Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Pictures In Our Minds

Last week, I overheard two of my high school students as they commented that they hated to read, but yet they loved to read the Bible and they can't get enough of it. These two young ladies happen to be very committed Christians and are actively involved in their church, so I was not surprised to hear them say they were Bible readers.  However, their comment about their disliking reading really struck me and made me rethink my approach to reading instruction.

This comment is rather typical among English Language Learners.  Newcomers struggle with reading as their English proficiency is low and their vocabulary is limited.  However, most of my students are long-term ELLs, which means they have been in the program (and/or the country) more than seven years. The latter were labeled LEP (Limited English Proficient) often upon entering Kindergarten with little to no knowledge of English, and despite being fluent in social and instructional English, their academic language is still weak and thus are identified as such. This language deficiency causes them to be clearly overwhelmed by all the unknown words they are continually exposed to and naturally will be turned off to reading.  Add the short attention span of a typical teenager and you know reading is not likely to be on their list of hobbies and interests.  And this hostility toward reading is not solely an ELL issue, but it's actually an epidemic aggravated by the multimedia overload brought about by the Information Age.

Now let's be clear that I am certainly no foe of technology. Quite the contrary, I embrace it wholeheartedly and seamlessly integrate it into all areas of my curriculum.  There are days that my English language lessons strongly resemble my Business Education days.  I'm always teaching students about a new website or a new shortcut to a familiar tool.  Nevertheless, it is imperative for all students, ELLs or native speakers, to have strong reading skills. 

So back to the comment about reading.  As I reflect on the how to engage students in reading and instill in them a love of reading, I thought to myself, "what is reading anyways" and with that, I turned to dictionary.comAs I reviewed all seven definitions of the word reading, I was struck by the fact that the word "book" is never mentioned.  However, when we teach and/or assign reading, particularly in English Language Arts, it's usually book reading.  Likewise, when we think of liking (or disliking) reading, most of us think of books.  Interesting.  Next, I analyze the various definitions of the word and made the following observations for each one.
  1. The action of a person who reads.  Most teens (and some adults) think of reading as a boring, passive activity when in fact it isn't, or at least it shouldn't be.
  2. Speech, oral interpretation of written language. Speech is not silent, so why should reading be?
  3. Interpretation of a dramatic part or musical composition.  Drama and music do indeed complement literacy, but the connection is seldom there.  Perhaps adding drama and/or music to reading time will spice up things.
  4. The extent to which a person has read; literary knowledge.  Reading should not be about the amount of time per day or how quickly we read, but about the knowledge we soak up.  
  5. Matter read. It's about substance, not skill.  In other words, "content". 
  6. The form or version of a given passage.  This brings me to think about interpretation and application of what we read, not to mention how the reading selection impacts us.  It makes me think that perhaps if there's no impact, then it really is an exercise in futility.
  7. An instance or occasion.  A moment in time.  When we are highly engaged in our selection, the world around us can crumble and it wouldn't even faze us.  We mentally travel with the content.
Bottom line, reading is not about a skill, but rather about an experience.  It's not about books, novels, literary elements or vocabulary. While those are all valuable as we progress in life, in order to create lifelong readers we need to generate a feeling.  In the words of the great Maya Angelou, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel".  How do we get students to love reading, we need them to be involved in their reading and "feel" the love.

I'd like to end by adding #8 to the list of definitions: "Creating pictures in our minds".  As I read with my students, I often ask, "what are you picturing in your minds?"  We all know that if a picture isn't playing, they are just looking at words and therefore, they aren't reading.  Which is perhaps why they dislike it.

Read on.....#BestYearEver

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Future's So Bright

Image Source: Pixabay.com
If you grew up in the 80s, you may remember Timbuk3's one-hit wonder, "Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades".  Even though I grew up in the 80s myself, I actually first learned of the song in 2011 when my daughter's third grade teacher used the phrase to decorate the class door, along with a photo of each student wearing sunglasses.  The following year I took the idea and pictured my own students on my website wearing shades.

Well, it's now 2015 and most of those students have exited the ESL program and/or have graduated so I decided to recycle the idea.  This time, however, I've made it my theme for the year in an effort to remain positive and encouraging to my ELLs - many of whom struggle greatly in school because of their language deficiencies.  Instead of publishing their photo on my website, I developed a getting-acquainted type of project for the first week of school.

The project was titled "Selfie Portrait" and they were asked to create a flyer using the tool of their choice which would include the following:
  • Selfie wearing sunglasses
  • Name as an alliteration
  • Example: Jovial Jonathan
  • Adjective must be positive
  • Birthday
  • Birthplace
  • Favorites list
  • Five or more
  • Attractive layout
      • Balanced white space and font sizes
Students were given access to this Google doc where they obtained instructions for the project including a simple example featuring my son. While they were free to use the tool of their choice, most of the students used Pages, Keynote, Google Doc or Google Presentation.  This project gave me the chance to cover the concept of analogies that for many ELLs is quite challenging.  I played the song, which most didn't really care for but they did find the analogy interesting.  They especially enjoyed taking selfies, as most teenagers do.   The flyers are hung in my room and whenever their lights start to dim, I pull out a set of shades and remind them to keep their future bright.  Pictured here are some snapshots of some of their products.


This activity can easily be implemented in an elementary classroom and can be adapted for a regular secondary class.  Regardless of age or English proficiency level, students will thoroughly enjoy taking selfies and getting acquainted with their peers.  For those that need a little encouragement, I find the positive adjectives affirm them and help them see themselves in a more positive light.

This started out as a getting-acquainted type of project for the first week of school, but I'm planning on keeping the flyers up all year long. I'm also planning to create a Kahoot game so we can have a little fun with the selfies and see how much they've learned about their peers.

I'm striving for the #BestYearEver.  Until next time, keep your shades on!