I'm approaching the end of ACCESS testing season and while I'm thankful it's gone very well, I'm soready to be done. For those of you outside the ESL world, ACCESS for ELLs, an acronym for Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State for English Language Learners, is an annual language assessment given to ELLs in WIDA states. In North Carolina, ACCESS determines the level of ESL service and exit status. It is offered around February 1-March 15 every year to students who have been identified as LEP (Limited English Proficient). Students dread the test, as they do all assessments, and although I'm not happy about any sort of standardized test the fact that my students' service is interrupted while my schedule is turned upside down drives me nuts. Since my classes are small, my students usually sit in the office or the media center during their regularly scheduled ESL period and work on individual assignments. While I try to make the most of their time, it's certainly not the same level of instruction and support they receive when they are with me. But, oh well, it is what it is. We accept what we cannot change and make the best of it.
ACCESS tests for the most part are administered in groups based on tier and grade level, however, speaking tests are individually administered. As with any other standardized test, we have an administration script that we must not deviate from. During the speaking test, students are given stories and/or scenarios and asked follow up questions. Most of the questions end with the statement, "tell me as many details as you can." I've said that so often in the last month that I probably recite it in my sleep, but it has also stirred my thinking about writing instruction and prompted this blog post.
Writing is especially challenging for ELLs and for many of them it is the skill that keeps them from exiting the program. Many of the transitional students have excellent listening, speaking and reading skills and may no longer even be eligible to receive testing accommodations, but the writing gets them year after year. That's why this year I've stepped up my writing instruction and implemented blogging for all students, even beginners. Some of them take great pride in their blogging and I've seen impressive gains, but others put forth very little effort and only do what's least expected - which kills me because it's not reflective of what they are capable of producing. One area that I drill in them is the need for details. Just like fine print on a contract, it's those details that keep getting them, but many of them don't quite get it.
I recently found this wonderful and free lesson on Teacher Created Resources titled "Show Don't Tell". This lesson brought to life the importance of details by teaching the art of elaborating using vivid adjectives and specific verbs. While I found it a little too close to ACCESS testing to perhaps make a difference in this year's scores, I will keep this handy for future use and want to encourage my readers to use it as well. It's not an ESL lesson, but I found it ideal for my ELLs at both high school and middle school and it can be easily adapted for any grade level. If you teach writing, whether it be in English Language Arts, ESL or any other content area, I encourage you to check it out.
Aside from syntax errors, much of their writing is simply weak because it's lacking details. "The devil is in the details", I tell them. They cringe when I say that, even after explaining dozens of times that it's just an idiom and am in no way insinuating that the devil is in their mistakes. They don't say that but the looks I get from some of them seem to give me that message. As I googled the saying so I could prove it to one of my students, I learned that there's also the idiom, "God is in the details". According to Grammarist.com, it's older and slightly more common, but until now I had never heard of it and neither had any of the colleagues I've asked. It means that small details can have big rewards and are therefore significant. Just as I've been preaching all year long, rather than being bogged down by details, we are redeemed by them (no pun intended).
I now feel challenged to take a positive twist to my writing instruction and am determined to find ways to engage my students in their writing so that instead of producing the bare minimum, they will be motivated to go above and beyond. Perhaps I might hear them asking "can I write more?" Okay, maybe they won't utter those words, but it doesn't hurt to dream a little. I'm sure that no matter how exciting my writing instruction will be and how engaged they become, they will likely continue to ask, "How long does it have to be?" to which I will simply reply as I do on the ACCESS speaking test, "Tell me as many details as you can".
Until next time.....#BestYearEver