Sunday, March 13, 2016

Making Workshop Accessible for Our English Language Learners

Amanda Hartman in the Bay Area?  Yes, I'm there! 

Amanda Hartman, in the Bay Area, discussing ways to tailor reading/writing workshop for our English language learners?  HECK YES, I am so there! 

This past Friday, I hopped in my trusty Mini Copper, navigated across my city in the rain, crossed the bay via the expansive lower deck of the Bay Bridge, and made my way to the Hilton Garden Inn in Emeryville, a small city (by our Bay Area standards) nestled between Oakland and Berkeley on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay. As soon as I parked my trusty Mini, I pulled on my rarely used rain coat, hopped over puddles, entered the automatic sliding doors that are standard for most large hotels, ascended 14 floors to the conference room overlooking our stormy day with a view of my city in the distance, and giddily strode my way to the front of the room to take a seat in the front row. Needless to say, I was ridiculously excited to hear Amanda present! 

I must mention that the day Amanda was speaking was a day off in my home school district. I could have made the choice to stay home, clean my apartment, head to one of a dozen of San Francisco's museums, watched a movie at the incredibly inviting Sundance Kabuki Theater, booked a much needed pedicure appointment, or slurped oysters at The Ferry Building's Hog Island with a view of the rough, choppy bay (a favorite San Francisco rainy day pastime).  Truly, if it was anyone else, speaking on any other topic, I might have spent the stormy day off cozied up inside.  This opportunity was one that I could not let pass me by.

Being on the west coast, it is a rare occasion to hear from one of the literacy-ed gurus at Teachers College without getting on a plane to head to New York. Like I said, I could not let this opportunity pass me by. More importantly, I could not let this opportunity for my teachers and their students pass me by.  Most importantly, I could not keep all of the gems and insights I learned to myself and my home school district.  Helping our English language learners is absolutely critical in every classroom across our country.  We must make a huge effort to make language accessible to all of our students.  We must be intentional.  We must constantly think, rethink, and question what we are doing in the classroom.  We must ask, "Is this working?"  If it's not, we must change it.  We must approach it a different way.  

If I do say so myself, I believe that was introduction enough.  Without further verbosity, may I offer my six big take-aways from the session with Amanda. Enjoy, friends! 

Honor Language Approximations
Toward the beginning of the day, Amanda told a great story about how she immersed herself in learning Spanish while on a study abroad trip to Mexico.  She described how the Mexican people were so kind to her when she attempted to speak Spanish.  Rather than correcting her mistakes, the people around her told her what great Spanish she was speaking, even when she said things like, "I to have that coffee."  Their encouragement of her efforts gave her the positive feedback she needed to build her speaking confidence.   So, she spoke more and more.  In speaking and interacting with others more and more, her Spanish language skills grew.  What would have happened if they discouraged her or constantly corrected her?  

The take away- we must consistently honor all of our English language learner's (ELL's) attempts at speaking.  We must.  ELLs need constant feedback. Feedback encourages repetition and risk taking!  If we respond to our ELL's approximations in a positive way that encourages back and forth conversation, they will be more likely to continue to talk.  We must create communities in our classrooms where we are allowing students to approximate language without fear.  We must provide a multitude of opportunities for students to interact with language without being constantly corrected.

Create Intentional Partnerships or Triads
Our students must be encouraged to talk and listen to one another.  It's not just the teacher who helps kids clarify language.  More often, it's peers.  A loud classroom full of talking, listening, conversation, shared reading, singing, and a joyous/experimental use of language is what we should strive for.  The more opportunities we give our ELLs to safely approximate language, the more they will continue to engage in language.  

All kids are more likely to share and take risks when they are partnered with peers who feel safe and nonthreatening to them. As teachers, we must be intentional when we pair students in reading and writing workshop.  Sometimes, triads may work better.  If kids are partnered with others who both encourage and give consistent feedback, the input and output of language will be more regular and consistent.  Our ELLs will become more likely to take risks.  

To circle back to Amanda's story about when she learned Spanish in Mexico... Imagine a student coming into your classroom with little or no experience in the English language.  If this student is constantly ignored, seated alone to "read" basic books without support, stare at an iPad screen during partner time, or not engage with others in class, what might happen?  I venture to guess the student may become introverted and feel too threatened or intimidated to even use English.  Now, imagine the student is given positive feedback and constant opportunities for conversation with friendly peers. Much like Amanda was encouraged to keep taking risks with the Spanish language, our students will be more likely feel safe and encouraged to take risks with the English language.

Condense Teacher Language
One activity Amanda led us through was reading one of the Units of Study lessons to determine ways the lesson was written to support ELLs.  After identifying the ways the lesson supported ELLs, we worked in partnerships to figure out how to condense the teacher language of the lesson to provide more clarity for our ELLs.  Too much teacher talk in a lesson may lead to confusion or tuned-out students.  The more clear and concise we make our own use of language, the more opportunities we will be providing our students to actually do the talking- which will lead to them doing the reading and writing.  

To make my point here more clear and concise- decrease the teacher talk to be able to increase student opportunity for talk and interaction! 

Overdo Teacher Expressions, Gestures, and Hand-Talking
If we truly think about it, it is safe to say that much of our communication with each other comes from nonverbal cues.  We can easily communicate without speaking at all.  

A few years ago, I lost my voice.  As a teacher, losing one's voice can be quite scary.  How on earth do we teach without using our voices?  Well, I found that the day I lost my voice was one of the most productive days in the history of all of my years of teaching.  Nearly all of my communication with students was through facial expressions, directional gestures, acting-out ideas, and talking with my hands.  Plus, my fifth grade students were given many more opportunities for talk than usual.  The ELL kiddos in my class were now on complete equal footing as the rest of their English only peers.  After all, gestures and facial expressions tend to be universal.

That day, instead of telling my students what to do, I truly had to show them what to do with visual actions.  This was quite an eye opening experience.  My students seemed to understand much more on this day than most.  Lesson learned- the less I talked, the more I showed, and the more I gave them a voice, the more learning took place.  As teachers, it does truly pay off to cut the excessive talk and to overdo our facial expressions, nonverbal cues, gestures, and talking with our hands.  And again- the less we do the talking, the more talking our students get to do, which is a key goal for our ELLs. 

Make Use of Visuals, Charts, and More
Making learning visible to our students goes beyond our facial expressions, nonverbal cues, gestures, and talking with our hands.  As a reminder of everything we teach in the workshop, students should have consistent access to visuals and charts with both words and images.  For every lesson or teaching point, it is a good rule of thumb to have some type of chart or visual to remind students of the reading/writing skills and strategies presented.  

One of the fourth grade teachers I am fortunate to work with takes a picture of all of her charts, shrinks the size to fit in student notebooks, and offers them to students if they'd like a learning reminder in their own notebooks in addition to the one classroom wall.

Images are a key aspect of charts and visuals.  For students who may not have full access to the English language, pictures and drawings are helpful reminders of the skills and strategies covered in the workshop.  Chartchums, from Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz is a great resource for helping teachers make learning visible. 

Embrace the Re- in Everything! 

Reread- when we reread, we tend to understand text just a little better.

Revise- when we revise, we tend to make our written thoughts a tad more clear.

Revisit- when we revisit, we have the opportunity build upon the familiar.

Reengage- when we reengage, we tackle problems that were once unclear. 

Rethink- when we rethink, we give ourselves the opportunity to grow our ideas.

Redo- when we redo, we are given the gift of time to make needed changes. 

Rehearse- when we rehearse, we practice the talking/reading/writing ahead.

Review- when we review, we give ourselves the chance to do all of the above!

Imagine the accessibility all of this would provide for our English language learners if we gave them the power of Re- every single day in class! 

In addition to these six big ideas, Amanda presented many other ways to make the workshop more accessible to our English language learners.  If this single day workshop is offered in another city at another time, I cannot highly recommend it enough.  Thank you for the wonderful day of learning, Amanda! It was definitely a day off well spent.

More Resources
Amanda Hartman on Twitter
Units of Study Classroom Videos 
Workshop Flyer from Heinemann

Happy Teaching, Friends!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! What an amazing post! Thanks so much for sharing! Can't wait to hear more!


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