Sunday, November 23, 2014

ELL Tech Tip: Zaption

As an ESOL specialist, I constantly look for ways to include all four modalities of language. Recently, I've discovered a new tech tool- Zaption! I have fallen in love with this fun tool- it tracks data and offers analytics, and it is a meaningful way to ensure that you're incorporating technology into instruction while helping students exercise multiple modalities of language.

Zaption is a tool that allows you to choose a video from YouTube or Vimeo, then add in questions at key points. The video will stop to allow students to respond to the question. You can even use different kinds of questions- the free account allows for open response, multiple choice, and checkboxes. You can have students read an article, watch a related video, and then answer questions related to both during the video.

Videos with questions are called "tours", and as students access the tour, they're asked to type in their name. They do not have to create an account to use Zaption (though you must have one to create tours). Check out some of the great examples in the Zaption gallery!

Students can complete tours at a station in class or at home. All data is tracked for the teacher in Zaption analytics- you can even download and print student responses for future reference. If you think this tool is awesome, please consider using my referral link to sign up- we'll each get two months of Zaption Pro for free!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Free Technology: Hold a Smartphone and iPhone Donation Drive

We all know that technology can help students become far more engaged in any lesson we're teaching. But many schools don't have the funds to go 1:1. How can you get more technology to enhance learning? Hold a donation drive for used smartphones and iPhones! Smartphones and iPhones with wi-fi capability can function just like tablets when connected to wi-fi, even without cell service. Many people upgrade their phones yearly, and with the new iPhone 6 coming out, I know many people are upgrading, so the timing is ideal! Get your parents to donate used smartphones to your school to enhance student learning with this handy *FREE* flyer!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Unaccompanied Minors Part 2: Integrating UAC into the School Community

As I mentioned in my last post, many of the unaccompanied minors that come to our country are escaping horrible circumstances in their home countries that many of us cannot fathom. As a result, when they get here, they may have more trouble than other newcomers adjusting to their new home and school. The purpose of this post is to help teachers make these students feel comfortable in school.

Be sensitive to signals.
We cannot outright ask our students about their immigration status or how they came here (sometimes families and students will volunteer the information if they feel safe). But, we must still be sensitive to their life story. Remember- some of these kids have seen violence and poverty we cannot even fathom. If a student seems apprehensive or afraid, do what you can to make that student feel at ease. Be sensitive to signals that the student may be experiencing psychological distress or problems at home.

Help where you can.
Once, when I was teaching in North Carolina, I was split between a middle school and an elementary. At the elementary level, we had a student come from a tropical country in winter. He had NO winter clothes or coats. I asked my middle school students to bring in any old uniforms that they could no longer wear, as well as gloves, hats scarves or coats. The elementary student was SO happy (and his family SO appreciative) to receive those clothes.

When I taught 4th grade ESOL, I would keep pencils and erasers on hand to "sell" to those students who never seemed to bring a pencil. Pencils were $.10 and erasers were $.05. It was hard for them to get their parents to go to the store, but with a few cents they could "buy" one from me. That money went into a fund to buy lunch for students who forgot their money or didn't have money. Finding small ways to do what you can for these kids can make a big difference!

Also know what services are available in the community that you can refer the families to- especially those that speak Spanish. There are often immigration support services available, small services from social services, and food pantries.

Always be ready with a smile and a hug.
Sometimes that's all they need. Show them that you are happy to see them each day and that you are excited by what they are learning and the progress they are making. Sometimes they really want to learn and knowing that someone believes in them can be powerful.

Understand that they're not all in the same place.
Some of these kids come here with little or no education- and not by choice. Sometimes gangs control the road between the home and the nearest school. If the family cannot afford to pay the gang to use the road, the children cannot go to school. Understand that remediation may be necessary or that some of these kids have seriously interrupted educational experiences- but they really want to learn. Often, they are highly motivated, but in need of a great deal of help.

I hope these posts on UAC help you understand what you these kids are going through and help you to serve them better. I will continue with more posts as more information and ideas become available.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Unaccompanied Minors Part 1: The who, what and why

In my line of work, I have the opportunity to work with students form all over the world and all walks of life. Lately in the media, there has been a lot of attention given to unaccompanied minors coming into our country and enrolling in our public schools. The vast majority of the public has little or no understanding of the circumstances under which these students are coming unto the United States. My goal here is to let you know a little more about these unaccompanied youth, where they're coming from, why they're here, and where they're going. 

Who are unaccompanied minors?
In recent years, we've seen a large surge of minors coming alone to the United States. Many of these children are caught crossing the border illegally and taken into custody by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). In the past, the vast majority of these students have been high-school aged boys, however recent years have seen a surge in younger children and females coming as well.

Where are they coming from?
Currently, most of these youths are coming from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. 

Why are they coming to the US?
The countries that these children are coming from are torn by violence, war, poverty and corruption. Homicide and violence rates have dramatically risen in the "Northern Triangle" of Central America in the past few years. The Northern Triangle is comprised of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Many of these students have been victimized by organized crime (gangs or cartels)- many have lost their homes, family members, family businesses. They have no  hope left in their homes, and many children are threatened with death if they refuse to join the gangs or cartels. Others have been removed from their home countries by force and have been trafficked illegally into the United States. All of these kids simply want a good education and a better life.This is an excellent video to explain a little more:

What happens once they get here?
By law, minors coming from countries that do not border the US are required to be handed over to the HHS (Health and Human Services). HHS is required to house these students, feed them, provide medical care until they can be handed over to the custody of a sponsor- usually a family member- until they can undergo legal immigration proceedings. They are housed in large facilities with many other children. They may spend months there before a family member or acceptable sponsor can be found. 

The children are then released into the custody of their sponsor. The sponsor must be able to care for the physical and mental well-being of the child, as well as pass a background check. The sponsor must also agree to ensure the child’s presence at all future immigration proceedings. They also must agree to ensure the minor reports to ICE for removal from the United States if an immigration judge issues a removal order or voluntary departure order. 

Where are they going?
These children go to live with the individuals or families who sponsor them. Below is a table from HHS showing how many unaccompanied minors have been released to each state with a sponsor since January 1.
State# of UAC
District of Columbia
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina1429
North Dakota4
Puerto Rico
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Virgin Islands
West Virginia12

I hope this serves to clear up any confusion you might have about the process these children undergo. Next time I post, I will discuss some of the special challenges educators might face in integrating these children into the school community, and how to address those challenges.

Monday, September 8, 2014

5 Books Every Teacher with English Language Learners Should Read

Since I began my career, I've read many books about education in general, and specifically, educating English language learners. Through this process I've learned a lot about best practices and discovered many strategies that I've successfully incorporated into my own teaching practice. I thought it might be helpful to you if I shared the top 5 books that I've found helpful and informative for teachers of ELLs.

1. Making content comprehensible for English Learners: The SIOP Model
This book is an excellent resource for teachers at any level. It begins with information about English language learners and the issues teachers are faced with when educating them, then lays out the 8 components and 30 features of the SIOP model. It also includes a variety of strategies for implementing each component. This really is a must read for any mainstream teacher who serves English language learners.

2. The Language Rich Classroom
In this book, the authors present a five-part framework that teachers can use to help both ELLs and other students improve their language and comprehension skills. The CHATS framework is easy to implement and highly effective. This book also contains more than 25 strategies with information about how these strategies benefit ELLs.

3. Myths and Realities: Best Practices for English Language Learners
This book explores and dispels some of the most common myths surrounding the education of English language learners. The author also discusses best ways to meet the needs of the fastest-growing segment of the student population in the US.

4. Literacy with an Attitude: Educating Working-Class Children in Their Own Self Interest
This book doesn't specifically discuss ELLs, but it does address the issues in education facing students who come from lower socioeconomic status, and why it is important to educate these children differently. In my career, most of the ELLs I've worked with come from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds, so this book definitely pertains to them!

5. Scaffolding Langauge, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learning in the Mainstream Classroom
This book is specifically aimed at mainstream teachers who have no specialized training in meeting the needs of their ELLs. The author offers practical advice on how to teach language through content such that students are successful in learning both simultaneously. Her ideas and suggestions are supported with research. This is an excellent book for learning how to fully involve ELLs in the school culture and equip them with the language and content skills they need to be successful.

In the interest of full disclosure, as an Amazon associate, if you choose to purchase one of these books through the provided links above, I do receive a small kickback. However, these are all excellent books to inform your professional practice, and I would highly recommend them. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Truth About "Academic Language".

As teachers, there are a lot of terms that we throw around regularly without really thinking about what they mean. But sometimes it's necessary to stop and think about some of those terms. Often, for teachers of English language learners, one of the most used and least understood terms is "academic language". I want to take this opportunity to explore that term and what it really means.

Academic Language is more than vocabulary.
This is perhaps the most important point I can make, which is why I'm putting it first. When it comes to academic language, vocabulary is very important, but context is equally important. Some words have different meanings depending on their context.

For each content area, it is necessary to teach students the context in which they will be using academic vocabulary, and to give them opportunities to practice using that vocabulary in the proper context. In my opinion, this can best be done through the use of sentence frames. I know, sounds simple, right? It is- but you'd be amazed at how powerful it is, too.

When I would work on a new math concept with my ESOL students, I would put up a poster with sentence frames for the type of vocabulary we were using (see an example from our probability lesson below). I would introduce the vocabulary to students along with the frames. As we worked together and I modeled the concept, I made it a point to repeatedly use the vocabulary and sentence frames that I wanted them to use. Then, I would give them an opportunity to work together, and would remind them to use the words and sentences we'd been practicing. By day three of a concept, they would depend less on the sentence frames as they truly acquired the language, and by day four I could remove them completely.

Academic language can take 5-7 years to acquire.
Yes, you read that right. Often, teachers make the mistake of assuming a student is proficient based on conversations with the student or overheard between the student and his friends. The type of language required for this is much more basic than the type of language used in academic contexts. Research has shown that it can take students 5-7 years to fully acquire the academic language necessary to be successful in school.

This means that an ELL who arrives in the US and begins learning English in middle school or high school may never fully acquire academic language before graduating. Is it then, any surprise, that our English language learners have difficulty on state standardized tests?

As teachers, we must be sure to offer plenty of scaffolds and supports to help students be successful in acquiring academic language as quickly as possible. Classroom word walls, personal word walls, sentence frames and word banks are simple but powerful tools to help students acquire academic language.

Academic language must be actively and explicitly taught.
Hanging up word walls or sentence frames will do you no good alone. Students must receive explicit instruction on the words and language structures. Students must be taught to use tools like word walls and sentence frames. And even more importantly, students need to hear you use the language and know you are expecting the same from them. Remind students to use the tools you've provided by saying, "As you're talking to your partner about this problem, be sure to use the sentence frames to help you."

In addition to writing a content objective for every lesson, include a language objective that tells students EXACTLY how you expect them to use the language to demonstrate their understanding of the content. See the example below:

Use it or lose it.
In order to really acquire language- academic or otherwise, students must have plenty of opportunities to use it. They must have opportunities to use it aloud in conversations with peers, opportunities to use it in writing, opportunities to come across it in text, and opportunities to hear it from you and their peers. Without such opportunities, they may "learn" some of the language for a short time, but they will never acquire it for the long-term. Then, when state-test time comes around, they'll be at a loss.

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!