Monday, July 28, 2014

ESL Program Equity Audit

Today, Holly Niemi shares her ideas on reflecting to prepare for the upcoming school year.

Summer is the perfect time for reflection.  This ESL Program Equity Audit is a great tool to guide that reflection in preparation for the coming school year.  I came across this meaningful exercise at a professional development I attended this past spring.  It came from the text by Alfred and NiƱo (2011) entitled Leading Academic Achievement for English Language Learners:  A Guide for Principals. My ESL colleagues and I found it a facile and enlightening way to view our ESL program and its future direction. The audit is a one-page document that considers six program areas:  role of ESL teacher, instructional materials & curriculum, professional development, assessment, ESL parent outreach, and teacher evaluation.  This is a wonderful starting point to gauge the access and rigor of an ESL program in light of the demands of the Common Core State Standards.  Additionally, the audit was a means to opening communication and collaborating between both ESL teachers and administrators.  As a group of ESL teachers, we completed the audit, and then later shared it with our school administration.    This audit could be used at both macro and micro levels: it allows for the consideration of the overall effectiveness of a district-wide ESL program or it can be completed at the school or grade team levels.   Overall, the audit allows for educators and administrators to prioritize their ESL program’s needs and begin taking action in the focus areas in order to maximize ELLs’ equitable access to the Common Core.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Top Ten Ways for ELLs to Beat Summer Backslide

Holly Niemi shares how she beats the summer backslide.

The downside of summer vacation is backslide.  Summer learning loss is an issue for many learners, especially English language learners. A variety of summer programs may focus on remediation, acceleration or enrichment, all of which will help ELLs maintain and improve the language domains of listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

ESL Summer School may meet the language learning needs of ELLs with localized instruction. ESL Grants and Title III monies may help schools fund ELLs with this opportunity.

Summer Activity Camps may be offered through local boys & girls clubs or religious organizations. These camps may provide ELLs the opportunity to learn an instrument, play sports, or visit local attractions, all while interacting with native speakers. Depending on the organization, many of these camps provide financial assistance or reduced for those who qualify.

Job Shadow programs are offered by some businesses, Junior Achievement Program and county programs. This may help secondary ELLs maintain their language proficiency, while venturing into the business world and learning about potential future careers.

Summer Academic Camps may be offered through local colleges and universities. These camps focus on math, science and language arts. Often times, they are organized through the institute of higher learning’s teacher training programs.

Library Youth Programs offer a variety of weekly programs for ELLs, ranging from story time to crafts and games.

Phone Number & E-mail Exchanges on the last day of school will provide ELLs with contact information for their classmates. This way they can call or write their peers and perhaps even plan a time to get tougher in person.

Summer Field Trips are a great way to maintain contact with ELLs. They have a chance to reconnect with the teacher, as well as classmates. This can even be an opportunity to engage parents and families.

Television Programs in English may help ELLs maintain their listening skills, as well as reading skills when the closed-caption is activated. Teachers could recommend a variety of shows with the channel and time for ELLs.

On-line ESL resources may help ELLs practice their listening, speaking, reading, and writing from a computer. Here is a link to 50 resources that may prove useful to ELLs over the summer.

ESL Class Websites will enable the ESL teacher with the ability to post various informative pieces and ELLs to connect with other ELLs over the summer.  Posts could include reading material, articles, as well as English practice website links, as well as local community events that may interest students.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Meaningful Instruction at the End of the School Year

In this post, Heather Jung shares how she ends the year with her students.

The end of the school year can be a stressful time for both teachers and students.  Routines shift after end-of-year testing is done. This can be a confusing time for ELL’s; who often rely on familiar stable routines for support. But this time of year is especially critical for them because they will be away from us, and possibly from the English language, for two months!  We need to provide highly supportive instruction during this critical time. This instruction should be focused on building independence and love of learning.  Students who are motivated and confident are more likely to pursue summer activities that will not only prevent summer slippage, but will build prior knowledge and enhance the learning that will occur in the fall.
Here are some great end-of-year activities being done by teachers at my school:

Hallway Display:

Inspire students to think about who they will read with this summer by showing teachers reading with someone in their home.

Grade 1:

Encourage students to think about science, social studies and math by making bags out of old T-Shirts and then going shopping at the Farmer’s Market.

Grade 2:

Promote summer reading by having students to decorate T-Shirts to advertise their favorite books.

Grade 3:

Demonstrate how reading can inspire creativity.  These students made “candy rooms” inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and then sold them to practice economics.

Guided Reading:

Read book one of a series; so that students will fall in love with characters that they will be able to read about throughout the summer.   These second grade ELLs are reading The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Feedback and Reflection

Holly Niemi offers ideas on how ELLs contribute to feedback and reflection at the end of the school year.

The end of the school year upon us.  It is important to take a moment to reflect on the variety of assignments, activities, and assessments completed over the course of the 2013-2014 school year.   Now is a great time to consider ESL class successes and areas of improvement, while they are fresh in mind.  Feedback and reflection from the ESL teacher’s point of view is critical, but it is essential to consider those impacted the most by instruction, the ELLs.  The feedback and reflection ELLs can provide about an ESL teacher’s instruction can be invaluable.  Their insight can help an ESL teacher improve and refine future teaching and learning.   Our high school requires each teacher distribute and collect a class evaluation survey for each student, including all levels of ELLs.  In order to do this with ELLs, my class evaluation was extremely visual by design, in order to maximize valid and reliable responses from ELLs of varying levels of English proficiency, ranging from level 1 to level 5 ELLs.   A sample of my ESL class evaluation is below.

The above ESL class evaluation took ELLs approximately 10 minutes to finish during class and was completely anonymous.  The advantage of an in-class survey is the high response rate and 100% student feedback.  Although, the downside may be that ELLs will not be as honest, but this can be reduced by having a guest teacher administer the survey, so the teacher of record is not present. It allowed students to provide feedback to quantitative questions consisting of a visual Likert scale response, ranging from a sad to happy face, as well as a mix of free-response qualitative questions at the end of the survey.   Questions 1-10 allow the teacher to calculate quantitative results and questions 11-13 provide the teacher with qualitative student data.  Combined, this survey affords the teacher feedback and reflection to set teaching goals and expectations for the coming school year.  Be prepared for both positive and negative feedback.  In any case, look for patterns and trends when identifying course strengths and weaknesses.

Overall, the ELLs’ opinion of the class can help inform future teaching and learning to benefit both the ESL teacher and ESL students.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

We Still Love Lucy: Writing Workshop 2.0

In this post, Ashley Coblentz, Jackie Moreno, and Brian Digate take a closer look at stories that matter.

Context: We want our students to master digital age skills while staying true to the core principles of the writing workshop. So when thinking of how to do this, we kept Lucy Calkin’s philosophy at the heart of our writing block. Students still write “stories that matter” regardless of whether they are using pencils or keyboards. When students began using iPads during writing, we didn’t want to simply replicate what they were doing with paper and pencil; we wanted them to have experiences as writers that were not possible before. Take a look at these students conferencing if you remain unconvinced:

Have you seen high school students conference as well as these elementary students?

Outcomes: We still give students the option to write with paper, but the digitization of the writing process has created inspired writers in our classroom and has taken the writing process to new heights.  Students feel more motivation to write because they know that more readers will have access to their work now that they can share multiple copies digitally. They have more stamina and enthusiasm for writing than ever before.

Writing Workshop 2.0

Instead of teachers giving students printed graphic organizers, where they have to fit their ideas into our structure, students use Popplet to create their own graphic organizers, customizing them in a way that allows them to take ownership of craft and structure.

Drafting: After planning using Popplet students draft their piece in Pages or another word processing app.

Conferencing, Revising and Editing: Before it was difficult to know what students were discussing during peer writing conferences unless we were right next to the kids. Now students are able to record their thoughts about potential revisions and edits in the app Educreations, using a CCSS-based rubric and sending conference links to teachers and each other. We have noticed a dramatic increase in use of academic language and focus during this part of the writing block. One of the most powerful outcomes is how much having access to videos of students talking about their writing has improved our formative assessment practices, which in turn, has greatly improved the instruction we offer our students.

Publishing: Students love when it’s their turn to share a published story. Students used to only be able to publish only one copy of each of their stories, and it was typically read by only a few students who got their hands on it. Now students can send their work to their classmates’ iBooks libraries, and every single student in the class and beyond can have a copy of that story, accessible at any time, on their personal bookshelves.

How to Upgrade the Writing Workshop:
1. Plan with a graphic organizer app (Our favorites are Popplet and
   Idea Sketch).
2. Write rough draft in a word processing app (Pages or Google
3. Open writing rubric in Educreations to conference with a peer.
4. Have a writing conference-annotate draft.
5. Make revisions & edit in a word processing app (Pages for us).
6. Send to iBooks via email.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Making Short Vowel Sounds “Sticky”

Heather Jung breaks out the glue and demonstrates how she makes short vowels sticky.

Image from Creative Commons
Over the years, I have noticed that most of the Spanish speaking students I work with can solve words phonetically with ease fairly quickly.  Phonics is a strength for them because Spanish is a phonetic language with sounds very similar (in many ways) to English.  Arabic and Urdu speakers often have a much more difficult time, particularly with remembering short vowel sounds.  These short vowels are difficult for them to discriminate aurally and are not sounds used in their native languages.

Recently, I came across a strategy that I have found very helpful for getting those tricky short vowel sounds to “stick” in my students’ memories. I found this strategy in the book Catch a Falling Reader by Connie R. Hebert.  In Chapter 9 of her book, Hebert recommends using physical actions and movement to help students make more powerful connection to short vowel sounds.  For example:

Short a: Have the students pretend a doctor is shining a light into their mouth and having them say “aaah.”

Short e: Have the students say “eeh” and use their finger to trace the straight line across their teeth, as they say the sound. The straight line is like the straight line in the middle of the lower case e.

Short i:  Have the students say “iiih” and feeling how their cheeks squish and smile, as they say the sound.

Short o: Have the students trace the shape of their mouth, as they say the sound “oooa.”  They will note that it is the same shape as the letter o.

Short u: Have the student karate chop their stomach as they say the “uuuh.”  You may even want to pretend that you are hurt when you demonstrate this one and remind the student to be careful when they karate chop their own stomach.  This humor will make the sound extra “sticky.”

By integrating visual (seeing shape of your mouth making the sound), auditory (hearing the sound) and kinesthetic (moving as they make the sound) you can integrate multiple learning styles and make more powerful connections to the learning for your students.  You may feel very silly as you demonstrate these movements, but that means that it is funny to your students too.  That drama and fun enhances and bonds the learning.  It will also be funny to look around the room and see your students doing these actions are they remembering the short vowel sounds that you have now made “sticky” for them as they read and write independently.

Works Cited

Hebert, C. R. (2008). Catch A Falling Reader 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Making Graduation Momentous

Holly Niemi on making graduation momentous

Many of my ELLs are some of the first in their family to graduate from high school.  They are proud of their accomplishments, as are their families, but they are not as familiar with American graduation traditions.  The month of June is filled with many seniors’ open houses and graduation parties, but this is not the case for my ELLs.  I want them to have a graduation to remember, so as an ESL department, we host an annual “Senior Showcase” that celebrates, and is a tribute to, our graduating seniors.  The ESL teachers and ESL underclassmen plan the graduation celebration.  Underclassmen ELLs divide celebration duties: making invitations, compiling a guest list, selecting music, preparing gifts, making a video featuring our graduates, and a video highlighting our school year, as well as booking an event room in the school, planning the menu and decorating. 

Invitations & Gifts
Our seniors are the guests of honor, but other guests include current ELLs, monitored ELLs, and exited ELLs, some American students who collaborated with us throughout the year, as well as administrators and teachers.  Each person receives a hand-delivered invitation made by our ELLs.  On the day of the celebration, our ESL seniors come to the front of the room when their names are announced during their part of the video to receive gifts.   We used PTA funds to purchase each senior a journal that every underclassmen ELL signed and wrote a personal congratulatory message, as well as a CD containing a copy the ESL Senior Showcase video and annual ESL photo highlights. 

Photo provided by Holly Niemi

Celebration Entertainment & Festivities
We book a large event room in the school.  We take one period to set up, one period for the celebration, and one period to clean up.   We decorate each table with a tablecloth and flower arrangement, borrowed from the cafeteria.  As the ELLs enter the building, they deliver their food, which is labeled and set out.  ELLs and their parents graciously donate enough food to serve 100+ guests. 

Photo provided by Holly Niemi
 As the students enjoy a variety of ethnic cuisine, we play a video compilation of senior interviews.  Each senior’s country, flag and short farewell speech is set to music.  The end of the video highlights our field trips, excursions, and various activities from the past school year.  A short clip is provided below.  

This is truly one of the highlights of the year for our ESL program.  It gives our ESL seniors a chance to be recognized and our underclassmen ELLs a chance to show appreciation.

Photo provided by Holly Niemi