Thursday, May 26, 2011

How prepared were you to deal with ELLs in your classroom?

One topic that I have been interested in since I started teaching is how well teacher education programs prepare teachers to meet the needs of English Language Learners (ELLs) in their classrooms. It is amazing to me as an ESOL teacher (and I really hope I don't offend anyone here) how many teachers simply put ESL kids on the computer or simply throw up their hands when talking to me and say "I just don't know what to do!".

Personally, I don't really think this is the entirely the teacher's fault. It seems, from the preliminary results to my survey so far (but I really need more responses!!) that many teacher education programs, even newer ones, breeze over ESL methods or require no classes on meeting the needs of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. This is a disservice to the teacher and the student.

However, many districts do offer professional development that helps teachers, but does not entirely fill the gap in their knowledge and abilities to meet the needs of their students. Professional development does assist the teachers in identifying and and using strategies to meet some of the needs of the students; though we know that a one or even four day workshop cannot take the place of an semester-long college-level course.

All of that I have said to get around to the point of....I want your input. I want to know how your teacher education program prepared you. All of the responses are completely anonymous (you don't even have to identify the college or university you received your degree from) and will be used for educational research purposes only.

Please take both parts of the survey to ensure the fidelity of the results I will receive. I am really interested in this information, so feel free to  pass the survey links on to other teachers you know. Each part of the survey takes about 1 minutes to help education  (and our students) by taking 2 minutes out of your day! Thanks in advance.

Public School Teacher Exposure to ELL Pedagogy Survey Part I
Public School Teacher Exposure to ELL Pedagogy Survey Part II


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How do you like these apples?

New unit available in my TpT Store!! This will make your back-to-school planning easy so that you can relax this summer!

Modifying the mainstream classroom to fit the needs of English Language Learners

Too often, good teachers forget that just because a student has language difficulties does not mean that s/he has learning difficulties. A language barrier is something that, with proper instruction and time, can be overcome- unlike dyslexia or other learning disabilities (which can be managed, but not cured).

Making modifications for English language learners (ELLs) does not mean "dumbing down" the material. The material can still be complex, but the language needs to be simplified to a level where the student can understand it (this goes back to Krashen's comprehenisible input theory). Surprisingly, making modifications to your everyday assignments is not as hard or as time comsuming as you may think. That's not to say it doesn't take some time, because it does. However, once you've modified something, you have that modified version for life!

What are some simple ways that you can modify your classroom and materials to make them more ELL-friendly? Here are some tips:

  • Make it easier for the ELL to express his or her content knowledge- provide word and sentence walls to help students find the language to express their knowledge of the content. Often students know and understand the content, but are unable to express their knowledge due to their limited English proficiency.Allow them alternative methods to express their knowledge without language, such as drawing or acting something out.
  • Make the content comprehensible- There are a few ways that you can adapt a text to make it comprehensible for an ELL. The easiest is to simplify the language in the text (but not the content!) so that students can access the content without working too hard for the language. Again, you are not "dumbing it down"! You want to keep the content rigorous while making the language accessible to the student. Another way is to expound the text, which means to include additional information that might be helpful to the ELL in understanding the text.Again, the language must be on the student's level for this to work.
  • Provide explicit vocabulary instruction- English language learners need explicit instruction on the specific vocabulary that is related to your content. This means instructing them not only on the meaning of the word, but the contexts in which it is used. By the way, if you do this as a whole-class activity, then your other students will benefit as well!
  • Don't forget the Multiple Intelligences- Remember that not every student learns the same way, and this means that not every ESL student learns content or language in the same way. Provide multiple options to help students learn the material and express the knowledge they possess. This means lots of visuals, manipulatives, hands-on activities and repetition, repetition, repetition.
  • Repetition, repetiton, repetition- You may feel rediciulous repeating everything, but English language learners usually need to hear things more than once. This goes for directions and the content you are teaching. Also consider providing directions and notes in a written format for your ESL students.
  • Provide Cloze notes- Note taking can take forever, especially for someone learning English as a second language. Consider creating "cloze notes" that cover the content you are teaching, but omit important words. Students can fill in the important words as you teach. This eliminates the frustration of trying to keep up notes in a fast paced classroom as well as the propensity to miss important information because they are rushing.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips, but I hope these tips are useful to you in making modifications for your English language learners. Feel free to leave questions or comments!!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Building background knowledge prior to reading and learning

A few days ago, I wrote about activating background knowledge in learners before reading or learning new material. Today I will talk about building background, which I believe is a different but equally important process from activating background. I would like to discuss not the ways that we awaken the knowledge our students possess already, but ways in which we can help them to fill in the gaps of between the knowledge that they have and the knowledge that they need to fully understand the lesson or the text.

When it is apparent that students have gaps in their knowledge and background information, the teacher must take steps to assist students in building background before reading. Following are some strategies that teachers can use to assist their students in building background knowledge:
  1. Picture walk/Previewing the text. A picture walk is an essential element, in my opinion, of any pre-reading program, and should be done prior to any other background building activities in order to give students a framework for how the new background knowledge will be used. It gives students an opportunity to specifically preview the story they will be reading. If students have individual copies of the book or text, have them take a picture walk in pairs. They should discuss what they see in the pictures and titles, what they think the book or reading might be about, what they hope to learn from story, and how they can relate the pictures to their own knowledge or experience. Then, together as a class, take a picture walk and give the students the opportunity to share what they and their partners discussed. Make sure to ask questions about what the students see and help them make explicit connections between their own lives and experiences and the story.
  2. Video Viewing. Find a video or video clip about the topic of the reading.  Show it to the class and discuss it with students. Add any new knowledge to the KWL chart and any new words to the vocabulary chart.
  3. Manipulatives and Predictions. Select several items from the story or related to the topic for which you can find miniature representations. Divide students into small groups and provide a basket of the miniatures to each group. Have students discuss each of the manipulatives and discuss what they remind them of and predict how they might be related to the story or topic.
  1. Concept Definition Mapping. The concept definition map can be used to clarify and explore the key words or concepts in a lesson. Below is a sample Concept Definition Map for “war”, of course, this is only one example of a concept definition map, which can take on many forms and formats.
  1. Think-pair-share. After introducing a concept or topic related to the reading, give students 2 minutes to think and write a few sentences about what they already know, and one question that they hope will be answered. Then have students pair off and share what they wrote with a partner. Return to large group and give students an opportunity to share what their partner new or wanted to know. Give students the opportunity to answer another student’s question if they can.
  2. Current events. If reading a non-fiction book about a real world event, situation or phenomena (hurricanes, tornadoes, homelessness), then gather a selection of news and magazine articles related to the topic (preferably with pictures). If necessary, adapt the text for readability for students. Give students the opportunity to read in pairs or small groups. Then have the groups discuss and write 1-2 sentences about how the article they read may relate to their lives or personal experiences.
  3. Cubing. This is a writing activity that can be useful for looking at a subject from six different sides. It can also be used as an individual or pair activity for building background knowledge. This strategy can be used for something as simple as a pencil or water to a complicated issue such as homelessness.
    1. Describe it: consider and visualize the subject in detail. What does it look like? Think about colors, shapes and memories.
    2. Compare it: What is the object or idea similar to? What is it different from? Explain how.
    3. Associate it: What does it make you think of?
    4. Analyze it: How is it made? How does it work? If you are not sure, make a prediction.
    5. Apply it: Tell what you can do with it. How can it be used? How does it work?
    6. Argue for or against it: Take a stand. Why are you in favor of or against this object?
  4. PreP strategy. This strategy helps teachers to assess the background knowledge of the students and to build their background knowledge by hearing what their peers know about the topic. The PreP strategy follows the following steps:
1.       Initial associations- students are asked to jot down whatever comes to their mind when they think of a particular word or concept
2.      Sharing- students are asked to share what they wrote. The teacher checks to ensure that each student has a chance to get his or her idea listed on a collective list.
3.      Reflecting- if a student does not offer a rationale, the teacher should ask each student why s/he make that particular association. The added discussion facilitates the building of background for the rest of the class.
4.      Organizing conceptually- once each student has had the chance to share, students are divided into groups to consider what types of categories they might be able to classify these terms into  (the teacher may also designate the categories and simply have students organize the words within them).
5.      Discussion- the teacher should now lead a full-class discussion to determine the thinking of various groups.
Once students have completed the PreP strategy, they should have discovered that even if they thought they knew nothing about a topic or concept, they have discovered through discussion with their classmates that they really do know something.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Top 10 reasons to be a teacher!

I know that the end of school is approaching, and many of you are running low on fuel and losing steam. So here's something to put the umph back into the end of your school year. Here are some of the highlights of my 3 years of teaching, and the reasons I get out of bed every morning to do it again!

10. Those unexpected hugs, thank-yous, and other little ways they show you their appreciation.
9. The joy of sharing your knowledge with spongy little minds ready to soak it up.
8. The fun you (sometimes) have when planning awesome lessons.
7. The excitement in their voices when they tell you their latest "news".
6. Occasionally taking time out to work on something artsy or just color with your kiddos- "You're gonna make one too, Mrs. J?"
5. Their rapt attention as you read them a new story for the first time.
4. The days when they come back to "visit" you after going to middle school, high school, or beyond and you can see the amazing people they've turned into.
3. Drawings of YOU to hang on your.....(wall, fridge, desk, door, bulletin board, etc)
1. That amazing "ah-ha" moment when you can see they finally get it!!

The only amazing thing I left off of here is the "surprise" birthday party my middle schoolers threw me on my birthday two years ago during study hall! They all planned together secretly (all three grades!) and brought snacks, food, music, and homemade birthday cards!! Best. Birthday. Ever.

Very few jobs have rewards like these folks. We certainly don't do it for the pay, we don't to it for the respect, remember...WE'RE ALL JUST HERE FOR THE KIDS!

And another little bonus boost for your end of year.....a little FREEBIE from my TpT store!! This Language Arts Word Wall is free for a limited time only, so grab it while its hot!

Time is running out....


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Here it is!!

My new unit on I Hate English! by Ellen Levine is now available at my TpT store. Make planning easy for the end of the year with this fun unit!

Head on over to my TpT store and check it out!

Activating Background Knowledge before Reading

Before reading, the background knowledge that a student brings to the text (their schema) must be activated and connected to the text. This is especially important for English language learners. Echevarria, Vogt and Short (2008) emphasize that reading comprehension can be a partuclar challenge for students from different cultural backgrounds, not because of difficulties with words or sentence structure, but because their schemata do not match those of the culture for which the text was written. It is the teacher’s responsibility to determine the best way to activate students' varied background knowledge on a topic and provide appropriate activites.

In my opinion, it is important to make a distinction between activating background knowledge and building background knowledge, as they are two important parts of pre-reading. Activating background knowledge happens when the teacher provides activities which awaken and connect the knowledge the student already posesses to the text. Building background happens when the teacher provides activites to fill in knowledge that the students are missing or do not posess. I will discuss building background in a later post, since that step comes after the activation of knowledge.

I have provided some useful strategies that can be used to assess and activate students’ background knowledge:
1.      Snowballs. Have each student take out a scratch sheet of paper and write their name on it. Introduce the topic of the reading or lesson and ask students to write down one or two sentences about something they already know about the topic. Have them crumple the paper into a ball. Divide students into two “sides”. On the teacher’s signal, side 1 should throw their snowballs across the room. Students on side two should pick up a snowball and read it. They should find the person who threw the snowball and discuss the idea for 30 seconds. Repeat with side 2 throwing.
2.      KWL Charts. Give students a KWL chart to complete or have them create a three-flap-foldable by folding a piece of printer paper lengthwise and then into thirds. Unfold it until it is a tent. On the top layer of the tent, cut along the third folds to the top of the tent fold. On the outside of the first flap, they should write “Things I know”, on the second flap “Things I want to know” and on the last flap “Things I learned”. On the inside, have students fill in the first two flaps prior to reading. Have students share their ideas and create a classroom KWL chart. Keep both around to fill in post-reading.
3.      Student journals and quick-writes. After introducing the topic of the reading to students, have them respond in their journals to a writing prompt that asks them to relate the topic to their personal experience or prior learning.
4.      Concept check. Before a reading or lesson take the opportunity to have students self-assess their knowledge of a topic by listing key vocabulary, concepts, or ideas on a sheet of paper. Give each student a copy and have them mark it according to their knowledge. Have students reassess their knowledge after the reading or lesson. If students rate themselves as an expert, have them explain to a partner or the class. Below is the scale and a sample concept check:
+ I know a lot about this topic and can explain it to others.
I have heard of this word or concept before and know a little
0 I have never heard of this word or concept before
____ evaporation____
____ condensation____
____ precipitation____
____ collection____
5.      Anticipation Guide. Give students a list of statements that are related to the concepts in the reading or lesson. Ask them to put a check mark next to the statements that they agree with or think are true. After reading, you should have students revisit the statements. If they have changed their mind they should remark the statements accordingly. They should note paragraphs or lines from the reading that caused them to change their mind. Below is a sample anticipation guide about animals who lay eggs:
Eggs-Anticipation Guide
Put a  ΓΌ  next to each statement you think is true.
1. ____  Animals that lay eggs always build a nest.
2. ____  The baby animal growing inside the shell is
called an embryo.
3. ____  All eggs have hard shells to protect them.
6.      Picture Quick Write. On the overhead or document camera, display a picture from the book or related to the topic of the story. Give students 30 seconds to a minute to write down anything and everything that comes to their mind while they look at the picture. Then give students an opportunity to share with the class and write everything around the picture for everyone to see. Introduce the topic of the reading and discuss which things were called out that might relate to that.
7.      Pre-test with a partner. Before the reading, have students take a pre-test with a partner about the words, skills, or concepts that will be assessed at the end of the reading, lesson, or unit. This gives students an opportunity to discuss, share and assess what they already know, as well as preview what they will be expected to demonstrate understanding of. Distribute one pencil and pre-test to each pair. Have students pass the pre-test and the pencil back and forth. They should read the questions aloud to one another and discuss possible answers, then come to an agreement and write the answer on the pre-test. The teacher can circulate to assess what students already know and make notes about gaps and misinformation.
8.      Four Corners. Before a reading, create a list of questions related to the reading or the reading’s topic and in each corner of the room post possible answers. Questions may be multiple choice (A, B, C, D) or statements with which students can agree or disagree (Agree totally, agree somewhat, disagree somewhat, disagree totally). Questions may be about students own experiences (I’ve experienced this, someone in my family has experienced this, etc). After each question, give students a chance to discuss and share their ideas, knowledge and reasons for their answers. Students may move corners if they change their mind, but they must be prepared to explain why they chose to do so.

I hope you find some of these strategies useful for your own classroom! Have a terrific Tuesday!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Turning reluctant readers into EAGER readers through Classroom Novel Studies

Many students today struggle with reading, and as a result, they say they "don't like reading". How can we change that for our students? How can we turn reluctant readers into EAGER readers? I do it by incorporating novel studies into my classroom.

Lately, I've been working with my 4th and 5th graders on a novel study of Paul Fleischman's Seedfolks. This is a book I first did during my first year of teaching; the kids really enjoyed it then and I have looked forward to doing it every year since. After checking out the lexile level of the book, I decided it would also be appropriate to do with my 4th and 5th graders this year. If you're not familiar with the story, check it out at Scholastic.

Each chapter in the book is told by a different character in the story- many of them from other countries and cultures. This makes it a great starting point for a multi-cultural unit for any classroom. Furthermore, as the garden grows, the sense of community among the gardeners also grows, and it gives students the chance to think about what a community is and what it means to the people in it.

During the study of the book, we not only read the book, but we also learn cross-curricular content. Since the story is about a garden, we learn about the life cycle and parts of a plant. Because many of the characters are immigrants, we learn about past & present immigration to the US. We also do some "garden math" to figure out how many people can fit in the garden or solve other problems that the gardeners might face. During the study of one book, we are able to cover four content subjects- Reading, Science, Social Studies, and Math.

Today, we worked on Chapter 2, written by Ana. First we did a vocabulary word sort to help familiarize them with some of the more difficult words in the story. I divided the students into two groups, and each group got a piece of poster and an envelope filled with words and categories. The first group's categories were "People", "Places" and "Things". They had words like "Rumanians" or "Mexico" or "Guns". The second group's categories were "Words that show ACTION" and "Words that DESCRIBE". They had words like "suspicious" or "watched". The students categorized the words, and then we discussed them as a class.

If you've never done a word sort in your classroom, I highly recommend it. I'm always amazed and impressed about how well this easy activity works. The students have to discuss why they think a word goes into a particular category, and while they are working, you can circulate and stop to discuss as needed. A word sort can be done for almost anything!

After the word sort, we read the chapter and then answered some questions about Ana. When they come back to me on Wednesday, we'll write Cinquain poems about Ana. I always alternate a chapter with content that is related to the story.

When I first started teaching (in middle school), and I told my first class of students that most of our work in our ESL Language Arts class would be based on novel studies, you should have heard the groans! By the time we finished our third book and were ready to start on Seedfolks, the kids were super excited and couldn't wait to find out what book we would be reading next.

A well-planned novel study with carefully selected books can be invaluable to your classroom- almost any objective can be taught at some point in the novel study. It demonstrates to students that reading can be fun and enjoyable- even in school!! Each year, I turn a classroom of reluctant readers into a classroom of EAGER readers by showing them how much fun reading can be. I also try to live by example- when we have silent reading time, I take out my book and read right along with the kiddos, which shows them how much I value reading, too.

Today is the day!!

Now for the news you've all been waiting to get awesome FREE STUFF!

14 Teachers have banded together to bring you the drawing of a lifetime!! You will receive one entry for each time you "follow" two of the teachers' stores or Facebook pages, up to 15 entries. At the end of the week, we will put all of the entries in a drawing, from which 2 teachers will receive 14 FREE RESOURCES from 14 different TPT Teachers!! How awesome does that sound? To find out more information, and how or where to follow the teachers, click the picture below!!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

New Unit in the works!!

I'm currently working on a new unit for the book "I Hate English" by Ellen Levine. I plan to use it in my ESOL classroom, but I'm creating it with leveled and differentiated activities that make it appropriate for many grade levels and ability levels. It will be a great way for mainstream elementary teachers to incorporate a unit promoting cultural diversity and sensitivity. It should appeal to all students! I'm very excited about this unit and hope to unveil it by Tuesday! Keep an eye on my TpT store!!

**Note** New low prices in my TpT store. In order to better help my products get out there so everyone can see how great they are, I've lowered the prices in my store for the time being. So head on over and buy some awesome stuff!! It doesn't matter if you're ESOL, mainstream, elementary or middle school, there's something there for your level!!

Explicit vocabulary instruction for ELLs in the content classroom

            Crow (1986) discusses two types of vocabulary knowledge: productive and receptive. According to Crow (1986), productive word knowledge is the knowledge that one needs in order to use a word when speaking or writing. Receptive knowledge, on the other hand, is what one needs to know in order to understand a word when reading or listening.
            Echevarria, Vogt, and Short (2008) further distinguish vocabulary into three key types: content words, process/function words, and words and word parts that teach English structure. Content vocabulary consists of key terms and ideas associated with a particular content area or topic being taught.  Process/function vocabulary are those words that have to do with functional language, such as language used in the classroom and words referring to language processes (discuss, summarize, debate, etc.). Finally, words and word parts that teach English structure are words which allow students to learn new vocabulary based on knowledge of English morphology, such as root words and affixes  (Echevarria et. al, 2008).
            There are several effective strategies suggested by the creators of the SIOP model (Echevarria et. al, 2008) for teaching vocabulary which can be used to increase ELLs' understanding of content vocabulary  and language:
  1. Word Sorts. During a word sort, students classify words or phrases that have been previously reviewed into categories determined by the teacher. Words or phrases can be written on sentence strips or printed singularly on a piece of computer paper.  Students can then categorize the words based on meaning, similarities in structure (ending in –tion, for example), derivations, or even sounds. To take this even one step further and facilitate the comprehension of content concepts, students can sort words by their relationship with content concepts (for example, sorting body part vocabulary by organ system).
  2. Contextualizing key vocabulary. Before the lesson, the teacher should review the reading and select a few key terms or phrases that are essential for understanding the lesson’s most important concepts. The teacher should then introduce the words or concepts to the students, defining or demonstrating each and then showing students how it is used throughout the context of the lesson.
  3. Vocabulary self-collection. Before reading, students can skim a text to locate words that are new or unfamiliar and which they perceive as essential to their understanding of content concepts. Words may be selected individually or I pairs. A class list of the vocabulary self-collection words can be maintained throughout a lesson or unit, and the list is revised and reviewed throughout. The words may also be entered into a word study notebook, and students may be expected to demonstrate their knowledge of these words through oral and written activities.  
  4. Personal dictionaries. This strategy is similar to the previous, but personal dictionaries are created and maintained as a personal vocabulary and spelling resource for individual students. Students are responsible for maintaining their dictionaries and adding new entries.
  5. Word Walls. Word walls are useful for maintaining an alphabetical list of key vocabulary. They word wall can be introduced ad referred to throughout a lesson. The word wall can be kept on a bulletin board, poster, pocket chart, or even a sheet of butcher paper. Students are encouraged and expected to use word wall vocabulary in their reading, writing and discussions throughout the lesson or unit.  Cunningham (2004) asserts that the words on the word wall should be limited to those of the greatest importance. Pictures can also be added to help ELLs make visual connections to the words they are expected to learn and use.
  6. Four-Squares Vocabulary Cards. The student makes a card by folding a piece of paper into fourths, and then folding the central corner down to create a diamond in the center of the paper. The vocabulary word is written in the central diamond, and then the other four squares contain a definition, a picture, a sentence, and synonyms for the word. The students can locate these elements on their own, or for very important vocabulary, the teacher can provide them.
  7. Word Generation. English language learners can review new content vocabulary through analogy. The teacher provides students with a root word, and students brainstorm for words that include that root word. The class should analyze the meaning of each word that is listed to figure out what the root means. If they cannot determine the meaning on their own, the teacher can give hints or explain the meaning.
  8. Word Map. Have students create a word map for important vocabulary words. The center bubble should be the vocabulary word. The teacher or the students can designate the types of words or ideas that go in second or third level bubbles. Bubbles can include words, pictures or phrases relating to the designated vocabulary word.
  9. Word Splash Posters. Students create a poster of words connected to the concept word. On a large piece of paper or poster board, students write a concept word in a box in the center. Then they take turns writing words and phrases connected to the concept word. These words can be synonyms, antonyms, examples or connecting words. Another interesting take on this would be to have students write a short summary of what they know about a topic. Have one or two computers available and have the browser pre-set to and type in their summary. The computer will generate a word splash poster, which students can then manipulate for color, shape and font. Print these word splash posters out and hang them around the room.
  10. List-Group-Sort. Individually, students are given a few minutes to list up to seven words about a topic. Then, students form a small team and generate a new list of words with their teammates. Finally, the team decides on categories into which they can group the words, and creates a poster, grouping the words into their determined categories.
  11. Self-Assessing levels of word knowledge. As students acquire and use new vocabulary words, it is important for them to take time to reflect on their own learning and assess their knowledge of the words they have learned. They can review their personal dictionaries, classroom word walls, and vocabulary self-selection charts and rate each word from 1 to 4:
1.      I’ve never heard or seen this word before
2.      I’ve seen or heard the word before, but I don’t know what it means
3.      I dimly know the meaning of the word, and I can associate it with an idea, concept or context.
4.      I know this word very well.