REaChing for the stars
Empowering English Language Learners
This week began our fourth week of school and our second week of PEP classes. PEP stands for Parents as Educational Partners, which is a program that started at The Center, in Arlington Heights, Illinois. The Center offers trainings and a curriculum for schools interested in teaching a parent English class which builds parents communication and literacy skills through content that fosters their confidence in joining the school community and supporting their children's education. My colleagues at Winooski School District, under the urging of Nancy Devost (my mentor teacher from years ago) and grant money began this program two years ago. At the end of the first year, several of the moms who had attended the PEP class provided unanimous feedback that they wanted to learn how to read. In response, the teachers created a PEP II. A class specifically for those who have completed the first PEP class and want to continue building their literacy skills.
My colleague Kristin Van Fossen and I decided to teach this section of PEP this year, and we recruited two classroom teachers, Lisa Bushey, kindergarten, and Jaime Willoughby, first grade, to join us as well. We will co-teach the course, English teacher and classroom teacher, on alternate weeks. In our first two weeks, we decided to all facilitate, so that students could meet us all and we could carry out entry assessments. We've been using an assessment adapted from the USA series by Cengage Learning (National Geographic).
We also decided on a daily class routine which takes elements of responsive classroom (a community meeting) including an interactive written greeting, a team building activity, and some calendar work before we will either do whole group literacy work (community reads, spelling work, projects) or level-targeted reading and writing activities. We will follow this with a closing activity where students can share something they learned or did each class. This week, for our community meeting, I borrowed an activity I found through watching some of the teacher training videos on the New American Horizon's Website (great resource!) for our community meeting activity. For this activity, we had the students write the letters of their names on individual index cards, and then we shuffled all of the letter cards and spread them in a big circle all around us. We took turns saying our names and spelling them while everyone else in the group had to find and order the letters to spell the names. This is an activity we can later use to target key lesson vocabulary and spelling. The students really enjoyed it and it gave us an opportunity to see how they did with quick letter recognition.
I think by now we've met all of the moms who will come to our class, though with their hectic work and family schedules we will need to be flexible about when people come. I'm very excited to work with these inspiring women who in addition to raising families and working full time are making time to improve their lives through study. I was able to watch them write in their native alphabets, in Karen, Somali, and Swahili. Their smiles and perseverance are a great gift and addition to my teaching experience.
In the school day, as I work with some of their children, I used letter cards in another way this week. We're working on learning our color words in first grade and I placed the letters for each color word into ziploc bags. In pairs or groups of three, students worked to unscramble all the letters in their bag, spell it out loud, and race to another bag to focus on word order, initial and ending sounds, and using resources like a labeled poster to help them puzzle out their words.