Like most teachers across America, I have students that are described as English Language Learners (ELLs). It seems an opportune time to raise awareness among educators about the state of flux in the demography of learners in our classrooms and to offer research-based principles and approaches for their education.
We’re looking for five teachers or instructional coaches who are interested in building their ELL content and instructional practice through collaboration on the Fab Five ELL Squadster team.
Teaching tips and instructional strategies flood teacher professional learning sites and blogs, responding to the continuous need to better engage students and improve instruction. There’s no doubt that teachers need many tools to take multiple approaches to get to a particular learning goal. But here’s something surprising: teachers are usually given very little time to dig deep and understand the impact of those strategies they spend so much time planning and implementing.
The core of our work at Mills Teacher Scholars is to focus teachers’ collaborative time on the question, “What is happening for students?” Teacher-led collaborative inquiry is the method that drives this question. While there are several components to inquiry work, perhaps the most overlooked is the effort to make student thinking and learning visible. Being able to “make student thinking visible” sounds easier than it is. Video is a fantastic tool for gathering this process data.
It may feel a little unusual to think that the more your students talk in class, the more they might learn. But that is just what we, researchers and professors at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, have found to be true. Constructive conversation and meaningful interaction throughout a lesson not only develop students’ crucial communication skills, but also give them a richer understanding of the content.
Although new education standards in college and career readiness highlight collaboration and communication as critical skills, this type of peer-to-peer interaction is actually quite rare in the classroom. While common activities such as whole class discussions, jigsaws, and think-pair-shares can produce the appearance of constructive interactions, they often don’t provide enough substantial opportunities for students to engage in back-and-forth dialog, especially for ESL students.
So what can we do to make sure our students are getting the opportunities to learn deeply about a specific topic AND hone their communication skills?
Editor’s Note: Oakland Unified School District’s ongoing partnership with Teaching Channel has involved producing videos, building capacity on Teaching Channel Teams, and creating interactive video for #TchVideoLounge.
Recently, the Oakland Unified School District partnered with Teaching Channel to launch a three-part video series on Engaging ELLs in Academic Conversations. We were at the beginning stages of using classroom discussion as a district-wide strategy to more explicitly integrate language development into content area instruction.
A little over a year later, our learning continues! Oakland teachers are still hard at work, exploring the ways they can best support both language development and content understanding through whole-group and peer discussions. We know from research that language learners need regular opportunities to rehearse new language and apply it in authentic contexts. We also know that teachers need to be intentional about engaging all students, especially our ELLs, so that no one can hide and everyone can experience success. And anyone who has spent time in the classroom knows fostering authentic conversation among ELLs is no easy task.
In this new series, we visit or revisit Oakland elementary and high school teachers taking on the challenge of integrating language instruction for their ELLs in content instruction. You’ll see them trying new strategies, fine tuning old ones, and reflecting on student learning to hone their craft.
Do you have English language learners (ELLs) who need to develop and accelerate academic language? Do you want to understand why it’s important for all teachers to know about academic language across the curriculum? And do you want to know how you can support ELL students’ language development in your classroom as you teach your content?
Then consider joining “Academic Language for ELLs” on Teaching Channel’s Teams platform, which runs from October 6 to October 27, to learn more about supporting your ELLs’ language in your classroom. As an experienced ELL teacher, coach, and WIDA Certified Trainer, I will guide a private group through understanding academic language features, then implementing linguistic supports for ELL students. Each teacher in the group will focus on a personalized “action cycle” in order to bring this learning to life in real time for a student or group of students. Participants can be K-12 core content, Special Education, ELL, specialist teacher, or coach.
Our last road trip stop in Tampa, Florida, helped us reconnect with the importance of giving students all kinds of space for learning: verbal space to drive discussions, cognitive space to design questions for learning, and physical space to foster collaboration.
With our sense of space broadened, let’s make our way to Flushing International High School in New York, where we’ll meet teacher Jordan Wolf. He’s going to give us some incredible insight about working with English Language Learners. Onward!
You’re invited to join us as we take another special Zaption tour, this time in Jordan’s classroom. We’ll learn more about the ways he meets students where they are in order to build deeper learning experiences. Don’t forget, when you participate in the Zaption tour, you also have the chance to discuss it with teachers from around the country who are road tripping with us!
This interview with Jordan Wolf is part of Sarah’s Summer Road Trip: Uncovering the Secrets of Great Teaching. Engage with the Zaption tour of Jordan’s classroom and ride along on the road trip!
Like many teachers, Jordan Wolf’s path to the classroom was more happenstance than planned. Also, like many teachers, Jordan Wolf knew immediately he had found his passion.
As an environmental consultant, just out of college, Jordan recognized that his love for science and research was being overwhelmed by the politics of his consultancy work. Then, one auspicious day on the New York City subway, he read an advertisement from the NYC Teaching Fellows offering an alternative credentialing system to become a teacher. He signed up, was accepted, went through an intensive two-month initiation program, and started student teaching while finishing his coursework.
I work with a variety of students, many of whom are English Language Learners or have specific learning disabilities. I have found that these students often have more difficulties with auditory processing and language than other students. Luckily, when one sense is struggling, our other senses come to the rescue: these students are usually visual learners. The majority of my students are so visually acute that if I change one small thing in my room, they will walk in and say, “What did you do? The room looks completely different.” Knowing their visual perceptiveness is such a strength means I can leverage it as much as possible.
Teaching through the arts can be a great entry point into content. Through engaging, arts-rich instruction, students are hooked into learning. But even more than just an entry point, arts-integration can provide a scaffold for helping students tackle increasingly complex cognitive tasks.
Lindsay Young, a High School teacher at Verdugo Hills High School in Tujunga, California, does an amazing job using the arts to scaffold important reading skills. Lindsay teaches an English Language Development class for long-term English Language Learners who are in Special Education. Close reading, a key reading skill, can be hard to master, but Lindsay helps her students develop their abilities by close reading portraits the way that they would a text.