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.
So this is it! We made it!!
Today, Monday, June 10th, 2019, was the last meeting class with newcomers at Concord High School. It's a happy day because I get to see, hear, and read how much English my students have learned. This, of course, brings joy to my heart since I had them from day one as newcomer students in the USA.
But as happy as this day can be - there's also sadness. My heart feels heavy knowing that they will no longer be in room #225 with me.
English for Beginners is a course our school/county designed to provide the foundations of the English language our students need to be able to fully engage in our school, and mainstream classrooms. We meet every day for 90 minutes and we create an environment where risk-taking and changes are supported.
I have students who started the school year with only enough English to understand questions such as "What's your name?" - Today, they were writing complete sentences and sharing with peers how far they've come.
Of course, I couldn't just say good-bye and not have any memories written to show the world how awesome our class was this school year. So...we created our own presentation with moments that are forever in our mind and heart.
Preparing our Readings
I wanted to share our class experience for our second visit to W.M. Irvin elementary school. A couple of days before our visit, we discussed how important it is to be prepared when presenting, or teaching something new. I asked my students to reflect on my lesson delivery. I asked them to share how they know a teacher is well prepared or not so prepared for a lesson. Some were very honest and shared how they can tell when the teacher is thinking on an assignment and expects students to do what it's asked but there's very little support. However, when a teacher has everything printed out, written on slide or board, supports with clarity what's expected, then they perform much better.
After this conversation, I told them how they are becoming teachers when going to the elementary school because the little ones are learning from them. That being said, preparation to even read and ask questions is important. We then brainstormed what we could do to show up to the elementary school and be very well prepared.
Here is what they came up with:
I was so proud of my students because they thinking as educators. They understood that preparation is key to not only feel prepared and ready but also to ensure that the student is supported enough to understand the story.
So, our first step was to choose our book of choice. These are the books my students picked:
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!
"All the reading she has done had given her a view of life they had never seen." ~ Roald Dahl, Matilda
During the summer of 2017, I had the opportunity to travel to Germany with Go Global NC. I had an unforgettable experience! The biggest impact I had during this experience was the cultural differences and similarities I experienced in 10 days. Culture shock is not new to me! I came to the USA at the age of 15 and experienced as much culture shock as you can imagine. However, the sad thing was that I felt like as a newcomer student, I was somehow forced to put aside my own culture, beliefs, and values, in order to acculturate to the USA. Once I started school I stop reading and learning in Spanish; and I never had the opportunity to share my values and my Guatemalan culture with teachers and peers. I had the thought that my culture was not worth talking or reading about.
While visiting Germany's schools, I noticed as much diversity as we see in USA schools today. What shocked me, however, was how comfortable diverse students were sharing own culture and speaking their home language. Students would have book talks and you can hear 3-4 different language spoken at one time. Wow! What an eye-opening moment for me! I loved how students embrace who they are and how they value knowing and speaking different languages!!
So I decided to take action. I want my English learners to not fall into the trap replacing culture while acculturating in the USA. Just because they are learning the language and living the USA doesn't mean they need to completely forget their roots and who they are. They need to know that their culture, language, and family beliefs are valued and matter.
So I wrote two grants and both were funded:
The following lessons can be for elementary grades K-5 and adjusted/extended as needed.
After reading the book out loud, students turned and shared with partners all the details the author mentions about similarities and differences. I had students create a T-chart with illustrations and labels as an anchor to share what we've learned. I could've created this chart myself, however, I believe in student empowerment...and having student created charts are just epic!
We used this chart as we introduced the next book. Connections are very important when introducing a new book or topic. This chart helped us predict and have discussions about the characters in our next book: Same, Same but Different.
These conversations that students were having was perfect since it prepared them to compare the two characters which are exactly what this book is about. The book is about Elliot who lives in America and Kailash who lives in India. They are pen pals who write to each other sharing their differences and similarities.
After reading the book out loud, students turned and shared with partners all the wonderful things that the two characters have in common as well as their differences. At this point, students had so much language that they could've to continue sharing all morning long. Students also created a T-chart comparing the two characters:
This book served as a window for my students to see, learn, appreciate, and discuss others' way of living.
As students were creating this chart, I asked to begin thinking about themselves and to come up with some things they had in common with one or both of the characters.
They were also asked to appreciate differences they had with one of the characters and share that as well.
If there is a book you must have as part of your classroom library, it should be I'm New Here. This book highlights exactly what students go through as newcomers in USA classrooms. In this book, you'll learn the struggles, the confusions, and the feelings that our language learners experience as they begin to acculturate in USA schools. However, what I love the most about this book, is the fact that it teaches us to highlight students' strengths and create a comfortable environment where students show their abilities. Maria, Jin, and Fatimah teach us a valuable lesson for all to learn...not just students...but educators as well.
Before we started reading I'm New Here, we discussed what it would be like to leave the USA and moved to India where Kailash lives and why? This image shows my first graders' responses using illustrations. This chart ignited a great discussion as we have already learned all about Kailash and his way of living. This was a great activity to activate background knowledge and make text to text connection. It was a great way to introduce our new book and begin predicting how the characters in our new story might feel because they had to leave their home countries to come to the USA.
Another great activity we did before we started our book was learning where our characters were from. We pulled out our world map and circled the three countries our characters were from. This is a great opportunity for students to learn a little more about different cultures. An extension to this map activity would be to learn all about: Guatemala, Korea, and Somalia.
It is always a great idea to read the book aloud the first time without any interruptions. This is a strategy that teaches students to carefully pay attention to the story from beginning to end.
After hearing the story, students turn and share with a partner all and everything they want to share the text. From character information to details - no specifics - just TALK about the text!
For the second reading, students were told to pay very close attention to character change at feelings. They are told to observe how characters feel in the beginning of the story, in the middle, and how they feel once the story ends. Though this book is excellent to teach story sequencing, my focus was on understanding the character using the details found in the text.
Students also had a written response assignment. They chose one of the characters and explained how he/she felt in the beginning of the story and compared to their feeling at the end of the story.
I was amazed how empathetic my students felt about each character. They were able to explain why students felt the way they felt and what made them change the way they each felt.
As students were sharing their individual written response, we created a classroom chart with all the details we learned about each character.
I divided our chart paper into three parts to help students visualize the information need for each character.
While we were creating our chart I can tell some students were more into one character than others. I believe it was because they identified with the character's abilities or perhaps they felt a connection with the character's background and language.
This led us to begin analyzing the character of our choice. We cut our chart along the lines and made 3 groups. Students grouped according to their favorite character. The objective was to discuss all the details learned about their character and write a personal story about him/her using transitioning words - First, Next, Then, Last and to include details from the text as to how the character's feelings changed throughout the story and why.
It was amazing how students engaged in this assignment and how enthusiastic they were to write all about the character of their choice.
If you want to read our students' books, follow this link and search the character of your choice: Maria/Jin/Fatimah. You won't be disappointed with their fantastic work!
The fascinating thing about this book is the ability to serve as a mirror for our students since they can identify with what the kids are doing; but also, as a window to expose our students the way of life in other parts of the world.
We read the book the first time just to enjoy the rich text and the illustrations. But the second time, I had my students to think as they were listening, how they could make personal connections with the text. We also discussed analyzing the text structure - (sequencing of the story).
After reading the book students turned and shared with a partner the connections they made with the actions that students perform in other parts of the world. Students also discussed the differences they observed comparing to their personal daily life.
As a written response students were asked to illustrate or write what they do every day in the morning - at school - after school - and in the evening. This prompt follows the sequence students heard from the text.
Students shared with one another and grouped themselves according to similarities in what they do every day. So this gave me the idea to have them publish another book about what they do in a day!
If you want to read our students' books, follow this link and search One World One Day.
You won't be disappointed with their fantastic work!
I have shared our students' stories using my class twitter and facebook account and it is amazing the response we are getting. My students are so excited to learn more and write more! These are just some of the feedback we are getting and has empowered my students in so many ways:
Stay tuned for our next book... The Last Stop in Market Street by Matt de la Peña
Thank you for reading!