7 ways to modify instruction for newcomer ELLs. The first one on the list was Scaffolding and Support, so that's what today's post is going to focus on. You might want to put on a helmet, because I'm about to throw a lot of information your way!


What is scaffolding & support? 
Scaffolds and supports are strategies used by the teacher or tools that are provided to the learner. These tools and strategies provide students the "boost" they need to be able to access the content, understand input, and communicate knowledge despite a lack of English proficiency.

Doesn't scaffolding make it too easy? What if they don't need it? 
Scaffolds are essential for newcomer ELLs. ABSOLUTELY. ESSENTIAL.

As students gain proficiency, you can easily remove scaffolds and supports that you have put in place to allow them to function more independently! Scaffolds can also be switched so that you can use them to support students in reaching beyond their current level of proficiency.

What students will need to access the language and content will vary from student to student and based on the student's actual level of proficiency. It's important not just to consider their overall score, but also their scores for each subdomain- students may need more support in one language domain than in another.


Scaffolds should be appropriate for proficiency level!
If you remember in my last post, we talked about what newcomer ELLs are able to do in terms of processing and producing language. For our newcomer students, we are providing very simple input with simple sentences, common phrases, and basic words and expressions. Our expectations regarding production should be based around learned words and phrases, small chunks of language, and basic vocabulary usage. This is what we need to be scaffolding students toward, so the strategies we use and the supports we choose should be geared toward that level of language proficiency.

What types of scaffolds and supports can I put in place? 
As you know, I'm in a WIDA state, so when introducing teachers to scaffolds and supports, I always turn first to those three types identified by WIDA- Graphic, Sensory, and Interactive. The suggestions contained within the chart are really just a jumping-off point- this list is certainly not exhaustive.


WIDA also offers a list of possible supports divided by content area. Again, this list is not exhaustive!

Here are some of my favorites scaffolds and supports for newcomer students, all of which are pretty easy to begin implementing:
  • Personal Word Walls: Personal word walls are a great tool to provide your newcomer ELLs! They can fill theirs with words they need to learn and carry it from class to class. With each new word, they can include a drawing or even the word in their native language. You can also use Picto4Me to create personalized, visual word walls!
  • Word banks: Word banks are one of the easiest tools you can include for your ELLs, especially on activities where they're expected to produce language. For newcomers, one of the most difficult things is often remembering the vocabulary they need in order to express an idea or demonstrate knowledge. Word banks for newcomer ELLs should include words that they've already learned and that are relevant to the topic.
  • Classroom Word Walls: You may already have a word wall, but are you using it to full potential? Classroom word walls can be an excellent scaffold for newcomers when used effectively- they should be visible, interactive, and relevant . You can also find some excellent math word walls in my TpT store!
  • Sentence Frames: Sentence frames can really help students at all levels, but they're particularly effective for newcomers who have little to no understanding of the structure of the English language. They may have the mathematical ability or scientific knowledge to answer a question, but they don't have the language to communicate their answer. Sentence frames to the rescue! When using sentence frames, review and model them for students so they know how to use them effectively. After a few days of students using these frames in speaking and writing, you can usually remove them!
  • Visuals: The use of visuals is more to provide support to your newcomer as he or she is processing input. If the student can associate a word or phrase with a visual image, then they are more likely to understand and acquire the word into their own "language bank". You can create class picture cards using images from a Google search, insert images into powerpoint, add images to your word wall. Really, any way you can incorporate visuals is excellent. Another great way to incorporate visuals is to use picture dictionaries- ask your ESL/ESOL specialist if they have any you can borrow. Pictured below are some of my favorites from Oxford, or you can also create your own picture dictionary! 

  • Technology: Technology is a great way to help your newcomer ELLs acquire English. As a note though, I recommend no more than 30 minutes of solo computer time a day for newcomers. It is really important that they participate with whole group activities and interact with peers during class time!
    • Learning Chocolate: Great website that helps students practice vocabulary (with visuals) using all four language domains!
    • Quizlet: This is a great choice for helping ELLs learn new vocabulary with pictures and audio. Learn more with this article
    • Read&Write for Chrome: This great tool is from TextHelp, and it has many great functions to help your ELLs, like text-to-speech for reading documents and webpages, translation and annotation tools, and even speech-to-text! Learn more with this article.
    • Rewordify: This is a great tool for simplifying the language used in a text. It's not perfect, but it's a great starting point. Be sure to proofread, and simplify further if needed. Learn more here
I hope these tips, tools, and strategies for scaffolding and support help you as you modify instruction for your newcomer ELLs! Don't miss the next post in the series- Comprehensible Input.



Sunday, May 7, 2017

Modifying Instruction for Newcomer ELLs

One of the toughest situations many teachers- ESOL and mainstream alike- deal with is receiving a newcomer student who doesn't speak any English. How do we include that student in learning activities? How do we ensure that their time at school is spent doing meaningful learning? How do we help that student acquire English? It is absolutely possible to modify your instruction so that your newcomers can not only participate, but learn!


What exactly is a "newcomer"? What comes to your mind when you think of "newcomers"? Share your ideas below. If you have questions about newcomer ELLs, feel free to ask those below too:
Made with Padlet


Just to get started, here are some quick guidelines for working with your newcomer students:

Since this post is about modifying instruction to be appropriate for a student at the very lowest proficiency levels, we are talking about those students who have been here less than a year, and have a very low proficiency in English. On the WIDA scale that we use in my state, that would be 1.0-1.5. These students are new to the country and new to English, too. It's true that sometimes students who are new to the country come with some English proficiency, and these students have different needs.

One of the most important first steps you can take is to find out about the student's educational background. This can help you plan the most effective instruction possible. Here are some great questions to ask the parents (you may need to get a translator!):
  • When did the student start school?
  • How many years of schooling has the student had?
  • Have there been periods of time, other than normal school holidays, where the child did not attend school? If so, how long and why? 
  • Is the child a refugee or has the child suffered trauma prior to coming to the US?
  • Is the child literate in their native language?
  • What is the child's native language
  • Has the child been diagnosed with learning disabilities before? 
Knowing the answers to these questions can help you avoid surprises, and help you to understand where the child may struggle both socially and academically. Knowing the child's background can often be one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. For example, some students may come from a country where their writing system is based on a non-Roman alphabet. In such a case, you will need to start with the very basics of letters and phonics. If the child is not literate in their native language, that will mean starting with letter-sound correspondence and basic print conventions.

If you really want to dig in to student background, I have some native language activities and student background questionnaires in my ESOL Portfolio Starter Pack



Now, once we understand the student's background, we can start looking at the instruction we provide. So, if newcomers have a proficiency level of 1.0 to 1.5, what does that mean? What are these students realistically able to process and produce at this level? Let's take a look at WIDA's performance definitions to see.
The first row pertains to productive skills, like speaking and writing.
The second row refers to receptive skills, like listening and reading. 

In order for instruction to be appropriate for students at this level of proficiency, we need to modify the input we are providing to students so that it is comprehensible and we need to modify our expectations for student expression. As you can see, for our newcomer students that means providing very simple input with simple sentences, common phrases, and basic words and expressions. Our expectations regarding production should be based around learned words and phrases, small chunks of language, and basic vocabulary usage.

When working with teachers of newcomer ELLs, I always recommend starting simple, and modifying instruction in 7 basic ways:

Over the next few weeks, I'll be going over these 7 methods for modifying instruction and providing practical advice, specific strategies, and pictures to show you what it looks like so you can implement in your own classroom.

Don't miss the next post in the series: Scaffolding and Support.




Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Tech Tip Tuesday: FlipGrid


Wow! What a busy year this has been. I've been lucky to be working with some awesome teachers this year and providing lots of fun PD, but it's definitely kept me from blogging as much as I wish I could- I have so much to share with you!

Today, I can't wait to share FlipGrid with y'all- I've really been meaning to get to this for months. Have you heard about this tool? Flipgrid allows teachers to create a "video discussion community". The teacher posts topics, adds a video and/or text prompt, then students can record a video to respond. Teachers can choose 1 minute 30 second responses, or 3 minute responses. Students can upvote/like each other's responses, and with paid versions, even respond to their classmates' videos. Another thing I love is that students do not need a login to leave their response. Who needs another login for kids to remember, right?

There is a free version, and I totally recommend trying it- i it's been everything I've needed. But, you may find yourself wanting the additional features, and the subscription price isn't outrageous for one teacher.

What can it be used for?
  • Practice of social or academic language
  • Practice to improve speaking fluency  
  • Differentiation
  • Assessment
  • Reading Response
  • Exit Ticket
  • Explaining an idea or concept

Why FlipGrid is great for ELLs:
Well, for one, our students need opportunities to practice the language! FlipGrid allows them to do that in a way that feels comfortable to them. It's very nonjudgemental- students can re-record their response until they're happy with it. Teachers can choose to allow students to like or view other students' responses- or not!

This is great for allowing students to demonstrate content knowledge and oral language proficiency by providing an oral response to a question or prompt. Students at all levels of proficiency can participate in this type of activity, and the teacher can go back to student responses later to assess them with their state's ELD-aligned speaking rubric. 

Another reason that this is great for ELLs is because in WIDA states, ACCESS 2.0 requires students to do their speaking test online- recording their responses to the prompts. This is great practice to get them comfortable to responding to online prompts and recording their voices.