Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Professional Development

Professional Development is one of those famous buzzwords in the world of education.  It's something teachers are required to do in order to continue their education, stay up-to-date with the latest educational strategies and technology, and just learn!  Since the population of ELLs is growing, professional development opportunities in your school district may be beneficial for everyone.  Better yet, professional development is a way to make sure we are preparing high quality teachers for every student.  

Research has shown that professional development in teaching ELLs will benefit teachers, students, and the entire school district.  These opportunities should focus on topics like the foreign language learning process, pedagogical strategies, technology incorporation, involving ELLs' families, and cultural knowledge.  Additionally, according to the research, these opportunities should include the following characteristics:
  • hands-on demonstrations of teaching techniques
  • duration of more than a year
  • at least 30 contact hours 
  • time for teachers to practice, implement, and reflect on strategies
  • communication between teachers and administrators on the school's needs
  • visible support from administrators.
If all of these characteristics can be fit into a professional development course for mainstream teachers, results will show a more positive school climate, a better learning environment for ELLs, more high qualified and knowledgeable teachers, and ELL success!  Teachers must continue to be the advocates for their ELLs and themselves by communicating with school officials on which types of professional development topics need to be addressed and how the school can work together to create success for all. 

- "Preparing Quality Educators for English Language Learners" by Hersh Waxman.
- "Best Practice in ELL Instruction" by Guofang Li.
- Photo: Bigstock Photos

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Strategy: Scaffolding

Scaffolding is an instructional method used by teachers to help students gain independence and mastery on their own through a series of steps.  Generally, scaffolding begins with the teacher performing a task by showing the class how to do it.  Next, the teacher should have the students do the task along with them.  Finally, the teachers will create autonomy and require students to do the activity completely on their own.  This ensures that all students see the process first, experience it with help, and then are able to achieve it on their own.

Scaffolding proves to be especially useful for ELLs because they can feel comfortable with learning new things and using the language with their teacher or classmates first and then work up to independently completing tasks. Two important areas for scaffolding with ELLs are vocabulary instruction and reading comprehension, because these are areas that deal with language and content knowledge.

Here is a list of activities you can try to scaffold instruction for all students, but especially ELLs:
  1. During a lesson or unit, start with level one questions (recall), more to level two questions (application), and then to level three questions (reflections/connections with the real world).
  2. Math: model problems on the board and explain them.  Next, have students help you explain the process.  Finally, allow students to try problems on their own, but provide feedback.
  3. Think-Pair-Share: This is one of my favorite methods, and it allows students to work together but also independently.  When asking a question or opinion on a topic, have students think about it on their own, then pair with a partner to discuss, then share the responses with the whole class.
  4. Use of graphic organizers like: KWL, concept webs, semantic outlines, and foldables can be scaffolded and also available for later use.
  5. Science: When doing lab work, model the task, then have students explain the task back to you, then have them perform it on their own.
  6. Vocabulary: Present words with definitions, pictures, etc.  Then, have students work together to give examples of these words.  Finally, have students work alone to create sentence using the words.  
The following video is an awesome example of scaffolding (especially with ELLs), and it demonstrates the method called "I Do, We Do, You Do."  (3 mins. long)

- Photo Credit: Bigstock, AndrewPopov
- Video Credit: "I Do, We Do, You Do."  The Teaching Channel.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Common Misconceptions about ELLs!!

One of the main setbacks to an ELL getting the quality education that he or she deserves is the misconceptions teachers and others have about their way of learning.  As an area I have previously studied, I understand that teachers may be intimidated by ELLs if they hear these misconceptions.  If you ever have concerns as a teacher, there are many resources for you--from the ESL specialist at your district to colleagues to reliable internet sources.

I want to go over a few common misconceptions and clear them up in hopes that people will shed their negative/uncertain attitudes towards ELLs and learn the facts.

  1. Exposure to English will automatically result in language learning.
    • Why it's wrong: Learning a second language requires more focus on grammar, vocabulary acquisition, and academic language than when we learn our first language as a baby.  ELLs can learn social language more quickly by interacting with natives and being exposed, but academic language can take longer than 7 years to achieve.   
  2. ELLs are always good at math.
    • Why it's wrong: This is simply a stereotype, and may be due in part to the large number of Asian ELLs.  No one ethnic group represents ELLs.  
  3. Good teaching for native speakers is good teaching for ELLs.
    • Why it's wrong: Since ELLs learn differently, sometimes they need different types of strategies or modifications/interventions that native students don't need, especially in the mainstream classroom when they're leaning content without being proficient in English.  This also goes along with the learning theories with every person learning in a different way (i.e. verbal, visual, tactile, etc.).   
  4. ELLs have learning problems/should be in special education programs.
    • Why it's wrong: Many ELLs can transfer cognitive skills from the first language to English, it just takes time.  With a portion of ELLs being immigrants with harsh backgrounds, they may not have had the proper schooling throughout their lives, but that also does not mean they have problems learning, they just haven't had the chance. 
  5. All ELLs learn the same and at the same rate.  
    • Why it's wrong: Once again, we know all people learn differently, so why would it be different for ELLs?  ELLs will progress with their language learning at different speeds due to factors like previous level of education, family support at home, amount of practice at school, and more.
So, how can we help to eliminate these misconceptions??  The answer lies in education itself.  Teachers must be educated enough to have a general understanding of second language acquisition and the processes that go along with that.  They must also be educated on different types of strategies and interventions they can use for ELLs.  Furthermore, teachers must work together and use their resources to be able to successfully include and teach ELLs in the mainstream classroom.  

-Photo Credit: &

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Strategy: Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning is a strategy that benefits every student in the class, especially ELLs.  Cooperative learning is more than just group work, but it's specific, structured task which are done collaboratively.  This helps to create a safe and pressure free environment for ELLs who may be too shy or embarrassed to speak up in a whole class activity.  Additionally, cooperative learning groups should be structured so that the goal of the group is clear and each student actively participates.  This may be done through assigning roles, keeping a checklist, or giving evaluations at the end.  Either way, one of the goals of cooperative learning is for the students to teach each other something.

There are many types of activities to do in a cooperative learning setting, ranging from short to long term.  Here are some I like:
  • Peer review of essays and writing assignments: students can trade papers and read parts out loud to give each other feedback.  This will be especially helpful for ELLs who may need to improve their grammar in essays, and the native speakers can help teach them how to avoid mistakes.  
  • Stimulated conversations: depending on the content area and unit, you can assign a topic and have students converse, ask questions, and more.  It may be helpful to provide a graphic organizer with questions to consider or helpful words.  In a social studies classroom, you could have the students pretend to be someone from history.  
  • Peer mentoring system: pair a native speaker with an ELL for certain activities or bell ringers.  This will help ELLs have a go-to peer to ask questions, converse with, and even help them communicate their ideas during class.  Not to mention, the native speaker will benefit by helping others and making a difference.  
  • Problem-based learning: students can work together to solve problems through teamwork, research, and more.  Students in a science class can come up with ways to stop global warming by creating a poster presentation.
  • Video/technology projects: utilizing technology to do projects can be fun and beneficial.  Students can reenact scenes from a novel to get across the main theme, create a mock presidential election, or even informative video tutorials on solving math problems.   

No matter what, the keys to cooperative learning with ELLs are creating a safe, comfortable environment for them, structuring the activity and stating it clearly, ensuring participation by every student, and ensuring learning.

Below is a great video about ELL education in general, but the cooperative learning ideas are wonderful, too. (13:36 mins long--but worth it!).

Here's the link to a website with great information on cooperative learning with ELLs:

- Photo Credit: & VadimGuzhva
- Video Credit : "Deeper Learning for English Language Learners" by

Monday, February 22, 2016

Strategy: Explicit Vocabulary Instruction

As a foreign language learner, I understand what it's like to read a passage and not recognize a majority of the words--and it's terrifying.  I firmly believe that the basis to learning another language is building a substantial vocabulary as quickly as possible.  According to an article called Effective Instruction for English LearnersCalderon says, “As many studies attest, vocabulary is the first important step toward and, indeed, the foundation of, school success for English learners and other students” (110). I am in full agreement! Vocabulary instruction will not stick if it does not span a long term where students continue to have practice in reinforcing what they have learned.
Explicitly teaching vocabulary to ELLs helps them to make connections with their prior knowledge, cement the words into their brains, and gives them examples of usage. I feel it is extremely important to teaching vocabulary in context as well--that way ELLs can see how these words are used in real sentences and texts. Some activities to supplement explicit vocabulary instruction are:

  • Using pictures/drawings to show meaning
  • Label all of the items in the classroom with their English words
  • Bell ringers!! Have ELLs keep a vocab journal where they can write sentences every day with the words and work up to writing paragraphs at the end of the week using ALL of the words.
  • Provide ELLs with supplemental readings
  • Use graphic organizers to aid comprehension
  • Pair up each ELL with a native speaker to practice vocabulary use in oral conversations

Finally, I want to point out a method that may be useful for you in dealing with ELLs or in any type of class with vocabulary teaching. This encompasses many aspects of learning, and I recommend it for any classroom. Marzano's Six-Step Process for vocabulary teaching:
  1. Provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term.
  2. Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.
  3. Ask students to construct a picture, pictograph, or symbolic representation of the term.
  4. Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms in their vocabulary notebooks.
  5. Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another.
  6. Involve students periodically in games that enable them to play with terms.
In the following video, Marzano's Six-Step Process is used to explicitly teach vocabulary, in context, using multiple activities and resources, and practiced over a long period of time.  I love this video, as it exemplifies everything you should strive for in vocabulary instruction!!!  (4:01 minutes long).

- Calderon, Margarita, Slavin, Robert, and Sanchez, Marta.  "Effective Instruction for English Learners."  The Future of Children.  21.1(2011): 103-127.  Web.   
- Marzano, R.J. "Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement: Research on What Works in Schools."  ASCD.  2004.  Web.  
- Photo Credit: Bigstockphoto,com, Curioso Travel Photography.
- Video Credit: YouTube = Tier Two Vocabulary Instruction.  By: SanBdoCitySchools.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Second Language Acquisition - What You Need to Know

One of the most important concepts that we must understand in order to successfully teach ELLs is the process of second language acquisition (SLA).  First, let's take a look at how we learn our first language.  Most people know the stages of learning the first language - from cooing and babbling all the way up to grammar and vocabulary building.  The first language is learned through cognitive processes like habit formation, repetition, reinforcement, and practice.

Learning a second language is a little different.  There are two main types of language in SLA, which are BICS and CALP (theorized by Jim Cummins).  
  • BICS, or basic interpersonal communication skills, is the type of language that ELLs will easily pick up on by interacting with friends at school, people in the community, and seeing them on television.  Some examples include talking on the phone, singing songs, and slang words that are popular in the area/culture.  On average, BICS proficiency can be achieved anywhere from 6 month to 2 years.  
  • CALP, or cognitive academic language proficiency, is academic language specific to content area studies that must be learned for success in school but will not be picked up through day to day conversations.  Many of these words are vocabulary words for specific content areas like math or science.  
Now, to understand the role of BICS and CALP in language development, we must be familiar with the stages of Second Language Acquisition.  The stages in SLA include: 

It is important for teachers to really understand which level their ELLs are in when they come into the classroom in order to give them the best education possible.  Another important thing is to respect the silent period, as most ELL students will take time to get adjusted in the first place, especially if they are new to the country or the school. 

Now, another viral aspect of SLA is reaching fluency in academic language, or the CALP aspect from above.  Many teachers do not realize that it may take as many as 7-10 years to reach fully academic language fluency.  But, what is academic language anyways?  Academic language is the content area language and vocabulary needed for students to be successful in each subject.  Some examples are theme and irony in English language arts, hypotenuse and function in mathematics, and democracy in social studies.  Academic language usually needs to be explicitly taught, and the instruction and explanation of these content area words may even benefit the mainstream students as well.  Who doesn't need a refresher on the difference between mood and tone or communism and socialism every year??

Some methods/activities for achieving academic language proficiency are:
  • Flash cards (or Quizlet)
  • Reading different types of texts (in or out of class)
  • Conversation practice or stimulated dialogues with peers and teacher
  • Language learning software (Rosetta Stone, or the app DuoLingo are great ones!)
  • Teaching grammar/giving grammatical explanations before students use it
  • Activating background/cultural knowledge
  • Providing quick, easy to understand, and constructive feedback
  • Creating graphic organizers or handouts with visuals, pictures, explanations, and more.

Take a look at this video to see what Dr. Cynthia Lundgren from Hamline University has to say about social vs. academic language!! (3:23 minutes long)


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Strategy: Use ELLs' Native Language & Culture to Aid Comprehension

In his famous book, Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury says, "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture.  Just get people to stop reading them."  Taken in a metaphorical sense, this can apply to many situations, especially ELLs.  The daily life and education of ELLs in the United States often requires them to mold themselves into our way of life and also to acculturate quickly--it's not the burning of books, but the denial of their culture to flourish.  The United States of America has always been a melting pot, celebrating the fact that our cultural diversity is plentiful.  From Pennsylvania's Dutch to New Orleans' French Quarter to California's Latin American & Eastern Asian influences, America boasts some of the most cultural diversity in the world.  So, this being said, why in the world would a school require ELL students to put their own culture and language on the back burner and focus on "ours?"  ELLs' cultures should be celebrated in the schools, not "burned" or forced away.   

There are proven, research-based benefits of allowing ELLs to use their native language and cultures in the classroom.  An article called Principles for Writing Practices with Young ELLs says, "only by recognizing and relating to ELLs' linguistic and cultural backgrounds could teachers authentically improve instruction and help them succeed" (McCarthey 117).  I believe teachers need to prove to their ELLs that they can celebrate and appreciate their native cultures and languages at school.  This can be as simple as respecting cultural differences like how some cultures in Asia are taught to never question the teacher, even if the student needs help, because the teacher is the authority figure---we should try that here, am I right?  I believe that ELLs need to feel comfortable in the classroom in order to thrive in gaining content knowledge AND English proficiency.  Allowing them to use their native language and cultures can help ELLs connect to their background knowledge, gain proficiency, self-confidence, and other social and academic skills.  

 Here are some ideas I have for allowing students to use their native language and culture in the classroom:
  • Have ELLs keep a daily journal to record their thoughts and feelings in their native language, which will maintain their writing/literacy skills.
  • Provide handouts/graphic organizers with photos and charts so that ELLs can comprehend these concepts in the native language and transfer that to English comprehension.
  • Plan a cultural unit/week where groups of students, headed by the ELLs, present their cultures to the whole class with visuals, food, items, etc.  This will help ELLs with teamwork, trusting their peers, presentation/oral skills, English comprehension, and more!  Also, the rest of the class will be exposed to different cultures, traditions, and hopefully appreciate their ELL classmates for their unique backgrounds.  
  • Record videos of yourself for assignment instructions or class material presentations, and send to ELLs so they can practice comprehension and maybe even use subtitles from their native language. 
  • Partner each ELL with a native English speaker during class to act as a peer mentor and translator (through gestures/drawings).
  • Recommend movies, songs, and books in English to your ELL students, so they can practice at home.  These can even be content area related.
  • Create a type of dictionary of pictures and English words that ELLs can use on assignments, during class, and possibly even on tests.
  • Be creative, innovative, and resourceful with technology!
Overall, I think this is the start of a great list to help ELLs make the transition into content area class and English instruction.  It may take some time, and it may take extra work for teachers, but I believe it will be worth it for the best interest and success of the ELL students.  Finally, remember that you are the teacher, the authority figure, and one of the people with the most influence on every student's development and learning experience.  Be their champion!!  Create a diverse and celebrated culture within your classroom where every student feels safe, comfortable, and loved, and you will reap the benefits of watching your hard work pay off in the form of all of your students achievements!

Here is an interesting video of a dual language class where the teacher uses native language to fortify concepts in English vocabulary learning... (4:00 Minutes long)

- McCarthey, Sarah and Zheng, Xun.  :Principles for Writing Practices with Young ELLs."  Best Practices in ELL Instruction.  Ed. Guofang Li.  New York: Guilford Press, 2010.  (103-126).  Print.  
- Photo Credit:,
- Video Credit: Dual Language Learners: Developing Literacy.  From: