Edtech Literacy Resources to Support English Learners

ShaeLynn Farnsworth @shfarnsworth1A common trait with the districts I work with is the increase of English Learners (ELs) in the classroom. With a focus on literacy, I am often asked to support teachers in their pursuit of providing the best resources and strategies for students. Over the next few days, I will be posting different ways to support ELs in the classroom in terms of literacy instruction. First up, Using Bilingual Books in the Classroom

Using bilingual books in the classroom is advantageous for all students and teachers. Books written in the home language of your students convey the message that you value and respect their culture, their experiences, and them as learners. It provides practice of applying and connecting reading and writing strategies from one language to another. Connecting or “bootstrapping” emergent literacy skills and strategies from a student’s home language to English is essential to the acquisition. ELs (English Learners) use “bootstrapping” when they use their home language to help them read and write English.

Teachers gain valuable insight into their EL students when noticing the connections being made and the strategies they are equipped with their home language and apply them to learning English. Bilingual books in the classroom provide these opportunities for observation as well as experiences for teachers to discern their own language acquisition when reading a text in an unfamiliar language.

The Bottom-Line is:

  • EL students are resourceful learners and use every resource and strategy available to do well in school.
  • Having books in multiple home languages helps to build relationships and honors students as learners.
  • It’s easier to learn something new when it stems from something familiar. Providing books in multiple languages for students gives access to information and choice in reading.
  • Teachers can help bring connections between languages, as well as notice strategies students already possess when providing books in home languages for students to read.

Sources for Bilingual Books

Digital Resources

  • ManyThings.org  (Multiple audio recordings)
  • Unite for Literacy (Books with audio available in multiple languages)
  • Newsela (NF, Multiple Text-Levels, Spanish and English)
  • TweenTribune (NF, Multiple Text-Levels, Spanish & English)
  • Latinitas  (Focused on empowering young Latinas using media and technology, digital magazine)
  • ReadWorks (lessons, texts, and resources for EL students and teachers)
  • MackinVia (library filled with digital books students can read and are available in multiple languages)

Finally, here is a list of activities that educators can do to accompany bilingual books in the classroom:

  • Use for the promotion of metalinguistic awareness.
  • Prepare students for new content for an upcoming unit as a sort of preview.
  • Free reading choice.
  • Self-assessment and monitoring comprehension.
  • Compare the texts in both versions with a focus on tone, word choice in each, evaluate each text.
  • Bring books home to involve families in literacy activities.
  • Write their own companion book for a text.
  • Use picture books and work on oral language acquisition.

 

Source: Nancy Cloud, Fred Genesee, and Elsa Hamayan. Literacy Instruction for English Language Learners.

A Writing Activity: New Year, Dream Big!

New Year, Dream Big ...Very soon, many of us will return back to school and greet the smiling faces of our students whom we have not seen since 2017. Granted, the time spent apart is much shorter than a summer break, but brings with it an important sign of starting fresh.

It’s the beginning of a new year; 365 opportunities to dream big and accomplish something new (or something that has been an unreachable goal until this year). For many students, it will be a time to reconnect with friends and teachers that they haven’t seen for a couple weeks. Some students are beginning new coursework, attending a new school, or even planning for graduation in a few months.

As a teacher, it was always my favorite time to have students write. Write about their dreams, goals, and ambitions, plus, it went perfectly with the start of a new year. Creative titles have always alluded me, so I simply called this New Year, Dream Big.

Students (and me, I always modeled and shared my writing with students) used the following questions to help spur their writing:

New Year, Dream Big…

  1. What are my dreams? In school? Life? Friendship? Activities? Etc. (Identify one to write about)
  2. Why is this dream important to me? Why did I choose this one?
  3. Is this a new dream? Old dream? Habitual dream?
  4. What do I already know or understand about this dream?
  5. What steps do I need to take to make this happen? Have I already completed or started any of these steps?
  6. What help do I need to achieve this dream? Who or what can help me?
  7. What is my timeframe for accomplishing this dream? How will I know I succeeded? When will it be time to give up?
  8. Closing thoughts and reflections?

 

At times, these pieces appeared on student blogs or influenced other writing done throughout the semester. Students were proud of their Dreams and shared them with everyone who would listen. And I was proud of them.

So consider having your students write to start off the New Year. Help them vocalize their dreams and make them a reality!

 

Hat-Tip to Regie Routman and Kelly Gallagher for providing inspiration for this work.

Embrace Your Vulnerability; Write In Front of Your Students

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is “How do we better instill an idea of risk-taking and struggle in students? How do we do a better job of encouraging their failures rather than punishing them? How can we better humanize success and show that it’s a matter of diligence rather than talent?”

Teaching writing is tough. When I speak to colleagues, other educators, or reflect on my own training, how to explicitly teach students to write was something that was missed for many of us in the education world. In fact, I don’t remember learning how to teach writing until I started my graduate work. With the lack of training, what typically happens is one of three things: teaching writing is in the form of grammar, usage, and mechanics rules and memorization; or teaching writing is having the students write a holiday essay or a 10 page research paper; or finally, teaching writing is not done at all, rather it is assigned.

Now you may be wondering how this addresses the question posed above… The most important thing educators can do to teach their students how to write is to write in front of them. I can think of nothing more powerful, or more vulnerable, than when a teacher writes in front of their students.

  • Writing in front of students does more to move a young writer forward than any grammar worksheet assigned.
  • Writing in front of students promotes risk-taking by the class as they become a community of writers.
  • Writing in front of students demonstrates the struggles all writers face on how best to articulate their thoughts, ideas, and messages.
  • Writing in front of students helps to demystify the magical aura that surrounds a perfectly polished piece of text.
  • Writing in front of students invites the community to know you and your story which propels them to share their own.
  • Writing in front of students provides a window into your mind as you work through the process of writing.
  • Writing in front of students demonstrates that hardly any piece of writing is perfect the first time, even the teacher’s piece.
  • Writing in front of students illustrates writing success is found through practice, lots and lots of practice.
  • Writing in front of students releases the protection of the process and struggle to the students.
  • Writing in front of students provides a model of real writing by an important person in their life.
  • Writing in front of students builds relationships and fosters empathy.

If we want students to be risk-takers, persevere through the struggle, and find success in the process then we must model that as the adult in the classroom. If we, ourselves, are embarrassed or nervous to write in front of and share our writing with students then how can we expect the same from them. The best writing is personal. It moves the readers to have an emotional connection to the story and to get the student’s best writing we must be a model of this vulnerability. The first step in the teaching of writing is to be a writer yourself!

Instructional Coaches: A Benefit to Schools

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In the early 1990s, there was a surge of instructional coaches in the area of literacy. From that point forward, Federal and State Initiatives have supported and encouraged schools across the country to implement support to colleagues through the use of coaches. Throughout the years, roles, titles, and job descriptions have morphed into what we have currently but the focus has remained comparatively similar to its inception: How can coaches support colleagues in pursuit of refining their practice to directly impact student achievement.

My current role allows me not only coach teachers in multiple districts, but also allows me the ability to work with and coach the coaches in the districts we serve. Because of these experiences, I believe there are 3 Ways Instructional Coaches Benefit Schools:

  1. Transfer – If you ask any educator to share the initiatives and focus areas in their building the list would be lengthy, filled with three-letter acronyms, and perhaps, attached to a SMART goal. While there are no shortages of initiatives to implement or professional learning for these initiatives, consistency in implementation and transfer into the classroom rarely happen at a systems level. In buildings with instructional coaches, I have witnessed a more systemic transfer of professional learning and initiative implementation into the classroom. Through one to one or small group coaching, educators attest to the support that coaches provide on a continuous cycle long after the initial learning is completed. Effective instructional coaches also use a variety of tools, checklist, or Innovation Configuration Maps to reflect and have conversations with colleagues on what implementation with fidelity may look like. Through these coaching cycles, support is personalized based on self-identified needs.
  2. Personalization – Instructional coaches play a support role to teachers instead of an evaluative role. Relationships and respect are forged and areas identified in which to focus efforts. Modeling and co-teaching, 2 effective strategies coaches use, are often sandwiched between a pre and post conversation. And just as every student in the classroom may have a different learning pathway to the same end goal, so to do teachers. Building Principals may be able to support staff growth on a macro level, individual growth at the micro level is achieved through utilizing instructional coaches. Personalized professional growth for every staff member at a consistent and continuous level is possible with a competent and supported instructional coach.
  3. Leadership – Finally, schools benefit when teachers have leadership roles. From helping to build consensus to identifying student and teacher needs with data, kids win in buildings with instructional coaches. Teachers are the ones doing the work in the classroom. Their actions directly impact students and it is essential to have their voices “at the table” when professional learning is planned or vision and goals are formed. Instructional coaches allow teachers to have a leadership role in buildings without having to be a principal or obtain an additional degree. It is through leadership opportunities like this that help schools retain good teachers and improve the pedagogy of all.

Instructional Coaches are continuing to support teachers and students through consistent, high-quality continuous improvement. Throughout the years we have witnessed educational trends, all in an effort to boost student achievement. Collegial support through coaching helps all schools which impacts the bottom-line, the students!

 

Resource: Denton, Carolyn A, & Hasbrouck, Jan. “A Description of Instructional Coaching and its Relationship to Consultation.” Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation. 2009.  

From Topic to Thesis, Teaching Students to Write Argument

From Topic to Thesis

One of the most difficult things to teach young writers is how to develop a thesis that demonstrates an argument-worthy topic. And now with the Common Core State Standards emphasizing argument, teachers everywhere work tirelessly to help students be savvy discerners of information in hopes to develop thoughtful communicators of messages based on evidence.

In my classroom, I found students struggled when creating a thesis and so I used a method I learned in college (Dr. Robbins) to help in this process. It really worked, and students often contacted me years after leaving high school for a copy of the steps they used to help them in college. Students worked through the following 6 prompts to help them narrow their topic and write a thesis:

         Defining the Topic

  1. This paper is about …. (subject): In particular, it is about …. (specific topic):
  2. The Central Question it addresses is who/what/when/where/why/how/whether ….
  3. The answer to this question is important because it is necessary to better understand the larger issue of … (significance):                                                                                                                                                                                                           Establishing Significance 
  4. This larger issue is not (or might not be) fully or accurately understood because … (Reason for doubt or uncertainty):                                                        
  5. It is important to fully and accurately understand the larger issue because … (Cost of ignorance or misunderstanding):
  6. The evidence seems to indicate that the correct answer to the central question is …. (thesis)

Example

Defining the Topic

  • State what you are going to study.
    • I am going to study Virtual Reality. In particular, I am going to investigate the impact of VR on K-12 education.
  • What question do you want to answer?
    • …because I want to find out how it affects the brain of children.
  • How will the answer to the question lead to a better understanding of the larger issue?
    • so that I will better understand why there are differing opinions in the world of academia on this use in the classroom.

Establishing Significance

  • How is the larger issue misunderstood?
    • Scholars, educators, and VR companies are treating this technology integration similarly to all other tools and resources without considering the immersive element of Virtual Reality and implications on the brain.
  • Why is it important that the larger issue NOT be misunderstood?
    • If we fail to recognize the difference of integrating VR in the classroom compared to other technology we could be putting our students’ in harm’s way.
  • State how the evidence demands the larger issue should be understood.
    • As we will see, many argue against the inclusion of virtual reality in the classroom claiming it is still too new to understanding the implications it has on the developing brain.

These steps help to clarify the topic and define the significance. Once students figure out their argument and why it is significant, research and writing are anchored in answering the question and finding evidence to support their argument.