Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Supporting ALL Student Needs

Heather Jung shares her experience in meeting student needs beyond those in the classroom.

As I was working with one of my ELL groups in grade 1 a few months ago, another student kept interrupting the group asking, "Did you just call me?"  I realized, after the third interruption, that she was trying to get my attention because she wanted to talk. I finished my lesson, and went to her.  She said that she wanted to read to me and proceeded to pull out a familiar book, which she then read haltingly, with several pauses to yawn and stare off into space.  After a few pages of this, I stopped the reading and asked her to go for a walk. Once we were out of the classroom, she confided. She was tired, she had nightmares the night before, had been yelled at for not sleeping, and then yelled at for not getting ready for school quickly enough in the morning. Because she was not getting ready for school quickly enough, she didn't get to have breakfast.

The lesson of this story is that children often have needs that they do not know how to get met. It is our responsibility as teachers and caregivers to try to meet these needs as well as the students' academic needs. Maslow's hierarchy of needs puts Esteem and Self-actualization, the needs met through the academic objectives at school, at the top two tiers of a five-tier pyramid.  These needs cannot be adequately looked to until the other needs, Love/Belonging, Safety, and Physiological, have been meet. This student was not able to function successfully in the classroom because she was hungry and tired (physiological needs), and she was stressed by having been yelled at (safety and love/belonging).  These needs had to be met first before any academic work could be attended to.

Those of us that work with low-income students, ELLs or otherwise, have to be mindful of these needs and be willing to offer assistance. Fortunately, there are many resources available in most communities that can help.

At my school, we have an active parent community that supports our outreach.  We have a Care and Share Committee and Parent Resource Center that help to provide books, clothing, shoes, internet and other supplies for families in need.  Our local Girl Scouts and Dance troops go out of their way to provide opportunities for low-income students to participate in activities that might, otherwise, be out of their reach. Staff and community members work together to find out what students need and provide for them. Sometimes this means staff providing transportation for student activities or bringing a student shampoo for their hair.

One of the best examples of this school/community partnership that I have seen takes place at the elementary school next to mine.  There the school hosts the local food bank once a month.  The food bank drops off the food and it is left to the school staff, long after the school day is over, to organize and distribute it in an equitable manner.

After giving one of my students a stack of books to take home, she responded by saying, "My sisters and I also need paper, markers, crayons, and colored pencils.  We need to be able to draw and writes stories at home.  You can get that for us right?"  I felt like she was asking me to be her own personal Wal-Mart. Then I realized that is my responsibility as I try to meet not just academic needs but all of my students' needs.

Image from Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Holly Niemi Shares How Her Students Are Stars...Video Stars

Let Video Star kick start you into the last marking period of the 2013-2014 school year.  This app is a free and easy way to enhance any lesson.

I’ve included two different videos* as examples of Video Star’s capabilities.  The one video shows a montage of various ESL classes’ Video Star projects and the other video is one completed Video Star project in its entirety, both created by Levels 1 and 2 ELLs.  Video Star is a great way to present material visually to music.  I have used it as a culminating extension project to complement the end of the unit assessments to Edge Fundamentals.  The objective of the video project was to give students the opportunity to respond orally and in writing to the unit’s essential question.

Here is an overview of my experience using Video Star.  First, each class nominated songs that supported the unit’s theme.  For example, one unit’s essential question was entitled “What does it take to survive?”

Students suggested songs like Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”  After reviewing audio clips of the nominated songs, each class voted to choose which song would accompany their video.  Next, I printed the lyrics to the song for us to analyze together in class.  Then, students brainstormed how we would visually interpret and conceptualize these lyrics into a music video that was connected to the multiple texts we read throughout the unit.  After that, we organized and plotted all the ideas on the whiteboard to create a loose script to follow and the students signed up for various video performance roles.

The next day, it was time to shoot the videos as a class with my iPad.  Some students were so excited with this new app, they created their own videos with their iPhones. With the lyrics on the Promethean board, we shot each clip verse by verse and scene by scene until the song was complete. The next day, each class participated in a video share and watched all the Video Star videos.  While watching the videos, they had the task of answering the unit’s essential question in writing that we later discussed in a Socratic seminar.

In addition to supporting the curriculum and integrating technology, this lesson was both rejuvenating and motivating.  I found the benefits of Video Star to support the common core insofar as analyzing and interpreting meaning across genres, connecting meaning to multiple texts, as well as responding to the essential question, collaborating with others, and integrating new technology.

Day 1 (5 minutes): Students nominate songs that support the unit’s theme.
Day 2 (45 minutes): Students vote on which song will be used in the Video Star production.
Students analyze the meaning of the song lyrics and look for connections to the unit’s texts and essential question.
Students brainstorm video sequence ideas.
Students sign up for video performance roles.
Day 3 (45 minutes): Shoot the video.
Day 4 (45 minutes): Students share Video Star videos in class, respond to the essential question, and discuss their answers in a Socratic seminar.

*It is important to note that I have pixilated, darkened, and blurred the videos on purpose in order to mask the identity of students.

WIDA offers this blog post as a resource for educators.  It is not intended as an endorsement or recommendation.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What Is an ELL Teacher? (or an ESL or ESOL teacher)

On my flight to the WIDA conference last October, I sat next to a Congressman who was fleeing Washington DC after the late night vote to restart the Federal Government.  He told me how excited and relieved he was to be going home to his family and then he asked me what I did.  Being very careful not use any confusing acronyms, I told him that I was a teacher that worked with English Language Learners and that I was on my way to a conference of other such teachers.

His response was:  "Wow, that's great I would love to speak two languages!  What language are you teaching them?"

I blinked, smiled, and replied, "Well, I work with students who come from other countries. I help them improve their English."

This Congressman's confusion was troubling to me because of his role as a policy maker (though he does not sit on the Education Committee and comes from a district that is 96% white), but I have found that misconceptions and confusion are common when I tell people what I do.

My mother is from an area that is 83% white.  She tells me, "No one knows what you do when I first tell them, but once I explain it to them they get it."

When I told one friend of mine he said, "Oh, I didn't know you spoke Spanish."

"I don't, and though some of my students do, my Middle Eastern, North African, and Asian students don't," I replied.

He smiled and said "Oh sorry, I'm from Miami.  ESOL was all Spanish when I was growing up."

As with all comprehension, background knowledge is the number one determinate of understanding.

So what does an ELL teacher do?

The truth is that we do many things.

We may work with ELLs in small groups or one-on-one building their language and literacy skills.  We help them build their prior knowledge so they can understand content area instructions.  We employ diverse and culturally responsive teaching strategies to increase our students' linguistic skills, but we also do so much more.

A couple years ago when I was at Ellis Island I saw an exhibit about how the children of immigrant families are the family's bridge between their home culture and the new culture.  These children are our students.  How often do we hear a young child say: "My Mom can't understand English, but I help her"?  Think about the responsibility implied in that statement.  We always think of the parents as being the bridges that guide their children into adulthood, but for many of our students the burden of helping the family build the bridge between old and new is placed upon their young shoulders.  Who is there to help and support them?  We are! It is our responsibility as ELL teachers to support them and help them build a strong cultural bridge for them to lead their family across.   As Holly said in her post, we are the advocates for our students and their families in the community. We provide support, sensitivity, and cultural understanding to help them build a strong bridge toward the future for them and their families.

How are you building cultural bridges for your students?

Thanks, Heather, for sharing your experience and starting an interesting and important conversation.

Image by opensource.com via Creative Commons.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Welcoming New WIDA Bloggers, Final Installment: Kelly Garcia-Lee

Our last introduction to the new WIDA blog contributors puts the spotlight on Kelly Garcia-Lee.

Hello All!
I just wanted to write quick post to introduce myself to the WIDA community. Let me begin by saying how extremely grateful I am to have the opportunity to blog for WIDA.

I have taught ESL for over ten years. I have worked in Title I schools for nine of those years. During that time, I have had the pleasure of working with students in every grade level from kindergarten through eighth grade. As an ESL teacher, I especially loved igniting a passion for reading in my students. I considered it a great personal success when a student told me that he/she loved a book I recommended. I also feel that another area of personal strength was my ability to create writers in my classroom.

I am currently working as an English Language Development Specialist in Colorado. As an ELD specialist, I work with elementary teachers to help them meet the needs of their English learners in the classroom. In this capacity, I have helped teachers plan writing instruction, guided reading groups, oral language development, and cooperative learning to help the ELLs in their content area and literacy classrooms.

On a personal note, I have two young sons. My older son is six years old and speaks two languages: English and Hmong. His younger brother is eighteen months old and mostly says "cookie" and "mine". Being a mother to these two boys has been one of my greatest joys. It has also worked to further show me the importance of our jobs as educators. When I drop my son off to school every morning, I trust his teacher to ensure not only his physical and emotional safety, I trust her with his intellectual development. I can imagine no greater responsibility. I know that the parents of our students feel the same way.

So, as we work every day to help teach the young people entrusted to us, I hope that we all realize the impact we have on their lives and the people they become. That's why websites and blogs like this are so important. We can use these forums to make connections with other professionals to better inform our practice as educators. We can offer and receive support. We can teach one another and learn from one another. And THAT is why I am so excited to be a part of this great community of educators. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity. I look forward to working with and learning from all of you!

Kelly Garcia-Lee

Image by Tilemahos Efthimiadis via Creative Commons

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Welcoming New WIDA Bloggers, Part 3: Ashley Coblentz, Sara Batesky and Jackie Moreno

Our third welcome blog features three educators from Madison, WI: Ashley Coblentz, Sara Batesky, and Jackie Moreno.

Last spring we found out we would be getting the chance to present at WIDA’s first national conference. Little did WIDA suspect that by accepting our proposal they were also inviting 28 fourth and fifth grade bilingual co-presenters and their families! However, when we floated the idea to WIDA prior to the conference, they went out of their way to welcome the students and their families. Consequently, when WIDA invited us to be a part of their family as monthly bloggers, we couldn’t wait.

We work together in Madison, Wisconsin, at Sandburg Elementary, a school at the forefront of innovative and transformative approaches to education. As Sandburg’s principal Brett Wilfrid explains, “In the last five years, our areas of focus have included character traits which are predictive of future success, interpreting the Common Core State Standards through the lens of WIDA's features of academic language, and expanding the school's offerings and partnerships (including a Community Learning Center after-school program and partnerships with the UW-Madison in a number of areas, such as hosting pre-service teachers pursuing ESL licensure, collaborating with researchers focused on the the achievement of language learners on standardized assessments, and consulting around our school-wide efforts to effectively integrate tablet technology).” 

At Sandburg, collaborative technology integration has helped us become more effective when it comes to formative assessment, meaningful project-based learning, providing language learners with appropriate scaffolds and giving students exciting opportunities to write and speak for authentic purposes. Collectively we have teaching experience that spans K-12 in ESL, DLI and bilingual settings. 

Our hope is that these monthly posts offer inspirational and practical ideas for cultivating rich opportunities for language learning that keep student creativity at the forefront. Although we are currently elementary school teachers, many of the ideas we will be sharing in the blog can be applied to secondary teaching as well. Our original intent in highlighting student voices at the WIDA conference and beyond was to allow the community to learn from and love our bilingual students as much as we do. Our wish is that they continue to have their voices heard through our monthly blog posts. 

Photo courtesy of Ashley Coblentz, Sara Batesky and Jackie Moreno