This school year, my English for Beginners class is quite different than last year's class. This year I have a lot more newcomers <1 year in the USA than I did last school year.
Just in case you didn't know, this is only my second year teaching HS ESL and I'm loving it!
One of the challenges I am facing this school year is having so many different levels of English proficiency in one class. This is a challenge when planning one whole group lessons and not all your students are at the same level on the proficiency continuum.
My biggest group is in the entering stages of the continuum (Level 1), a couple in the beginning stages (Level 2), and another group of 5 students are in the developing stages (Level 3).
Of course providing whole group instruction would not provide all with the needed support to grow linguistically. I've tried a couple of lessons but I still had to end up diving students in the corresponding groups to work with students at their level.
So what I started doing is working in small groups! I started assigning them readings and projects as groups and they work with peers completing the assignment if they are not in a group with me. These assignments could be assigned by language domain or a project of choice.
I created this Wakelet with resources they can use to help them practice each language domain.
Newcomer ELs and students with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE) need a respectful and safe environment to function at their full potential. This session will provide culturally responsive pedagogy strategies to cultivate the environment diverse students need. Participants will discover that cultivating such environments needs to start from within. As a ripple effect, a commitment to culturally responsive pedagogy will transform our instruction, school culture, families, community engagement and (ultimately) our students.
"Before planning any academic content, it is important to get to know our students and try to put ourselves in their shoes." - Sarah Ottow
August 26th, 2019 was the first day of school for students in my county. What an exciting day to finally meet all our new freshman students and to see returning students. I was more so thrilled to finally meet our 2019-2020 newcomer students who enrolled in the USA school system for the very first time.
I am not sure how a high school schedule is set up in other counties/states, but at our school, we offer only one period class strictly for English as a Second Language (ESL) services. The rest of our period classes are inclusion classes where our ESL services are provided at the same time core instruction is provided. This means that for one period students come to my classroom and for the other three periods you'll find me in different classrooms throughout the building supporting English learners. The only class period we offer in our ESL classroom is the English for Beginners course.
This course is designed with newcomer English learners in mind. In this class period, newcomers receive the foundations of the English language as well as any cultural views and lessons students may need to begin a successful and strong year in the United States.
To get an idea of what my day looks like, check out my daily schedule here!
My English as a Second Language (ESL) for Beginners class is a period designed to serve newly arrived immigrant students who need to learn English as quickly as possible to be able to engage in content area courses.
You see, our newcomer students are held to the same accountability standards as native English speakers. These students not only are starting to develop their English proficiency but at the same time, they are studying core content areas.
In my opinion, the best thing that can help newcomers during their first few days is to gain power. Empowering students with what they CAN do. Empowering students with simple phrases to engage in social conversations. Empower students to set measurable language and academic goals.
After a wonderful week of getting to know one another and creating a great foundation where students feel comfortable in our classroom; we moved into content and language learning!
Understanding Our Language Proficiency Levels
First things first, students need to understand how their English language proficiency is measured. We talked about the 4 parts of the test and learned how each part of the domains is important because it helps us: 1) Receive information (listening and reading) & 2) Produce information (speaking and writing).
Each student received their WIDA ACCESS scores (or initial placement scores) and placed their scores on the language development continuum (left picture below). Some students quickly realized what their strength is and what are they need to improve.
They thought it was fun to share and compare scores among themselves. This was not something I encouraged but they felt comfortable to do so.
After analyzing our process; we moved to align our scores with the CAN DO Descriptors provided by WIDA. This was a great opportunity to encourage students to read words in English. I had students making a list of cognates and trying to decipher the statements.
In order to also develop our writing skills, students created a Google slide presentation with what they CAN do and the goals we set ourselves for the next time we take the test.
Here's an example of Jorge's presentation: I Can... I Will...
Survival English for Newcomers
We also spent a couple of days going over this great recommended survival English we need to master in order to engage in content classrooms. This is a great list but I do not recommend using it as a teaching guide. I told my students that this would be something they will be learning throughout the year and they can keep it to maybe mark off as they learn it.
Going through the list was interesting and was a great chance to clear up some misconceptions or confusions about the English language. Click on the image for a printable version of the list.
Students were having so much fun learning from each other. They were helping each other and encouraging each other to read and understand the list!
Check out this video! I caught students practicing how to spell their last name!
Teaching newcomers is not easy. I love having the advantage that I can speak their language so I can clarify something they don't understand.
Here is a great research I started reading about newcomer's programs. This study shows what's working and what doesn't from newcomer centers from around the nation. It's pretty long but interesting!
Thank you for reading!
Over the summer of 2018, I took the first step to a great journey...I made the decision to transfer to Concord High School (CHS) after working six years at Irvin Elementary school. The decision was based on a burning desired within me to support students who are facing the same struggles I faced as a high school newcomer student and language learner. Read more about my personal experience as a newcomer here!
I got our classroom ready with so much excitement! However, I was more excited to meet my new students. I had already met a few of them during our ESL summer enrichment program, so I was thrilled to meet the rest of my students.
During the summer of 2017, Refugee book by Alan Gratz was released. There was a huge buzz about this awesome book that I decided to get it. I even ordered several copies and shared with colleagues so we could all read it together. However, I had to stop reading it and put it away. I didn't stop reading it because I didn't like it; I stopped reading it because I found myself disoriented while reading it.
You see, I am an English Learner (EL). English is my second language. As matter of fact, I've only had 3 years of high school and my college education here in the USA. Read here if you want to learn more.
Even though I was compelled and excited to read this story, I found myself struggling to make sense of what was happening. I was getting frustrated. I was getting caught in small details, I couldn't remember the most important events, I was forgetting what I had just read and was unable to make connections between events. I TRIED! I KEPT READING! But I felt like I was wasting my time. So I gave up and put the book away.
All year went by and I kept seeing posts about how awesome this book was and how everyone should be reading it. I felt bad and kind of embarrassed that I had not been able to read this wonderful book. However, reading 'Más Allá del Invierno' by Isabel Allende, entirely en Español, was super easy and refreshing to my mind.
So, why did I have trouble reading Refugee, you might ask? Well, allow me to shed some light on the book's NARRATIVE STRUCTURE (text structure is the overall organization of the text).
The novel alternates among three narratives that explore the lives of refugees in different decades and parts of the world.
The book is beautifully written, and its narrative structure is brilliantly constructed...but, it threw me off and confused me as an English language learner.
Isn't comprehension the purpose of reading? If so, if you can't read it, you can't comprehend it! Comprehension is the process of extracting or constructing MEANING!!
Giving Refugee Book a Second Chance
The #ELLchat_BkClub voted on reading Refugee over the summer of 2018. As matter of fact, I also voted on this book because I was still intrigued by everything I've heard about the story and I really wanted to read it.
Guess what?!? I read it ALL in just 4 weeks!
However, the only reason I was successful in completing the book was that I had support.
You see, participating in a book club not only provided the accountability for my reading but also facilitated weekly discussions with other participants reading the same story.
Dr. Katie Toppel, the book club moderator, provided weekly questions based on a given number of pages read, and that in itself, gave me the purpose for reading I needed to pause and reflect on what I had read.
I was not just reading the words! I was making sense of the information and ideas. I was constructing meaning, and also retaining information. So this experience led me thinking about my ELs and thought about gathering some resources about this topic.
Why Teach Fiction/Narrative Text Structures?
The question should be, 'why wouldn't you teach narrative structures?'. If you want students to make sense of the text and build on ideas to construct meaning and to retain the information they're reading, then you MUST intentionally teach its structure.
Students NEED a purpose for reading! The purpose of reading is COMPREHENSION.
Again, if students are finding themselves disoriented while reading a narrative, they WILL NOT comprehend, construct meaning, and/or retain information.
How to Teach Text Structures
ELs, and all students in general, NEED explicit text structure lessons; they need tools to support them as they move throughout their reading whether is non-fiction or narrative text.
I find this blog post on Cultofpedagogy.com by Jennifer Gonzalez loaded with resources on ways to teach text structures for non-fiction text.
This "20 Strategies to Teach Text" is fabulous. It actually gives a great perspective as to why and how to teach text structures.
Some key elements our students need to focus on while reading narratives are:
Here's an excellent list of printable graphic organizers provided by Fountas and Pinnell.
The most important strategy we can teach our students is to PAUSE AND DISCUSS the text!
MODEL, MODEL, MODEL how to think aloud while reading! Here's a great video that teaches how to model thinking aloud to increase comprehension.
This "Think Aloud Checklist" is a great resource our students can have with them as they read and think about their reading.
Introducing Fiction Text Structure with STORY looks like a fun way to teach this topic! Click here for more.
S – SETTING
T – TALKING CHARACTERS
O – OOPS! A PROBLEM!
R – ATTEMPTS TO RESOLVE THE PROBLEM
Y – YES, THE PROBLEM IS SOLVED!
In conclusion, the method you choose to teach your students 'Narrative Text Structure' doesn't really matter. What matters is to make sure students know how to navigate through challenging text formats to comprehend stories. Having the tools described above will increase reading speed, help retain content, and support with connections with incoming new information.
I would love to know if you use any of these resources or if you have any others I need to learn about. Please share comments below!
Happy reading and thanks for reading my post!
This post is part II to the previous post about inspiring students to write. Read part I here. Part one was also featured on www.achievethecore.org on June 22nd, 2018.
In order to maintain my students' passion for writing, I realized that compelling ideas were necessary to maintain their interest in writing. One way to encourage writers is by thinking with the end in mind. This just means brainstorming some ideas to wrap-up their hard work as writers. Our idea was to celebrate our writing by publishing our work and sharing it with staff, students, and the world!
My students were super excited from the very beginning. They understood that they would have to work very hard to complete a work worth sharing with the world. They understood the power of having an authentic audience.
To support students develop the language needed to discuss the pictures, we created verbal sentences to go with each picture.
I truly believe that giving my students these sentences and saying them in a rhyming and choral way, helped them as they started their individual writing process.
As a way to provide the scaffold they needed to be successful writers, we created two anchor charts with some images and words just so they knew where to look if and when they needed support.
Notice I said, "WE created"! It is very important for students to take part in creating anchor charts...ultimately it is for them to use so it needs to be as kid-friendly as possible. If you just pull-out an anchor chart already created, it becomes just a paper on the wall with no use whatsoever.
For the first part of the story, I asked students to write their sentences in their notebook. We started with an image and used the image to complete a sentence. We also talked about using our drawings to add to our digital book.
Some students needed my support more than others, but for the most part, students were very good about completing their story.
Our Digitalized Stories
Once students had the first part of the story completed, students began transferring their stories onto a digital platform. The best and most effective platform to create digital stories with lower grade student is www.WriteReader.com. Students have used this app before so they just jumped right in to create their stories.
Watch my Kindergartners' presentation on YouTube!
First Graders' Work
Students were given complete freedom as to where to sit, how to take notes, discussions, etc. They all helped each other as they collected information. Students were super excited to see the pictures in the book and were so engaged in conversations about the topic. Students at a higher level reading and/or language proficiency were very helpful to students who needed more support.
Check out this video of students helping and learning from each other!
There's just something about writing what you read that supports comprehension...so I make my students take notes and draw pictures as they read and learn something new. Taking notes on a notebook had two purposes:
Here are some examples of students' work:
I was very impressed with their work and so were they! They were so excited about sharing with their peers all the facts they've learned!
Once we have collected enough information or at least answered the questions we agreed on, students began to publish their books using WriteReader.com.
Once their book was published, they shared it with one another and read each other's book. It was amazing to see how much reading they were doing and they didn't even realize it.
Read their published books here:
We invited Kindergarten, 1st-grade teachers, and administrators to our class the day of our author celebration.
Thank you for reading!
Teaching is by far the most rewarding profession! What I love the most about our profession is the opportunity we have each and every day to make a difference in our students' lives.
However, the moment I experienced yesterday, taught me how much our students have to teach us...and their lessons are what ignite passion in our profession.
We are halfway through the school year and administrators are making their required observation rounds. So I was working with my 1st-grade pull-out class when our assistant principal, Mrs. Baker, walked in. I knew she was coming to see us sometime, so I was excited to show the awesome learning happening in our classroom.
However, as excited as I was to showcase our awesomeness; I was really nervous!
Anyway, I pulled out the book we had read during class the day before: “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña, and together we had a quick discussion about the characters and setting in the story.
I reminded students that just as important as naming the characters and the settings; it is also important to understand how the character is feeling throughout the story to be able to get the message the author wants for us.
Students had already started analyzing parts of the story and brainstorming what is happening as well as analyzing how the character is feeling based on illustrations and text.
I asked for volunteers to share their work with the class. I had several students who raised their hand and wanted to share their work.
I chose Jarett to share his part of the story because the day before he had done an excellent job and I knew he had the language to share his work.
What happened next, of course, took me by surprise...Jarett froze!
Jarett was holding his work and just looking around so confused and unable to say a word! So here am I thinking, "Come on, Jarett, you know the answer!"; "Just say what you told me yesterday!"; "How do I empower him to say something.?!"; "Do I give him more time, or should I call another student?!"
It was pretty awkward for a few minutes. All students, an assistant principal, and his teacher staring at him and expecting an answer. Now, I am a huge believer in wait-time! Please check out Valentina's illustration and post above; however, I also think that after a few minutes of waiting, students on the spotlight need some sort of empowerment to be successful with their response. And in that moment I really thought that this empowerment was supposed to come from me...his teacher!
The awesomeness I want to share is how the empowerment didn't actually come from me...but from whom I least expected it.
Carlos is struggling academically right now, so in my mind, answering a high order thinking question was not going to happen for him. Oh, boy, was I wrong!!!
When Carlos noticed that his partner was struggling to answer the questions, he began to side-whisper the answer they both had thought about the day before! When Jarett heard what Carlos had said, his face lit up and began telling us all about his work.
I had Carlos stand up and share along with Jerett, and between the two of them, we heard the best presentation ever!!
What a success and powerful moment for my students but more so for me! First of all, I learned a good lesson on NOT doubting my students' abilities. Just because they are below grade level does not mean I set up limitations to what they can do! Secondly, I learned that students have a powerful ability to empower and support each other. Empowerment does not always have to come from teachers...If we provide opportunities and a comfortable environment for students, they can help each other beyond our imagination!
Our API was able to snap a picture of our students smiling and sharing their work! She was very happy to see our students empowering each other and successfully share their learning!
Please do not underestimate what our English learners are capable of doing and knowing! Having the opportunities and the possibilities, our students, regardless of grade level, CAN and WILL learn and empower others to learn.
Thank you for reading!