Technology Integration to Support Language Development in the Primary Classroom

English Language Learners

One of the most challenging aspects for educators of English language learners (ELLs) is accurately assessing language development over time — oral language, in particular. Due to the conversational nature of language, it can be incredibly difficult to assess oral language while simultaneously engaging in conversation, not to mention recording the data as you go.

While the speaking and listening domains can be the hardest to objectively assess over time, reading and writing shouldn’t be overlooked. ELL educators are always looking through two lenses — content knowledge and English language development (ELD).

A few savvy strategies coupled with technology integration can enhance not only English language learning within the four domains (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) of ELD, but your assessment of language development over time as well.

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Surviving Group Work: Essential Student Collaboration Strategies for the Diverse Classroom

English Language Learners

Group work.

Two seemingly innocent words that cause both teachers and students alike to tremble with apprehension. The ghosts of bad group work past conjure haunting memories of disagreements, distractions, and indifference. Yet, as educators we know student-to-student interaction is a crucial component in increasing both engagement and academic language development.

So, how do we avoid the pitfalls of bad group work and foster an environment of stimulating discussion and student collaboration?

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The Power of Story for ELLs and Newcomers: Identity and Empathy

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It’s the personal stories that are often lost in the conversations we have about immigrants and refugees. One personal story may seem insignificant; however, when the stories of nearly five million English Language Learners are absent from the education narrative in the United States, so is the context through which we can learn to know our students, to build empathy, and to truly understand what our students — especially newcomer students — need to be successful.

A Story Can Shift Practice

Emily Francis’ immigrant story is compelling standing on its own; however, it becomes even more powerful if we ask what this story — and the many others like it — can teach us about how we can best reach newcomer students and any student who doesn’t quite fit in.

Teacher working with two young girls at a table in a classroom.As you read about Emily’s experience, think about the similar struggles and barriers your students face in the classroom each day. Allow Emily’s story to illuminate some of the ways that educators can identify their students’ needs and support newcomers with a few simple pedagogical shifts.

More importantly, keep in mind how a growth mindset and asset-based way of thinking is required to see the gifts that every student brings, particularly those from other cultures, languages, and countries.

When we remember the power of stories from others unlike ourselves, we can put ourselves in their shoes, developing empathy for different perspectives and different paths in life. We can learn about the funds of knowledge our students and their families posess, or the rich backgrounds, skills, and assets diverse populations bring to school. We can move beyond the challenging socio-political rhetoric and focus on the realities in our classrooms — the realities of the world our immigrant students bring to us every day.

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Reach Your Students With Poetry (No, Really!)

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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!

Sound familiar?

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.

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PodcastPodcastTch Talks 26: Creating a Sense of Belongingness with an Academy for Newcomers

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What’s possible for newcomer education? And how can we accelerate language learning, affirm students’ identities, and help them get on track to graduation and post-secondary opportunities, while creating a learning community of high supports and high expectations?

ENLACE, a program for ninth and tenth grade newcomer students at Lawrence High School in Lawrence, Massachusetts, is working hard to answer these questions. On this episode of Tch Talks, Allison Balter, founding principal of ENLACE, shares her story of getting ENLACE started two years ago and what she’s learned from this experience so far. She talks about how teachers at ENLACE work towards supporting students’ learning of both content and language simultaneously. Allison also describes how ENLACE helps students feel a sense of belonging when they are physically so far away from their home countries. Listen in to find out more.

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My Immigrant Story : Sí Se Puede!

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I’ll never forget the last day I walked out of Martin Van Buren High School. The tears rolling down my cheeks weren’t happy tears as I once imagined. Instead, they were tears of sadness, disappointment, and frustration. I wasn’t going to graduate from high school.

I earned every credit required for graduation. I gave everything I had as a newcomer. I learned the language. All these efforts… and nothing to show for them.

Having a career and becoming a teacher now seemed like an impossible dream to achieve. The sense of failure was so strong within me. For the next six years, I suppressed everything I knew to be true about myself.

But in the end, my failures have been nothing more than a detour on the path to reaching my goals.

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My Immigrant Story: Embracing Education, Navigating Failure

Fab 5 ELL Squad

I love the time of year when parents proudly post and share their children’s prom and graduation pictures. It’s — without a doubt — an accomplishment worthy of celebration.

Emily graduation photoThis might not be the best graduation picture you’ve ever seen — it’s not even an original. But, it’s the only picture I have of my graduation day.

Here I am, in a cap and gown that I wasn’t permitted to wear after taking this picture. This picture, for so many years, represented a personal narrative of failure.

I encourage you to read about my personal journey from Guatemala to the United States. These posts provide some background on my early years, my journey to America, and ultimately, how I arrived at my graduation day.

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My Immigration Story: New Land, New Opportunity

Fab 5 ELL Squad

It was November of 1993 when we started packing the few items we had to join my mother in the United States.

My little sister and brother were lucky to make it to the U.S. in a month. Their father was able to bring them without any problems. They were able to spend Christmas with our mother and the family.

The journey from Guatemala to the U.S. was different for me and my two younger sisters. My mother made arrangements for coyote “smugglers” to bring us across the border. Mid-November the strangers came to collect us, but we trusted that they’d take us where we needed to go.

We were very fortunate that the group took good care of us during our travels. They gave us food to eat, a comfortable place to sleep, and we never needed anything. Still, we would wake up — day after day — wondering if that was the day we would finally reunite with our mother.

family in Guatemala

We traveled on land for several days. We rode cars, buses, trains, horses, and we also walked. We were desperate to see our mother. We weren’t allowed to communicate with her at all — or with anyone else.

Meanwhile, our mother lived in fear for two months — not knowing where we were or whether we were safe. My experience as an unaccompanied minor was very stressful. I was unsure, at times, about what was going to happen. Yet, it wasn’t even close to what others endure to make the journey to the United States. My sisters and I were very fortunate to have made the journey in safety.

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My Immigrant Story: Struggle, Solidarity, and Serendipity

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by Teaching Channel’s Vice President of Engagement, Paul Teske

Paul TeskeThis summer, I was humbled and energized by the diversity, compassion, and wisdom of the educators that we convened as part of the Fab Five ELL Squad and California District EL Network. The goal of our gathering was to deepen our understanding of how best to serve bi- and multi-literate students. With the generous support of the Helmsley and Stuart Foundations, we came together to share our challenges and collective wisdom.

With the support of Sarah Ottow from Confianza, each member of the ELL Squad had a project with distinct goals for better understanding their puzzles of practice. Our Fab Five ELL Squad will be sharing their useful work in the upcoming months.

Emily Francis of Cabburas County Schools, North Carolina, is our next ELL Fab Five Squadster up to bat. Emily provides joy and depth to her work with elementary students — it’s a passion that has recently been noticed by People Magazine and Ellen DeGeneres. Her focus is on building a safe and inclusive environment for students AND families, since this provides the foundation for all things academic.

Emigrating to the U.S. from Guatemala as a child, Emily’s personal story illustrates the mixed feelings and experiences of hope and, conversely, educational alienation of many newcomers to the U.S., and it also supplies us with inspiration of how one’s experience can deeply inform one’s work that, in turn, nurtures the academic and personal lives of bi-literate and multi-literate students.

Stories such as hers often get lost in the broad conversations about immigrants and refugees; however, knowing the stories provides a context from which we can build compassion and understanding. And as educators, the stories help us understand our students better. We know you’ll enjoy Emily’s work and words as much as we do.

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Ella Fitzgerald quoteTo be honest, I’m not sure to what Ella Fitzgerald was referring when she said these words. To me, where I came from counts — a lot! But since I moved to the United States from Guatemala, I’ve been sharply focused on the future.


I was born in Guatemala and lived there for 15 years. I’m the oldest of five children — four girls and a boy.

My mother was a single mother who worked day and night to provide for her children as best she could. I didn’t live with my mother until I was seven years old; instead, I stayed with family members or sitters since my mother often had to work.

Life was very difficult for me and my siblings during our childhood. We all encountered verbal and physical abuse, not to mention all the domestic chores we were expected to do on a daily basis.

As the oldest child, it was my job to care for my sisters and brother while our mother was working. I was also responsible for cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and the like. I wasn’t the best cook back then, and I’m sure my sisters will never forget the first time I made them scrambled eggs — I didn’t know I was supposed to let the eggs “gel” and cook before I served them… so they were a little runny.

I went to school when I could — when my mom was home. But I moved from school to school, from teacher to teacher often. All in all, there might have been one or two school years when I completed an entire year at the same school.

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Building a Strong Learning Community for Newcomer ELLs

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We know that students benefit from strong social-emotional support, and a big part of that is being included in the school community. In part two of our series Engaging Newcomers in Language & Content, we go back to ENLACE Academy, a school-within-a-school focused on supporting the academic and social-emotional needs of newcomer English Language Learners.

ENLACE aims to create an environment in which all students feel known and are able to build strong relationships with each other and with at least one adult. Through restorative practices, socio-emotional learning activities, and family engagement, students build strong communities and support each other as they adjust to a new school environment.

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