Archive for the ‘Instructional Strategies’ Category

Score Point 2: The “Evolution” from Somewhat Effective to Basic

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Author: Susan Diaz, Secondary Literacy Education Specialist

This past week, I presented a workshop on expository writing in which I used the scoring guides released by T.E.A. to do anchoring and range-finding with participants.  After combing through several of the score point 2 essays, one of my participants had an epiphany:  “These 2’s aren’t very good!  Why are they scoring so high?!”  Another participant pointed out to her that on the STAAR a 2 is considered a “Basic” writing performance, so her observation was quite accurate: while a 2 on TAKS was deemed “Somewhat Effective” and passing, a 2 on STAAR is something completely different. There is no gate-keeper essay on STAAR, meaning scoring a 1 or 2 doesn’t mean the student will automatically fail, but considering the weight of writing on the test (52% of the overall score), and if the goal is to truly make students college and career ready, a 2 isn’t what we should aim for.


Let’s look at an excerpt of the Score Point 2 STAAR EOC Rubric for English I Expository Writing, under “Development of Ideas.”The essay reflects little or no thoughtfulness. The writer’s response to the prompt is sometimes formulaic. The writer develops the essay in a manner that demonstrates only a limited understanding of the expository writing task.The rubric highlights two important issues to consider for STAAR expository writing: thoughtfulness and formulas.  In Elizabeth Rorschach’s article “The Five-Paragraph Theme Redux,” she argues that “standardized writing exams encourage teachers to focus on format and correctness, with little concern for content.”  I whole-heartedly agree with her!  Down with the test!  It’s ruining writing!  Down with the, WAIT!  What did that rubric say?  Thoughtfulness (i.e., “content”) = good.  Formula (i.e., “format”) = bad.  After repeatedly looking at the released essays from this past year’s English I EOC, I realized that kids were being rewarded for original ideas and for creative yet appropriate organizational structures.  Often when we are confronted with high-stakes writing tests, we fall back on formulas as tried and true ways of assisting our struggling students.  As Rorschach states, when we focus first on prefabricated text structures (formulas), we limit our students’ thinking.  Instead of finding text structures that fit their ideas, students force ideas to fit within the structures.  Most importantly, Rorschach warns us, “When teachers’ attention is focused on structure…they cease to be real readers who need to be engaged by interesting ideas.”  So, first, let us value our students’ ideas by becoming real readers or real listeners.  And, then, let us assist our students in finding their own ways to organize their fresh ideas into original packages.



“The Five-Paragraph Theme Redux,” Elizabeth Rorschach, accessed October 1, 2012,

6 Reasons Your Students Need You to Read This Article (and Take Action)

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: Lannon Heflin – Program Manager for Instructional Technology

Consider the six skills categories listed here and ask yourself, “How prepared are my students to excel in each of these universally important strands of living and learning?”

  1. Creativity and innovation
  2. Communication and collaboration
  3. Research and information fluency
  4. Critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making
  5. Digital citizenship
  6. Technology operations and concepts

There is no doubt you agree that your students deserve a well-rounded educational experience that prepares them to be “world ready.” Fortunately, new standards for Technology Applications (TA TEKS*) have been approved and passed into law and they provide an excellent framework for educators to build truly transformative learning experiences.   The question is how prepared do you feel to integrate skills in the six strands mentioned above into daily instruction as you ensure you are meeting your obligation to teach the required technology applications curriculum for your grade level (specifically grades K-8)?

Regardless of how you answered this question, you will want to take advantage of a unique, free and high impact professional development opportunity.  Here is what you need to know.

The Texas Education Agency has released, through each Education Service Center, three facilitated online courses designed to get you successfully planning with the new TA TEKS quickly and with great confidence.  The courses are provided in grade bands K-2, 3-5 and 6-8.

Quoting from, “The courses are free and will be offered to ISDs and Open Enrollment Charter schools that have Project Share accounts. They will be delivered completely online and the participants will earn 6 CPE hours.  Each Regional Education Service Center (ESC) will have at least one facilitator to offer these courses online through Project Share.” Additionally at this link you will find the appropriate contact information for your ESC (for non-ESC Region XIII schools).

ESC Region XIII schools and systems can find all the enrollment details and passwords at this link.

A few important details to remember:

  • For ESC XIII the facilitated courses enrollment window is August 1st – August 30th and enrollment is capped at 30 for each course.
  • Course work begins on August 30th and ends on October 11th.
  • Course activity includes interacting with other educators and creating, sharing and teaching a technology integrated lesson in your classroom.
  • Non-classroom teachers are welcome to enroll, but it is important that you partner with a classroom teacher to complete the activities.
  • Additional offers for these courses will be made in late fall, spring and summer.



*I wrote about the transition to the new TA TEKS in last August in the very first In-Sight Newsletter publication (  This August, I want to kick off the new In-Sight Newsletter season and new school year with this invitation. You can view the TA TEKS here

Writing in the Science Class: Lab Conclusions

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: Kristen Hillert, Secondary Science Specialist


Conclusions are a powerful way to assess students’ mastery of the objectives of lab investigations.  But how do you teach students to write conclusions?  Here, science teachers can learn from our colleagues in the English department.

Although scientific writing is a unique style with a set of rules different from the writing students traditionally do in English classes, strategies used to teach writing work across genres.  Before asking students to turn in their first lab report, try one of these strategies and see if the writing of your students improves.

  • Mentor text. Show students examples of what a “good” lab conclusion looks like.
  • For younger students, this might mean writing a few examples yourself or sharing student conclusions from the previous years.
  • Older students should see real examples of conclusions from peer reviewed journal articles.
  • Students could do a gallery walk around the room reading the sample mentor texts and making observations about what they all have in common.
  • Finally, students use their observations about the structure of a strong conclusion to guide their own writing.
    • Sentence Stems. Help students know how to start the conclusion by suggesting sentence stems they can use.
    • _________ was used to _________ in this lab.
    • The data shows the relationship between _________ and _________ is _________because_________.
    • The evidence for _________ was that _________.
      • Class Examples.  Type up conclusions written by your own students (be sure to keep them anonymous!) and share them with the students to evaluate.
      • Mix examples of strong and weak conclusions (no more 10 total).
      • Review the examples one at a time.
      • Have students identify the strength(s)/weakness(es) of each conclusion.
      • Have students work together to generalize their comments and form them into a checklist they can use to evaluate their own conclusions before submitting them to you.

Lab investigations are an important part of science throughout all grade levels.  The conclusion is the part of the lab report that allows students to assimilate the information gained from the hands on-experiences with the theory of the content.  Empowering students to fully express all they have learned through the investigation will not only improve their understanding of the content as they work through all the ideas as they write them out, but it also provides you, the teacher, an excellent form of evaluation of mastery.

To learn more about how to incorporate writing into your science class, check out the TRC Modules: Writing in Science in Project Share.  They’re free and a great resource for creative ideas of teaching through writing!

Setting up Systems: Shifting from Discipline to Procedures

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: Stephanie Heinchon, Literacy Specialist


The start of the 2012-2013 school year is around the corner!  This is the time of year when we begin to think about our classroom rules and to develop our classroom management plan.   But what if, instead, we shift our thinking from discipline to procedures?  Harry Wong says, “The number one problem in the classroom is not discipline: it is the lack of procedures and routines.”




  • Discipline concerns how students behave.
  • Discipline has penalties and rewards.
  • Procedures concern how things are done.
  • Procedures have no penalties or rewards.


Behavior problems often result because the students do not know the procedures or they haven’t been explicitly ‘trained’ to follow procedures.  As we begin our year, we have to launch the systems we want in place for the remainder of the school year, such as centers and reading/writing workshop.  These systems have procedures we expect students to follow the entire year.  When “training” students on procedures, we can follow the gradual release of responsibility, or the I DO, WE DO, YOU DO model.



When introducing procedures and routines, the teacher must first model and teach the students what is expected, then allow the students to practice the procedures.  The first few weeks of school are an ideal time to launch these systems.  This does not mean we wait 21 days to begin instruction, but that we take 5 to 15 minutes a day to teach students exactly what we want them to do during centers and reading/writing workshop.


Let’s use literacy centers as an example.


Week 1: During the first week of launching centers, model the routines and procedures for one or two centers.  The goal is to build confidence in the students’ ability to work independently at those centers while building stamina.  The teacher is monitoring the students this week.


Week 2: During the second week of launching centers, introduce another center or two, modeling the expected routines and procedures.  Allow students to practice transitioning from center to center.  This week is an ideal time for the teacher to begin pulling students, one-on-one, for beginning of year assessments.


Week 3: During week three, introduce the last centers to the students, still allowing them time to practice and receive feedback from the teacher.  The expectation is that students know the procedures for transitioning from center to center independently and have built stamina to work independently for sustained amounts of time.  The teacher can now complete the one-on-one assessments and begin pulling small, flexible groups.


By week 4, we should have all the routines and procedures in place for centers and be able to pull small, flexible groups on a regular basis.


What if our only rule was:




Wong, Harry K., & Rosemary T. Wong,  The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher (4th edition) Mountain View, California: Harry K. Wong Publications, 2009.


First 21 Days created by Children’s Learning Institute at the University of Texas at Houston & University of Texas System/Texas Education Agency.

Exploring Integration in Elementary Curriculum, Part 1

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author:  Lori Reemts, Elementary Generalist


There is a place where the learning process, fueled by pure motivation, engages everyone in the room and authentically integrates critical thinking with content concepts. This place operates beyond barriers, perceived or otherwise, and capitalizes on the efficient and effective use of talent and time.

Although this may sound unattainable to some, the reality is that this place can often be found within our own instructional choices.   Of course we, as professionals, operate within larger systems and, of course, these systems each have their own issues, but when it comes right down to it the largest influencer and indicator of student success is the classroom teacher. (Stronge,  2010)  While respect should be given to the realities of life and teaching in today’s world, it is imperative to acknowledge and appreciate that educators do not have a simple or easy task;  it benefits no one to dwell on daily challenges when our energies could better be spent upon enacting change in our own classrooms.  Educators everywhere collectively cry out for the path and the simple answer to integration.  The goal of this series is to focus on this desire and suggestions for steps toward accomplishing this as we journey to this place we so covet.

In this first installment, it may be an excellent time to try to define “integration” so that our conversations center on similar ideas and starting points.  Believe it or not there are many variations in how we use this word which are quite dependent upon the person using the term and in what context.  Obvious historical examples exist referring to actual student integration during the Civil Rights movement, but in this context we are referring to skills and concepts addressed  in our classrooms.  The term itself has been thrown around for a number of years and has recently regained momentum; unfortunately for some, it has become a symbolic “buzz word” without substance.

Humphreys (1981) offers a basic definition: “An integrated study is one which children broadly explore knowledge in various subjects related to certain aspects of their environment.”  That is a wonderful academic definition of integration but let’s get to the practicality of the concept. Curriculum itself is the relationship between three main components: the written curriculum, the taught curriculum, and the tested curriculum.   Ideally this triad operates in balance and responds to each of the other sections.  The written curriculum would be that which we find on our documents. Components such as scope and sequence, vertical alignment, and unit guides exist to help teachers identify and define the “what,” the student expectations.  While important, this written curriculum exists and is effective only when brought to life through the taught curriculum, or instruction. This speaks to the art of teaching. These are the two areas with which to begin the conversation.  As written curriculum is built from the state standards, it is dependent upon those standards. Content area standards do change and not at the same time.  Aligning and integrating them within a written curriculum, therefore, takes time and may be at a slower pace than the call for it would like it to be.  One must know and understand the separate content areas’ requirements in order to accomplish the task of integrating them effectively.  This is not to say it cannot be done, but the reality is that written curriculum, as dynamic and living a document as it may be, is not equipped to change on a daily basis when classroom teachers must make instructional choices and connections, nor could it and remain credible and consistent.  What, then, is a teacher to do?

We turn to instructional integration.  This is where educators can capitalize on the information a written curriculum provides to them by seeking commonalities.  Learning does not occur on a bell schedule or subject shift during the day. Children and adults alike learn throughout the course of experiences rather than isolated skills or facts.  By embracing this continuous learning idea, even when operating on a much-needed school schedule, we can build transferrable skills in a more effective manner rather than feeling the need to “close out” Subject 1 in order to begin Subject 2.  These same real-life skills can be found within every content area as can almost endless content/concept connections. The key to locating these areas lies in working toward a core and solid understanding of what the most recent and required student expectations actually communicate.

Our next conversation will continue with this idea and explore how to use the required state standards and other information found within our written curriculum in order to effectively utilize and maximize the integration potential.

Humphreys, Alan, Thomas Post, and Arthur Ellis. Interdisciplinary Methods, A Thematic Approach. Santa Monica:

Goodyear, 1981.

Stronge, James. Effective Teachers = Student Achievement: What the Research Says. Larchmont: Eye on Education, 2010.

Student Leadership Opportunities

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author:  Diane Flaim, Education Specialist, Turnaround Support

 A school setting brings all types of students from all types of backgrounds together under one roof.  Having a Student Leadership Team that is representative of these various groups gives voice to students, and builds a trusting relationship between school administration and students.  Schools at all levels, K-12, have opportunities to empower students through leadership roles; however, when the leaders of the school intentionally plan for student leadership participation, students are truly provided with an avenue for influencing their learning community.

When developing leadership opportunities for students, it is important to remember that these opportunities can be formal or informal.  Regardless of the plan a school is putting into place, schools must:

  • define the student leadership role in a clear and concise manner;
  • allow a staff member who has a passion for student leadership to facilitate the work of the Student Leadership Team;
  • ensure formal and informal adult school leaders meet regularly and interact with the Student Leadership Team;
  • plan for active participation of student leaders in school wide settings;
  • model expected behaviors;
  • give timely feedback on the Student Leadership Team’s performance;
  • provide positive support to ensure success; and
  • recognize the Student Leadership Team’s accomplishments in a larger setting.

What are some ideas for student leadership?  The following is a list of student leadership opportunities that range from informal and unstructured to formal and structured.

  • Student Leadership Team. This could be a formal Student Council or a Leadership Group that meets regularly with school administration regarding school happenings.  These groups give feedback to administration on important issues at the school.  (Be sure to have formal selection criteria.)
  • Student Community Liaisons. These students assist with school fund raisers or community charity projects to help others in need.
  • New Student Greeters. These students spend the first few minutes of the day at the school office greeting new students and showing them to their classrooms.
  • Videographers. These students take videos of important parts of the school day describing how to be successful in each of these areas of the school (for example in the lunchroom, hallway, parking lot, etc.).
  • Lunchroom Assistants. Students help other students in the cafeteria.
  • Safety Patrol. Students assist with crosswalks, hallway monitoring, restroom monitoring.
  • Conflict Resolution Assistants. Trained in a conflict resolution technique, these students assist with simple misunderstandings to help fellow students come to a compromise/agreement.
  • School Events Planner.  These students work with school administration and the parent organization to plan, organize and carry out school events (e.g., read-a-thons, movie nights, art shows, assemblies, talent shows).
  • Tutor. Spends time assisting other students in academic needs
  • Morning Message. Students do daily announcements instead of school administration

This list may serve as a starting point for educators to begin thinking of ways to involve students in leadership capacities within the school context.  Grant Nelson, former Student Body President/Vice President of the Washington Association of Student Councils said, “The truth is that every student who wants to make a difference in his or her school must be willing to take action. Talking about the student who is eating alone a few tables across from you does not comfort him. Talking about the girl that gets made fun of in science class will not help her situation. Many of today’s student leaders I have met understand this virtue, and I just hope that over time more students catch on. It is only then that the halls of our schools will be filled with joy, that there will be no student at school who feels alone, and that the school community will be able to achieve true greatness.”

Student Leadership Web Resources

Peer Assistance and Leadership (PAL),

The Student Leadership Challenge,

National Association of Student Councils


John Hopkins University School of Education, New Horizons for Learning (2003), “Student Leadership Today,” accessed August 17, 2012.

Math with Mary!

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: Mary Headley – Elementary Math Specialist

The introduction of new math concepts can be described using three stages:

I. Concrete (the “doing” stage) – This stage involves both teacher and student modeling.

II. Pictorial (the “seeing” stage) – This stage transitions the concrete model into a representational level such as  drawing pictures or using dots or tallies, etc.

III. Abstract (the “symbolic” stage) – This stage uses numbers and mathematical symbols.

Using concrete models is the first step in building the meaning behind mathematical concepts.  These models include a variety of math manipulatives, measuring tools, and other objects that students can handle during a lesson. Research-based studies show that students who use concrete materials develop more precise and more comprehensive mental representations, often show more motivation and on-task behavior, understand mathematical ideas and better apply these ideas to life situations.  (Harrison & Harrison, 1986; Suydam & Higgins, 1977)

Pictorial representations help teachers provide the perfect bridge between concrete representations and abstract algorithms. Pictorial representations include drawings, diagrams, charts and graphs that are drawn by the student or provided for the students to read and interpret. Pictured relationships show visual representations of the concrete manipulatives and help students visualize the mathematical operations. It is imperative that teachers explain how the pictorial examples relate to the concrete examples.

“Up the Hill” Manipulatives

Connecting the dots between the concrete, pictorial, and abstract is the glue that cements the learning for students. This connection provides the understanding that students need to demonstrate a problem or operation using symbolic representations such as numbers. The meaning of symbols and numbers must be rooted in experiences with real objects (concrete) and pictorial representations. Otherwise the symbolic operations (abstract) become rote repetitions of memorized procedures with no understanding.

The gradual movement from concrete to pictorial to abstract benefits all students and helps to prevent the frustration that some students feel when instructed only with abstract processes and procedures.

Perhaps this article has caused you to think about exploring multiple ways to teach math.  Would you like to observe and experience the conceptual development of content? Do you want to give students multiple strategies for success? Would it help you to see how manipulatives can be used to build the meaning behind math concepts?

If the answer to these questions is yes, you may be interested in Math with Mary, an online resource tool that offers professional learning modules designed to build teacher content knowledge and teacher confidence with the use of manipulatives. These modules are hosted by Mary Headley, Education Specialist for K-5 Mathematics at Education Service Center Region XIII, and will walk participants through the use of a specific manipulative which will allow students to explore and develop a variety of math concepts. Using the strategies presented, students will be able to visualize the math while engaging in strategies that build conceptual understanding.

The first course module, Math with Mary: Multiplication with Base Ten Blocks (FA1224478), is appropriate for grades 3-6 and is currently available on E-Campus. This course lays the foundation for understanding multiplication of 2 digit numbers and beyond. Student expectations related to Number and Operations emphasize the use of concrete models and visual representation of numbers and operations. The Multiplication with Base Ten Blocks course supports student expectations outlined in the TEKS and will help teachers build the bridge between concrete models, pictorial representations and the abstract multiplication algorithm. (2 hours CE credit)



Harrison , M., & Harrison, B., “Developing Numeration Concepts and Skills,”  Arithmetic Teacher 33 (1986): 1–21.

Suydam, M. N.; & J. L. Higgins,  Activity-based Learning in Elementary School Mathematics: Recommendations from Research. Columbus, OH: ERIC Center for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education, 1977.

Flooding the Gap

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author:  Kathy Clapsaddle, Coordinator, Special Education

Vocabulary matters.  We know that children from poverty come to school with a significant vocabulary gap.  Make that a 30 million word gap in words heard by age 4 (Hart and Risley, 1995).  Similar statistics hold true for children with language learning difficulties.  Those oral language gaps can translate to a 5 year difference in reading age level by kindergarten.  So how do we bridge the gap?

Brabham and colleagues (2012) suggest a strategy called “vocabulary flooding.”  Traditional reading programs only teach around 400 words a year, but typical children learn 3,000 words or more a year.  That’s 10 words a day.  But it’s not just increasing the number of words taught.  We also need strategies for organizing and teaching words so students don’t drown in the flood!   Here are 2 ideas.

Concept eggs help students understand relationships between related words and learn new words for known concepts.  Consider organizing a word wall with concept eggs to allow students to make connections between words.   As students read new texts and learn new words, they can add additional words to the egg.  This also translates to a vehicle for finding new and better words for writing.


Students often struggle with understanding broad category words (e.g., furniture) and how exemplars fit into that category (e.g., couch, table, dresser), specifically how those different-appearing items are related.  Semantic feature charts visually show those relationships.



Place to Sit




















Think of other tools in your toolbox for helping students make connections between words.


E. Brabham, C. Buskist, S.C . Henderson, T. Paleologos, and N. Buagh, “(2012).  Flooding Vocabulary Gaps to Accelerate Word Learning,” The Reading Teacher 65(8) (2012), 523-533.

B. Hart & T. Risley, Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. (New York: Paul. H. Brookes Publishing, 1995).

Getting to Know your English Language Learners

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author:   Janet O’Keeffe  Project Coordinator, ESL/Bilingual Programs

Another school year is beginning and there are so many things teachers are responsible for as they prepare for a new group of students.  Teachers are anxious to get their class rosters to find out which students they will be working with during the new school year.  As you review your rosters, you may subconsciously group them into two categories:  students that are easy to work with and students who are difficult.  It is important, regardless of the category in which you place them, to get to know all of your students so that you can meet their needs and help them be academically successful.  This article is going to focus on getting to know your English language learners (ELLs) and provide some tips for welcoming these students, promoting English language development and promoting academic achievement.

One of the most important things to know about your ELLs is their level of English proficiency as this is the key to meeting their needs.  ELLs can be classified into four categories of English proficiency:  beginning, intermediate, advanced, or advanced high.  Students who have previously attended Texas schools have taken the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment (TELPAS) and will have results of this assessment in their permanent record file.  Students who are new to the United States are given language proficiency assessments that are also located in the student’s permanent record.  These assessments are scored a little differently from TELPAS but can still provide you with information regarding the student’s English language proficiency.

There is some basic information about the different levels of proficiency that is important for you to know as you begin to plan instruction.  Let’s take a closer look.

Beginning Intermediate Advanced Advanced High
Beginning ELLs have little or no ability to understand English used in academic and social settings. Intermediate ELLs have the ability to understand simple, high frequency English used in routine academic and social settings. Advanced ELLs have the ability to understand, with support, grade-appropriate English used in academic and social settings. Advanced high ELLs have the ability to understand, with minimum support, grade appropriate English used in academic and social settings.


As you can see, there is tremendous difference between the beginning student and the student at the advanced high level of English proficiency.  So let’s explore some ideas that will help you get off to a great start.

Welcoming ELLs

First impressions are lasting and so it’s critical that you ensure students feel welcome and that they are in a safe, friendly and supporting environment.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Be aware of your body language.  Greeting students with a friendly face will remove some of the student’s anxiety about being in a new environment.  Negative body language can instantly create a barrier between you and the student that may take a long time to remove.
  • Be prepared for students who may not come equipped.  Having a welcome kit available that has pencils, pens, crayons, paper, etc., will ensure students are prepared to participate in activities you have planned.  Also, including a map of the school or taking the class on a school tour can be helpful.
  • Find out about the students’ families, home life, and personal interests.  This may provide information that will help you know how to address future situations.  For example, a student may not complete homework assignments which can lead to frustration from both you and the student.  But if you are aware that there are many people living in the house and there is no quiet place for the student to complete assignments, you can problem solve beforehand to find alternatives that make a win-win situation.  Learning what interests your students can also be a connection you can make when teaching academic content.
  • Provide multi-cultural literature at different reading levels and display artifacts from your students’ cultures.  When your class sees you are inclusive of all cultures, they view the class as one community that embraces cultural similarities and differences.

Developing Language

The English Language Proficiency Standards, ELPS, require all content and special area teachers to take steps necessary to develop English for ELLs.  As you know, developing a second language takes time, energy, and practice.  Helping ELLs develop English can be done without a great deal work by following some of the suggestions below.

  • Provide opportunities for students to engage with one another.  Group activities can always get students talking.  Students at the beginning or intermediate levels of English proficiency may not be able to engage in conversations like students at higher levels of proficiency, but don’t think they are not benefiting from these types of activities.  It provides opportunities for them to hear the language and acquire language naturally when they interact with English speaking peers.
  • Develop key vocabulary using Total Physical Response (TPR).  Total Physical Response uses commands that require a physical response from the students.  For example, think of some key terms that you use routinely in the classroom (line up, open your book, sharpen your pencil, etc.).  You can demonstrate these terms or phrases and have the students practice the responses with you.  Eventually, the students will be able to respond on their own and over time will acquire such phrases.  The same method can be used to teach academic vocabulary, too.
  • Implement alternative responses.  Students at lower levels of English proficiency will only be able to respond with one or two words, short phrases, or sentences that are made up of broken English.  Using colored cards to indicate their response to a question is one way you can support ELLs.  Green could represent “yes,” red could represent “no,” and yellow could represent “I don’t know.”  Thumbs up, thumbs down or sideways might be another alternative.  This is also helpful because some newcomer ELLs may go through a silent period where they don’t respond because they are taking in the new language, so the more comfortable you can make them feel the faster they will get out of the silent period.
  • Allow more response time.  Students who are learning a new language need time to process questions and their responses.  Using a think-pair-share strategy gets the entire class engaged and ensures ELLs have time to process.  With this strategy, pose your question, allow time for students to think on their own, have them share their response with a partner, then solicit responses from the class.  This strategy will help you avoid those awkward silent moments.

Content Area Learning

One of the greatest concerns you’ll probably have about ELLs in your class is how you are going to teach them the required content.  This is when you want to walk a mile in their shoes.  Asking yourself what you would like for the teacher to do for you if you were learning a second language is where you’ll find the answers.   To foster content learning, try some of these ideas.

  • Implement the use of journals.  Allow students to draw or write in their native language to make connections to new content.
  • Utilize structured note-taking.  Provide notes for students that have key words or phrases missing.  Students listen for those missing parts and fill them in as they go.  For some students, you may need to provide a word bank to assist them.
  • Develop word walls for content vocabulary.  Including images or the native language term can also make content more accessible.
  • Use visuals and gestures during instruction.  Showing an image, video clip, or a real object makes understanding new terms clear to students.  Gesturing by pointing or acting out a new concept can also help clarify new or difficult content.
  • Engage students using hands-on activities.  Many students learn by doing and will retain the information for a longer period of time.
  • Provide bilingual dictionaries.  Having bilingual dictionaries in the classroom is one way to provide a tool for students that can be accessed independently; however, for this to be effective, students must know how to use them.

Celebrate Success

Celebrating our students’ successes is often a process we overlook because we get so caught up in moving to what’s next.  Learning a new language is very challenging and by getting to know where your students are and frequently monitoring their progress to find something new they have learned, no matter how small it may seem, is critical when it comes to keeping students motivated to continue this difficult process.  Students frequently are criticized for their inadequacies both at school and home so celebrating in your classroom may be the only place students hear words of encouragement.  Here are some ideas for recognizing students’ accomplishments.

  • Provide meaningful praise.  Be specific about the student’s accomplishment rather than “good job” or “great work.”
  • Send a letter or card to parents.  Students want their parents to be proud of their accomplishments, too.  Parents are not always use to receiving notification about something positive their child has done and will appreciate your effort.
  • Ring the bell.  Have a bell that you can ring to capture students’ attention then share the news with the entire class.

As you begin to plan, consider by getting to know your students. You’ll improve communication, establish trust, have a better understanding of how each student learns, and help students grow intellectually and socially.