Yesterday I walked into the Kellogg Newcomer classroom. Immediately I took in the lovely and soft hum of multiple languages simultaneously creating their own symphony. I heard Arabic, Somali, Spanish, and Chinese, each with a beautiful flavor of culture and diversity. As I smiled to myself I thought "I wish more teachers and students could enjoy this harmony". The Newcomer teachers flowed beautifully and efficiently between teaching academics and supporting students' cultural and linguistic needs.
We have been on a journey this year as a district diving into the pool of culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning. We have had time to explore and implement strategies that help us to level the playing field and provide equal access for students.
In the world of EL, culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning are at the heart of what we do. We see the assets our English learners bring with them and strive to help them to grow academically and socially in a sometimes new and confusing world of American education.
How then can we tie together the work we are doing in our classrooms and put a slight twist on it to assist our English learners? Here are 10 simple, and yet powerful things we can all do in our classrooms to enhance our culturally responsive teaching and learning for our ELs. The infographic below is from Tan Huynh.
1. Pronounce ELs' names correctly. I purposefully chose to put this as number 1 because I feel that this is the most simple thing any teacher can do, and yet can have significant negative effects if mispronounced. For many students, hearing their name mispronounced can make them feel alienated and as if their culture is not valued. There is a very funny, and yet poignant, clip from the Ellen DeGeneres show that makes this point quite clearly.
2. Refrain from substituting ELs first name with an English nickname. Does anyone want to be called a name that is not what they have chosen to be called? Simply ask what they would like to be called and then practice saying it repeatedly until it is as easy as saying "Jon Snow" (for all of you Game of Thrones fans).
3. Invite ELs to use their home language. Not only does it bring a beautiful new harmony to your classroom but students feel that their language and culture is valued. It is an opportunity for ELs who speak the same language to have time to connect with one another.
4. Read books with characters who share ELs' experiences. Here is a great book list that provides books at different age levels. Also, check with your Media Specialist. He or she is a great resource for finding culturally responsive books.
5. Encourage ELs to share the connections between their lives and the topic. ELs bring with them a plethora of experiences. Create a community where students feel comfortable sharing their experiences through the content you are teaching.
6. Expect ELs to engage in the same learning experience and learn the same content as non-ELs. ELs can do the work. Our job is to provide them the scaffolds and supports to get them there.
7. Have ELs work with non-ELs. We do not learn in isolation. Providing opportunities for ELs to work with non-ELs allows students to not only learn from each other academically but also culturally. ELs also have much more opportunities to develop academic language when they are with their native English speaking peers.
8. Explicitly teach students how to respectfully collaborate. Strategies such as Campfire Discussions and Gallery Walks provide students opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other.
9. Use ELs' experiences to activate prior knowledge. When building background knowledge or activating prior knowledge, provide many examples from different cultures. Do not assume that all students have the same experiences, but instead provide experiences and examples that many students can connect to.
10. Permit ELs to process content in their home languages in addition to using English resources. Providing students the opportunity to clarify concepts in their first language provides comfortability in learning and also transfers this knowledge into learning English.
Let's keep diving into the pool and creating harmony for our English Learners through culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
As I was munching on goodies and enjoying the ads during the Superbowl game, I thought about growing up watching football with my family. Then I thought about how much fun it was to play rugby with my brother and his friends. As a young girl, playing rugby with a bunch of older boys was intimidating, but a ton of fun at the same time. My friends had no idea what the games was and, honestly, I didn’t really know what I was doing either. I just listened to my brother as he told me what to do and where to go. It made me wonder about how many people are familiar with American football, but unfamiliar with other sports like rugby that are popular in other parts of the world.
We encounter so many unfamiliar things all of the time and need background knowledge to navigate our world. Yet, many of our students lack the background knowledge they need to navigate their learning. How do we provide this for them?
As an EL teacher, I always struggled with balancing providing students background knowledge when there was so many other things I needed to teach (decoding, comprehension, writing organization, and so much more!). How do I tap into my students’ prior knowledge and provide them with the information they need, and still have time to teach it all? I could teach background knowledge all day, but then my students would lack other essential skills. How should one balance it all?
How important is background knowledge really?
According to Robert Marzano in his book Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement, “What students already know about the content is one of the strongest indicators of how well they will learn new information relative to the content.” We all have experiences that make up who we are but it is the academic side of background knowledge that assists students in their learning. So, how do we provide background knowledge to our students, specifically our English Learners, concisely and efficiently?
Framework for Building ELs’ Background Knowledge
Diane Staehr Fenner and Sydney Snyder in their book Unlocking English Learners’ Potential created a framework to help educators determine how and what to teach in regards to background knowledge:
Staehr Fenner and Snyder suggest teachers ask themselves the following questions to assist them in determining what background knowledge their ELs need (183).
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Do non-ELs have background knowledge on the topic?
ELs should have a comparable amount of knowledge of a topic as their non-EL peers. This provides equity amongst all students.
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Does the background provide information in place of what the author is going to provide in the text?
If students are going to gather the information in an upcoming text, then don’t spoil it! It is still crucial that we provide students support and scaffolding as they access this information.
| 3 |
Is the background knowledge about big issues that will help ELs make sense of the text?
Teachers don’t have to provide students everything about a topic. Rather, provide them information that is critical to comprehending the information.
| 4 |
Is the background knowledge you’d like to provide concise?
There isn’t a need to take up an entire hour or class period on background information. Take just enough time to provide the critical information and move on.
The figure below is also a great reference to refer to when you are unsure about which background knowledge to teach. Keep it in your lesson plan book!
What are some quick strategies I can use to teach background knowledge?
The key to all of these strategies is to find out what students already know and determine what critical information to teach quickly and concisely.
Back to Rugby: an example.
I know you are still thinking about that rugby game, right? Here is a brief clip with the rugby rules along with visuals, websites and even a rally table. Maybe when spring comes around again you can try rugby. Trust me, it’s really fun!
Please reach out if you are interested in exploring more ideas for building background knowledge for your ELs.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
Don’t you sometimes wish that students could just see inside your head and understand exactly what you are thinking? That may be every teacher’s dream. If someone would invent a tool that allowed students to see inside our heads, they would become a millionaire! Unfortunately, this invention hasn’t been created yet, so we need to find a way for students to “see” what we are thinking through strategic teaching methods. Marcia Dove and Andrea Honigsfeld call this idea “making thinking visible” in their newest book Co-Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Collaborative Planning, Instruction, Assessment, and Reflection. In their book, they give several strategies for making thinking visible for students so that they can begin to magically see inside our teacher heads to increase reading and writing skills.
Think Alouds are one way that makes thinking visible for students. It seems so simple. Just talk about what you are already thinking. Yet it is extremely powerful for students. Teachers can model their thinking by making text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections. Check out this video to see a Think Aloud in action:
A Write Aloud provides a scaffold for students to guide them through the process of writing. Teachers can model a piece of writing so students can see the steps and procedures in the writing process. Throughout the process, the teacher explains verbally what he or she is thinking. The teacher can talk about why they selected a particular vocabulary word, phrase, transition word, or structure. Write alouds can be done with one teacher, or in a co-teaching partnership. In a co-teaching partnership, one teacher can do a think aloud while the other teacher takes notes or writes out what the other teacher is thinking in a structured format (or with a graphic organizer). Another idea is to have one teacher think aloud and write out what they are thinking, and then the other teacher performs a separate think aloud to show the differences in their writing and thinking processes. If you have a paraprofessional, it would be helpful to give them a frame for the think aloud so they can assist and/or provide other think aloud strategies.
A Scaffolded Comprehend Aloud is another version of a Think Aloud. While think alouds support different reading and writing strategies, Dove and Henigsfeld believe that scaffolded comprehend alouds “make thinking visible about processing and analyzing the language of complex readings at the word, sentence, and text level” (pg. 85). Dove and Henigsfeld provide the table below with different sentence starters (pg. 85-86). Each content area, and grade level, may have to adapt these, but this list can provide a start to using think alouds and/or scaffolded comprehend alouds.
Think Alouds, Write Alouds, and Scaffolded Comprehend Alouds are three great strategies to make our thinking visible to students. They provide a way for students to see inside our heads, model good reading and writing strategies, and allow students to use critical-thinking skills.
If you would be interested in trying any of these out with students, reach out to an instructional coach, or I would be happy to come out and model them beside you.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
Dove, M.G., & Honigsfeld, A. (2018). Co-teaching for English learners: a guide to collaborative planning, instruction, assessment, and reflection. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, A SAGE Company.
Have you ever had a student struggle and you are confused as to why?
Have you had a student who isn’t making academic gains and/or struggles in the social realm?
Over the years, we have encountered many students who have struggled and have been a puzzle to each of us. Sometimes our students do not follow the norms of language and academic growth. They are not growing similar to other students who come from the same cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Many different strategies and tools were tried to increase language and academic growth, but nothing seemed to work. The classroom teachers would come to Katie in angst with concerns about EL students with this profile; they didn’t know what more to do. I and the classroom teacher were out of our tools in our toolbox. Where did we go next? Often times the student with EL was then brought to Child Study to request testing. Then came a wonderful model that pulls the best of the best professionals to bear on the problem rather than struggling to solve the puzzle individually. It is called RtI (Response to Intervention).
What is RtI?
The RtI (Response to Intervention) model is very helpful in defining student concerns and developing systematic, research-based interventions that inform instruction and assist in determining whether a student is struggling with executive function (information processing issues), mental-health issues, understanding the hidden academic cultural curriculum, and/or social curriculum used within schools. RtI is used throughout the district in the form of many different titles (i.e. Student Assistance Teams, Student Intervention Teams, Professional Learning Communities, etc.).
Can I bring an EL student forth to use the RtI model?
YES! All students can be brought forth to these teams to use the RtI model. The RtI model is a great way to assist teachers in exploring different strategies.
The power of the RtI model is its focus on accessing a problem-solving team that is focused on student growth. This team brings the expertise of professionals together to define the learning difficulty in measurable terms, pull from their collective tool box of differentiated teaching strategies that best meets the defined need of the student, assists in developing a data collection tool (see data tracker) to collect student response to the differentiated teaching strategy, and then to meet at predetermined intervals to review the student’s response to the intervention in order to determine next steps (RtI Process Chart). The beauty of this team is that it is composed of professionals who work with the student, and also professionals who join the team with expertise in the skill area targeted. Using a Data Tracker gives the team objective, focused data to truly inform the decisions they work together to make. The team membership has the ability to change to meet student needs. This team is also willing to research differentiation strategies or make a referral to the Child Study Team when their collective tool boxes have been exhausted or the data indicates the student potentially has a disability and is responsive to more intensive, daily, individualized interventions.
When supporting a student with English learning needs, parental input from the English Language Learner Parent Interview will provide valuable information when establishing strategic, research based differentiated instructional strategies (SIOP for example). When supporting a student with English learning needs, it is imperative to ensure the EL Teacher is involved from the start to ensure matching differentiated strategies are used support the student’s WIDA level of learning and learning profile. Many of these strategies also help our struggling learners and special education students. Our EL staff are very valuable collaborators.
What can I do before I bring an EL student forth to the team?
There are a few things that EL and content teachers can do before they begin the RtI process. It is important that the EL and content teachers work as a team since both will see the student through different lenses. WIDA provides some great resources to assist teachers in understanding what students are capable of doing at different language levels. They provide what is called the Can-Do Descriptors of language. Katie has taken the descriptors and created a document that lists what students are able to do in a more concise format. It also provides scaffolds that teachers can use to support students at different language levels.
I don’t know who my ELs are and/or I don't know their language levels?
The EL teachers are a great resource in your building and happy to help you identify your English Learners. They can also provide you their language levels. Additionally, they can give you helpful hints to help you tweak your lessons to provide more language scaffolds. Sometimes small changes in a lesson can make a huge impact. For example, instead of just giving your directions orally, write them on the board, provide visuals and gestures so students know what is expected of them.
Our team has decided to bring a student forth through the RtI Process. What happens first?
The EL teacher will complete the Parent Interview. This parent interview is to provide background information, past educational experiences, language exposure and other valuable information that can help the team better understand the student. Sometimes they will ask for support from our amazing bilingual team. Then the team will complete the first couple of pages of the Intervention Form in order to be prepared for your first RtI meeting. Both forms can be found on the 535 Net →Internal Documents → Student Support Services → Child Study-Child Study Information. Then follow the RtI Process Chart to understand next steps.
Who can I contact if I have more questions?
The Student Support Services team at your site is a great place to start. They can help guide you through the process. Also, Katie is also happy to assist in any way if you have questions regarding EL.
We hope that this information is helpful as you navigate your way through the RtI model.
How many times has a student pushed your buttons or tried to get into a power struggle with you? Low breathing and smiling keeps a teacher’s body and heart rate calm, which in turn keeps the students calm and prevents verbal challenges. So, do you want to build even better relationships with your students with an even greater focus on content?
It is essential, that as teachers, we give students fair and consistent boundaries, while at the same time, maintaining and preserving relationships. A majority of our students are motivated to learn and behave when we operate from a base of INFLUENCE instead of POWER.
In our work as ENVoY coaches, we have seen teachers consistently use Educational Non-Verbal Yardsticks (ENVoY) GEMS to build more meaningful relationships with all students, focus even more on content, and increase student independence.
Some may think using ENVoY means misbehavior is ignored but that is not the case. ENVoY is not void of discipline. It is more importantly, a set of solid culturally responsive routines used to influence students to increase their on-task independence. When discipline is needed, staff should utilize their building-wide processes and procedures.
According to ENVoY’s author, Michael Grinder, adults who systematically utilize the full range of nonverbal management skills reinforce consistent and fair parameters with all students, regardless of unique learning styles or cultural backgrounds.
Think of it like this: If you purposely tried to use words mostly for content and relationships, and used non-verbal signs, gestures, or signals to manage behavior/transitions, how would that impact your classroom? Coaches can help you identify the balance and art of managing behaviors by influence rather than power.
These practices are not only for classrooms, but media centers, hallways, gyms, computer labs, special education rooms, and main offices can also feel the positive impact of ENVoY.
ENVoy strategies- are identified by 4 phases of teaching and include the following GEMS:
Getting Attention: Freeze Body, Above Pause Whisper
Teaching: Raise Your Hand/Speak Out
Transition to Seat Work: Exit Directions, M.I.T.S. (Most Important Twenty Seconds)
Seatwork: Off/Neutral /On, Influence Approach
Below are some ideas and examples of how teachers tailor ENVoY fit their personal teaching style:
Above (said 2 levels above that of the group) Pause (for silence and attention) Whisper (to begin the content)
The value of the routine affords any guest teacher the opportunity to gather students efficiently with their own Above Pause Whisper as well.
Exit Directions (visual list of what students Need, Do, When, How, and Then)
ENVoY recommends routines for students to manage their own learning. After group instruction, teachers go through Exit Directions then allow students a moment to process, ask questions for clarification, then move into work time. The teacher can use the visuals to NONVERBALLY direct students who may need additional help getting started. Exit Directions also ease transitions for students and adults entering the room at various times. They quickly read what the class is working on and are able to begin with minimal direction/distraction.
Silent Select (written names for student selection)
ENVoY recommends silent select for least disturbance when requesting students from classrooms. Support teachers could write students names on whiteboards or have printed lists and smile and stand silently at the door.
Developing ENVoY routines and management strategies help students feel safe and experience structure and expectations that support their learning. Contact an ENVoY Resident Coach to increase your ENVoY capacity!
This post brought to you by Paula Kuisle, Instructional/ENVoY Coach, Elton Hills Elementary
and Angie Ellsworth, Behavior/ENVoY Coach, Pinewood Elementary
Feel free to connect with Paula via her email or Angie via her email
Consider the following statements (which my teachers taught me and I have taught to my students). For each one, decide whether or not the statement is TRUE or FALSE. I encourage you to write down your answers.
If you suspect that each and every one of these statements is false (or at least not ENTIRELY true), you are correct. In their article, “13 Rules That Expire” (Teaching Children Mathematics, NCTM, August, 2014), the authors challenge us to rethink common “tips” and “tricks” that we often use with students to learn a procedure. Our intentions are good. Perhaps they are the same tricks we were taught. Unfortunately, these tricks and tips often “expire” and aren’t always true. The result is that we leave students with partial understanding of the mathematics and misconceptions that we “hope” someone will correct later. We also leave students with the idea that math is about a “mysterious series of tricks and tips to memorize rather than big concepts that relate to one another.”
The authors go on to give examples of why the statements are simply not always true.
Here are a few of their examples.
1) When you multiply a number by ten, just add a zero to the end of the number.
Does this rule always work? Consider: 0.25 x 10 = 0.250 Not so much.
2) Use keywords to solve word problems.
This approach often leads students to pull out the numbers and do the operation that the key word suggests, rather than focus on what is happening in the story. When students see “altogether,” they may think they always add. But what about this story: There were 9 dogs in the yard. Some more dogs came and altogether there were 18 dogs. How many dogs came? (You’d probably subtract to get the answer.) Or perhaps this one: I had 3 boxes of crayons with 8 crayons in each box. How many crayons do I have altogether? (Most people would multiply.)
3) You cannot take a bigger number from a smaller number.
Image the temperature is 10° and it drops 15 degrees. In this case, 10-15 can (and does) happen and the result is -5°. Even from young ages, we can start looking at a number line with negative numbers. Students often think that subtraction only means “take away,” but they also need to understand that subtraction can be the distance between two numbers on a number line.
14) The equal sign means Find the answer or Write the answer.
Students often believe that the equal sign means “the answer comes next” instead of understanding it as “is the same as” which is a relation between the two sides. When they think that, they will struggle with equations such as:
4 = 4 (They will say this is false because there isn’t an operation.)
8 = 3 + 5 (They will say it is false because it’s backwards.)
Every time we use statements that are not entirely true or tricks that are not grounded in conceptual understanding, we hinder student learning in the long run. This article is great food-for-thought for all teachers of mathematics!
The whole article (with discussion of all 13 statements) can be found here.
This post brought to you by Carol Lucido, the K-8 District Math Coordinator
13 Rules That Expire by Karen S. Karp, Sarah B. Bush, and Barbara J. Dougherty (Teaching Children Mathematics, NCTM, August, 2014)
Getting students to talk more seems like a very simple task. Students talk all the time, right?! Sometimes, it’s hard to get them to stop talking! The question is: are students using social language or academic language? Our goal should be to increase academic talk in our classrooms, while encouraging students to continue to develop their social language. Seems easy right? Not always true, as I have discovered in my teaching experiences.
Here is an example of a lesson that I learned a lot from:
Interaction is a key component of SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Promotional). We often say we want students to talk more and teachers to talk less. However, before we can expect students to interact and use academic language, we first need to teach them the procedures and routines to do so. The error I made was I wanted students to use the academic language, but I had not taught them how to do so in the Turn and Talk.
So, here are some eight steps to help you not make the same mistake by instead creating an environment that teaches students how to build the skills needed to interact with one another and to use academic language (Echevarría and Short).
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Teach students how to listen to each other.
If we want students to talk, we need to teach them also how to listen. What does listening to each other look like? Model for students what active listening looks like. Have students practice listening skills using social conversations first (i.e. tell each other about their favorite TV show) and then move into more content-rich conversations.
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Teach students how to respectfully speak to one another.
What types of respectful words or phrases do you hear (I agree with you because…, I don't know that I can agree with you, and here's why...)? Provide sentence frames and model how to use them. Hang them up or write them on the board for students as a reference or to keep in a journal.
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Align the conversation to lesson objectives.
Make sure students know the goal of the lesson. That way they know if their academic conversations are on-topic or on-target. If they are not on-topic, remind them of the target or objective to help get them back on track.
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Pose questions that prompt high-quality discussions.
If you want students to increase their academic language, then make sure questions lend themselves to higher-order thinking skills. Questions should make students think, clarify, predict, or explain. A question such as “Tell your partner one fact about the Gettysburg Address” could be changed to “What do you think the reaction of the crowd was after President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address and why would he have reacted that way?”
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Teach students to ask questions or expand their thinking.
Students often need to be taught how to keep a conversation going. Put question and sentence frames around the room that expand discussions, such as Tell me more about …, Why do you think… I heard you say…, That made me think of …, Do you think that …, or That idea connects to the story by …. These frames allow students to build on each other’s thoughts and create engaging conversations.
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Link oral discussion to reading and writing.
Academic speaking and listening are deeply tied to reading and writing. Student discussions that are linked to text bring forth deeper academic discussions.
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Set reasonable time limits.
Think about how long it will take students to talk to each other. Don’t let a turn and talk that lasts 1-2 minutes turn into 10 minutes. This creates wasted academic time and often leads to off-task behavior.
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Hold students accountable for their talk.
Let students know that you are listening to them. Walk around and listen to what they are saying. Have a clipboard and write down what students say. Them, when the class is brought back together, talk about the great conversations you heard. Provide examples and discuss why these conversations were so powerful. This will motivate students moving forward because they know you are listening and sharing out their examples and ideas.
Consider using all of these eight steps to take your classroom conversations to the next level. I know they certainly helped my students.
If you would like to study these ideas future, consider reading the article "Student Interaction Gone Awry" by Jana Echevarría, and/or watching the Teaching Channel video "Talk Moves in Academic Discussions". Both provide great ideas on how to help students interact.
And, of course, feel free to connect with me directly. I would love to help you increase the academic talk in your classroom.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
With the district work focusing on cultural responsiveness and Dr. Hollie returning to RPS to work with teaching staff on being culturally responsive, C&I has started receiving questions more frequently about being a culturally responsive teacher, in addition to requests to help teachers implement these practices into their classroom. These recent requests have prompted the sharing of these discussions with a district wide audience.
-Definition of Culturally Responsive Teaching-
As C&I staff talk with teachers about culturally responsive teaching, it is important to ensure we share a common definition. The commonly excepted definition comes from Gloria Ladson-Billings, pedagogical theorist and teacher educator at UW Madison. Gloria states that “Culturally responsive teaching is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students' cultural references in all aspects of learning”.
-What It Is And What It Is Not-
The next thing C&I staff look at with a teacher is examining what culturally responsive teaching IS and what it IS NOT. According to Zaretta Hammond, author of the book Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain, it is not about “motivating students of color by mentioning cultural facts or naming famous people of color.” It is also not “teachers rapping their content…or...doing a call and response at the beginning of a lesson to get kids excited.” It is also not just about “motivating disengaged students’.” It is about “helping culturally and linguistically diverse students who have been marginalized in schools build their skill & capacity to do rigorous work.”
-Characteristics Of Culturally Responsive Teaching-
Finally, C&I staff have been working with teachers to identify what can be done in the classroom to foster an environment of cultural responsiveness.
This is the basic outline of the discussions that have been taking place with teachers across the district as we all continue our journey of becoming more culturally responsive. Hopefully, these resources make a terrific springboard to help make lessons more culturally responsive.
This post brought to you by Rebecca Mecikalski, Elementary Implementation Associate
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