REaChing for the stars
Empowering English Language Learners
New England's chapter of the TESOL organization hosted their annual conference this past weekend at the University of New Hampshire and my colleague Courtney Bryan and I went to present on the thematic units we co-create and co-teach in kindergarten math.
This one day conference is a great way to network with other teachers and professionals of English language education in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, and to get some fresh ideas to take back to our classrooms.
The conference kicked of with a keynote address by Dr. Danling Fu of University of Florida. Her presentation, titled "From a Monolingual to Translanguaging Pedagogy Model," discussed her experience as a bilingual individual and those of her students. She emphasized a definition of bilingual that acknowledges that languages do not operate in separate, parallel ways, but in one interconnected mind that may be stronger in certain aspects of one language than another, but combines languages and literacy into a unique identity. She urged educators to look at "translanguaging from a pedagogical perspective of systematically structuring classrooms with multilingualism in mind," capitalizing on students home language literacy and recognizing their rich linguistic identity.
I realized the power of attending such a conference with someone I teach closely with in the next presentation by Anne Wright Shank on using iMovie with students. Anne shared a great resource her and her colleague had made, the website "Lights-Camera-Action", where they've posted a tutorial for teachers/students on how to get started with iMovie. There are also tips on how to move forward as well as examples of student movies and trailers linked from the site. While watching these movies, Courtney and I took notes, and as often happens with us, our ideas kept flowing as we bounced them off of each other. Anne shared some great ways to use video with students, such as:
Beth Evans, ELL teacher in the Burlington School District and board member of NNETESOL since 2006, put on a stellar workshop on combining dance and movement with language instruction. This was incredibly valuable to us. Through her work at the Integrated Arts Academy, a magnet school in the north end of Burlington, Beth partnered with The Flynn Center of the Performing Arts and Lida Winfield to help newcomers learn English via an integrated arts approach. Lida, a pioneer in arts and content integration, visited Beth and her colleague Suzy King every Friday to work with students on building community and language, through movement, joy, and student risk-taking. Beth's workshop led us through a plethora of example dance and movement activities and games that had us all laughing and leaving inspired. The video above shows some of the short energizers Lida did with Beth's class that Beth also demonstrated with us at the conference. Beth has shared the journey with Lida on this blog. We left feeling ready to put some of these ideas to work in our own classroom and today we tried out a partner counting dance that was a great success.
Finally, Courtney and I presented ourselves, on "Making Math Meaningful for Young ELLs Through Thematic Units". We didn't have quite as many participants as we'd hoped, but all who came were eager to share in the discussion and celebration of the math atmosphere we have created at JFK. For math in kindergarten, I pull our newcomer students from other kindergarten classrooms and then we push-in to Courtney's classroom. Together, Courtney and I plan and teach lessons to target our school's math curriculum plan, which combines Common Core Math Standards with previous work done through Investigations. Last year, we had a high percentage of ELLs in the classroom, and we also struggled to get kids interested in math in the beginning of the year. We decided to reframe our math units around themes that were both familiar from other subjects in their day and interesting to them. We started with a unit on measurement and counting with the theme of Jack and the Beanstalk, with letters written from the Giant posing challenges and questions to the students, where they were counting beans, measuring the giant's footprints, and ordering number leaves. We'd piqued their interest. From then on, we've always strived to tie units together with a theme that helps students access math through familiar vocabulary and themes as well as concrete counting and problem solving tools. By the end of last year, we were able to bridge students to more abstract ways of thinking about and solving problems.
Math can be a real challenge for ELL teachers who are called upon to teach it, but are not trained in math content in their teacher training programs. Courtney has always been open to working with me, to both share her knowledge of content, and build on my ideas for infusing the language instruction students need to be successful at math. Our respect for each other and willingness to co-plan and co-teach is a large part of why our math units feel so fun and successful. We get to know our students and their needs well, and having two of us in the classroom allows us to be flexible and adapt materials and instruction to reach each student where they are.