REaChing for the stars
Empowering English Language Learners
They took turns adding handfuls of veggies to the warm pot, then pouring in the broth, and stirring. After our soup cooked for a while, I blended it all with a hand blender and we poured in coconut milk. This creamy, flavorful soup was one of the best I’ve ever tasted, especially since it was made by our classroom community. The students who wanted to try it took a bit home in a coffee cup, but the rest was donated to the Empty Bowls dinner, and at parent teacher conferences beforehand I encouraged my students’ families to come and enjoy the soup their children had made.
This week, we're putting pictures of this process in order and creating a classroom book on how to make soup. They are helping to tell what we did and write the text. Then, we'll read it together and students can make their own books to read and share with their classmates. The kindergarten classes are also doing a project where students must create a "how to" book and so this work supports success in their mainstream classrooms.
Another first for me, I attended the 25th Annual VT Kindergarten Conference. Like the Diversity Conference I attended last week, it was also at the Hilton Hotel and was a day of inspiration. The theme of the conference was “The Arts as a Tool for Learning: Nurturing the Imagination in Children” and the workshops I attended stayed true to that theme. The great thing about this whole day, is even though it wasn’t specifically geared towards English language learners, everything discussed had value for making instruction more accessible and engaging for ELLs.
Lisa Condino gave a passionate keynote presentation about her work as a Teaching Artist with VSA’s “Start With The Arts” Program. She first urged participants to consider the connections art can inspire in our reflective process by having participants create a pipe cleaner sculpture inspired by a mentor. Using these sculptures we did a traditional turn and talk that was enriched by how this small, simple piece of art helped us connect in a visual way to the person we spoke about. She then described her experience with the “Start With The Arts” framework of arts integration in schools and childcare centers using the example of reading the book version of Baby Beluga to a group of often reluctant young learners. Her animated and prop filled storytelling included white t-shirts to transform learners into little whales, a large flowing peice of fabric that could create a beautiful wave for students to swim and play in, dozens of tissue paper squares in shades of blue to litter the table, and soft clay that others could use to shape whales. You could see how she had prepared for her audience and allowed for student’s curiosities and hesitations in way that helped all engage. She adapted her lesson as she observed students actions and interactions, for example she created small pools of construction paper for students to use who seemed to need a contained space for their discovery. Condino’s argument for arts integration: “When we provide children with the space to actualize their imagination, we are offering them the opportunity to find their voice and synthesize their thoughts...They are communicating their thinking in nonverbal ways.”
As participants, we also got to get our creative juices flowing by looking at a popular student text and brainstorming ways the story could be brought to life through the arts. Our group chose The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. We thought you could also easily incorporate a large piece of white fabric or a white sheet that could become the snow covering everything, and the snow falling on Peter’s head when he whacks a stick on a snowy tree. We also thought about using shaving cream on a table or salt trays for students to create the different tracks like Peter does in the story. Acting the story out in real snow would absolutely be the best, but without real snow acting out in the classroom can also be fun (I’ve done this.) Another idea was to also use white clay to make track imprints or little snowmen. A mixed media collage combining different textured papers to layer a scene like the colorful scenes in the book could also be fun. What if you had students use paint or something that reacts to water and melt some real snow or an ice cube on the collage to see how it changes with the melting snow, as the snow melted in Peter’s pocket when he tried to save it for later? Once you get started, the ideas just start flowing.
Summary of the 2017 Diversity Conference on March 27, 2017 at the Hilton Hotel in Burlington, VT
By Sarah Forbes
Earlier this week, I attended my first Diversity Conference, hosted by the Greater Burlington Area Multicultural Resource Center at the Hilton in downtown Burlington. It was an inspiring, reflective, and emotional day. The uncertainty of the current political climate was palpable, but so were hope, honesty and love. The morning began with a presentation by Dr. Jonathan Jansen of South Africa. Dr. Jansen, a Stanford graduate who grew up under the Apartheid, is well known for his work with the University of the Free State, setting the bar for integration and anti-discrimination practices. His connection to Vermont stems from a program in which he sent South African students around the U.S. to colleges and universities where they mingled with peers to better understand and improve race relations. His presentation centered around his work with interracial relationships, both friendships and romantic relationships, and how people who are part of such relationships challenge social mores that continue to reinforce social and systemic segregation.
Growing up in a state that is predominantly white, this struck a chord with me. I think we often hold up Burlington and Winooski as examples of Vermont’s diversity, however, how integrated are we really? We may live on the same city blocks and attend the same schools, but there are still clear boundaries between people based on race, culture, religion, and economic status that hinder true social integration. Jansen referenced two influential cases that challenged states’ laws against interracial marriages, first, the U.S. Loving vs. Virginia case (1967), and the second the Blacking case in South Africa. He argued that while the laws may have changed in favor of interracial marriage, the social norms have not. It is the work of all who believe in equality to create pathways to understanding and integration. Jansen stated, “Social mores now do the work that legislation no longer needs to do.” With this in mind, he has followed several interracial couples and friends in South Africa as they navigate a reality where they continue to encounter discriminatory interactions with family and community members. His driving question: “Why is it so difficult to love across the colour line?”
Following the keynote, there was a panel on Diversity in Education, which included Moise St. Louis, Saint Michael’s College Associate Dean of Students and Director of Center for Multicultural Affairs & Services, Dr. Lacretia Flash, Office of Human Resources, Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at UVM, Miguel Fernandez, Chief Diversity Officer at Middlebury College, author and entrepreneur Wally Amos, “Famous Amos”, and Ame Lambert, the Chief Diversity Officer at Champlain College. Each was eloquently spoken and had powerful messages to deliver. Mr. St. Louis urged the audience to consider our educational future, asking what sort of educational institutions we hope for and how we can shape them so that our children are better than us at breaking down racial prejudices. Dr. Lacretia Flash read her essay “The Gift of Troubled Times,” written for the Peace and Justice Center, and cited the United State’s downgraded status on the Democracy Index from “full democracy” to “flawed democracy” as an indicator of our troubled times. She theorized that our challenge stems from a disconnect between our national values and ideals, arguing that our values are defined by individuality, competition, and success tied to winning (economically or otherwise), whereas our ideals, which we often hold up as representative of our democracy, are justice, equality and community.
Recently, my first graders went on a school scavenger hunt. I have frequently used this activity as a newcomer orientation to the school and it’s always met with great enthusiasm. Students feel very official wandering the halls with their clipboards in hand and pencils ready to check off the boxes of the places they see. This year, we first read Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes to introduce school places. All the first graders love Pete the Cat and we also use I Love My White Shoes to learn color words. In the book, there are clues that hint at which location Pete will visit and students have to guess where he is going next. This was a perfect connection to the scavenger hunt. In my mixed proficiency level newcomer group, this was an activity that was easy to differentiate. I had some students who were able to focus on the phrase and sentence level clues, while others relied on the pictures and the key vocabulary of school places to begin learning the names of places they visit everyday. I created a checklist with pictures of different rooms around school, and students had to use books and labeled flashcards to match words and pictures, then label their own check-lists. We also printed and read the book The School from Reading A-Z. After students had finished their writing, we set off about the school. I gave them clues about where we would head next: “Where do we see books on every wall?” or “Oh, I have a stomach ache and a headache, where should I go?” We roamed the school until all of our places were checked off.
Another newcomer activity, an interactive song that I made to the tune "The Wheels on the Bus", also helps children become acquainted with school places and expectations. I find that learners latch on to this song early, and we end up singing it all through the year. New verses can be added to introduce new language or to personalise. For example, kindergarten classes are doing a project-based learning unit on community and friendship, with a focus on students writing books for incoming students on how to navigate kindergarten. To supplement this discussion, we’ve also been talking about friendship activities and vocabulary in ELL. We added a new verse to our song this week about playing and sharing with friends.
For the few years I have been teaching ELL at JFK in Winooski, Vermont, co-teaching with two grade level teachers during math has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my educational career. Learning to teach side-by-side with a classroom teacher, while gaining new content skills and sharing my own expertise of how ELLs develop language, has benefited all the children in our classrooms. Our co-teaching is most effective when we’ve had time to plan together, set our common goals, discuss differentiation, and divide materials creation tasks. Recently hearing an improv comedian on VPR’s Fresh Air, Chris Gethard, explain how working closely with another comedian over time and with lots of practice gave root to an almost telepathic relationship where you could predict what the other person would say way before they said it, I was struck by how true that can be of a co-teacher relationship as well. At least one in which co-planning is a precursor to co-teaching. However, with our busy weekly planning, meeting with math and literacy coaches, special educators, student support and faculty meetings, etc. it can often be a challenge to find common planning time. While my co-teachers and I can quickly get on the same page before a lesson, touch base about student progress after a lesson, and be flexible during a lesson when one of us has an idea for pushing students thinking or dialing it back to reach all learners, there is no substitute for formal shared planning.
The use of Google Docs for lesson development has created a virtual space where time becomes less of a barrier to successful co-teaching. In first grade, the team plans math when I’m unable to attend, but my co-teacher is able to plug lessons into a shared online plan that I have access to. This way, if we don’t have time to meet, I can at least know what is happening each day and add to the plan with accommodations, ideas to adapt lessons for my ELLs, and strategies for accessing key vocabulary. I may also ask questions that my co-teacher can then read and respond to right in the shared plan. When we do have a chance to sit down together, we continue to use this tool, both on our own computers, so that we can jot down changes and ideas as we talk about them and refer back to them before a lesson. The form we use also allows us to highlight math habits of interaction and habits of mind that we want to focus on in each lesson. The top of the lesson plan asks us to identify the big idea in the form of a question. Even if we have only this clarified, we are on our way to more cohesive instruction. This shared lesson planning has fostered an equitable and transparent co-teaching relationship.
At the kindergarten level, my co-teacher and I have begun to move our unique, thematic and play-based units in math onto Google Docs where we can quickly paste links to videos, printables and public records we want to share with the rest of the kindergarten team. When we return to these plans next year, all of our materials and ideas will be in one convenient place. Apps like CamScanner are a great way to get hand written materials into an electronic format for later reference and use. With this app, you can take a picture of a poster, for example, and upload it to Google Drive as a PDF file. This file can then be inserted in the Google Doc lesson plan. In addition, after my co-teacher and I both attended the NNETESOL conference in November, we returned with another idea for our shared lesson planning inspired by Katy Heermann’s presentation “Bridging the Divide - Increasing Collaboration Between Classroom and ELL Teachers” to add a table with “can do” descriptors at different WIDA proficiency standards that is tailored to the content of each unit (NNETESOL 2016). I’ve begun adding these to the kindergarten math units, and plan to add them to the first grade units as well. This can act as a guide for other classroom teachers as they are thinking about how their ELLs can participate and contribute to math lessons. The online lesson planning has been so successful that both of my co-teachers are now using it not only for math, but also to help pass information to me regarding literacy units and meetings I’m unable to attend.
If you haven’t yet started using Google Docs, it might be time to take the plunge.
This blog post was originally published on the on June 6, 2016.
This year, the Winooski School District family English classes took on a new project. Women in their third year of after school English classes explored the world of biography with the goal of writing their own autobiographies. ELL teachers and classroom teachers teamed up to create a year-long curriculum using processes of project-based learning (PBL). The fall semester was spent reading biographies on historical figures. Books were found through the school libraries and provided reading material for students at different levels. Students participated in a combination of shared read alouds, independent reading and choral reading. Characteristics and features of biographies were identified and discussed, such as sequential life events written in a timeline, or a central message to a person’s life story. The teachers used elements of responsive classroom, a greeting meeting and team building activity, to create a sense of community in the class and introduce elements that scaffolded biography work. For example, when discussing how stories often share memories linked to emotions, students might have played “feeling” charades to preview vocabulary and assess understanding. As stories were read in class, students were encouraged to make connections with text and extend their learning through speaking and writing.
In the second semester, the focus was on students creating their own autobiographies. The literacy levels of the class varied, so much of the preparatory work was oral. As students were asked to tell or write memories from different times in their life, the women found similarities between their tales. Each story showed emotion: sadness, joy, and laughter were all present as students creatively put all of their English vocabulary to use to convey their meaning. All students made incredible effort to put their words on paper, and then these were typed up into formal autobiographical texts. Teachers asked questions to make writing more detailed and encouraged verbal recounting and peer sharing. In the end, work was published into a book and each student chose one memory to tell for a movie. A public showcase celebrated their hard work.
The women graciously agreed to put their book up for sale in order to help the district raise more money for future family literacy work. If you are interested in supporting this cause, please follow this link.
The movie can be seen here.
For a curriculum guide and template, which was presented at the NNETESOL Conference in 2016, click here.
Tomorrow, the kids come back. Last night, I climbed a wall, all the way to the top. This post is about why I think climbing is a good metaphor for teaching.
I haven’t been climbing, and I mean indoor mock rock climbing, for very long, just a handful of times. The first time I did it, I was petrified of moving beyond jumping distance of the floor, but gradually, as I got comfortable with the belay system and talked myself through my heart-racing fear of heights, I started to have fun. This experience is not unlike the first time you observe a class you will teach in, or realize someone is going to watch you do a lesson, or even experience that bit of anxiety that still makes you have nightmares before the first day of a new school year. Once you’re past that though, you start to pay attention to the course ahead, and enjoy puzzling out your route. Imagine the wall is a class of students, and it presents various challenges, some of them complex, some of them straightforward. The wall is also within a building of many walls, the school community, or if I ever get outside, a rock face of a bigger mountain (I’m quite comfortable in my building!). The toe holds jutting out from this wall are crucial, and I equate those to all the professional development and training we do as teachers. While there are incredible amounts of research and resources behind these toeholds, and complex systems in place, we just hang on to those key pieces that are going to move us up the wall, towards successful learning with our students.
We wouldn’t be climbing if we didn’t use our upper body, our arms and our hands to reach higher and higher with every balanced step. Those reaches are our own creativity, flexibility and patience as we look for that next move towards helping a child make progress. The handholds are the positive learning experiences we achieve with our students, and when we reach them, we are confident, and we are motivated to keep on climbing. Even when our muscles start to burn, and feel like they might give way, and the next hold seems too distant, we know that if we just keep reaching, we’ll make some progress towards the top. At times, we may have to take a break, or at least I know I do, and rely on the support of others. My husband is a fantastic climbing buddy, he tells me to hang back on the rope to look at my route, take a breath, and get right back to it. Just like my colleagues and I at school remind each other to take time for ourselves, to step back from a situation to get clarification, and then keep trying. When we reach the top, when we see a child succeed, it is exhilarating. We can then look back and say, “Wow! That was hard, but we made it.” The next route will be challenging too, and as we attempt higher and higher climbs, we may experience some of that same old fear of heights creeping back in, but when we know the result of our efforts is that fantastic feeling of reaching the top, it is worth overcoming our jitters.
Each time we climb, there will be familiar aspects too. Some of those footholds will ring a bell, and we’ll be thankful when we see them. Some of those handholds will remind us of other times when we felt like we were in the “zone,” and we will be delighted that creating that positive learning experience almost seems routine now. In our discussions with other climbers, we will gain new techniques that make our climb more exciting or manageable. We will watch other climbers too, and we will be in awe of their skill, hoping one day to reach their level of calm, flexibility and grace as they swing, jump and pull themselves into harmony with the wall, the challenges of education.
I’m thrilled to step onto the wall, both at the gym and at school. Can’t wait for another great year!
This article will also be available on the NNETESOL board blog at http://www.nnetesol.org/blog/.
By Sarah Forbes
After a four day training for responsive classroom, thanks to our school’s supportive administrators, I feel confident that the philosophies embedded in this approach are significant for all students, including ELLs, and the corresponding activities have great adaptive value for practicing language and content. Responsive Classroom aims to answer the question of how we can teach the whole child, and recognizes that a learner's basic needs, including belonging, significance and fun, need to be met in order for academic learning to be at its best. It also argues that academic choice, which considers the various learning styles and developmental stages of students in a classroom, results in greater student engagement and “buy-in.”
It is exciting that our current administration is supporting this shift towards a more complete Responsive Classroom, as community, interaction, student choice and fun have always been central to my own teaching philosophy. When I worked with high school and college age EFL students in Japan, I had a lot of freedom in the content I taught and how I taught it. I tried to infuse all of my lessons with interactive and energetic activities, creative practice with meaningful content, and student choice. Even reluctant students, those who struggled to see why they were required to learn English, couldn’t help but be drawn in by the enticing, student-centered quality of collaborative projects, games, and story creation.
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.
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.