Posts filed under 'Differentiation & ELLs'

Tips for improving executive function skills in adolescents

In the August issue of AMLE Magazine, Rick Wormeli (Metaphors & Analogies, Differentiation), explains executive function (EF)—mental processes that help us plan, organize, control emotions, and manage time. “EF in the pre-frontal cortex of the adolescent brain is intermittent at best,” he writes. He also gives 16 practical strategies for helping teens improve their EF.

Don’t miss Rick’s popular series of free videos on fairness in grading, assessment, homework, do-overs, and more, on the Stenhouse website.

Add comment October 15th, 2013

Profiles of Effective PD Initiatives: Bailey’s Elementary School

In our new series on effective PD initiatives Stenhouse editor (and longtime education journalist) Holly Holland  interviews staff developers and administrators about how a Stenhouse book or video changed practice in schools. In the first installment of the series, Holly wrote about how the staff of the Owen J. Roberts Middle School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania restructured their thinking about assessment and grading. In this next installment, Holly writes about how teachers at Bailey’s Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia, implemented strategies from Tess Pardini and Emelie Parker’s book, “The Words Came Down!” so that non-ESOL teachers can also provide support to the school’s large non-native English speaking student community.

Because her student teaching experience emphasized direct instruction and worksheet practice, Cassie Jones says she felt underprepared for the creative and active learning at Bailey’s Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia. Now in her third year teaching kindergarten at Bailey’s, Jones enthusiastically supports letting students read, write, and talk across the curriculum using play, oral language,  and the workshop structure to anchor learning. But it took a recent faculty book study of “The Words Came Down!” (Stenhouse, 2006) to help her understand how to weave those methods into all aspects of primary grades learning.

“I think it’s interesting to see how things they talk about in the book—the play, the way that parents come in during the morning to learn with their children—are so influential to the kids and their progress in school,” Jones says. “Reading ‘The Words Came Down!’ has really opened my eyes to a lot of concepts that I’ve thought about but have not implemented in my own classroom as much as the teachers in this book do.”

Written by Emelie Parker and Tess Pardini, “The Words Came Down!” shows teachers how to help English language learners thrive in rigorous, joyful classroom communities. At the time they wrote the book, Parker and Pardini had spent more than thirty-five years at Bailey’s, including teaching kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, and serving as writing resource teachers. Parker has since retired from Bailey’s, but Pardini still works there as a Reading Recovery specialist. The book takes readers into their classrooms as well as those of their colleagues. Bailey’s serves a predominately immigrant population from high-poverty homes. It is one of the largest elementary schools in Virginia, with more than 1,300 students in pre-K through fifth grade.

During the 2012–2013 school year, six teachers from Bailey’s English for students of other languages (ESOL) department, along with the school’s thirteen kindergarten teachers, decided to read and discuss “The Words Came Down!” during monthly meetings. Because the school is so large, Bailey’s ESOL teachers aren’t able to visit kindergarten classes every day, so they wanted to find other ways to assist their colleagues. Framing professional development around a book written by some of the school’s own faculty members seemed a perfect solution.

“This was an amazing resource to help us start a conversation,” says ESOL teacher Allyn Kurin. “We thought that by reading this book we are reaching teachers and therefore reaching more students because we know that every time we have a dialogue, it’s positive for the students and ourselves.”

One of the first things the kindergarten teachers discovered is how appropriate the book’s recommended strategies are for all students, not just second-language learners. The authors suggest creating a safe and supportive community for sharing, asking questions that encourage conversation, and integrating language and subject matter. Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Tustin, who is in her first year at Bailey’s, says the book showed her how to focus on oral language development, which led to immediate gains in her students’ literacy skills.

“As a teacher you know you talk about things in the classroom, but this is really about getting kids to share what they are thinking, not just on an assessment, but can they really explain what they’re doing and thinking,” Tustin says. She realized her students could enrich their expressive language “through turn and talks, retelling familiar read-aloud books, and in a sense reading the books even though they are not yet reading. In math, they can recount the problems or even come up with their own story problems.”

Focusing on one or two chapters a month, the teachers began each book study session with four questions that ESOL teacher Marilyn Rossen used to build a discussion protocol:

  • What strikes you as you are reading?
  • What ways will it affect your instruction?
  • What ways will it affect the way you will set up your classroom?
  • What ways can you change ESOL instruction and oral language?

After gathering together initially, the teachers broke up into small groups to discuss the questions and then returned to the larger group to share key insights. In this way they paralleled the instructional process of using a whole-group gathering to set the stage for a lesson and small groups to differentiate activities to address students’ needs and interests.

Pardini attended most of the book study sessions and shared additional resources with her colleagues. She says she was delighted to know that the book was still relevant.

Rossen says that reading the book encouraged the ESOL and kindergarten teachers to jointly emphasize oral language development. While visiting kindergarten classrooms, she now makes it a point to ask students to explain what they are doing, whether in math, social studies, or reading. During one of their science units, the students got to write their own books and make scientific illustrations. To develop the students’ oral language, the kindergarten teacher asked them to share their books with their classmates, their teachers, and then with another class.

“That was good to see how they were first rehearsing reading with their peers and then they went on to share with another class,” Rossen says.

Jones says another insight from the book study was the importance of involving parents, particularly those who may not have strong literacy skills themselves, in the life of the classroom. Every kindergarten teacher was inspired to expand communication with students’ families during the first semester. Jones says she and three of her colleagues hosted an after-school picnic where families could meet each other.

“It was fantastic,” she says. “It wasn’t even about us talking to the parents but the parents talking to each other and the kids interacting with each other. I think the impact is that the parents felt welcome and they felt involved and that we wanted them to be part of their kids’ education.”

For veteran kindergarten teacher Mary Anne Buckley, the book study served a different purpose. Although its themes weren’t new to her—her classroom was featured in some sections—rereading the book reminded her to encourage more peer-to-peer dialogue instead of having students primarily respond to the teacher’s questions.

“I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got to get out of the way more,’” she says. “The book helps me remember that it’s not about giving information as much as setting up the situation where all the content is floating around them and they have to use it. The more authentic you make their need to express themselves and be understood, the better they learn. If they can be successful orally then it makes it easier when they’re writing and trying to read and understand the meaning.”

Members of Bailey’s book study group say they would encourage other faculties to try to structure this type of professional development during the summer instead of during the school year. That way, teachers could put the recommended practices into place at the start of the term rather than intermittently. No matter when it’s done, they believe a book study is a great way for teachers to hold each other accountable for learning along with their students.

As Cassie Jones says, “When you talk about it with your colleagues and you hear what they’re doing in the classroom and what knowledge they have gained from the book, it sparks ideas of what I can be doing in my own classroom. It’s a way for us to think about our own teaching and grow from it. I wish I had read this book my first year.”

Add comment May 15th, 2013

Quick Tip Tuesday: A welcoming classroom environment for all students

In this week’s Quick Tip, Emelie Parker and Tess Pardini, authors of “The Words Came Down!” English Language Learners Read, Write, and Talk Across the Curriculum, talk about how everying in the classroom environment matters when it comes to building a learning community and making ELL students feel safe to explore and learn.

As teachers, we thoughtfully design a physical environment that contributes to the development of an inclusive community, one that is safe, secure, and supportive for the young learner. We spend a great deal of time sketching out our rooms, shoving furniture around, and finding the perfect placement for every center, every piece of equipment and furniture. We are thinking about the individuals who will inhabit and shape this space into a community. We design the space for interplay between each individual and the group. Let us look at how some specific areas help second language learners as they become active participants in their community.

Fostering Security and Success for All
We design our classrooms to take children who speak a variety of different languages to the place where they can play and learn with a shared common language of English. We think and talk a great deal with colleagues and walk through each other’s rooms to get ideas about how to set up our own rooms and create safe, secure environments for learning. We arrange furniture so children can socialize in small groups. We want them to mimic behaviors of others and listen to the conversation around them. Interaction in small groups provides a safe environment for early risk taking with language.

We arrange all the supplies children might need throughout the day so children will be able to access them even without having the language to name them or ask for them. Our goal is to build a classroom community where every child is successful and is developing independence. For example, children who do not know the word for scissors need to see them and be able to reach them.

We plan for routines and procedures that will build respect and acceptance as well as security and success, for example, many small-group opportunities for guided practice and a circle time that honors each child’s attempts at contributing. We believe in talk all day so we design rooms conducive to talk yet comfortable for silence. In order for children to take a risk and utter their first word of English, they must feel safe and secure. A child’s first English word often comes when lining up to go to recess. Beginning English speakers will call out, “He cut!” These English language learners have learned that in their classroom community the routines of lining up pertain to everyone. The more thoughtful consideration we put into our learning environment, the deeper the feeling of community will be for the students. The safer children feel, the more risks they will take and the quicker they will start to acquire knowledge and language.

A Welcoming Meeting Place for Conversation
The heart of the room is the meeting area. It must be large enough for all children to gather comfortably on the floor for conversation, reading, and singing. In this space, children will share experiences through books, conversations, meetings, and shared instruction that will build community. We are reluctant to sing solo in an adult group! However, both of us will take a risk and sing out with joy when someone beside us or behind us has a lovely voice. Those voices give us confidence and keep us on pitch.

Young nonreaders or new English speakers can experience this same feeling in a well-designed meeting area. Children attempting to speak a new language will tentatively join in choral rereading of poems and Big Books if children surrounding them are reading. Soon they will be confident and joyful participants. A solid community makes everyone feel a “part of the choir.”

A teacher chair or rocking chair, an easel, dry-erase board, markers, and stacks of books are the starters for this area. A teacher must always be ready to sketch a quick picture or grab a book to find a picture to illustrate a point. As the year develops, this meeting area will take on the personality of the class with student-generated charts, favorite books, children’s art, lists of questions, and colorful clutter. This space is the meeting area for wholegroup math, science, social studies, as well as read-aloud, writing workshop mini-lessons, and writing workshop sharing. It is the morning meeting area, class meeting area, and dance floor.

A Library That Meets the Needs and Interests of All Learners
An extension of the meeting area is the library space. We display an everchanging selection of books face out as an invitation to all. In addition, children can browse through baskets labeled with a variety of genres, topics, and authors. Many of our ELLs are from homes with few, if any, books. We surround our students with hundreds of books and want them to learn to pick up a book and read for pleasure and information. Looking at books should be both a social and an independent activity for them. We know that the lively social interaction between children and books will help develop social and academic language. We also know that one of the best ways to develop community is to have a shared experience.

To develop a love of reading for pleasure and information, teachers read books to start the day; to begin reading, writing, math, science, and social studies lessons; and to bring closure to the day. ELLs need the illustrations to make connections with their prior knowledge, the instruction, and the oral language they hear. They need the books to show us what they know. They eagerly point to pictures to show us things they like or that interest

Children learn to choose from a variety of genres and reading levels in their classroom library, such as nonfiction, current unit-of-study books, math books, ABC books, and series books. They are taught from the beginning how to respect the books and where to return them. The library is set up for buddy reading and conversation. Students are delighted to see books that mirror their cultures, experiences, and languages. These shared experiences with many books help bind children together in community.

Teachers encourage book browsing and model enjoying books. We demonstrate how to have conversations while browsing through books. Children learn from the beginning that reading is making meaning. Even if they cannot read yet, they are engaging in early reading behaviors and see themselves as readers. This secure feeling will make it easier for the teacher to take them to the next level as readers. Each child learns he or she is now a part of a literate community.

Shannon Blaney is one of many teachers who engages her students in designing their class library. Building their library together introduces her first-grade students to the classroom collection, the concept of book genre, the organization of their library, and the expectation of maintaining that organizational system.

By the end of the first week of school, Shannon is ready to lead her class into setting up their library. The open meeting space at the front of the room is strewn with picture books from Shannon’s personal collection and more from the school library. Plastic baskets are stacked haphazardly behind the books. (See Figure 2.1.) The children gasp and exclaim in shock at the mess as they come back into the room after lunch. Shannon asks them to sit down gestures that they need to come up with a plan to solve this problem.

From her actions, the children can tell that she wants to put the books in the baskets but does not know how to set about the task. Shannon starts by pulling four books in front of her. She points to the covers and says, “Hmmm! Lions. Alligators. Squirrels. Bears. What do you think?” “They’re all animals!” shouts Donte. “Oh, you’re right!” says Shannon. “What should I do with them?” “Put the animal books in the same basket,” suggests Caleb.

Shannon picks up an index card and writes the word Animals. She spreads out three sheets of mixed stickers and asks José to find some animal pictures and stick them on the card, which he does. José speaks few words of English but is able to understand Shannon’s gestures. Shannon tapes the card to the front of a basket. Next Shannon asks Uriel, Dat, Samia, and Nikki to find some more animal books. Nikki and Samia do this quickly, as Dat and Uriel look on. Shannon points again to the animal stickers on the card and to the books the girls have selected. Uriel catches on next, followed quickly by Dat. (Even though they have the least English of the class, Shannon has orchestrated this moment to allow Dat and Uriel to really understand their task.)

Shannon asks all the students to look for any animal books to add to the basket. She labels another, asking Dat to find animal stickers this time. Shannon continues sorting books in this way over the next few days, until all the books are stored in baskets along the wall. Later she tackles sorting the animal books into fiction and nonfiction baskets. Children are excited to see that there are also baskets for books in their first languages. All students are involved in the design of their precious classroom library. Shannon has orchestrated a wonderful community-building activity!

Add comment February 1st, 2011

Quick Tip Tuesday: Helping ELLs work independently

In “The Words Came Down!” English Language Learners Read, Write, and Talk Across the Curriculum, Emelie Parker and Tess Pardini detail workshop formats for reading, writing, and content-area studies. In this Quick Tip, they talk about ways to help ELLs read independently during reading workshop. This is especially a challenge for teachers when some of their students speak little or no English. But strategies like Buddy Reading ensure that all students can work independently.

Independent Reading Time

A favorite lesson for some primary teachers at Bailey’s to introduce children to the expectations of independent reading is a reading response to a Big Book called Bubble Gum by Gail Jorgensen. The children in the book learn to blow a bubble bigger and bigger and bigger. The last page has a great illustration of a popped bubble all over the children. The class enjoys acting out an innovation on the text of Bubble Gum. Without speaking, they pretend to unwrap gum, stick it in their mouth, and blow and blow. As they blow, they spread their arms out wider and wider. They carefully walk with their arms spread out to a place in the room where no one can pop their bubble.

If a child steps into or sits too close to someone’s “bubble space” then the balloon pops. Loud words can also pop a bubble. After the children can do this without fuss, the teacher explains that they will now take books inside their bubble to read alone. Later, after children learn to read independently in a bubble space, we show them how to let a friend come in and sit shoulder to shoulder in their bubble for buddy reading.

Buddy Reading
At the beginning of the year, teachers might find that there is a natural flow into this time of joyful book sharing and choose to establish the routines of buddy reading before those of independent reading. Buddy reading is an important option for reading work when students are not able to sustain independent reading for more than a short time. Buddy reading is important for many reasons.

  • It is fun!
  • Book discussions between students provide another opportunity for language development.
  • It allows students alternative ways to engage with a variety of levels of text in a peer-coaching situation. For instance, ELLs can look at pictures and join in conversations about content even if they cannot read it
    themselves. (See Figure 5.2.)
  • ELLs can talk in their home language to reach a deeper understanding of the book from the pictures.
  • ELLs can practice reading books in pairs.
  • Advanced readers can support each other in challenging text or content.

In order to establish a calm working atmosphere for buddy reading time, Tess clearly models her expectations in a “fishbowl.” She demonstrates the procedure with one child as the others watch from the circle. She asks the students to comment on what they notice. They watch as Tess and her buddy discuss their choice of books at the bookshelf and then sit side by side with the books they have chosen, deciding which one to look at first. As Tess and her buddy talk quietly about the pictures or as one of them reads to the other, the students listen and hear them decide that they are ready to change books and then discuss what their next choices should be. Because the students have noticed all this, Tess knows that they are ready to practice this procedure themselves.

Then Tess joins the circle and asks two other students to model the procedure, again inviting brief comments from the class. She wants to move on quickly so that the whole class can practice the procedure. Tess names the ELLs, one by one, and tells them to pick a partner. She wants this first experience to be with a child with whom they feel comfortable interacting. Then Tess moves around the room, gently refocusing students on the expectations if necessary. After about ten minutes, the class meets back in the circle to reflect on how the experience went and discuss any modifications that might be necessary.

When it is time to practice this routine again the next day, the class helps to create a list of expectations first. For example:
1. Choose two books.
2. Sit side by side.
3. Sit at the same level.
4. Listen to the speaker.
It is simple to add pictures to this list so that the expectations are just as clear to the second language learners. The list is a reminder that can be revisited at any time.

The fishbowl technique can provide invaluable guided practice in many situations. It clarifies expectations for all students, but it is also a helpful way of making sure our ELLs see and experience the expectations with the group. There is then less chance of them misunderstanding directions, doing something the wrong way, or embarrassing themselves in front of their peers.

Our buddy reading expectations usually begin with pairs of children going to the library corner and choosing two books each. We talk about suitable spots for reading and places to avoid (like behind the door), and then the children are free to take their books anywhere in the room within the teacher’s sight to read, to look at illustrations, and to talk. Therefore, you will find children under the tables, squeezed into nooks and crannies, or sitting on our feet under the reading table as we work with other students (a great spot for ELLs to be absorbing reading behaviors!).

There are many ways to structure this time that depend on teaching style, schedules, class size, and makeup. But for us, the nonnegotiables are the elements of book choice and the opportunity for talk. Thus, we might modify our framework to involve more or less structure, depending on the needs of each year’s class. We might ask them to read the books in their book boxes to each other, or let them choose to do this if they wish. If necessary, we will pair up our ELLs with students who will be good language or behavior role models.

Sometimes we want to designate the partners for a particular learning or social purpose, but more often than not, we want the ELLs to have an opportunity to enjoy books with a friend, perhaps being able to talk in their home language about the text. Having an opportunity to discuss concepts or content in their home language is going to give the ELLs a chance to expand their understandings. These understandings provide the knowledge around which they can begin to build their English vocabulary and control of sentence structure.

Add comment June 22nd, 2010

Quick Tip Tuesday: Taking notes

In Ladybugs, Tornadoes, and Swirling Galaxies, authors Anne Upczak Garcia and Brad Buhrow show how they move their students through the independent inquiry process. Taking notes that show the children’s own thinking and moves beyond copying text is an important part of that process. In this week’s Quick Tip, Brad and Anne share how they model note taking.

Our next step toward more sophisticated informational writing is to take our knowledge of how to ask and write questions and begin the note-taking process.

It is important to remember that note taking is the process in which the students read or make observations from a text or image and transfer their thinking onto paper. We say this because note taking can look like a lot of different things. It can be writing down questions developed from reading or observing, it can be writing down new information, it can be summarizing a text, and it can even be drawing a pictorial representation of a child’s interpretation of a text or picture. This wide range of ways of thinking about note taking helps guide the children as they learn to determine importance and interpret information.

During a mini-lesson for gathering information or taking notes, we begin with posting objectives, to make it clear to everyone what we are focusing on, and to ensure there is a little ambiguity about what we will be doing. During the note-taking lesson the objective might be “We are writing our thinking down as notes.” We are putting our writing and our thinking down for all to see, learn from, and respond to. Also posted is a language frame: “I noticed you ______ and I also saw you ______.” The kids can use this frame when we ask them to tell us what they saw us doing.

We start simply by holding a large picture of an image of the coral reef and begin to think aloud. “If you listen and watch, you will know what to do, because you’re going to do what we do.” Step by step we pull out observations about the image and use the language frame “I wonder ______.” “I wonder what kinds of fish live in the coral reef.” We quickly draw a picture of the fish in the coral reef. Beginning with a two-column note-taking sheet makes the task less daunting. We post the note-taking sheet beneath the objective for everyone to see. Each column of the note-taking sheet is labeled with the language frames we are practicing, such as “I wonder ______.” and “I learned ______.” As the kids gain more experience, different columns can be added. We have experimented with a column on “Connections,” another titled “My Schema,” one called “Wow!” for really exciting information, another for “My New Schema,” and one for “More Questions” to show that note taking is a ongoing process. We continue the mini-lesson by pointing to our heads. “Ready?” we ask.

The kids are all sitting on the floor close to the easel where we’re doing our thinking. They find it difficult not to say anything, and if people were watching, they might think, “Why not let them chime in?” Having the kids listen and notice while we think aloud means they tend to watch more closely and are later able to share with each other, then with the group as a whole. It gives them time to think and formulate how they want to express themselves. It is a short mini-lesson, taking only a few minutes, but that goes a long way.

We sometimes model note taking by consolidating a long caption into notes. For instance, “Hot lava exploding from Hawaii’s Kilauea reaches high into the night sky and flows quickly down the mountain to the sea, where the cool water hardens the molten lava to rock” might be written as something like “Lava from Kilauea is hot. When it touches water, it hardens,” and then we draw an arrow pointing to the picture. We help the students look for important information and summarize or synthesize it.

Our hope is to show them that they can write down their own thinking and not just copy the text. This takes time. It is a skill that will help them throughout the inquiry process and beyond. We aim for all of this modeling within five to ten minutes. Although it may seem like a lot of modeling in a short period of time, remember that this same activity will be repeated throughout the process of gradually releasing students to do nonfiction inquiry. Thus, they will have multiple opportunities to practice. Additionally, the short segments of focused practice simplify the process and make it more accessible to ELLs. When the kids know that they are going to be able to do this same activity, their anticipation builds. It is important to honor this eagerness quickly and let them work instead of keeping them trapped in group for what to them seems like an eternity.

The kids like to make their thinking big and visible. We can accommodate that easily. Once we’ve modeled what to do and the kids have shared their thinking, they are ready to get to work. We use large sheets of heavier paper and make our same columns on that. The students grab note-taking sheets and at least four sticky notes, clipboards, and pens, and go to work independently on texts of their choice. As the kids work, we walk around the room, conferring with them one-on-one. After about fifteen or twenty minutes the group reconvenes and the students share their new learning.

The sharing of their thinking is similar to the session in which they talked about what they saw the teacher doing in terms of language structure and format. Again we provide a language structure that we post above where we are working and that the ELL students can follow. For example, “I learned ______,” or “I wonder ______.” After the children have shared, we go back and review all the new information they have learned to synthesize the activity and bring it full circle. We like to emphasize the amount of information they were able to find about any given topic. It is a good idea to pull samples from the kids’ work to share as examples. This will happen repeatedly, so it gives us the opportunity to share each and every child’s work eventually. Kids comment on what they know about the subject, and sometimes the allure is so strong they want to work together in pairs or small groups for a while. When this happens, we let them.

Using the giant note taking charts is an extension of the mini-lessons on determining importance from text and of the images on how to take notes. We do all the modeling to show how to write down important words, writing our “I wonders” and showing our thinking with comments and connections. We demonstrate what strategic thinking looks like; they see us doing it and are eager to try it on their own topics. The kids add an image to each piece of text on the note-taking chart. With a highlighter in hand we read the text and talk about what’s important, highlighting some of the important words. We are interacting with the text to pull out important or interesting information. The kids see us highlighting, drawing arrows, and underlining words. For instance, Mabel reads the sentence “Insects crawl in the arctic snow and scamper in the desert.” We simply highlight part of the sentence and she adds it to her new schema.

Next to “I Learned” and “I Wonder” the kids draw small images of what they have written and color them. Sometimes after the kids have written what they’ve learned and wondered about and drawn images to represent their words, they have a masterpiece of thinking made visible. They can easily explain what they explored and discovered.

Add comment May 18th, 2010

Quick Tip Tuesday: Engaging ELLs with a “class news” activity

Putting together a classroom newspaper with a group of first grade ELL students may sound like an all-day project. But Brad Buhrow and Anne Upczak Garcia do a “class news” activity nearly every morning and it takes less than 30 minutes. In their book, Ladybugs, Tornadoes, and Swirling Galaxies: English Language Learners Discover Their World Through Inquiry, Buhrow and Garcia explain how the newspaper format helps them use personal stories and shared writing to teach ELLs  things like language structures, grammar, and syntax:


Part of what we do to learn about each other is encourage the telling of stories about ourselves. Both teachers and kids share stories from day one. We do this a number of different ways, and we begin the journey within the supportive structure of shared reading and writing. Shared writing is an excellent way for ELLs to practice language structures orally and see conventional grammar and syntax modeled. We have been using a format called Class News. As a class we create daily news almost every day from day one. This routine allows the kids to contribute to a writing, reading, listening, and speaking activity that is all about them. 


Often we write our news early in the morning and find it a good way to start the day.  First we write the title of our news, for example, “First-Grade News” or “Second-Grade News” or something more exciting such as “The Class Adventures for [date].” We ask the kids to think about what news we have that we can write.  After giving them a couple of minutes of quiet time to think, we let them tell someone next to them what they are thinking.  Next, as we hold the pen we ask someone to share.  Often they like to start with the weather.  For example, “Today is hot and sunny.” We first draw lines to represent where words will go, usually using a yellow or light-colored marker.  Drawing lines for each word emphasizes spaces for words and makes a connection between voice and print.  Then we ask, “What goes at the beginning of a sentence?” We choose someone who has a thumb up. As we write, we stop sometimes to talk about letter sounds, coloring in some of the letters.  For a word such as Thursday we would talk about the beginning sound and color in the Th to make it stand out—a brief graphophonic lesson.  We also stop before the end of a sentence and ask, “What is the next word?” This gives the kids practice with semantic cues.  They need to put in a word that makes sense.  When we come to the end of the sentence, we ask, “What do writers put at the end of a sentence?” Sometimes we say, “Tell someone next to you what goes at the end of a sentence.” This gives everyone a chance to talk, and we write what they say. With this shared writing we are able to teach in-context conventions, English syntax, vocabulary, graphophonics, semantic cues, and more.  We also point out differences and similarities between English and Spanish, such as cognates and letter sounds, as a way to show the students the relationships between the two, because we have a large number of Spanish-speaking students.  Each day we choose a couple of colors such as blue and green and alternate colors for each sentence. We also draw small pictures to represent some of the words. In the sentence “Today is hot and sunny,” we might draw a sun above the word sunny and a thermometer above hot. The pictures help make the text more comprehensible to our new English learners. When we are finished, we take turns reading our news together. In twenty minutes we have already written and read a newspaper!


3 comments March 22nd, 2010

Quick Tip Tuesday: Supporting teachers new to ELL students

In this week’s Quick Tip, Pat Johnson, author of One Child at a Time and the upcoming Catching Readers Before They Fall, talks about how she supports teachers who are new to working with ELL students. She discusses book introductions as a way to help ELL students – and their teachers – talk about a book before they begin reading.

Last year I had the privilege of working with Katie Keier, an excellent teacher new to the school. During Katie’s thirteen years of prior experience teaching primary grades, her classes often contained students with special needs—learning disabilities, emotional problems, poverty issues—but she had never worked in a classroom where the majority of students were ELLs. As she began teaching second grade at our school, one of her goals was to learn as much as she could about supporting them as readers and writers. Katie was open to watching me work with some of her second language learners and equally open to letting me watch her. She was also excited about hypothesizing and experimenting with a variety of ways to support ELLs. The sections that follow include some of the things we learned during our year of studying together: first, information on book introductions, because those played a significant role in our teaching; then, common issues in texts that often cause difficulties for ELLs; and finally, a suggested teaching move and sample scenario that Katie and I decided to try.

Book Introductions

In her book By Different Paths to Common Outcomes, Marie Clay writes: “Book introductions are an authentic social interaction about the new book; but when they provide an orientation to novel features of stories and of texts, they are also a kind of teaching. Readers should remember that although the interaction flows like a conversation and leaves room for the child’s input to inform the teacher, it also includes deliberate teaching moves.” (1998, p. 175)

Clay defines book introductions first as “social interactions.” The teacher begins by giving the title and brief summary. Starting off this way helps activate students’ prior knowledge, which facilitates future comprehension. Think of how your comprehension and the ease with which you read something are affected based on whether you have prior knowledge of the topic. After the title and summary, a conversation ensues as the children begin to discuss the cover and the pictures. The children might make connections to something the teacher said in her summary, or they might answer a question that the teacher posed to stimulate interest or inspire discussion. All of this is done conversationally.

Second, Clay says that book introductions are a “kind of teaching” because teachers make “deliberate teaching moves.” The teacher can intentionally decide to include some of the vocabulary or language structures from the text in her conversation. The teacher is also listening to what each child is saying to gather information that will inform her teaching decisions. What information or vocabulary does the child have related to the topic? Did the child have a similar experience that will support comprehension of this text? Does the child need clarification or elaboration of terms or ideas before beginning to read?

Several questions arise when discussing book introductions with new teachers. Some wonder why we don’t let the children figure out the title. One reason is that the titles of books are often harder than the level of the text. For example, an emergent book’s pattern can be: “The bear lives here, the lizard lives here, the alligator lives here,” and yet the title of the book may be “Animal Habitats.” Other teachers question the summary part of a book introduction, asking, “Aren’t you giving away too much of the story?” The title and brief summary put the meaning of the text in the head of the child so that he can draw upon meaning as one source of information to understand the book and solve the words. Children are “entitled” to a book introduction (Clay 1991). The summary also opens up opportunities for students to connect the ideas in this book to their own prior knowledge. It’s been my experience that the summary and conversation stimulate interest in the book and hook the children in and, when asked to read the text on their own, the students do so willingly and enthusiastically.

A book introduction also acts as a way to level the playing field for ELLs. Think about this example. Native English-speaking children who are about to read a text about a boy playing soccer would bring a fair amount of vocabulary with them (goalie, uniforms, shin guards, goal post, passing, heading the ball). Many of these terms would not necessarily be part of an ELL’s vocabulary. The ELL may know the concepts but not have the English labels for those terms. Therefore, the teacher can use these words in her part of the conversation.

Another question teachers ask is, “The book introductions connected with standardized assessments, like the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA), are extremely brief compared to the kinds of book introductions you are suggesting. Shouldn’t we prepare kids for that testing situation by not telling them about the book?” Keep in mind that guided reading is not a testing situation. It’s instructional time with the student, time to teach and support readers. We don’t prepare students for a writing prompt test by giving them constant writing prompts, but rather by developing strong writing workshops that include instruction on writer’s process, author’s craft, and mechanics. In the same way, we don’t use guided reading instructional time to practice for a benchmarking test. We use instructional time to teach reading strategies and behaviors that the child can use on any text, even ones they encounter in a testing situation.

Book introductions were something both Katie and I already used regularly in our guided reading and individual sessions with students.

However, our research led us to ask these questions:

Is there space in the book introduction for supporting ELLs?

What might that support look like?

What types of things might be added to a book introduction to support the English language learner’s successful reading of the book on his own?

Add comment March 16th, 2010

Article: Emancipating the English Language Learner

“As you cooraptoriliate these words, make sure you flimp the scoglottora in proper schimliturn. You will only understand this column if hickitow glisps in baggaduanation. Use your joomering and begin.


In the April issue of Middle Ground Magazine, Rick Wormeli describes how ELL students feel when faced with a text they don’t understand and how teachers sometimes may make the situation worse by supplying a remedial magazine or book for second language learners.

“We need to be mindful of the emotions at play when asking students to do all this thinking aloud in a language and culture foreign to their own. Students are stressed not only about learning a new academic concept, but also about having to adjust to different cultural expectations in which they may not succeed,” writes Rick.

Read this great article where Rick offers simple strategies and some common sense responses to help ELL students learn and thrive in any classroom.

To find out when Rick’s new book about teaching with metaphors becomes available, click here!

Add comment May 14th, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Making ELL students feel safe

Many ELL tudents in Tess Pardini and Emelie Parker’s elementary classroom arrive midway through the school year, unfamiliar with American schools and the English language. Even simple things like the bustle of the cafeteria line can be stressful for these students. In this week’s tip, Emelie and Tess, authors of The Words Came Down!” offer ways to comfort these students and help them get used to their new school environment.

Nonverbal Ways to Help Children Feel Safe, Secure, and Welcome

When children come to our school, we have to know that they may never have seen a water fountain, ridden on a school bus, walked down a cafeteria line, eaten a pizza or hot dog, seen a fire alarm box, heard a fire alarm, or encountered a jack o’lantern. During all these new experiences, we have to be there gently for children in case they need us. This awareness and meeting of unspoken needs is the way a strong classroom community wraps its arms around newcomers.

Making sure children that have just arrived in our country are not the first in line at the water fountain on the first day and making sure they find something that is appealing to eat in the cafeteria is part of helping children learn to trust us and know that they are safe. During the first fire drill, we stand close to the newest children and are ready to comfort them. We warn them with hand signs what is coming. As we hold their hands, touch their shoulders, or stand next to them in line, the children will know we will protect them.

Children often come in late in the year. We greet new students with their names already written at a table, their own coat hooks, book boxes, and journals. We sit them next to a child who speaks their language if possible. The class practices pronouncing new students’ names correctly. Two students give a tour of the room. The rest of the day children squabble over who will get to take them through the lunch line, eat with them at lunch, be their friend at recess, introduce them to the music teacher, or buddy read with them. Having a language buddy or another student buddy can help children through their first days.

A new student is like a breath of fresh air coming into the class. During the first day the teacher will make informal assessments as the child interacts with children, uses books, and participates in workshops. We will observe what he or she knows about books, reading, writing, math, and oral language. This helps us know where to start when planning for the child’s instruction on the next day.

Some children experience a very rough beginning as they join our school community, and we have to work extra hard for them to feel safe and secure. Antony arrived at Tess’s door one morning, midway through first grade. He was terrified and his fearful crying made it difficult to continue teaching that morning. Thankfully, the other children were deeply concerned and patiently tried to help in any way they could. Antony survived lunch because Tess stayed at his side throughout the lunch period. A large cafeteria like ours has to move children quickly through the lines and out into a large seating area in order to operate efficiently, so it can be an overwhelming experience for young children, especially children new to our school culture.

Later that afternoon when Tess took the class to the gym for their PE lesson, Antony broke down again and clung to her as she tried to leave. Tess took him back to the classroom with her. They were both exhausted. She would need to come up with a plan to help both of them.

Tess remembered another student who had arrived under similar circumstances several years before. Julio was now in fifth grade. After school, Tess caught Julio and asked him if he would be willing to help her with Antony since he had been through a similar experience. Naturally, he said he would. Tess went to ask Julio’s teacher if she could borrow Julio for some brief blocks of time over the next two or three days. She also checked with the PE and music teachers to make sure that they would not object to Julio accompanying the class to their lessons.

Julio waited with Tess the next morning to greet Antony, and he sat next to him in the circle as the class held their morning meeting. He rejoined them at lunchtime, and Antony was willing to sit next to him in the cafeteria. Once Tess knew Antony was calm, she was able to leave. Julio held Antony’s hand as they went to the gym later that afternoon and stayed with him for PE. Because Julio was able to help Tess foster a sense of trust in Antony, the school experience became a little less frightening for him, and he gradually settled into the routine.

Emelie remembers when Huy arrived from Vietnam. At school, he was screaming and crying, kicking his feet on the floor, running away at recess, and pulling out his hair. She solved the problem by inviting his mother to come into the class and stay. For two weeks, Huy and his mother squatted together on the floor and learned about school in America. Later on during a home visit, Emelie discovered that his mother had learned to speak English by practicing the songs and poems on the charts Emelie had sent home. They were hanging on the wall in the living room. Huy, now in high school, gives back to Bailey’s through a service club called Raider Readers. Raider Readers is a club at our neighboring high school for ELLs, sponsored by their ELL teachers. The high school students choose and practice reading picture books for Bailey’s kindergarten. The students walk to Bailey’s once a month to read and discuss the books with two or three children. This club benefits both high school and elementary students.

Add comment February 17th, 2009

Questions & Authors: Getting parents of ELL students involved in the classroom

Parental involvement and support plays an important role in the success of every student — and teacher. But what is the best way to get parents involved in their children’s lives at school — especially parents who might not speak English? What challenges does this mean to teachers? Robin Turner, author of Greater Expectations and Academic Literacy addresses this important question and suggests ways for teachers to break through the language and cultural barriers when reaching out to parents.

This struggle is a familiar one to anyone who works with underrepresented students — and to be honest, there’s no easy answer.

Bringing parents in to the educational experience despite language barriers requires a reexamining of what it is we want them to do and what their role is in the overall academic process.

Often, what we want is for parents to be enforcers of our assignments, to ensure that their children have materials, attend school with punctuality, do homework, and treat their instructors with respect.

It’s a fairly limited and somewhat menial set of expectations to which we too often limit parents of underrepresented students. It seems to me that, while these facets of parenting schoolchildren do matter, they certainly can’t be the sole functions of the mothers and fathers and guardians of our students. Their relationships with our students are so much deeper, and the benefits of working with those relationships are enormous for all involved.

For instance, much research reveals that underrepresented students rarely see their worlds, their neighborhoods, or their heritages represented in academic classes. The more we teachers get them thinking and writing about those topics, though, the more they develop their composition skills through an intrinsic motivation AND the greater their ability to think reflectively becomes. Through these writing experiences, the parents and families of our students can be great resources, regardless of language.

In my sophomore English classes, students interview parents and/or grandparents in order to research how their own family made the trek to the United States. These conversations often become precious memories for my students and create a sense of academic purpose for the parents.

Often, their role becomes magnified, as they move from simply monitoring their kids’ completion of homework to ensuring that the family history is told accurately. They know that their children’s papers will be read by other members of the family, and thus they frequently become enmeshed in the academic process.

Likewise, when I have students interview their parents about leaving home for a distant university, the resulting conversations can be powerful, and in many cases, it frees up parents usually divorced from the university experience to share their fears and hopes, their pride and their anxieties, and have an authentic conversation — beyond “did you do all your homework tonight?” — about the importance of school. As a first-generation college student, I can attest to the power of these talks.

Parents don’t need to be experts on the academic world in order to contribute to academic success. But we educators need to strategic in making the overall academic experience as rich and powerful for our underrepresented students as for our students that come from a background of collegiate achievement, which means expecting more than just ensuring good behavior and consistent attendance.

How do you reach out to your students’ parents? Share your ideas and thoughts in the comment section!

1 comment January 29th, 2009

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