Friday, April 25, 2014

The Value of Authentic Experiences

Heather Jung shares how she builds on ELL’s prior knowledge through authentic experiences

Image by via Creative Commons

A several months ago, I was working with a 2nd grade ELL student who had come to this country in July.  We were reading books about Hide and Seek, but she was really struggling.  I stopped her, we went outside, and I showed her how to play Hide and Seek.  After about five minutes, we went back in and the student proceeded to read the book without difficulty, it became her favorite book for the next few weeks, and she even wrote a story about playing Hide and Seek with her sisters. 

This student was struggling because she had no frame of reference for what Hide and Seek was, and no oral language built around the concept to support her reading of the text.  By going outside and having an authentic experience, I was able to provide her with the support she needed to be successful in just a few minutes. Dale's Cone of Learning tells us that after two weeks students remember: 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 50% of what they see and hear, and 90% of what they do.  The implication for us, as teachers, is to remember how important it is to engage our students in active learning.   It is especially important for our English Language Learners to build oral language through as many authentic experiences as possible.  These experiences need to occur both inside and outside of the traditional classroom.  

Spring provides many wonderful opportunities to build prior knowledge and oral language through authentic experiences.  The student that I mentioned above was able to read The Ugly Duckling very successfully last week because of a school-wide authentic learning experience provided by our School Librarian, STEM teacher, and Outdoor Education Coordinator. They incubated, hatched, and raised chicks in our school library last month.  Our principal even made a time-lapse video of the chicks hatching and put it on YouTube for students to watch. This project got students excited for spring, built oral language around lifecycles, and made students really eager to go to the school library to checkout books!  This month they have four gigantic tadpoles; inspiring even more authentic learning in the library.

It is also, a great time to do recycling and upcycling projects.  There are always millions of things that can be done with old toilet paper tubes (making marble slides and mazes with them in science is my personal favorite).  Milk cartons and clear plastic food containers from the school cafeteria can be used to plant peas and herbs that students can take home and use in their kitchens.  These make great projects for Earth Day or for Mother's Day, next month.

And... of course, there are school field trips, these are a tried and true way of getting students out into the world to build prior knowledge and oral language. 

Whatever content you are teaching, just remember to make students' learning powerful by giving your students authentic experiences! 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Unquiet Classroom: Technology Integration and ELLs

Ashley Coblentz and Jackie Moreno share their vision of the "Unquiet Classroom."

What images come to mind when you imagine a classroom filled with kids using technology?
The Unquiet Classroom: Ashley Coblentz & Jackie Moreno 
A language rich environment or a silent room with students staring at screens? It seems like there is a divide around this issue in the teaching world right now. Recently, we heard a leader in the biliteracy community speak dismissively about providing ELLs with access to technology. Common misconceptions about one-to-one technology initiatives and ELLs include:
  • Kids lose interpersonal skills
  • ELLs do not get enough opportunities to produce oral language
  • Districts purchase devices in a largely unsuccessful attempt to replace good teaching

Before we started using technology with our students, we had similar reservations. If you also have these concerns, rather, imagine:
  • Instead of writing a book report, students become movie producers, bringing excitement to project-based learning
  • Instead of just “publishing” one paper version of a story during writing workshop, students publish ebooks, accessible to hundreds of people, sending digital copies to all of their friends, teachers and family members, creating a digital library
  • Instead of writing a simple reader-response journal entry, students compose original songs in GarageBand to demonstrate learning

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 for authentic purposes.

Our hope is that by sharing how teachers and students are using devices as tools for transformative learning, members of the ELL educational community concerned about potential misuse of of technology will see what is possible. At this point, we cant imagine not advocating for other ELLs to have similar opportunities. If you are an ELL teacher wanting to make a case to your schools administration or colleagues about the powerful ways technology integration can support language learnersacademic success, here are some talking points regarding technology integration:
  • It promotes student collaboration 
  • When used purposefully technology integration increases student talk, providing opportunities for oral language development and more accurate assessment 
  • Teachers are able to provide more interactive, graphic and sensory language supports
  • Student creativity is cultivated through project based learning

Ultimately, these ways to support ELLsacademic success can be realized on a whole new level when technology integration becomes part of the story.

To see some concrete examples of how technology integration lives and breathes in a bilingual classroom, check out our studentspresentation to our districts Board of Education prior to a 6-1 vote to pass a $27 million tech plan:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I have a question. Who should I call? (Hint: Not Ghostbusters)

Matt & Blake answering your questions
Greetings once again from the Client Services Center (CSC). We love to answer questions and assist with quite a variety of inquiries. As you can imagine, we receive a lot of questions from all over the Consortium and around the world! Most of these we are able to handle on the spot without any problems. However, sometimes we need to direct you to another entity such as your state department of education, Metritech, or WCEPS. If it’s a time-sensitive question, it helps to know who best to address your question from the get go.

In this post we’ll give you an overview of the four broad categories of questions. Feel free to print this post and stick it next to your phone and share it with your colleagues. While you’re at it, consider officially following our Blog by clicking on the “Join this site” button on the right hand side of the page.

Contact Information
Types of Questions
 WIDA website

World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment
Toll-free: 1-866-276-7735

WIDA Consortium
Wisconsin Center for Educational Research (WCER)
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1025 W. Johnson Street, MD #23
Madison, WI 53706
  • ACCESS, MODEL or W-APT test administration questions
  • Understanding and interpreting the scores from these assessments 
  • Online training course for test administrators, including log in, navigating the course, and completing the training quizzes

Toll-free: 1-800-747-4868 
MetriTech, Inc.
Attn: Customer Service Representative
4106 Fieldstone Road
P.O. Box 6479
Champaign, Illinois 61826-6479
  • Pre-ID labels for the ACCESS test
  • Ordering ACCESS testing materials
  • Return shipping of the ACCESS test

 WIDA State pages

Your State’s Department of Education
Click on the map of WIDA states on the left or click HERE.  Once the new page opens, click on your state for contact information.
  • Obtaining a copy of your state’s Native Language Codes
  • Establishment of entry and exit criteria for ESL and/or bilingual services in your state
  • Test administration dates
  • Local professional development opportunities
  • Test administrator certification requirements for your state

 WCEPS website

Wisconsin Center for Education Products & Services
Toll Free: 1-877-272-5593

510 Charmany Drive
Suite 269
Madison, WI
  • ·         Ordering MODEL kits/replacement parts
    ·         Ordering CAN-DO Descriptor Booklets
    ·         Ordering Standards Books
    Obtaining a W-9 Form for materials they have ordered 

While this is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all possible questions related to testing, it is designed to give you a better idea of who to go to depending on the type of question that you have.  But if you aren’t sure, feel free to contact the us, the WIDA Client Services Center (CSC), and we’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Teaching Charitable Giving to Low-Income Students

In this post, Heather Jung shares her thoughts on charitable giving from the classroom.

Last year, my students were making toys to donate to the toy closet at National Children's Hospital.  One student did not want to donate the toy that he made.  I reminded him that we were making these toys to donate to sick children who needed our help.  His response was, "I'm sorry that they're sick, but I made this toy, I worked hard on it, and I want to keep it."  I was able to convince him to donate the toy, but he was not happy about it.  Then, a month later we received a donation of a Tablet from  As I was explaining to the students where the donation had come from the same student said, "So someone gave us something that we needed just like we gave those dolls we made to the sick kids."  I was so excited! He had seen and understood the reciprocal nature of a responsible community.  This valuable social skill will help him throughout his life. 

It is often hard for many students that come from backgrounds where they are often on the receiving end of philanthropy to understand that they have both the ability and the responsibility to give back to their community.  But, when we can develop this understanding in students we can change the narrative of helplessness that is found in institutional poverty, showing students that their charitable giving has the power to affect change and positively impact their lives and the lives of those around them.

It can be tricky to find philanthropic projects that are both meaningful and accessible to low-income students. You cannot ask students who are receiving food and clothing from local charities to turn around and donate what they receive. 

Here are a few things that I have done with low-income students that I work with:
·         Grow Sweet Potatoes to donate to a Local Food Bank - Sweet potatoes are inexpensive and virtually maintenance free.  I have one group of students plant them in the spring and different students harvest in the fall.  We taste test them before we donating.  The food bank appreciates having something fresh to offer their clients.  Students that frequent the food bank have something to look forward to sharing with their families.
·         Make Stuffed Toys for a Children's Hospital - This one is a little more difficult because you need to solicit donations of fabric, stuffing, needles and thread, but if you can do it there is a powerful sense of significance that the students feel when they can help a sick child.  It also allows students at multiple grade levels to work together.  Older students do the sewing and younger students do the stuffing.
·         Make Dog Toys for a Local Animal Shelter - Students find an old t-shirt or old sock that can be made into a dog toy.  Students enjoy searching for old, unwashed, stinky ones, which are the best ones for dogs!  Homeless students feel a particularly strong connection with this philanthropic activity.

These are just a few activities that have worked for me.  I'm sure you can come up with many more ways to help your students understand that they have both the ability and the responsibility to give back to their community.

Image by Jonathan McIntosh via Creative Commons.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Kelly Garcia-Lee Talks about Falling in Love with Close Reading

One night, after reading a picture book to my son, I asked him what he thought of the story. He told me he liked it because he could learn a lot from the main character. I thought this was an interesting perspective because children don't often mention things they can learn from fiction books, especially once they really get into non-fiction at school.

Later in the week, I was attending a book study. The book we are reading, Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts - and Life by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts, discusses the idea that by teaching students to read closely (basically to really look at characters and analyze their lives, problems, and dialogue within the structure of a text), we can teach them to live their lives with what the authors call "caring understanding."

These two events served to demonstrate to me that while I teach my students to look at plot structures, conflict, resolution, character traits, setting etcetera, I don't always do a good job of teaching my students to look at literature as a record of human experience. I don't spend enough time teaching them how to learn life lessons from characters in books. When I think back to my schooling, some of my favorite classes were taught by teachers who showed me how to examine novels in order to grow as a person, not simply to write a paper or pass a test. Yet, this is something I feel I have missed teaching my students.

This revelation combined with the book Falling in Love with Close Reading has me looking at teaching literature in a new way. In the past, I thought close reading was simply a strategy for reading non-fiction text. I have recently begun to reevaluate my old ideas. Thanks to a partnership with a great classroom teacher in my school and the close reading book mentioned above, I have ventured into teaching close reading using the novel Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

The fifth grade students in the class I am working with have read several chapters of the book Wonder. In groups of two, students then analyzed their notes to find patterns in the character's words, thoughts, and actions. Finally the students discussed their thoughts about the character with one another before writing independently. Students were then expected to use a model, sentence frames, and their notes to create a character analysis paragraph. The work that the students produced was both academic and insightful. This is not the type of thinking I typically got in the past when teaching kids about character traits. Now that we are trying close reading and working to help students examine literature as a reflection of life, we are getting better thinking, and thus, better readers!

I am thankful to these books for igniting a spark in to me to change some of my previous thoughts about reading instruction. I am thankful to the wonderful teacher with whom I am working to try out this new (or more likely, new to me) approach. But mostly, I am thankful for the students who have so willingly joined me in this close reading journey! Ultimately, I hope this approach will teach them a little about reading and a lot about life!

Image by Kelly Sikkema via Creative Commons.