My ELD 1 class was a worksheet class. How could it not be? The publisher we use inundates us with worksheets for every aspect of the course and textbook. Plus- When was the last time grammar has been formally taught in the public school system? I don't know it very well yet here I was, assigned to a class in which grammar is a very large part of the curriculum.
My class turned into a worksheet class. My unfamiliarity with the rules about why we speak and write the way we do forced me to rely on the worksheets to teach it- to both me and my students.
Well, then I got scolded. Not by an administrator, not by another teacher- but by a parent. I was at a conference and the presenter scoffed at her own son's ELD program. Apparently he called his class the "worksheet" class, with no clue that the class was supposed to be enhancing his English.
Yep, that was my class too. That presenter could have easily been talking about many of the ELD classes out there today. Publishers make it very easy to copy a few worksheets everyday and then have students fill them in. Even better- they are really easy to grade. We don't really have to plan and the students aren't going to complain.
At what point do we stop making our other classes the priority with new technological ideas and cutting edge lessons and start focusing on the students who have really put their future in our hands? Our ELD students don't have a voice. Not only will they not speak up on their behalf but their parents don't generally do it either. It's a situation that has made the ELD world very complacent in our teaching practices and barred any innovation.
This year, my goal is to not use any worksheets. I've created all of my own lessons and I'm asking the students to work harder. Granted, my lessons are barely a step up from worksheets but my goal this year is to figure out how to teach English Language Development effectively by moving away from fast and easy and get closer to effective and beneficial.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
But not in the way you think!
Chances are if you are a teacher, K-12 did not present overwhelming challenges for you. You probably successfully learned how to achieve passing grades, communicated effectively with your teachers, and stayed out of trouble. You probably even “enjoyed” school. Most people would not choose careers in places that they disliked.
Unfortunately, our success makes it very difficult for us to understand why certain students have significant struggles with grades, communication, and discipline. Why do some students succeed and others struggle? Success with the English language requires a dual proficiency: academic and casual command.
- Academic: This is the language we use to speak to our parents, grandparents, teachers, and bosses. We also use this language to write documents (including essays), emails, and letters. Unless you work in a formal place, you probably only use this language between 10-50% of your day. You elevate your vocabulary, use proper grammar and punctuation, you do not use contractions, and your tone is overall respectful. Most of all, you think about and evaluate what you say and write before you speak or publish it.
- Casual: This is the language you use with your friends and probably siblings. You use this language on Facebook and in texts. In many cases, you have a specific jargon that the people you communicate with use as well. You abbreviate words and phrases, don’t worry too much about grammar and punctuation (capitals are unheard of), and your tone is usually friendly and carefree.
Now, imagine a pie graph.
Successful Students: Their graph is whole. A quarter of it is filled with a pink color for academic language that they utilize throughout a typical school day and three-quarters of it is filled with a green color for causal language during that day.
Struggling Students: Their graph is filled with their three-quarters of green for casual language but that pink quarter for academic is missing. Not only do they not know how to write academically, but in many cases, they cannot speak academically either. Maybe some of them are long-term English Learners (ELs) who have never been out of sheltered ELD classes. Maybe some of them began elementary school in the lowest reading group and never moved up. What happened to these students? Based on my experience, it is very likely that these students were coddled and talked down to. They never learned challenging vocabulary or effective communication strategies.
It is never too late to give help these students fill in that gap. I remember the first time I explained to my ELD students the ins and outs of contractions. I explained that I teach students contractions so they can effectively interact with their peers but they were not supposed to use them in academic settings. It was quite an “Aha!” moment- this was the first time they realized the English language has two very important aspects. Teachers need to be role models by using and requiring that students use academic vocabulary.
Below are examples of strategies that can be used in the classroom immediately:
- While in the classroom, we must train ourselves to constantly use correct grammar in speech and writing. Many times teachers will say things like: ““I’m gonna put some questions on the board,” and then we wonder why students use the word “gonna” in a writing assignment. Struggling students do not understand that there are actually two types of English language on campus: (1) casual (what we say); and (2) academic (what we write). The students look to us as academic role models, and by using slang words in class we are telling them that words like “gonna” are grammatically appropriate. If teachers begin using and explicitly pointing out academic speech, students will begin to understand what it is.
- Bump up the vocabulary. With the Common Core approaching, it is more important than ever for students to know the academic forms of “share,” “think about,” “group,” “hot dog-style,” and “hamburger-style.” The constant use of low vocabulary is probably what got these students in trouble in the first place. Common Core, workplaces, and interactions with adults all require high-level vocabulary. We are failing our students when we do not spend time to teach and use the words: “discuss,” “analyze,” “classify,” “horizontal,” and “vertical.” We can go even further by opting for a higher-level academic word when possible. Animal= vertebrate, invertebrate, amphibian, reptile, bird...
- Have a discussion with your students about academic vs. casual language. Discuss when each would be more appropriate than the other. Bring digital writing into this conversation- email, text, social media, commenting to blogs, writing blogs, etc.
- Challenge the staff at your school to tone down the casual discourse and ramp up the academic vocabulary. Start with a small group or propose it at a whole staff meeting. I suggest starting with the teachers with struggling students or teachers of ELD.
A Footnote: A senior, college-bound student recently sent me an email requesting that I check his/her grade. This student’s email contained texting-style spelling, which is to say that it had no salutation and was all in lowercase. (No student admitted to sending the email, and I still have no idea who it was). With the recent trends toward social media and texting, maybe all of our students need the lesson about using appropriate language. College professors, future employers, and government agencies will demand it.
It is no secret that one has to learn and practice to become a competent reader. There are specific cognitive strategies and metacognitive skills to apply as reading occurs to maximize comprehension. For EL students and, in fact, any struggling student, the cognitive (thinking) and then meta-cognitive (thinking about the thinking) skills can be greatly optimized if teachers are using modeling consistently as literary strategies, in all content areas.
To understand the concept of modeling better, I did some research and realized that there are many forms of modeling that will help students. The Education Alliance at Brown University put out a comprehensive (and readable) report for teachers about teaching ELD called “Meeting the Literacy Development Needs of Adolescent English Language Learners Through Content-Area Learning.” Between that report and the research Dr. Kate Kinsella and Dr. Laurie Olsen have published, the concept of modeling has become a very tangible teaching tool.The following modeling concepts are listed and discussed below:
- Spoken Language Modeling
- Modeling Reading and Writing Texts
- Modeling Questioning
- Academic Framing: Modeling Language Targets
Spoken Language Modeling:
There is a movement in the ELD world advocating the use of academic language at all times in the classroom. Why? What else would we use?
Education.com has a great reference article about “Social Talk” (Casual Langauge) vs. “School Talk” (Academic Language). My suggestion is to read/skim if you have a moment before you read on.In order to be successful in class on assessments (including the Common Core) and in social situations that require it, academic English must be learned and used correctly by EL students.
There are three problems EL students encounter when learning appropriate academic English:
- Students learn casual language through social interactions with English-speaking friends but rarely learn academic language with them.
- Teachers often code switch (move between casual and academic) in class greeting with “Hi guys!” and then in the next moment ask students to “Analyze the importance metaphors have on the text”-- it is difficult for students to understand the appropriate words and times to use academic vs. casual language.
- A student can go to six different teachers in one day and hear the word “discuss” used in six different ways (talk, share, converse, chat...). Students are spending too much time trying to comprehend the directions instead of thinking about/doing what is being asked.
- Don’t code switch. Keep it formal (at least in your ELD classes) at all times. Use high-frequency academic language. Help them understand the basics of formal speech by modeling it for them.
- As a staff (whole-school would be ideal, but even if it is just with teachers who teach EL students) decide on consistent academic language to use in every EL or Sheltered class, including mainstream classes with a high struggling-student population. This way everyone uses discuss instead of share--everyone uses predict or hypothesize instead of “think about.” EL students need consistency and this is a great way to create consistency in their classes.
Model Reading Texts:
Why? We can all agree that we approach reading and writing different genres of texts differently. Our mind is set one way for reading a mass-produced paperback novel and completely different as we read a textbook. We approach writing in the same way-between writing a poem, story, essay, or technical manual. When we sit down to read or write our brains are primed for a specific genre. Students need to be taught what the genres and their specific skills-sets are, and then we must model how to read them in the most efficient manner.
Modeling Texts: To begin a text, read and show the text to the students (maybe with a xerox of the first couple pages or an ELMO). Talk about its purpose and draw their attention to the organizational structure of the text. Then focus on important grammatical structures and vocabulary in the text. Finally do some text reconstruction or cloze activities to become even more intimate with the text.
Teacher Read-Aloud: Three questions to consider when reading aloud:
- What do readers do when they read?
- What are readers thinking when they read?
- How do readers approach a specific reading task?
Student Read-Aloud: Give students the opportunity to read-aloud and reflect on their own reading strategies. It allows them to evaluate what they are doing when they read.
Why? Questioning the text can improve comprehension in many ways. According the the Alliance Report, questioning will “provide students with a purpose for reading, focuses attention on what must be learned, helps develop active thinking while reading skills, helps monitor comprehension, helps review content and relates what is being learned to what is already known.” Take it to the next level by allowing students to generate their own questions about a text.
Questioning Techniques: Follow the links for short descriptions and/or and uses in the classroom:
Academic Framing: Modeling Language Targets
Why? EL students need to speak and write as much as possible. Anytime a new grammar concept or language concept is taught, teachers should model the concept both verbally and in written form.
Kinsella advocates a Sentence Frame with three requirements:
- Sentence starter using the specified grammar/language target. Ex: The dog is ________-ing. NOT The dog ____ ____________. In the introduction phase, students must be able to see a model of the appropriate use of the target over and over to internalize it.
- Provide a word bank with words marked as casual and academic. Even better, provide the casual words and ask them to come up with more examples (the examples usually end up being academic words) Ex: Give them walk, run, sit and ask them to come up with more verbs that describe a dog’s action.
See Kinsella’s Presentation and Handouts (Handouts attached at end of presentation) HERE
Friday, July 27, 2012
How awesome is this site? Free for teachers, teachers can enroll their students, assign videos and assignments and then monitor students in handy graphs! Did I mention it was free? I'm thinking it is perfect for homework assignments!!!!
Huge recommendation here!
Huge recommendation here!