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!
Part IV: Implementing a Practical Approach to Instruction
I am not the teacher I was six years ago when I started my teaching profession. I am better. No, I'm not bragging! When I started teaching, I did the best I could with what I had learned. Not everything I did was good. Not everything I did helped my students...UNTIL...that is the key. As an educator, I do what I think is best for my students...UNTIL I know better. Learning and practicing what's best for my students IS what makes me a better teacher.
Over the years I have learned strategies and methods to better support, my students. I have built a professional learning network that is constantly providing ideas and fresh approaches to better serve my students. So because I know better, I DO better! By no means think that I have it all figured out...on the contrary...I continue learning so I can become the best I can be for my students.
When it comes to implementing practical and effective strategies to support language learners, you must know that what works for one student may not work for another. It is very important for you to know your student. Knowing their reading level is NOT enough. A level doesn't tell you about their personality. A level doesn't show you how they learn. In order to close any academic gap, there needs to be a specific target area to support. For our language learners...LANGUAGE is the target you need to focus on. If you are interested in how to support your language learners with language interventions, read this article by Kristina Robertson.
If you have students who are just beginning to acquire English, fear not. In Boosting Achievement we learn that newcomers can engage in certain tasks to be able to participate in the content provided in class. Your newcomers can:
If your student is a newcomer, the first thing you want to find out is the literacy level in native language because you'll use that to build second language acquisition. Read one of my recent post about a newcomer who grew almost two grade levels in reading just by allowing him to use their native language.
WIDA Consortium has this document that I know you'll find helpful. You'll gain tips about getting to know your newcomers and ways to support them not only in school but also in the community.
I also encourage you to read "28. Comprehensible Output: What Students Can Do" by Tan Huynh (@TanELLclassroom). Tan provides tip and strategies to deliver lessons in a way that your students comprehend it as well as support students with output process.
My Flipgrid response was based on Boosting Achievement's section on balanced literacy. I believe it is imperative to teach our students the structures of the English language. Language learners need explicit phonological awareness lessons. These lessons could be quick daily interventions where students learn vowel teams, consonant blends, dominant -r, etc. They need to understand the many combinations of alphabet letters to make words and how words make sentences.
One great website to find "research proven" interventions for these type of foundations is: Florida Center for Reading Research. Here you'll find student centered activities by grade level along with teacher resource guides to focus on language foundations.
If you're more like me and want to provide a hands-on activity to develop your students' language acquisition, I recommend the interventions below. The lessons are designed for pre-K students but work well for students who are just developing language.
Since word-work and learning about the language are only part of the balanced literacy approach, the rest of it needs to be compelling text. As learned in Part III, students need to be exposed to text that is compelling and engaging for them to acquire language. Text must be relevant and must reflect who your students are so they can make connections and be motivated to learn even more.
So to finish up I want to thank you for all you do for your students. I have no doubt in my mind that to this day you have done everything in your power to support your students. However, there is always room for more learning. As you learn new methods and strategies, you'll gain better ways to serve your students and be an even greater teacher!
"A recent immigrant can do quite a lot of writing the day they arrive in the country. They most engage in the production of English writing immediately and there are ways to support this, which benefit the entire class." ~ Boosting Achievement
Thank you for reading!
Part III - Accelerating Language Development
Ever since I began taking TESOL courses I have been intrigued with the concept of Second Language Acquisition (SLA). Promoting Academic Success for ESL Students: Understanding Second Language Acquisition for School was the first book, I read (and still own) about this topic. In this book I learned that "SLA is best developed through contextual, meaningful activities that focus on language use combined with guidance along the way from teachers." Even though linguistic experts have been sharing this theory for several years, I am shocked at the misunderstanding and misconceptions among educators regarding SLA. As educators, we must have a clear understanding of how our language learners acquire language. Boosting Achievement calls this understanding, "Best practices" - Foundation of lessons we plan to provide effective opportunities for language development. Read more about this topic and learn about using the Prism Model.
Factors in Second Language Acquisition
Boosting Achievement targets two very important factors I see needing improvement in our schools. In my opinion, if we improve in these two areas, we could see achievement gaps closing among our language learners.
The reason these two factors are important is that they can make a good teacher into a GREAT teacher. This goes back to the questions in the image above; "Does your classroom cover content or cultivate curiosity?"
A Good Teacher:
The Washington Post shared an article providing a pretty accurate list of qualities great teachers share. However, it doesn't highlight some of the teaching strategies and methods good teachers use. For example sight word list drills, amazing anchor charts, and content.
I do believe sight words are important; “sight words account for up to 75% of the words used in beginning children’s printed material”, read this post on Why are Sight Words Important.
I also believe how imperative anchor charts are in the classroom! Read more about why in this article: Anchor Charts: Making Thinking Visible. I also understand that as an educator, you are responsible for teaching "CONTENT". Believe me, I get it. I even use the High Noon Intervention program that provides word lists and word patterns for students to learn in my class.
However, what I don't get is the need to kill students with word drills and memorizing a ton of words in isolation. What I don't get is the need to post gorgeous anchor charts already pre-made when students can't even read them. What I don't get is how we can just be happy sharing the content we are excited and knowledgeable about without engaging students' curiosity. If you do all this...GOOD! You are a GOOD teacher. You are doing your job. You are helping students "learn". However, when it comes to supporting English language learners, students need more than just "learn". Students need to acquire language. Students need YOU to be GREAT!
A Great Teacher:
A great teacher gains understanding regarding the concepts mentioned above, AND will also apply them as a foundation for lesson planning to provide language learners with the opportunities they need to acquire the targeted language. A great teacher will have all the qualities mentioned above and will also do the strategies mention above; however, "Comprehensible Input" and "Affective Filter" are visible. A great teacher understands that in order for students to acquire the language there needs to have "a focus on providing many opportunities for oral and written interaction rather than intensely focusing on vocabulary lists and finer points of grammar." (pg. 50)
Great teachers also make it possible to provide a safe and comfortable environment where students feel free to make mistakes while learning the language.
A great teacher also allows students to engage in creating anchor charts to they CAN read it when they need to refer to it. Remember, anchor charts are resources for students, not pretty wall paper for your classrooms. Here is a great post by Valentina Gonzalez about strategies to support ELs. One of her strategies is the proper use of anchor charts with our language learners.
Here are some examples of my students engaging in text and word-work and you be the judge; Am I a good teacher or a great teacher?!? Then, reflect on your profession. Are you a good or a GREAT teacher?!?
I am so grateful to see Boosting Achievement setting the expectation needed of all language and content teachers. Just like we have high expectations for our students, we need to have high expectations of ourselves. Let's continue learning and improving our pedagogy to better serve our language learners.
Thank you for reading!