Posts Tagged ‘ELL’

Increase Student Interaction in Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Authors: Monica Gonzalez, Education Specialist, ESL/Bilingual

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” — Benjamin Franklin


According to TEA’s reports there are 817,165 ELL students in Texas, 456,051 enrolled in bilingual education, and 310,812 enrolled in English as a Second Language.  There are over 120 different home languages represented in Texas schools. 91% of ELL students speak Spanish.  With this increase in English language learners, our approach to teaching has to evolve in order to ensure success for this group of students.  English language learners (ELLs) are tested every year to measure their language development in listening, speaking, reading and writing (the 4 language domains).  Studies have shown that the best way for ELL students to rapidly increase their linguistic proficiency in these four areas is to increase student interaction.  Do you ask yourself, “What does that mean? What does that look like?”  Read on to find the answer to these questions.


Student interaction has been called classroom interaction, cooperative learning and student engagement. Regardless of the title or term used, student interaction is a practice in which listening and speaking skills of English language learners are enhanced through meaningful conversations with classmates. This interaction enables ELLs to think critically and orally share their views with classmates.  To know how to increase student interaction, you need to understand the linguistic development of these language skills.  As you read these descriptions, think of what you would need within each of these domains if you yourself were to learn another language.


Listening is the ability to understand spoken language, and to comprehend and extract information. It is imperative that students learn how to comprehend social and academic language.  Speaking is the ability to use social and academic language appropriately and effectively in different situations. Practicing social and academic language increases student comprehension and accelerates their oral proficiency.  Reading is the ability to comprehend and interpret written tests at a grade-appropriate level. Beginning readers may need lessons in phonics to learn the sound system of the English language. Finally, writing is the ability to produce written text with content and format to fulfill grade-appropriate assignments.  The expectations of writing will differ for each writer’s proficiency level.  Drawings would be appropriate for a beginner regardless of age or grade level.


Teachers who effectively engage students at high levels of interaction utilize three steps that scaffold each of the 4 language skills.

Modeling All students need to understand the desired outcome for the lesson.  Modeling is essential for beginning ELLs because the teacher is creating comprehensible input by demonstrating the processes students need to use to fulfill lesson objectives.   Teachers can translate and/or clarify, which increases student understanding and comprehension.

Guided practice is an activity that provides students the opportunity to grasp and develop concepts or skills while the teacher monitors students’ progress.  This setting allows for a risk-free environment in which students are free to verbally express themselves without the fear of making a mistake.  Students also feel comfortable because of the support of their peers.  Guided practice is not simply assigning a worksheet, problems or questions to be completed in class.

Independent practice provides students the opportunity to apply what they have learned.  When students are aware of the final outcome with resources such as rubrics and criteria charts, they can work together to practice or edit each other’s work before it is turned in to be graded.

This process of modeling, guided practice and independent practice is commonly called “I Do”, “We Do” and “You Do.”


The following table shows student interaction activities that follow the process in each of the four language skills.

Increase Student Interaction-table



TEA, last modified October 12, 2012.  Snapshot of ELLs in Texas.

Seidlitz, John and Auer, Valerie. Navigating the ELPS in the English Language Arts and Reading Classroom. San Clemente, CA: Canter Press, 2010.


Designing a Campus Task Force to Increase Parental Involvement Among Latino Families

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Author:  Trish Flores, Bilingual/ESL Specialist


It is evident that our schools are becoming increasingly diverse with students from different nationalities and language backgrounds represented.  Of these groups, Latinos account for the highest growth rate in the last 40 years.  Latinos are the second largest minority group in the United States and it is projected that in the next 40 years the U.S. Latino population will reach 102.6 million. (Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, 2004) There are an estimated 9.8 million Spanish bilingual students ages 5 to 17 residing in Arizona, California, Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Texas.  This data indicates that much thought and consideration needs to be given to the instruction and language development of Latino students who are second language learners.  Authors David Campos, Rocio Delgado and Mary Esther Soto Huerta have researched and explored this subject in their book, Reaching Out to Latino Families of English Language Learners. (2011)  In this book they outline a comprehensive plan on how to best meet the needs of this population of students through the increased involvement of Latino parents.

Change needs to occur at all levels of the culture and environment of our schools in order to positively impact Latino students to achieve high levels of academic success.  If schools fail to identify and support the crucial areas of need of these students they will be more likely to drop out of school, not enroll in rigorous academic courses, and not pursue a college education.   Implementing change requires that schools establish goals and desired outcomes to specifically target areas of needed improvement.  For many of today’s educational communities, this change begins with increased parental involvement.

The phrase “it takes a village” resounds especially true in the educational community of today.  Schools cannot reach all of their educational goals alone.  It has become increasingly apparent that schools need parental support to sustain the academic progress of their students.  When parents are actively involved, students are more likely to attend school and master challenging curricula and graduate from school.  This type of partnership requires systematic planning on the part of the district, especially at the campus level.  Campus leadership is charged with forming a plan to welcome parents and involve them to meet the goals of the campus and the needs of their students.  One way to accomplish this is through the creation of a campus task force.

Forming a Task Force

The first step in creating a campus task force is to identify key individuals who can organize and lead this initiative. These staff members should have high interest in promoting a partnership with Latino parents and establishing goals for increased student performance.  Once the task force has been established, there are several steps that need to be accomplished.  To start, the task force should assess the existing perceptions of Latino families at the campus level by conducting a survey or questionnaire of some type.  Some questions to consider include:

  • How is Latino parental involvement perceived by the school staff (inclusive of all staff members) and students?
  • Are there Latino parental involvement initiatives at the district level and, if so, how do they impact involvement at the campus level?
  • Should Latino parental involvement be improved?  Why or why not?
  • What are the desired goals for the campus?
  • What hinders parental involvement?

It will be crucial for the task force leader to hold scheduled meetings with the team to determine who will be collecting the data, who will be interviewed, and how the collected information will be analyzed.  The team leader is responsible for generating a plan for aligning the collected feedback with the predetermined goals and objectives set by the team. Careful consideration needs to be given to the different groups of people who will be interviewed and how the interviews will be conducted.  For example, teachers might answer the questions on written forms or on the computer whereas parents might need to be interviewed in person.   It would also be essential to have documents translated into Spanish so that the written language is not a hindrance to parental participation.

Collected data is read and categorized by the team.  Members of the task force will share their findings and look for common threads to be examined, assets, differences, and potential barriers to parental involvement.  Analyzed responses can be shared with the interviewed groups to confirm the accuracy of the interpretations.

Organizing the Campus

After the Latino parent data is assessed and analyzed, the next step is to assess the organization of your school.  This assessment will enable the task force to make decisions about how to structure a plan to increase parental involvement.  Under the guidance of the principal, the team reflects on the level of change needed for each initiative.  For example, if the goal is to increase parental involvement in the PTA, the team would follow a protocol to determine the key participants and their responsibilities.  A chart can be used to track the changes being implemented and their success.

Deciding on Campus Goals and Action Plans

Campus wide decisions about outcomes should guide the goal setting process.   Key questions to consider when making these goals might include the following:

Is it the goal to have Latino parents:

  • Learn the behaviors/values of the school?
  • Participate in seeking solutions to problems?
  • Become active in voicing their concerns for change?

The action plan needs to be implemented over time and be practical, manageable, and involve school staff at every level.  Additional considerations for the development of an action plan might include seeking grants to fund activities, documenting outreach efforts as a part of the campus improvement plan, using Title 1 funds to add key staff to the campus, ensuring that school practitioners can translate for parents, and hiring certified language support teachers who have the credentials to support students.

Latino students are an ever increasing population in our schools today.  If they are to be successful in their educational careers schools must strive to create partnerships with parents to ensure success.  School staff must perceive this relationship to be an asset and design structures within their campuses to promote positive change.  It is the act of valuing home-to-school relationships that will act as the catalyst for this change and make the difference for all students.


Campos, D., Delgado, R., & Soto Huerta, M. E. (2011).  Reaching Out to Latino Families of English Language Learners.  Alexandria, VA:  ASCD.

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.