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:

Friday, February 5, 2016

Why Does it Matter?

You may be wondering, why am I interested in ELLs?  Well, I'll tell you what sparked my interest.  One of the required courses for education majors at Cal U is called Supporting the English Language Learner, which I took in the spring of 2014.  I immediately loved the course and felt that the information was even more relevant to my training and my personal learning experience since I am a foreign language learner in Spanish.  Many of the strategies, activities, and practices used for ELLs are ones that I have been taught as a Spanish speaker.  For example, repetition!!!!!  As the saying goes, "practice makes perfect," and I couldn't agree more.  For this course, my professor, Dr. Susan Morris-Rutledge, assigned a group project, and mine had the topic of mainstream teacher attitudes towards ELLs.  We researched the literature, interviewed a local ESL Specialist, and sent out surveys to mainstream teachers across the state; finally, we created a video to present all of this information and learned many things in the process (see below).  Later on, I presented my own research that built on the group project at the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference in November 2015 in Chicago.  This was a great experience, and I got feedback and had conversations with people from all over the United States.  It was so interesting to hear from people in other states, especially Texas where the population of ELLs is one of the highest in the country.

Presenting my research at the NCHC Conference in Chicago.

Now, you may be wondering, how does this affect you as a mainstream teacher?  Well, I am here to tell you just how important ELL education is, and that it does affect YOU and EVERY teacher in the United States.  For one, we need to understand the goals and process of the public education system in the United States.  In its 2007 report, The Center on Education Policy attributed these main themes to the mission of public education:
- To provide universal access to free education
- To guarantee equal opportunities for all children
- To unify a diverse population
- To prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society
- To prepare people to become economically self-sufficient
- To improve social conditions (Kober 7).

When one reads these mission statements, it seems pretty clear that public education is for the greater good of the country and every single student can benefit.  It should make you proud to be a teacher in this system.  But does the system always follow this mission?  Does public education really create "equal opportunities for all children?"  

Historically, ELLs have been the ones to suffer in the public education system, especially in the mainstream classroom.  Although federal law "requires programs that educate children with limited English proficiency to be: based on a sound educational theory; adequately supported, with adequate and effective staff and resources, so that the program has a realistic chance of success; and periodically evaluated and, if necessary, revised" (Questions and Answers), ELLs have been overlooked and displaced in the system.  Our mission and goal as teachers in the public education system is to do everything we can to successfully educate the youth of America no matter their race, socioeconomic status, gender, disability, or first language.  Every child in America deserves a teacher who will fight for them and do everything humanly possibly to put them on the right path to succeed in school and in life.  We wouldn't be teachers if this wasn't our ultimate goal...well, we wouldn't be good teachers at the least.  I want to leave you with one final statistic.  In the 2012-2013 school year, a whopping 4.4 million, or 9.2%, of K-12 public school enrollment consisted of English Language Learners (The Condition).  This number, as we know it, is on the rise, and ELLs need quality teachers to help them flourish and get that opportunity like every other student.  Will you be someone's champion?  Will you give a little extra attention to the quiet Vietnamese boy in the back of the room?  What about the Mexican girl who can't sit still?  Who will you be?  If you're scared and you don't know how to handle ELLs in your classroom, you are NOT alone.  I hope I can help provide you with the resources and strategies that you need to stand up and help ELLs succeed.     

-Korber, Nancy.  "Why We Still Need Public Schools: Public Education for the Common Good."  Center on Education Policy.  2007.  ERIC.  Web.  5 February 2016.    
-"The Condition of Education: English Language Learners." National Center for Education Statistics.  May 2015.  Web.  5 February 2016.  
-"Questions and Answers on the Rights of Limited-English Proficient Students."  U.S. Department of Education.  16 October 2015.  Web.  5 February 2016.  

If you're interested, here's the video my group created called "A Look at the Attitudes and Perceptions of Mainstream Teachers towards English Language Learners." (16:07 minutes long).


My Introduction & Purpose of this Blog

Hello!  My name is Haley Bashada.  I am currently a senior at California University of Pennsylvania, a state university in Southwestern PA.  In December 2016, I will graduate with a dual degree in Secondary Education in English and Spanish.  From the beginning, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.  I have had a passion for education and learning for as long as I can remember!  My drive to become a high school teacher comes from the motivation and inspiration that my own teachers provided me with along the way, from kindergarten to now, and I hope that one day I can inspire my students in my own unique way.  My goal is to become a high school English and Spanish teacher, get a Master's Degree, and maybe even a Principal Certification.  Along with that, I have found that I have an interest in the education of English Language Learners, so that may be a path I take; this project may help me to decide!    

Speaking of English Language Learners, or ELLs, they are the reason I started this blog.  I will talk about my interest in ELLs' education in my next post; however, I want to relay the purpose of this blog.  This blog is part of my Honors Thesis project, which serves as a cumulative project to make a contribution to my discipline (education) through this research-based project.  I aim for this blog to be a resource I can use in the future when I am faced with having ELLs in my mainstream classroom, and I hope it can help you out as well!  I have researched strategies that work, and I will provide my interpretations, activity ideas, and more information that may be useful to help ELLs succeed in the mainstream classroom.  Everything I post will be properly cited to give credit to the research I have reviewed.  Please feel free to comment suggestions if you wish, as the education world is always changing and always relies on collaboration.  Thank you for visiting my "Educating ELLs" blog!