Part 2: 5 Quick Wins to Support English Language Learners in the Classroom

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This post is sponsored by We Are Teachers and their partner Digital Promise. All ideas and thoughts are mine.

Data, when used in telling a school’s story, helps to paint an image in the minds of those receiving the message. From test scores to computer use, educators and administrators alike rely heavily on statistical information to help make decisions, target funding and share their school’s story with all stakeholders. While test scores or computer use may vary to the extreme ends of the spectrum, one thing that is on the rise for almost all schools is the number of English Learners (ELs) in the K-12 student population. In fact, according to US Department of Education, over 4,800,000 ELs were enrolled in schools between 2014-2015.

From interactive charts to maps, Our Nation’s English Learners offers a multitude of stories about the students we serve across the nation. Much of the information may come as no surprise to teachers in the trenches supporting English Learners in their classrooms, but what does plague the minds of many of these same educators is how best to support ELs and what best resources and learning opportunities are available to hone their own craft while their student population changes.

I have recently begun a series of posts on this matter and its intersection in literacy teaching. You can read my first post Here. This post offers how all teachers can model language learning by using these 5 techniques as well as an extension to your own learning through micro credentials offered by Digital Promise.

First, all teachers, no matter grade or content area, can apply simple techniques in the form of modeling and instruction to support students in the classroom, especially ELs.

5 Quick Wins to Model Language Learning in the Classroom

  1. Model. Speak clearly and calmly. Use a constant and predictable speech pattern while utilizing repetition and visuals of important words and phrases. This helps to cue students into recognizing cues while listening or viewing that is important to their academic discourse.

  2. Discuss. Unless a beginning language acquisition student, give all students opportunities to talk, read and write during teaching. Encourage participation through carefully selected groups, partnerships, scaffolding, etc. Language learning should involve active learning. The more students are thinking about ideas, wrestling with texts, and using each other to co-construct meaning the more powerful the understanding of the content and language.

  3. Vocabulary. All learning is partially done via words. If students do not understand the vocabulary they have problems accessing the material. In addition, ELs have to learn a new language on top of the content. Teachers should preview material and pull out vocabulary to focus on with all students. Choose words that are conceptual and topical, ones that appear frequently, or are essential for continued learning. (If you are looking for more vocabulary information check out my post here).

  4. Differentiate. Along with previewing material for vocabulary instruction, identify ways to differentiate material based on student needs, interests, and multiple learning styles. Consider difficult passages or concepts that may need to be anchored to an ELs previous background or experiences. Present material in multiple modes, audio with immersive sound, visual, multimedia, and provide access and choice to ELs based on needs and preference. Eliminate confusion by ELs by connecting the topics studied to content that is relevant and engaging.

  5. Support. Remember that every lesson is not only focused on content but also an opportunity to be a language lesson for ELs. Provide multiple opportunities to practice words and sentence structures or grammar usage. Encourage support from peers and other partnerships that can be fostered to help ensure success. Use the home language for difficult concepts or abstract topics but avoid constant translation by adults or other children who speak the EL’s home language.

While all teachers may not feel equipped to teach language to our growing EL population, there are many quick-wins that all educators can start doing immediately to model and promote language learning in their classroom.

Second, educators can continue their own professional learning through connecting with and learning from a variety of supports. Connecting through social media avenues, book studies with colleagues, and one of my favorites, the learning available through Digital Promise. Digital Promise has built an innovative system of micro-credentials to recognize educators for the skills they learn throughout their careers in order to craft powerful learning experiences for their students.

As student populations across the country continue to change, the more information, resources, and learning opportunities for educators will provide the best learning for our EL students. Educators need to continue to invest in their own training and understanding on how best to support all students. We can all be models of language learning each day in our classrooms!

 

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.

Digital Storytelling: My Favorite Phone Apps for Editing, Typography, Gif-making, & Sharing

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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 Top Global Teacher Blogger’s guide to what’s hot in tech. What edtech tools have dramatically supported/improved learning in your classroom environment in the past few years?”

The camera is often the most powerful app on any device to capture, edit, and share learning, and the current landscape of digital storytelling allows users innovative ways to share. In a generation of selfies and Snapchat stories, it is no surprise that mobilography has made its way into the classroom. Images allow students to capture their learning and share their stories all from their phone. Phone apps add a creative element to these images through photo editing, typography, gif-making all while sharing them one image at a time or strung together as a multi-image “story”.

With the plethora of available options, I offer you my favorite FREE (mostly) apps that I use personally as well as in the classroom. Most apps are available for both Android and iOS devices and are impressive when paired with the built-in editing options on phones. 

Photo Editing Apps

  • Snapseed – a photo editor created by Google. Available for both iOS and Android Snapseeddevices, Snapseed is my favorite and most comprehensive photo editor. Tune images, apply filters, curve and rotate to change perspective; the possibilities are endless.  
  • Prisma – allows users to transform their photos into works of art based on the stylesIMG_2707 of famous artists, ornaments, and patterns. Available for both iOS and Android devices. Prisma is free and used frequently in the classroom to edit images so faces of students are not recognizable.
  • Pixlr – photo editing app that allows users to use a combination of effects, filters, and overlays. Available for both iOS and Android, Pixlr is free and also available as a Chrome Browser App!
  • Lively – Only available for iOS devices, the Lively App is perfect to create gifs, video, or different frames from Apple’s Live Photos. I have used this app multiple times to capture the perfect frame from a live photo when my eyes were open and not closed!

Typography

  • Word Swag – is one of the few apps that I pay for. It is a quick way to add text to images in seconds. It is available for both iOS and Android. Create unique text layouts that turn any image into a shareable post!  
  • Adobe Spark Post – allows users to create beautifully designed graphics. IMG_2201Templates, color palettes, sizes allow users to customize images. This free app is one of my favorites and allows you to share your message with aesthetics that match. Available for iOS and will be available for Android users soon!

New: Google recently released 3 new picture apps for phones, Storyboard, Selfissimo, Scrubbies as part of “appsperiments: usable and useful mobile photography experiences built on experimental technology.” I have recently added these apps to my phone and am excited to explore possibilities.  Storyboard is only available on Android Devices, Selfissimo is available on both iOS and Android, and Scrubbies is only available on iOS.

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  • Motion Stills – originally an iOS app, Motion Stills stabilizes Apple’s Live Photo and allows you to view as a looping gif or video. Now, Motion Stills is available for Android and includes a capturing mechanism that instantly transforms it to viewable clips (aka a live photo, sorta).
  • Loop or bounce – helps your Apple Live Photos come to life. Relive the exact moment in the photo, and through a simple swipe upwards, transform your capture into a short clip, perfect for animations and gifs. Pair with Giphy (see below) and create and share your own gifs.
  • Giphy – not only does Giphy have an extensive library of gifs, it also allows you to create your own. Plus, this is web-based which means no app needed but available on any smartphone. The fantastic thing about this option is that when paired with Live Photos in loop/bounce or Motion Stills, you can create your own gif, save, and share all from your phone. (The image for this post was done in this way.) Add text, effects, and stickers to customize your gif!
  • Boomerang – created by Instagram, captures short clips and loops them automatically. Taking 10 seconds of video, Boomerang creativity loops back and forth. Share to Instagram or save to your camera roll. Boomerang is available for both iOS and Android.

Sharing  (There are many ways to share images and digital stories. Here are a few to consider, and many of these have built-in filters and editing options to share creatively.)

  • Instagram Stories – share images and videos with your followers or hashtag. Stories disappear from your profile feed after 24 hours unless you add it as a highlight. Take or upload an image to add to your story. Users can edit, add text, create stop motions, etc. and add it to their story to share throughout the day.
  • Facebook Stories – short, user-generated photos and videos that can be viewed up to times and disappear after 24 hours. You can capture and share directly from the app. Facebook stories also have editing options, overlays, and filters. Users can also share their story with the main feed once done.
  • Snapchat Stories – is a collection of snaps played one right after the other. Stories can be viewed by anyone and last for 24 hours and disappear. There is an option to download Snapchat Stories to save and share a small video. Snapchat was the originator of Stories and Instagram and Facebook quickly followed suit. Upload your own images, or capture using Snapchat and add text, filters, or create a custom filter for your school or event.  Group stories and Geo stories allow multiple users to add Snaps!

The smartphone has turned millions of users into photographers, all of which have varying levels of expertise and artistic talent. Using images to tell one’s story or demonstrate understanding can not only be done via images but via beautiful and intention images with just the download of an app. I would love to hear your favorite mobilography apps or how you use them in your classroom!

 

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!