When I taught first grade, I would tell my students at the beginning of the year, “This year you’re going to do something that most adults will never do in their whole lives.” They’d look at me wide-eyed. “We’re going to write novels!” I’d exclaim. Their excitement was inspiring even before the writing began: I’d overhear them saying to random adults, “Have you written a novel before? Well I’m going to!”
My first graders participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a challenge to write an entire novel in the month of November. When I first started thinking about having first graders write novels, I didn’t know if they could do it. But I found that conquering a huge writing project helped my students to become excited about writing and to see themselves as writers, two effects that paid off all year long.
We’re excited to present a six-part video series showcasing an exemplar unit focused on ELA instruction for middle school English Language Learners. These videos were produced in conjunction with Stanford University’s Understanding Language initiative and examine the key shifts found in the Common Core. The videos highlight opportunities to grow students’ disciplinary knowledge and English language skills in heterogeneous classrooms. Watch how two teachers bring this unit to life, then dig deeper into the five key strategies used in the series with this blog from Stanford researcher Rebecca Green.
English Language Learners (ELLs) face the double challenge of learning academic content as well as the language in which it is presented. Teachers have traditionally treated language learning as a process of imparting words and structures or rules to students, separate from the process of teaching content knowledge. This approach has left ELLs especially unprepared to work with the complex texts and the academic types of language that are required to engage in content area practices, such as solving word problems in Mathematics, or deconstructing an author’s reasoning and evidence in English Language Arts. ELLs need to be given frequent, extended opportunities to speak about content material and work through complex texts in English with small groups of classmates.
The new, widely-adopted Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards also call for all students, including ELLs, to master an array of academic language practices that are critical to achievement in content areas. Examples of these academic language practices include: argument from evidence, analysis of complex texts, and developing and using models. At Stanford’s Understanding Language, we have found that ELLs benefit from instructional approaches that treat language and content in an integrated way that is designed to help them build the language skills that they need to succeed in content classrooms, college and careers.
There are many things I miss about being a classroom teacher — reading my favorite picture books, teaching students to love math, getting endless hugs. But at the top of my “not-missed” list: Halloween. Here’s why:
It’s Pure Chaos
Even I can admit that Halloween parades are cute, but for a teacher, the effort put into making these parades a success is enough to make heads explode. At my school we had three rules for costumes: no masks, no fake blood, no weapons. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve argued with a five-year-old about whether or not lightsabers are weapons. No matter how much I went over the rules, someone would inevitably come to school with a mask or sword. Nothing sets a positive tone for Halloween like confiscating a part of a child’s much-loved costume.
We also had a rule about changing out of costumes after the parade so that pristine ghost costumes wouldn’t turn brown before Halloween night, but you can imagine the insanity of a classroom of students simultaneously changing into street clothes. When I taught K/1, this meant 22 witches hats, fairy wings, and cattails flying around my classroom. Two identical Cat in the Hat costumes? I could guarantee at least one fight about whose gigantic hat was whose. Missing bunny ears? Automatic tears. Trampled Harry Potter wand? Bring on the tantrums.
When I first started teaching, I was intimidated by parent-teacher conferences. I knew the importance of establishing home-school connections, but it felt impossible to build meaningful relationships over the course of a 20-minute conference. But after a few years, I started to see conferences as a way to set the stage for home-school collaboration that would last throughout the year. Here are some tips I learned for communicating with parents during conferences and beyond:
1. Value Parent Voice
During the Conference:
Start conferences by having parents share their impressions of how school is going for their child. Ask them to share what is working well for their child, what they see their child struggling with, and whether they have any specific questions they’d like answered during the conference. To save time, you can have parents answer these questions in writing before the conference. Showing parents that you value their expertise sets the stage for true collaboration. Hearing parents talk about their observations and concerns allows you an opportunity to assess the most productive direction for the conference.
Draw upon parents’ expertise throughout the year. If you’re struggling with a student, talk to his parents and don’t be afraid to ask for advice by asking questions such as, “Does this ever happen at home? What helps the situation?” True collaboration means learning from each other; building relationships with parents can help students receive better support at home and school.
Before I became a parent, I imagined teaching my children important lessons of safety and sharing around a sandbox or swing. However, I quickly learned that some of the most relevant lessons of citizenship I need to impart are done so in front of the computer screen.
Teaching Channel teamed up with a resource I often point students and parents to — Common Sense Media — to go inside classrooms where students are getting hands-on instruction in safe, responsible, and meaningful ways to use the Internet. And as you’ll see, when these important lessons are also fun, kids respond!
When we give students writing assignments, the purpose is often to share ideas and demonstrate understanding. We have students write persuasive essays to demonstrate their ability to make and support arguments, or write answers to questions that we use to assess their understanding. But, as Joan Didion explains, writing can also be a way to develop understanding.
Recently, Teaching Channel’s new professional development platform, Teams, partnered with Educate Texas to create a series of videos showcasing Common Instructional Framework. From these new videos, I learned about an instructional strategy called “Writing to Learn.” This technique encourages the use of low-stakes writing to allow students a chance to clarify their ideas and think critically. In this video, Andrea Culver explains how “Writing to Learn” allows students to process information without worrying about assessment or judgment.
Are policies having a negative impact on students and their literacy rates, graduation rates, and college readiness? Is tenure and seniority the problem? Is it the high concentration of poverty that plagues some of our communities? Do we lack rigor? Are our standards high enough? Do we attract the best and the brightest to education? Which party really supports education: Democrats or Republicans?
The gifts and talents that educators bring into the classroom, coupled with their personal passion to change lives of students one lesson at a time, can sometimes be overshadowed when we hear the divisive debates and opinions about public education. How do we avoid the chatter and keep the focus on our students and their growth? How do you stay positive when public conversation can make you feel worthless? How do we keep our reasons for becoming an educator front and center?
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, here are some educational resources for your classroom:
1. National Bullying Prevention Center has a page full of resources with facts, informational handouts, toolkits, and educational activities.
2. Facing History, Facing Ourselves is a website dedicated to combatting racism and prejudice. Find resources that will take you beyond anti-bullying month. You will find lesson plans, videos, podcasts, webinars and much more on topics such as antisemitism, civil rights, and genocide.
3. Go to The Learning Network for writing and discussion starters, articles, and links to other resources on the Web.
Study skills. They’re part of the hidden curriculum, those strategies that students must learn in order to succeed. No high-stakes test I’ve ever seen measures “study skills” discretely. But they are the hallmark of high-achieving, confident students.
How do we teach such strategies? We can’t just plan a unit on study skills, and call it done.
Instead, teachers must develop a sharp approach to the learning that goes on in our classrooms. Ultimately, what matters most is what students can do independently. To get them there, we help them learn the content or skills but also make sure they can make the material their own; develop confidence; and take responsibility for studying and its outcomes.
In my middle school math classroom, I offer significant support at the start of the year when students are getting used to my style and curriculum. By the end of the year, I transfer preparatory responsibilities to my students (as much as is age-appropriate).
This course of action—a long-term plan carried out over the course of the school year—is transferable to different age groups and types of content. You’ll need to customize it for your students and classroom situations.