Monday, February 29, 2016

Our Visit to India

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This morning, during 1st block, my students and I had the exciting opportunity to travel to India. Virtually that is.

Last week two of my ELLs unexpectedly returned to their homeland due to an illness in the family.  I saw their hiatus as an opportunity to enhance learning for both my travelling students as well as those staying behind. Before they left I spoke with the brothers and their mother about the possibility of skyping with our class so long as it was not an imposition on their family. They were amicable to the idea and shortly after they arrived their mother emailed me to let me know that they were eager to connect with us.

One of these young men is in my first block ESL class and the other one has World History during the same block, conveniently located next door to the ESL classroom.  When I asked the history teacher about joining us on a Skype call, he jumped at the opportunity as they had recently covered a unit on India.

During today's conversation, our students and their family opened up their home to us, offering a virtual tour both inside and out.  They spoke to us about their culture, including marriage and family traditions, foods, studies and recreation.  I do have to admit that initially the interaction was a bit awkward on the students' part and it took the mother's involvement to jumpstart the conversation. Regardless of the engagement level, students in the classroom were captivated by discussion.

This is not the first time my class engages in a Skype session, but it was the first time we had a video conference opportunity where non-ELLs were present in the classroom.  I found it interesting that while my ELLs have been extremely social on other videoconferencing sessions, they froze today when presented with the chance to speak in front of the screen.  They were curious and attentive, but engaged in very little conversation and questions were channeled through me.

While the visit was social in nature, today's session gave our students a taste of the global marketplace they are entering. Thanks to emerging technologies, video conferencing has become ubiquitous in many organizational settings.  From halfway across town to halfway across the world, collaborating with individuals at a remote location is now somewhat routine. Moreover, 21st-century interactions, professional as well as personal, are increasingly filtered through some sort of technology device.  Today's conversation on Skype was nothing short of a "real-world" experience.

If you are interested in video conferencing with my middle or high school ELLs, or my middle school Skype club who are not English Language Learners, please contact me.  I am always seeking opportunities to tear my classroom walls down and travel the world. Won't you join us?

I look forward to hearing from you.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

10 Things You May Not Know

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I love to teach because I love to learn. And it's that love of learning that anchors me in my role. In every unit I teach, there's always something new for me. It's not uncommon for me to plan a lesson or unit, only for it prompt a blog post or a presentation idea - which is precisely what I'm sharing today.
Some of my high school ELLs recently read a passage from titled "Ten Things You May Not Know About Martin Luther King Jr."  The passage jumpstarted a unit that helped my students develop not only reading skills but also listening, speaking and writing as it culminated with an oral presentation.  And for me, it sparked my own  "10 Things You May Not Know" presentation idea about ELLs.
Here's how it went. First, students read the passage in small groups. The more proficient learners engaged in academic conversations as they reviewed a few multiple choice and short answer questions while I worked directly with emergent readers. Reading comprehension was assessed with a 3-2-1 summary. Students were asked to write three things they learned, two things they found especially interesting, and one thing they didn't understand or had a question about.  I have used that simple summarizing strategy often and find it very effective in assessing comprehension, simple enough for even a beginner to complete. They also used Quizlet for learning and reviewing new vocabulary.
For the "10 Things You May Not Know" project, students were asked to present on the topic of their choice, using the presentation tool of their choice. Most of them used, as I had recently introduced the tool in class. One of them created a Kahoot and another used Keynote. Topics ranged from themselves to their native country and other random topics, but they all tied in nicely with the reading passage about Dr. King.

As I graded their work, I was prompted to create my own "10 Things You May Not Know" project on commonly held myths and stereotypes about ELLs, and created the Emaze presentation embedded below. The points are based on frequent comments and questions from fellow educators as well as the community at large.

Powered by emaze

I invite you to share this presentation if you feel so inclined and encourage you to join me in debunking widely held beliefs about English Language Learners, particularly if you are privileged to have them in your classroom.

Whether working with ELLs or any other student population, we must avoid making stereotypical assumptions at all cost.  In order to meet our students' needs, we must ask questions and listen closely in order to learn about their individual needs.  Not only does one size not fit all, in many cases one size does not fit most.

Bottom line...keep an open mind and an open heart. Those ELLs in your care are precious gems. Some may be diamonds in the rough right now, yet with a little support and understanding, they will soon shine brightly.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Oh, For The Love of Reading

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Last weekend I had the distinct honor of attending ECET2 in San Diego, California.  ECET2 - Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teachers - is an annual convening of teacher leaders from across the United States sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The event was beyond words and I will blog about it more extensively in a subsequent post; however, today I want to reflect on one of the most enriching moments of the convening - my colleague circle time.  

At ECET2, colleague circles are groups of teachers that meet together to discuss problems of practice.  We each have an opportunity to confidentially identify a problem we are grappling with and then we consense on one issue to focus in on.  By no means was this a whining session.- quite the contrary. The objective was to think creatively and find solutions that can be carried back to the classroom.

Our circle chose to focus on rekindling the love of reading. After the adoption of a reading program, one elementary school teacher shared that she fears the constant reading of informational text passages, skills-based instruction, and multiple choice questions (in an effort to prepare for state-mandated testing) is leaving no room for reading pleasure. Together we pondered and discussed the issue; most of us expressing the same concern in our classrooms as this is happening in virtually every school in America.

Reading comprehension is often assessed through answering multiple choice or short-answer questions about the main ideas of a passage.  While this may work well to prepare students for standardized testing, many teachers will argue that it kills the love of reading as it does not engage students in their own learning.  Furthermore, for readers who are not good test takers it may not accurately assess their skills.
Giving students freedom and choice in demonstrating understanding will get their creative juices flowing and allow for differentiation for readers with various learning styles, abilities and/or language proficiency levels.  Informational reading passages and questions that mirror state tests are undoubtedly of some value, but supplementing a student’s reading experience can not only provide us more data but also more deeply engage the learner.
Below are some methods I have used to successfully assess students’ comprehension:
  • Poetry. Poems about the central idea or the main characters in a passage can tell a great deal about what they have assimilated.
  • Readers’ Theatre Script Writing. Students retell the story in a way that can be expressed through two or more characters. This is generally a cooperative activity, but it can also be completed individually.
  • 3-2-1 Summaries. Students write three things they learned, two things they found interesting and one thing they still do not understand or have a question about. While this is not super exciting, I have found this to be very effective with my ELLs.
  • Writing Alternate Endings. Whether a fictional story or informational text, in rewriting an ending, conclusion or historical event, students will need to review central ideas and develop hypothetical and strategic thinking.
  • Illustrations. Reading comprehension occurs only if there are pictures in our minds.  This is great for our visual learners, especially ELLs who have difficulty expressing their thoughts in writing. Illustrations can include drawing, paintings, cartoons or three-dimensional creations of what they are picturing after reading the text.
  • Questions. Instead of answering questions, why not have the students craft the questions. We can assess how much a student has grasped by the type of questions posed. This will require higher order thinking skills and scaffolding may be necessary with some student populations. Nonetheless, I highly recommend it.  It can also be done with partners or in small groups.
  • Debates. Reading about a controversial topic? Start a mini-debate.  From uniforms to capital punishment, getting students to list the pros and cons and then take a side will teach them new skills while increasing their comprehension.

During our colleague circle time,  I shared some of the ways I mentioned above and encouraged her to bring enjoyment into the activities by adding her own personality to the lessons. While I was not implying that she defy her administration's directive and drop the costly reading program, enhancing a reading passage - which perhaps could integrate nicely with another subject - may help better assess comprehension while making reading more enjoyable.

Sadly, in our pervasive testing culture, reading passages have become the norm in many classrooms. And while this may not be changing anytime soon, whenever possible we can enhance and spice up what's cooking already.  

Oh and for the love of reading, if you have other suggestions, opinions or methods that have proven to be beneficial to your learners, I invite you to share them in the comments below.