Every Teacher is a Language Teacher

During a meeting with educational administrators today, Lisa and I were asked a question that we hear over and over again.  Every time, it goes something like this: “How do I help my English, (Math, Social Studies, Reading, Science, etc.) teacher work with the ESL students in his/her classroom?”  They go on to explain that their teachers don’t know what to do.

One unique book that addresses this very important issue is “Every  Teacher’s Toolkit – Closing the Achievement Gap for English Learners” by Karen Kwaguchi (Pearson-Longman).  This is a great book for teachers who have little or no experience with ELLs.  It includes lots of basics like a description of ELL language proficiency levels, a glossary of commonly used terms in English language teaching, and tips on teaching academic vocabulary. Each unit includes mini-lessons, useful graphic organizers and insights on ESL methodology.

Content area teachers need to be reminded that every teacher is a language teacher and every lesson they teach  includes a language component. At the same time, we need to provide all teachers with strategies that will enable the English Language Learner to access the content of each lesson.  This is the basic premise for The SIOP Model (The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) created by D. Short, M.Vogt and J. Echevarria (Pearson-Allyn&Bacon/Merrill). Visit http://www.siopinstitute.net/ for more information.

The SIOP model is  “a scientifically validated model of sheltered instruction designed to make grade-level academic content understandable for English learners while at the same time developing their English language.  The protocol and lesson planning guide ensure that teachers are consistently implementing practices known to be effective for English learners.” -from the SIOP Model for Administrators, 2008

Of course, I know there are no quick fixes or easy answers on training all teachers to effectively address the educational needs of English Language Learners.  The good news is that the right questions are being asked, which means better instruction for all ELLs in the long run.

A Multicultural Perspective on Women’s Rights

Women’s History month is the perfect time to raise awareness that multicultural views and perspectives must be part of the curriculum all year around. Wow! By far one of the best group projects I have seen recently is about Women’s Rights, created by Larry Reiff, an English teacher from Roslyn High School, NY.

Using Proboards.com, Mr. Reiff has set-up an online forum for his students’ group based discussion on women’s rights around the world. Each group is assigned a video clip for viewing along with several thought provoking questions to discuss together during class.  When they go home each student must watch the remaining videos and blog the answers to their questions using Proboards.

Proboards allows teachers to set up free forums for their classes to interact on.  Mr. Reiff set his pages up so that the students could easily find their assignments by clicking on the tab that had their group number on it.  More importantly, the content of each video expressed authentic, real-life struggles and successes of women from around the world such as the Dowry Killings in India or the moving speech “Ain’t I A Woman” read in honor of the author and abolitionist Sojourner Truth.

This is exactly the kind of rich multi-cultural content that ELLs and all students need exposure too.  When it is delivered to the students through tools such as Proboards and video,  the diversity of the world comes to life in the classroom, the content is more comprehensible and the students will remember it!  By the way, I discovered that Mr. Reiff is currently a participant in the Apple Distinguished Educator program.  Congratulations to him!

From Paint to Moviemaker

 I recently saw my daughter’s 5th grade comic strip writing project and was amazed at the creativity and simplicity of bringing creative story writing to life .  Her 5th grade teacher, Ms. Lawniczak, uses technology as the instructional tool for writing.   She empowers her students with the necessary tools and ideas needed to develop 21st Century skills.

Ms Lawniczak effectively meets the needs of all learners within her classroom by designing lessons that do not rely on traditional textbooks and teachings, instead, the instruction provides engaging and meaningful technology-based activities.  The comic strip writing activity includes pictures given to each student and the use of  programs such as Paint & Moviemaker.

In the lesson, the students create storyboards using the Paint program.  The Paint program is a drawing program that allows the students to draw, paint, and add text to their pictures.  These pictures can be saved as a jpg file and imported into MovieMaker to create a slide show.  The final steps include the addition of transitions, effects and music to their comic strips. 

The project is published on Moviemaker and shared with the class and parents.  The Paint and MovieMaker programs allow English Language Learners (ELLs) the opportunity of using visuals to express their understanding.  In particular, beginner ELLs may have a hard time creating stories, so you can help them along by giving them a sentence starter, such as “I wish I could…” or “If I could be a Superhero, I would be….”

Learning…Driven by Technology or Instructional Model?

Today at the Celebration of Teaching & Learning Conference, the NYC iSchool discussed how it is changing pedagogy and is utilizing 21st century tools to differentiate and individualize instruction, as well as monitor mastery learning for high school students.

What makes this concept unique is iSchool’s approach to prepare students for college and to the global changes in the work environment.  Traditional classes are conducted along with increased virtual interaction, and self-selected coursework.

In addition to online courses used to prepare students for New York State exams, other learning opportunities include AP courses via Skype, and modules based on student suggestions that teachers create and offer as courses.  

Modules are interdisciplinary challenge-based courses. They last nine weeks. Modules are not like project-based learning which is mapped back to a curriculum, but are about real-life problem solving.

Technology supports the instructional vision of the school. Some of these technology tools include video conferencing, mobile devices, laptops, interactive whiteboards, Moodle LMS, and virtual desktops.

The school reports that students earn over 10 credits per year and that 45% of the students complete all five regents exams in their first two years.

Bringing a Social Studies Project to Life

11 Multimedia Tools in 1 Great Project!

Thank you to Donna Colavolpe from Half Hollow Hills School District in NY,  for a Social Studies project idea that is a shining example of 21st Century teaching and learning.   Donna’s fourth grade class in NY used e-pals.com to connect and share information with another fourth grade class from St. Louis,  Missouri.

Step 1: The children began by writing introductory letters to each other. Then, they began comparing their lives to the lives of the Missouri students. Students used Google Earth to observe New York and Missouri. They wrote back and fourth to each other approximately twice a month.  They learned about each other’s likes, dislikes, hobbies, schools, friends and even holiday celebrations.

Step 2: The students researched everything about their home state using websites that were teacher chosen and attached to the class e Board. The sites were differentiated according to readability and included videos as well.  As they acquired information, they took notes in an Excel spreadsheet.  They also used digital cameras to take pictures of the plants and animals that they observed in their own backyards.

Step 3: The students used their notes to create paragraphs for a Power Point presentation.  These presentations were shared in class and also attached to the class e Board to share with others. Then the students attached their Power Points to an email to their pen pals.  The children in both classes wrote personal narratives  and published their narratives in Word and emailed them to their pen pals.

Step 4: With the use of Skype and web cams, the students in both classes finally met and were able to speak to each other face to face. They took turns asking their e pals questions and sharing what their favorite part of this learning experience was.

*Another option/modification for ELLs:  Have ELL students connect with students from their home countries so that they can compare and contrast their new home with their country of origin.

Reinventing the Flashcard

Technology’s Touch on a Time-Tested Teaching Tool

Flashcards have been around since the stone age but now let’s take a look at a technology tool that will help ELLs learn metacognitive skills while practicing vocabulary.  We recommend that ESL teachers use electronic flashcards on their iPods to help reinforce content and at the same time teach students valuable study skills.

Why iPods?

Everyday, teachers and students are discovering that iPods have a use beyond downloading music, movies and entertainment.  When used creatively, iPods can bridge the classroom with the outside world. This has tremendous appeal to today’s tech savvy students- aptly named, Digital Natives. 1

There are several ways to create flashcards that can be used on your iPod. One quick and easy way is to use digital photos (jpeg, gif, or png) and create a photo album in your iTunes library.  Take pictures of labeled objects in your classroom. After selecting the photo album, view the photo album as a slideshow by simply hitting the play button on your iPod.  Go to the settings menu to add music from your iPod and to adjust the timing and transitions.

Through the use of iPod technology, English Language Learners can increase and reinforce academic language proficiency and content area knowledge.   The capability, versatility, and popularity of iPods among the school age demographic make it the perfect crossover teaching tool between learning in the classroom and embracing the outside world.

1 Presky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9 (5).

NYSABE-New York State Association of Bilingual Education Conference

Encounter with an ESL “Rock Star”!

We were at the New York State Association of Bilingual Education Conference (NYSABE) on Thursday and Friday and had the pleasure of meeting Keynote Speaker, Ana Uhl Chamot, the co-designer of the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA), an instructional model for English Language Learners. (if you haven’t heard).  We were like groupies, got our books signed and took lots of pictures. We even got to talk shop a little.

Of course, we discussed the use of technology with ELLs and how it aligns perfectly with the CALLA model.  Many tech tools encourage metacognitive development and reinforce the use of differentiated learning strategies.

E-Book readers are good examples.  They make it easy for students to practice their reading skills with links to additional content, one touch access to word definitions, instant highlighting, and note-taking tools.  iPods are great too, as you can teach study skills with electronic flashcards and applications such as iQuiz.

We know that our students learn best when they have a repertoire of learning strategies to draw from and when they are reflective, critical thinkers.  As Ana Uhl Chamot mentioned,  the CALLA model encourages showing students how to practice vs. practicing more, breaking down tasks and modeling what the outcome will look like.

This allows students to practice strategically and identify the thoughts and actions that they use to help them complete a learning task, especially when they are struggling with a concept.  Having many learning strategies means more use of higher order thinking skills which equals more success for our students!

The Celebration of Teaching & Learning WNET Conference, New York City

March 18, 2011toMarch 19, 2011

TESOL- Teaching English To Speakers of Other Languages Conference, New Orleans, LA

March 17, 2011toMarch 19, 2011

13th Annual Association of Suffolk County Supervisors for Education Technologies Conference, Melville, New York

March 14, 2011