Part I: Teaching ELLs
Working with ELLs
There's no other group of kids I think that is more inspiring to work with, and to make connections with those kids and hear their stories and draw from that in my teaching has been, has been an amazing part of my teaching experience. So I started teaching English language learners when I was in college. And I never stopped, I love those kids.
Partnerships with ELL parents
When I get an English learner, I meet with their families right from the start, right from the time that they come in to enroll, and really start that partnership there. I give them my contact information, we exchange information. I make sure that I have every possible point of contact. And from there I try to make frequent contact with them.
So when we have things going on at the school, I call them personally. I call each student and their families personally to let them know what's going on. And I use as much Spanish as I can. And not all of my students speak Spanish, and if they don't speak Spanish, I will find someone to translate to make those phone calls home or translate a flyer to send home with the students so that we continue that partnership with our, our parents.
Collaboration: A key to ELLs’ success
Collaboration is really the key to our students’ success. So building relationships with teachers, with content teachers, building relationships with grade-level teachers is really important and having that mutual trust in each other and that professional respect with each other is so important to making this work. And it takes time to build that but it's really the most important thing that makes it work.
Using Colorín Colorado for professional development
Colorín has been, is a great resource for those teachers to be able to access and re-access to read articles about practical issues that they face throughout the school year.
The expert webcasts have been, have gotten really good feedback, and the model teaching videos have gotten really good feedback because you can see the strategies in action, you can get a great sense of how this can be done in the classroom right away. And that has been really powerful for our teachers.
There are multiple ways that you can use and share this information. You don't have to do a structured modules and teach it through the professional development office, you could you know, going into professional learning communities, PLC time, going into grade-level meetings, going into department meetings, you can listen to what and tailor the resources from Colorín to really individual needs of teachers or departments or PLCs.
Or you know even just talking with teachers in the hall and saying, you know, talking with teachers about different strategies and saying, "Oh I've heard, I have this really great article or this really great webcast from Colorín that I would love you to take a look at." And putting the resources into their hands because they may not know exactly where to go to find it or may not, most of the time it’s that they don't have the time to go and find it.
And so really being that point person and the resource to unlocking the power of Colorín is really the key.
Using Colorín Colorado resources for parent outreach
Colorín has been just amazing for parent outreach, there is so much information and much of the information is translated, and many of the resources are translated into multiple languages. It can be tricky sometimes to figure out what that hook is to get parents involved and encourage them to be a part of the process and be a part of the school environment because we need their support.
Colorín has been really integral in getting teachers to understand some things that they can do to get that parent support.
Each district’s needs are unique
The needs in every district are different. The population of our English learners looks different in every classroom and in every district. So starting with the needs of our teachers is essential and starting to plan a professional development course, such as this, in a district. Because we really are a team in all of this and these are all of our students. And so building relationships with teachers was really key. And listening to what they needed.
And then talking with students about their assignments on a regular basis, talking with students about how we can support their learning in the classroom and just really being in touch with and building those relationships with kids.
It’s thinking about the needs of not just teachers but the needs of the whole school to support our English learners because our, our counseling secretaries who see them, when our families come into to enroll in the school our counseling secretaries are the first ones that they see.
And it's so important to have that be a positive experience for our English learners and their families and understanding some of the cultural implications of that interaction is really important. So it really does come down to building relationships so that you can have that trust and that relationship to then get the information about what the needs are in every district.
Advice for new ESL teachers
New teachers: it's so important find a friend. Make friends and find somebody who you trust and who is, who's a great teacher to help support you and to help guide you in some of the decisions that you're going to need to make in your classroom. The most important aspect of or the most important key to being successful in your first few years of being a teacher or being an ESL teacher is finding people in your building who support you. And as English, ESL teachers if you're in a district where you have a lower popul - or a lower percentage of English language learners in your district, you might be the only English as a second language teacher in that building. And sometimes it can be lonely, so really reaching out and building those partnerships is most important.
A student success story: Eric
There are a number of stories that come to mind when I think about my students. It's really inspiring to hear what they have gone through to come here and what they're going through to reach their goals, and how they work so hard to do that. So Eric is one of my success stories. He, he's an amazing student and I coached him in cross country, in track, and he was always a go-getter on the track, he always wanted to be the head of the pack. And he was like that in the classroom too. Now without some stumbling blocks but he, but he persevered and he did it.
I helped Eric in a few different ways but the most important was probably keeping in touch with his family, and his family situation and his parents. So that when he, when something positive happened they knew about it right away. They weren't, they may not have always been able to be there at the event, but they knew about it.
Or if he needed additional support and guidance they always knew what was going on, and I could gain their support to help me and support me in the classroom as well. So it was a great partnership. That was really I think what made the difference. And kept him, kept him on track.
The teacher who helped me learn to read
I have two favorite teachers. My preschool teacher was Mrs. Parent and my first-grade teacher was Mrs. Morgan. And they're my favorites because I remember how they made me feel. They made me feel calm and comfortable in their classroom. They - It was always a safe place and it was always a very welcoming environment.
And they taught me to read, my first grade teacher Mrs. Morgan taught me to read. And when I came in, I had some, I was little bit below in my reading, and she took the time to sit with me and talk with me and figure out what was going on in my head to get me up to where I needed to be for my reading level.
And it was just finding that one little piece to reach me and then, and figure it out and then she, the pieces kind of fall in place for me, and I figured it out.
Part II: ELL Course
The need for an ELL course
My district is Douglas County school district, right outside of Denver, Colorado. And our district is a very large in terms of the area. There's about a thousand, I think a thousand square miles. And there's countless schools but our population of English learners is relatively, the percentage is relatively low. And so for some of our teachers, having an English learner in their classroom was new.
Our population was growing and we really needed to support our teachers in their professional development around English learners, in the regular classroom and the content mainstream classroom. So we knew that we needed a comprehensive course to do that. And so our local AFT chapter got some - an elementary teacher, two elementary teachers and I together and we started creating this course.
Our teachers needed ways to support our students when they entered the classroom and had no English and they get, they have a new English learner, and they don't exactly know what to do.
That's a struggle for both the student and the teacher. So they needed strategies, so we created an introductory module to talk to teachers and teach them about some of the second language acquisition theory but also really give them tools that they can use from the beginning.
Then we've also created modules for things like culture. So teaching teachers how to incorporate culture in their classroom effectively and bring those components in to make their teaching more culturally responsive.
We've grown the course to include a module on instructional design, and there's two levels, one level is unit planning, and where teachers create a unit. And then the second level would then be taking a lesson from that unit and teaching that lesson and reflecting on it. So but it's all been centered around giving teachers practical strategies, practical means to helping our English learners in the classroom. And that's really been the key is giving our teachers the tools that they need to help our students succeed.
Excitement about the ELL course
The colleagues were excited about the class because they had a resource that they could go to, and a resource they could share with their colleagues that had just a wealth of information. So what we covered in the class and what we talked about in the class was really just touching the surface of what was available.
But giving them the resources to do that, they were so happy to have that because it gave them support and it gave them the tools, additional tools to keep re-accessing when a new student came in or a new problem arose. And it brought teachers together to talk about the - and collaborate about the issues they were seeing in their classrooms and how to best reach our English learners to help them succeed.
Course topics and assignments
We started with an introductory module, which really was the key to unlocking the rest of the modules. So understanding some of the second language acquisition theory, understanding the population in our district. Teachers will start off with different learning topics, so for example within the culture module, teachers would explore the idea of culture and what different cultures look like and how that manifests itself in the classroom, and different behaviors that we see in children.
Then they would, we go into talking about how do we get our, the support from our families, and how do we really reach out to parents and get them involved in our schools. Within those learning topics teachers explore many different resources using the articles, using the webcasts, using the model teaching videos.
And then within each of those learning topics and those components, they may have, we scaffold the assignments. That could be a forum, or a blog, or some sort of social interaction, a Google Doc or using Edmodo.
One assignment was to create a backward planned unit. And teachers would create that unit using instructional strategies that they learned from Colorín Colorado. Another assignment was to create an action plan to address the cultural needs of our English learners in the classroom or at the school level depending on what the teacher thought was best suited for their situation.
So the assignments were flexible in that teachers were able, had some choice in being able to create something that was useful for them that was going to increase student achievement in their classroom. And it really helped to reach our English learners in the best way possible.
And then at the culmination they create the artifact and the artifact is really what is used to demonstrate their proficiency but really essentially to transform their teaching. And that's really at the heart of what's most important and so the artifacts that they created would be used, can be used in like a portfolio situation where teachers can demonstrate their proficiency on the teacher evaluation rubrics but they are practical items, for example, a lesson plan that a teacher taught and reflected on that was developed through the course in Colorín Colorado.
Culture activity for teachers
One activity that Janice Rankin developed and we've used in the culture module is a linking activity, where we identify the different cultures that each person is a part of. So I might identify my family, my religion, my - the school I come - I teach at.
And, and so we identify different cultures that we belong to and then each person links to the next person through one of their cultures. So if I say I'm from Green Bay, Wisconsin and that's part of my culture that I belong to, then another person may say, "Yeah, I'm from Wisconsin too." And link up to that. And each person links to the next and form a circle.
And it really brings together the group and makes it a comfortable learning environment. And helps us to understand the idea of culture and the broader definition of culture and what that means for our classrooms as well. Even in areas where, where English language learners might be a smaller percentage of our population.
Using Colorín Colorado tips for creating a welcoming classroom
The article about creating a welcoming classroom got amazing feedback from our teachers because it made them think about what it's like for an English learner entering the classroom. Because the teachers were so focused on really trying to make the student feel comfortable, they didn't always exactly know how or what that student was going through.
So it allowed teachers to really sit down and think about some things that they can do right away when they get an English learner who doesn't know any English. Or has very limited English. And gave them some tools that they could access right away.
Aligning the course to teacher evaluation rubrics
We had to revise the course when some district initiatives had changed, so we took the course, and looked at what the teacher evaluation rubric, and then planned backwards from there thinking about what we've heard from our content teachers, what we've heard from our grade level teachers.
So we broke the class into modules based on the teacher evaluation rubric, and then we created assignments, resources, and structured it so that teachers were getting exactly what they needed.
Moving the courses online
I started moving the class online for a couple of different reasons. I knew that it was sometimes difficult for teachers to go to the classes after, after hours, after school, and I knew that having the course online would give us a lot of flexibility. So we could teach it online, we could teach it face to face or we could do a combination and blend it or hybrid course.
So with the change in some district initiatives we decided that it would be best to move it online. And sort of revamp the course and break it into modules so that teachers could really differentiate for their learning and they could choose the modules that best fit what they needed, and what was most meaningful to them.
Really the heart of the course is making the learning meaningful for the teachers, and being able to bring those tools back into the classroom right away and be able to use them. So we started moving the courses online when we realized that we could really be more efficient, more effective by opening the course up so that teachers could access the information any time of the day and then go back and re-access it again, and share it with our colleagues.
Different kinds of technology used in the course
So the platform that we used for our online course was called Moodle. And our district has a Moodle site. It makes it really easy for us to develop courses within Moodle. But there's a number of different ways that you could create an online course, different districts may have different ways of doing that. Another one I've seen is Schoology and also an online or social media platform that I've used is Edmodo. Another really great resource I've used online is Google Docs.
So no matter if it's online, hybrid, or face to face, really keeping that interaction with teachers is really, really important. So if we're doing a face to face course and we're using strategies like “Give one, take one” or “Fold the line,” which are interactive strategies that teachers can use in the ESL classroom, brought into professional development, we use those types of activities in the face to face course. And then we use forums, we use Edmodo, we use Google Docs in the online realm.
I love the hybrid courses because you still get that face to face interaction, and it's not on a regular basis, it may be once or twice throughout the time of the course.
But and you get to really make all those connections and network with other teachers.
I love the combination of the face to face, and online courses because really you get the best of both worlds. Time doesn't always allow for that, but when you can do it I think that's really effective.
A team effort
Andrea Scott and Janice Rankin started off teaching the course with me and we started, we would go to the, to our AFT office and gather over a number of months, we would listen to our content teachers, listen to our grade level teachers and we would think about what they need, and then we would get together and find the resources on Colorín Colorado to help support and fill those needs. So Andrea and Janice have been amazing to work with in developing this course.
Working with the AFT
The AFT has really from the beginning had a hand in, a big hand in creating this course. They're the ones that came to us and said, “We see what you're doing in your English as a second language classrooms and we have this great resource called Colorín and we had heard about it, and they said, “We need professional development for our teachers.” So the AFT came to us and said, “Would you think about creating a course like this?”
And after talking with our content teachers, and our grade level teachers, we knew that this was a big need and we knew from using Colorín Colorado in the past that Colorín could fill that need. So it's, AFT has been integral in getting this, making this happen.
Ideas for new modules
I've dreamed of creating a module on technology for differentiation in the classroom because there are so many resources that we can use now to differentiate for our English learners and our students with disabilities. And there's a wealth of information that we can unlock there.
Also, I've dreamed of creating a module “ESL for Administrators.” And also cultural competence for a classified staff. So we've done a number of modules, we've completed a number of modules, but I'm dreaming of more.