No matter where you teach, you probably have English Language Learners (ELLs) in your school community. While it’s true that all learners are language learners, teaching ELLs may feel more challenging, especially if you’re new to teaching. Luckily, there are strategies and tips you can learn to help improve your teaching practice.
Want to get better at working with your ELLs? Check out these Teaching Channel resources for your summer learning.
That’s the number of English language learners enrolled in K-12 schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In other words, at least one out of every 10 students in classrooms today is an English language learner (ELL). As the number of ELLs continues to increase at lightning speed, the pressure is on for classroom teachers to examine their practices and find new ways of meeting the needs of this ever-growing population of students.
As an English as a second language (ESL) specialist, teachers often come to me full of questions about what they should be doing to help language learners in their classrooms. They worry that because they don’t speak another language, they won’t be able to provide the support their ELLs require. Yet, I know that with some reassurance and some new strategies, all teachers are capable of being outstanding instructors of English language learners.
In order to help educators on their way to becoming more confident instructors of ELLs, I’ve put together a list of the top ten things ELL students need from their classroom teachers.
Here are the first five:
Differentiation is one of those things that never seems like it can be 100% mastered. Once you have your differentiation strategies dialed in for a particular set of students… you get a new set of students! But with these new students comes a new opportunity to learn and refine your teaching approaches.
This summer, build up the differentiation strategies in your toolbox so you’ll be more equipped to meet the needs of your future students. Start with these ideas:
April is National Poetry Month, and unfortunately, poetry has a bit of an optics problem.
It’s hard! It’s confusing! It’s boring! I don’t get it!
Fear not, there are actually super-engaging ways to dazzle your students with the wonders of poetry — and reach even your most struggling or reluctant students. So this year, be bold. Branch out from the tried and true poetry classics and inspire your students with these engaging forms of poetry that will spark curiosity for all types of learners.
Every teacher knows the value of a field trip, and I love that David Cooper takes his students to the J. Paul Getty Villa every year. I have a deep love for museums, but the truth is, a museum can be a difficult place for students with special needs.
A lapse of control in the grocery store might end up breaking a jar or two and cost a few dollars. A lapse of control in the Getty Villa might put an ancient Greek Statue at risk.
I’m sure by now you’ve heard — a brilliant star went dark in the cosmos.
Dr. Stephen Hawking, British theoretical physicist who overcame ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) to publish wildly popular books probing the mysteries of the universe, died on March 14th at the age of 76.
On August 17, 2016, I was invited to meet with Dr. Hawking at Cambridge University’s Research Centre for Theoretical Cosmology to talk about community access and voice output machines. As I noted in an article for the Oregon Education Association’s quarterly magazine,
“Over the years as a special education teacher, I have had over a dozen students who use voice output devices. To inspire my students, I have shared videos of Dr. Stephen Hawking. ‘If he didn’t use his talker,’ I told one student, ‘nobody would know he was the smartest man in the world.’ Believe me when I say that Dr. Stephen Hawking is my hero.”
As a teacher myself, I feel your pain when a capable student chooses — yes, chooses — not to perform well academically. Cajole as we might (and do…) to convince kids like these on the merits of academic accomplishment, many of them look at us with that blank expression of adolescence that speaks volumes in its silence.
What they don’t say are things like these:
- “School is irrelevant to what I’ll eventually do in life, and we both know it. Tell me how linear algebra will help me become a better attorney.”
- “If you really cared to help me, you’d let me test out of what I know how to do so that I had time to pursue stuff that is important to me.”
- “The reason I don’t do the homework is that I’ve already proven to you through my class performance that I understand this stuff. Wouldn’t you be as frustrated as I am if you had to do such meaningless work every night?”
More times than not, smart students who choose to do poorly on purpose have very good reasons for being disillusioned with their middle and high school experiences. And these students may be on to something. Research on gifted students and other high achievers has shown that many of them know 50% or more of the grade-level curriculum before it’s “taught” to them.
Inclusion practices have moved many students from special education rooms into mainstream classes, and as I’ve traveled the states as Oregon Teacher of the Year, I’ve heard one message loud and clear:
General education teachers need help adapting their classrooms and lessons for a wider range of skills.
We have classrooms with students reading at the Pre-K level sitting next to kids who read at the pre-college level.
Teachers need help.
These differences in ability are not just academic. Think of your own classrooms and the different behaviors and social skills you navigate each day. We have kids all over the place — so we teachers are going to be teaching all over the place.
Teaching Channel has invited me in to look at their amazing video lessons from inspiring teachers and imagine some adaptations that might help out your learners with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs). This is not to critique their outstanding work, but rather a special education teacher thinking about what one of my students might need to succeed — in that classroom, and with that same lesson. I want to set the tone from blog one and let these amazing teachers know how much they inspire me.
And on that note, I can’t think of a better video lesson to start with than Nick Romagnolo’s Setting the Tone from Day One. Hats off to Nick, because had I seen this video as a student teacher, I would’ve had a much better start to my career!
Imagine being 12 years old and being told that you’re made up of tiny bits, that are made up of tiny bits, that are made up of tiny bits; and all those bits are going to interact in different ways and have AWESOME names that sound more like spells from Harry Potter than English. For me, teaching cell transportation at the middle school level has been a challenge.
When students walk into our classrooms many of them have no concept of cells other than the ones they’re carrying in their pockets. We, as science teachers, have long relied on analogies to demonstrate concepts; although this method has worked, I find there’s always a student who is confused by the “endoplasmic reticu-what” and cannot work their way up Bloom’s or grasp the Depth of Knowledge (DOK) I’m seeking for mastery,
This fall, I decided to change my approach when teaching the topic of cells. Instead of having my students dance out the process of endocytosis (think the hokey pokey: “things move into the cell, things move out of the cell… and they move all about”), I would try to align more to NGSS using an approach rooted in phenomena.
Making change can be challenging. It requires us to take a step back, assess our current practices in schools and classrooms, and talk honestly about whether things are working for students. This often puts us in an uncomfortable place, because the safe feeling that comes with what we know, is often more appealing than fear of all the unknowns that accompany change. So even though we may know change is necessary, it’s still difficult and filled with many growing pains. Last year, my colleagues and I embraced the challenge of changing our school’s PLC structure to a more collaborative learning space called Learning Labs. I feel so fortunate to have had the support of my administration, teachers, and the Tch community to learn so much from the experience and document the journey.
This year, I’m excited to continue learning with everyone and working through another important change in the current state and district structure — RTI. For those who are not familiar with RTI, it stands for Response to Intervention, and I discussed it a bit at the end of my reflection post from last year. For RTI, we place students in tiers based on various measures, and pull the intensive students out of class for 50 minutes of extra support each day. While I love the idea of giving students the extra support they need, I can’t get past the labeling, grouping, and removing of students from their K-5 classrooms to get that support.