Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Engaging the families of English Language Learners

Every time I present or talk to classroom teachers about their English Language Learners, one of the greatest frustrations they have is finding ways to get the families of their English Language Learners involved. In addition to language barriers, there are often cultural barriers which make it difficult to get these families involved in the school culture.

Value their home language and culture.
One of the most important things that you can do is make the parents feel comfortable by valuing their home language and culture. If the students (and families) do not feel like you value their culture and language, the student's sense of self-worth and sense of identity can be negatively impacted.

Remember parents are the child's first teacher. They possess a wealth of knowledge, family tradition and experience that they can pass on to their children. Encourage parents to continue to work with the child in their native language. They can read stories and ask questions in their native language. They can do every day math tasks with the child in the native language (ie- "We need one potato for each member of the family. How many potatoes do we need?"). Encourage parents to continue working with their children and teaching them about the way the world works in their native language.

Learn about any cultural differences that may cause problems in school so that you can be prepared. For example, I once had a student from Ghana who would not look at me when I spoke to him. It seemed very disrespectful to me, until I spoke to his father. His father was able to tell me that it was a sign of respect in their country to look slightly down when being spoken to by a teacher.

Names are very important in many cultures, and are closely tied to a person's identity. Be sure that you learn how the child/parents like to address the child and pronounce the child's name, and address the child that way. Do not automatically shorten or "Americanize" a child's name unless the child or parents tell you s/he prefers such a nickname.

Make your classroom a culturally welcoming place.
Find ways to learn about and respect the different cultures of your students on a daily basis. Learn to say a few words in students' native languages. Provide translators for parent conferences or back-to-school nights. Send home translated documents to make things easier for parents. Invite parents to volunteer in your classroom or school- and find jobs that they can do with little or no English.

Consider holding international family events where families can share their language and culture with other families in the school. Incorporate classroom activities or stories that relate to the different cultures present in your classroom. Have students complete activities for homework that require them to talk to their parents about their family history, traditions, home country or culture.

Contact families frequently.
Keeping in contact with families, especially the families of your English language learners is very important. It may take a little more effort, but these parents want to know about their child's progress and what s/he is learning as much as any other parent.

One thing I notice is that many of the teachers I've worked with do not generally contact the parents of their ELLs unless they have an academic concern or behavioral problem. I encourage my teachers to reach out to all parents, but especially the parents of their ELLs when they have good news, too. A simple note home (in the native language) that says "Jose worked really hard in math class today!" can go miles for making connections with the family and for showing them how much you care about their child.

On a very important note, while sending home documents translated into the family's native language is important, don't automatically assume that just because you sent it home translated, the parent will be able to read it. In my job, I've often worked with parents who are not literate in their native language.

I hope these tips help you engage the families of your English language learners as you start another school year!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

First Year Flashback Linky Party

Many of us look back on our first year of teaching with a mixture of nostalgia, horror and awe. How did we survive? What do we wish we knew then that we know now? Teaching is a journey and you learn something new every year.

So come, take a stroll down memory lane with me. Dig deep into your memory (or not so deep!) and relive that year for a few brief moments. Maybe your insight will help a brand new, first year teacher make it through.

What age group and subject were you teaching?
I was teaching ESOL Language Arts to Intermediate ELLs in grades 6-8, as well as a Newcomer ESOL Language Arts class.

What was your first classroom like?
My first classroom was actually large, but I had trouble getting enough desks. Also the cabinets and drawers were full of things left behind by the previous teacher, and the room was a mess. I made good friends with the janitor, and she took good care of my room for the 2.5 years I was at that school.

On the downside, my classroom flooded regularly. I don't know if it was a problem with the gutters, or what. I do know that when it rained, the water ran straight down my window and after a few hours of this, it started not only leaking in, but GUSHING in. I learned to keep everything off the floor after the first time. But I came in to work more than once to find water all through my classroom and out into the hall. Maintenance was aware of the issue and never did fix it.

Were you given supplies or materials?
I was not given supplies, and I started with 0 books in my classroom library. I was fortunate though, because in Charlotte, there was a non-profit that set up a free teacher store we could visit once a month for things like paper, glue, markers, binders and more. That was a lifesaver because I didn't have any money to put toward things like that since we'd just moved from out of state.

As far as teaching materials, I was given some, but much of it was outdated. I never really liked teaching from textbooks anyway, so I created most of the things I used that first year.

What was the hardest part of your first year of teaching?
Lesson planning. We had to have our lesson plans on our desks at all times so that admin could walk right in and see what we were doing in the plans. Lesson planning still took me hours, and since each group was a different grade and ELL level, I had to do three times the lesson planning of other teachers in my school who taught the same class to three different groups throughout the day. Lesson planning also took a long time because I created pretty much everything I used from scratch.

Also, since I was not very experienced with lesson planning yet, I often over- or underestimated the students' knowledge or the time an activity would take to complete. Sometimes I'd have to stop and do something totally different than what was in my lesson plan.

What was the best part of your first year of teaching?
By far, the students and families I was able to work with. I had a boy from Taiwan who lived with his aunt. She was very supportive, and even donated money to our classroom so I could buy some supplies. I also had a little girl come from Vietnam who spoke no English. She was so quiet and so small that she reminded me of a little bird. She would frequently fold origami animals for me. One morning, she came in with this beautiful paper flower. In the middle, she wrote my name. On each petal she wrote a special quote about teaching or why teachers are special. I'm sure a family member helped her with this and explained what the quotes meant in Vietnamese, but it touched my heart. My husband hung it on the back of our front door where I would see it each morning as I left to remind me why I do what I do. Some days that first year, seeing that was the only thing that motivated me to leave the house in the morning.

What do you know now that you wish you knew that first year?
Wow, there are so many things! If I had to pick one, I would say that it is to remember that you can't be everything to every student. Sometimes our students come to us needing so much that it is heartbreaking. But there's only so much we can do. Do what you can do, and leave the rest to the universe.

Another thing I'd add is get plenty of sleep! Whatever you're working on when your eyelids start to get heavy- put it aside. It will wait until tomorrow. I promise!!

Your Turn! Join the Linky!

Tell us all a little bit about your first year of teaching. Copy and paste the Q&A Session and add your own answers. Grab the "First Year Flashback" button above and add your logo into the thought bubble. Make sure to include the square "First Year Flashback" button  in your post and link it back here so others can find the linky! When your post is published, link it up and join the party below!!!

{Please don't link to your store or anywhere other than directly to your Flashback post.
 I don't want to delete links but I will if they go to stores or other content.}

Link up your post below!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Meet the Teacher!

Hi y'all! My name is Laurah J. and I'm the author behind The ESOL Odyssey and Tools for Teachers by Laurah J.

I just turned 30 this year! I've been married for nearly 8 years to a wonderful man who I met at 18.

I'm licensed to teach ESOL PreK-12 and Middle Grades Language Arts. I spent 3 years teaching grades 6-8 ESL Language Arts in Charlotte, NC. Then we moved to the Washington, DC metro area. I spent two years teaching Elementary ESOL before moving into a coaching position with the ESOL central office.

I absolutely love my job as a coach. I love developing activities for my teachers, sharing ideas, and helping them to think outside the box and try new things. Most of the activities that I create are designed for Mainstream teachers who serve a lot of ELL students! They also work great for ESOL teachers.

A few of my favorite things
Dr. Pepper
Vampire Fiction (but no sparkly vampires!!)
Fall Leaves
Rainy Days (when I don't have to go outside)
Sleeping in a tent

If you weren't a teacher (coach), what would you want to be?
That's a really hard one because I love my job. I guess I would have to say author or translator. I have degrees in Journalism and Foreign Language, so it makes sense :D

Three little words that describe you.
Creative. Determined. Odd.

Finish this sentence: "_______, said no teacher ever!"
I really love spending my own money out of pocket for supplies, said no teacher ever!

It's your birthday and you can invite anyone dead or alive to the party. Who would you invite?
My grandmother and grandfather. I really miss them a lot. I'd definitely invite my parents, family and all of my closest friends. As far as historical figures, I might be interested in inviting Plato and Socrates.

If someone wrote a book about your life, what would be the title?
Wow. This is a super hard one. I'd hope it would be something along the lines of "Odd girl makes her dreams come true". Haha that sounds super lame!

What is your favorite quote or saying?

You get to pick one superpower. What is it?
Invisibility. Hands-down!

If you had to sing a song on American Idol, what would it be?
Probably, "House of the Rising Sun".

Are you a morning person, or a night owl?
Definitely a night owl. I do my best thinking late at night. Take a look at my post history! The early ones are pre-scheduled!!

What is your favorite resource that you've created in your TpT shop?
That would probably have to be my Common Core Non-Fiction Read-and-Write Activities. These are monthly sets of differentiated reading and writing activities aligned with CCSS. There are four readings per month, and each reading comes in three levels. Each leveled reading also comes with a corresponding leveled writing response activity. These activity packets are already differentiated and are great for monthly test-prep, assessment, and reinforcement of Common Core skills. Each reading is related to the month, and delves into interesting new topics for students. Check out my most recent- Common Core Non-Fiction Read and Write Activities: September. Below are some pictures of January and February packets in action!

Share something we might not know about you!
I do historical reenactment with my husband. We are part of a group that reenacts an Iron Age Celtic Tribe. We spend many weekends (and even weeks) each year attending events!


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Educator Discounts: Making your hard earned $$ go further!

As you're preparing for the new year, you're no doubt buying many of your own supplies out of pocket. Plus, you probably need to add a few new outfits to your wardrobe. Why not save a little bit of money for yourself while scoring awesome things for yourself and your classroom?

I thought it might be helpful to give you a list of places that offer Educator Discounts to help you reduce your out of pocket spending and get more bang for your buck.

Arts and Crafts

JoAnn Fabrics- They offer a free Teacher Rewards Discount Card that entitles you to 15% off every purchase, every day. In addition, for signing up (which you can do at the link above) you'll get a bonus coupon for 20% off a purchase.

Michael's- They offer 15% off eligible products for teachers. You must ask a store associate for details in-store.


Barnes and Noble- Sign up for the B&N Educator Program and save 20% on publisher's list price everyday on purchases for the classroom. On teacher appreciation days, save 25% on the publisher's list price. Discount can also be used online.

Books a Million- You'll have to go to your local store to fill out an application for their educator discount. You'll need to provide proof of employment and photo id to get your card. Save 20% on most purchases for classroom use.

Classroom Supplies

Office Depot- The Star Teacher Program allows you to get a 5% discount off all purchases, plus 15% off copy and print services.

Staples- The Teacher Rewards Program you'll earn 5% back in rewards, and 10% back in rewards on teaching and art supplies. Plus, get Free Shipping on every staples.com order.

Office Max- With the MaxPerks Teacher Reward Program, you'll earn $10 back for every $75 you spend on supplies, qualifying services, technology, furniture, and more. 


Ann Taylor LOFT- Through their LOFT Loves Teachers program, LOFT offers 15% off everyday purchases of full-priced items. Apply using the link above and start saving today!

The Limited- Show your school id or a paystub in-store and receive 15% off your full purchase on anything and everything in the store.

J. Crew- Show your school id or a paystub in-store and receive 15% off your purchase.

Banana Republic- Show your school id or a recent paystub in store and receive 15% off all full-priced items.


Apple- Save on Macs and iPads with Apple Store's Education Pricing.

Dell- Save $$ and benefit from exclusive offers with Dell University.

Adobe Creative Cloud- Save up to 60% on the Creative cloud and individual Adobe products with Adobe's Educator Pricing.

Phone Service

Verizon- Teachers may be eligible for up to 20% off wireless plans with Verizon Discounts, if your school or district is registered for the program.

AT&T- Teachers may be eligible for discounts off wireless services. Check their Discounts Website to find out if you are eligible.

Sprint- Teachers users may be eligible for discounts off wireless services. Use their Discount Request Form to find out if you're eligible. 

Check with providers of other services you use for internet, television and other types of services to see if they offer discounts for educators in your area. It NEVER hurts to ask!!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Interview 101: Land that Teaching Job

During the summer, many new (and veteran teachers) are searching earnestly and hopefully for a teaching position. The whole process can be stressful. It begins with waiting to hear something- anything- after you send in a resume. The haunting fear that there was a comma out of place or a period where there shouldn't have been or- horror of horrors!- that you misspelled your own name.

If you're lucky enough to land an interview, that too, can mean epic levels of "holy crap!" So, here's my guide to making it through the interview and landing yourself a job. Some of this advice is ESOL specific, but most of it can be applied to any interview for a teaching position.

1. Take time to think out your answers. Many of the prospective teachers I have interviewed, especially the younger ones, didn't take time to think about their answers before responding. I generally have a list of things that I expect to hear. As an interviewer, I can only consider what you actually say, not what you may have been thinking or forgotten to say. So, before responding, take the time to think about your answer for a few moments so that you can give a well organized, thorough and thoughtful answer rather than a rambling answer. Most interviewers will be happy to give you a few moments to collect your thoughts.

2. Talk specifically about the latest research or best practices and how you implement them. When I'm interviewing someone for an ESOL position, I generally expect to hear them talk about academic language, BICS and CALPS, comprehensible input, and other important research in the area of ESOL education. At the very least, I'm looking for specific ideas, theories, and practices that most educators should know. Find out what the latest research says about the area you are applying for and be prepared to talk about it with the interviewer. Give specific examples of how you implement these theories and practices into your instruction. 

3. Be specific. Talk about what you actually DO in the classroom, rather than what you would do if ____. Give specific examples of successes you've had with students, challenges you've overcome, programs you've implemented, and any special skills or life experiences that help you be the best teacher you can be. 

4. Be cognizant of your weaknesses and think about how you can improve in those areas. Don't be afraid to acknowledge your weaknesses as a teacher in addition to your strengths. This shows that you are a reflective teacher who realizes that there's always room to improve your instructional practice. Many interviewers will ask, so be prepared to give specific examples of ways that you intend to improve in your weakest areas. And don't play that my-weakness-is-actually-a-strength act; I wasn't born yesterday and will see right through that. 

5. Ask questions about the school or district you are interviewing with. Many of the candidates I've interviewed did not have ANY questions, which struck me as unusual. The candidate that stuck out most to me was the only one who did ask questions about what the job would be like, what program model our district uses, etc. 
On the same token, don't ask dumb questions, either. Come up with a list of possible questions to ask beforehand. You don't have to ask them all, but be prepared and ask the most relevant few. 

6. Bring a portfolio or student work samples. If you're just finishing student teaching, photocopy or photograph some student work (or ask student/parent permission to keep it if this is allowed where you do your student teaching). If you are a veteran teacher, dig out some of those student work samples. Summarize how you incorporated the activity into your classroom. Include lesson plans, photographs, any materials you've created or especially engaging activities. Seeing it is worth way more than just hearing about it. If you can create a digital portfolio on a website (google sites is free, so is blogger), then you can leave the web address for your interviewer to check out after you're gone. If you go this route, you can also incorporate video (a clip of your teaching) or audio (you using questioning techniques with a student). 

I hope this advice is helpful, and I wish you the best on your job hunt!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Reflecting on another year

I think an important part of being an educator, whether you're educating students or educating teachers, is reflecting on your own professional practice. We're constantly learning new things to update our toolkit, coming into contact with new situations that force us to find innovative solutions, and well- we're always adapting to the new initiatives that come year after year. It's important to reflect on the areas where we were strong or made gains, and just as important to recognize those areas we are weak in so that we can work on them.

Throughout my life, I've always admired people who can admit that there's always something to learn. I had the greatest respect for teachers who, when asked a question they couldn't answer, simply said "I don't know. Let me research that and get back to you tomorrow," rather than those who made up something or simply went with "That's just how it is." When I waited tables in college and grad school, I had a manager who always told us, "If you're not getting the tips you want, don't blame the guest. Take a good long look in the mirror and ask yourself what was lacking in the service you provided the guest. What was it they wanted or needed that you didn't provide?" I've always tried to apply that same line of thinking to my professional career as well. If my students aren't achieving, I should stop blaming things out of my control (family situations, etc) and start taking a look at the things that are in my control first and foremost, because those are the things I can change.

This was my first year as a coach. One of the hardest things for me was striking a balance of being there to support my teachers, but not encroaching on their valuable time- like planning or lunch. I wanted to be a boon of support rather than another obligation demanding their time. I wanted to offer constructive and positive feedback, without too much of "add this, do this". But always with "I'm only an e-mail away if you need something. Let me know and I'll make time for you the very next day". As always, you can't please everyone.

Some of my coachees got exactly the level of support they wanted. Some felt it was too much, others felt it was too little- and they didn't reach out for more. So, this is an area I'll continue working on. I need to be able to recognize which teachers want more and will not ask, and some who are content to be left alone until they reach out, so that I can differentiate and individualize my coaching more.

I've already considered things I can do to improve my practice and keep a more constant dialogue with my teachers. One thing I will do is send out a monthly "coaching" newsletter- recognizing awesome things I see; offering a strategy of the month and a chance for teachers to write/vote on last month's strategy; a question column; and anything else I think to include. Some teachers will love it and those who want to can read it, while those who don't can delete it from their inbox.

On the side of strengths, the schools that I worked with this past year all made excellent growth and met their AMAO goals. This is truly exciting! I did learn to manage some aspects of my new position, get to know my team, and bring some of my assets (like my tech knowledge) to benefit my team. I really love my new job- it's actually what I've wanted to do since my second year of teaching! I really love working with teachers and helping them solve problems. Sometimes I was able to offer a simple solution to their issues by thinking outside the box.

So, now that school is out and summer is here, take a little time to ask yourself- what were my strengths and weaknesses this year? How can I improve next year? How can I step out of my comfort zone to benefit those I'm working with and ultimately, our students?

Here's a great 1 page reflection form to help you out:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tech Tips for Teachers Ebook

Looking for new ways to integrate or manage technology in your classroom? Based on what I learned at a convention earlier in the year, I decided to work with other TpT Teacher-Authors to compile a book to help make this task easier, even for the tech-challenged teacher! Check out our new FREE Tech Tips for Teachers Ebook. Regardless of your level, it has 47 great tips from Tech Savvy TpT Teacher-Authors for managing the devices in your classroom or integrating technology into your lessons.

Embrace technology and grab your copy today. You'll be on your way to setting up your 21st century classroom!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What is Augmented Reality?

I'm generally a pretty techie person- I've been using computers pretty much all my life. Since I became a teacher, I've always looked for meaningful and engaging ways to integrate technology into my classroom. Now that I'm a coach, it falls on me to help my teachers find meaningful ways to integrate the new technologies available to them into their instruction.

I recently went to the Ohio Educational Technology Conference where I learned many awesome things. But the most awesome thing I learned about was Augmented Reality (AR). When I came home so thrilled, my husband mentioned that he'd seen the same thing on a TED talk. Here's a video that will explain it better than I ever can:

But, how can we use this technology in our classrooms? Many classrooms are getting iPads or Android tablets, other schools are adopting bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies. Fortunately for us budget-strapped-teachers, Aurasma is a free app!

This technology can allow you to enhance your teaching materials by adding Auras that lead to images, videos, 3-D models and webpages. I'm so thrilled about the potential applications that I almost can't sleep.

I hear some of you thinking "I don't have time to learn how to do this!". That's ok!! That's one of the great things- if you find items where someone else has already integrated the technology, all you need is the app and to follow their channel. Then their auras will show up for you!

If you're interested in trying it out for yourself, try out my FREE Augmented Reality Flash Cards: The Butterfly Life Cycle. Just click the image below to download your copy! To figure out how to set everything up, check out this quick tutorial on How to Use my Augmented Reality Items.

If you want to learn how to add AR to your own materials (I see so many applications here that I want to add AR to everything!!), then I suggest you check out Two Guys and Some iPads. They have some AWESOME tutorials on how to add AR to just about anything. They also have a whole section linking to other apps that use AR. 

How exciting is this technology?!?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Common Core Read-and-Write Activities: A Review

As many of you know, I recently moved from the classroom to a coaching position. As such, I don't often get to try out my own products with my own students. So, I've had to get creative. Recently I shared my new Common Core Read-and-Write Activities with Mallory, a third grade teacher in Ohio, so that she could use them in her classroom. Here's what she wrote:

I was thrilled to recently receive two Common Core products from Tools for Teachers by Laurah J! I got to use both the January version and February version of her Common Core Read-and-Write Activities in my classroom. I teach third grade students in a low-income district located on the outer-ring suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. I have students reading at a variety of reading levels in my classroom and I have quite a few struggling readers, along with two students with reading IEPs.

One of our goals as a classroom this year is to become better readers so my students can pass the Reading OAA (state test in Ohio; if they don’t pass, they must repeat third grade). It has been tricky trying to find some resources that are leveled for my students, without putting too much work on me as the teacher in finding the resources. I wanted resources that would be on the same topic, but varied for the students’ ability levels, and that is exactly what Laurah has created. If you have a classroom full of nine year olds who read anywhere from a first grade to fifth grade level, these Common Core resources will be perfect for you. I like how the products are labeled appropriate for grades 3-5, which is absolutely true. I was afraid to use the stories with my lowest readers, for fear that they would get discouraged by the length of the passages or the tough vocabulary, but when they read along with me, they were fine! I let my higher readers read the passages on their own, or partner-read the passages, which worked well, too.

My favorite aspect of the product, besides the wonderful leveled stories, is the fact that they come with activities that are Common Core aligned. Learning about the structure of text, for example, is a Common Core skill that all students need to learn. The Saint Valentine story was excellent for this because Laurah provided key words that the students should look for while they are reading. I encouraged my students to highlight any words as we re-read the passage, and they were very good at finding the “sequencing” words. I would have never expected this from my lowest readers, but they did an amazing job and were even able to start to answer the questions that came with that story on their own. The questions provided a word bank to help the students with their answers, which was very helpful.

In addition to the Saint Valentine story, I also really liked the Martin Luther King, Jr. story. This non-fiction text aligns with reading and social studies curriculum for my grade level. It is also a great story to keep in your teacher binder (I have a holiday binder in which I organize stories and activities by month so they are easy to find) for when January rolls around and you say to yourself, “What am I going to do for the MLK holiday this year?” My students loved connecting this text to other stories we read about Martin Luther King, Jr. in our class during the past few weeks. I had each of my leveled groups complete the biographic poem, which came along with the story, and I displayed my students’ work in the hallway. The other teachers in my grade level loved the idea of a biographic poem. It is a great way for students to go back and re-read the text to find details, as well as it is a great way for them to learn about adjectives when they are describing MLK and his life.

I am so excited to use the rest of the stories that came along with the January and February common core activities! The stories are well written, the activities are thoughtful and meaningful, and using these resources in my classroom has promoted higher level thinking among my students.
-Mallory R., Ohio 3rd Grade Teacher

Thanks so much to Mallory for taking the time to try out these products with your kiddos!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Strategy of the Week

Strategy of the Week: 

Mark It

One of the big focuses in Common Core is having students do "close reading". Close reading involves students analyze a high-quality text and glean understanding from it. It involves the ability to identify key points and evidence included by the author.

One of the ways that I like to start out close reading, especially with my ESOL students, is to use what I call the Mark It strategy. As students read, they mark the reading with a set of standard symbols (each with a different meaning) given by the teacher. Here are some of the symbols I use below:

You can use these symbols or introduce your own symbols with their own meanings. This gives students a way to easily and quickly annotate the text, as well as with monitoring and thinking critically about what they are reading WHILE they are reading it. It makes it easy to find important places in the text when they are answering questions, looking for evidence or participating in a classroom discussion.

If you are using a reading that students can't actually mark on, such as a textbook, you can give each student an overhead marker and a transparency that they can lay over the textbook page. If you are using a magazine or a class set of readings, the can be placed in clear page protectors that students can mark on with overhead pens or dry erase markers.

I found that when my students used this strategy consistently, their reading comprehension improved vastly. I even noticed my students doing it on the state test at the end of the year! I hope you find this strategy as useful for your students as I do for mine.