REaChing for the stars
Empowering English Language Learners
I've been at John F. Kennedy (JFK) Elementary now for almost 6 months. The time has elapsed quickly, as everyday is filled with teaching and learning, and there is never a dull moment. Do I occasionally find myself missing the generous preparation time allotted to teachers in my last teaching position? Yes. Do I sometimes find myself plugging away at pulling curriculum together or reorganizing the piles of paper that have stacked up on my desk through the week late on a Friday evening? Yes. Is it all worth it? Yes!
Our elementary English language learning (ELL) department has one of the highest teacher-student ratios in the state and I'm currently providing services in language and math for 35 students in grades K - 1. My day is spent doing a combination of pull-out literacy and academic language support and development and push-in math. I work closely with both the kindergarten and first grade teaching teams. My day begins with a rapid fire teacher meeting from 7:30 - 8:00, and a planning time from 8:00 - 8:45 in a small room full of boisterous fifth graders that I share with two other ELL teachers, I am eternally grateful for the fact that I have so many great teachers around me, a suggested curriculum timeline from the last teacher in my position, and YouTube. YouTube has a wealth of free resources that are easily adapted for classroom use and eagerly received by students.
I will admit that since I have been at JFK, I have spent many a weekend singing along to songs that we've played over and over again in the classroom, much to the chagrin or amusement of my family and friends. There are songs and raps that integrate challenging academic concepts and vocabulary, like "metamorphosis", in catchy tunes that students can't help but remember. I was so inspired by these amazing YouTube video creators that I myself wrote an "Apple Rap" for my students when we were studying the life cycle of apples. When students came to making their own books about the life cycle, I heard, "I can't spell apple!" and reminded them to sing the apple rap. To their own amazement as they sounded out the chorus "Apples, apples, a.p.p.l.e!" they realized they had just spelled the word apple. This apple rap also provided written material that students could use to high-light site words and read along to when we sang. We followed this by great songs on YouTube about the life cycle of pumpkins, butterflies and frogs. For the frog rap, I created a simple cloze activity where students had to listen and look for specific words in the song and on the screen and I saw a heightened level of engagement in the students as they read the text trying to identify missing words. These songs are so catchy and memorable that students still sing songs we learned in the first week of school.
In math, songs and videos on YouTube provide tons of fun and interactive practice with counting and other math concepts. This one here is a favorite in the kindergarten classes.
In first grade, math concepts make a big leap. With the Common Core as a guide, students are being challenged to be flexible in how they solve problems and use numbers. These often complex math concepts are accompanied by an array of math terminology that adds a layer of complication for many students, including our English language learners. Realizing the unique power of song I wrote a math rap for my students that also helped them get some of the vocabulary of math straight. In the future, I hope to take these lyrics and have students learn them, recite them and record them, so we too can add to the wealth of learning materials on YouTube.
And, it's not just songs. When the frigid winter provides no opportunities for real life observations of life cycles, videos on YouTube provide time lapses of these metamorphoses. Other videos, such as this one on the story of Austin's butterfly, can model for children language and processes of critique and feedback.
Students can also watch animated versions of their favorite books, which often provide dramatic voice changes and soundtracks that make the stories come alive for learners.
Thank you YouTube for these endless resources and for the hassle free way you've (plural including all people involved) allowed us to enrich classrooms and engage students!
For my growing list of early learning videos please check out this playlist.