Friday, October 21, 2011

Comparing Educaton in Finland and in the U.S.

In Diane Ravitch's blog she talks about her recent trip to Finland where she visited schools and spoke to educators. Ravitch discovered how horrified educators in Finland are that the U.S. schools are increasing the use of standardized tests, basing teacher evaluations on how well students score on the tests, and will receive merit pay if students do well. Ravitch reports that there is no standardized testing in Finland and teachers are responsible for the curriculum taught in their schools.

There are several reasons that I think it is difficult to compare U.S. education to Finnish education. First of all, the student population in the U.S. is much more diverse.
Twenty percent of U.S. students speak a language other than English at home. Over 400 different language are spoken by students in U.S. schools.
Most English language learners(ELLs) go to the poorest schools and live in abject poverty. Lawmakers are ignoring poverty as one of the reasons for the achievement gap.

U.S. lawmakers are ready to reauthorize ESEA without addressing the unique needs of ELLs. The companies working on the new assessments barely address how ELLs are tested. No one is paying attention to the fact that beginning and intermediate ELLs can not be held to the same standards as the native speakers when being tested in content areas in English. They simply do not have enough language to demonstrate what they know.

Tests in native language do not resolve this problem. The companies designing new standardized tests plan to translate them into 10 languages. Translated tests are not reliable measures for ELLs. Also, if students are learning content material in English, it makes no sense to test then in native language.

ESL and bilingual teachers need to become aware of national educational debates. Our students will be affected. Perhaps more than native English speakers. I encourage you to read Diane Ravitch's blog and to write comments. She has been asking to hear other voices.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Matthew Lynch published an article today in Education News entitled Supporting English Language Learners I applaud his recognition of the need for supporting English language learners in the classroom. I think his intentions were good. From the list of publications at the bottom of the article, it is apparent that Lynch is knowledgeable in many areas of education but there is much he does not know about teaching ELLs. I left a short comment on his blog but I could have written a book. Wait! I did write several books on this topic.
The topic of teaching English language learners has become very hot over the last year. Many educators who are known in other fields of education are jumping on the bandwagon and publishing information that is dated or not in line with current research.
Lynch seems to assume that ELLs can learn English using technology out of the classroom but that they shouldn't use translators in the class because "There is some debate however as to whether or not these forms of assistive technology actually defeat the purpose of English language learning."
Language is not "soaked up.” English language learners must be able to understand the communication that is conveyed by the teacher. They need comprehensible input. We need to use every tool that we have to provide comprehensible input to ELLs including translators.
Lynch ignores the role of literacy in native language in second language acquisition.(Thomas & Collier, 1997) ELLs who become literate in native language first learn to read and write in English more quickly. Lynch's article implies that ELLs should not use their native language in learning English.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Using Music to Teach Language to ELLS

On the April 11th #ELLCHAT, a Twitter discussion group for teachers of English language learners, we discussed the benefits of using music and drama in to teach English to ELLs. One of our participants asked the groups’ thoughts about bilingual songs that switch between languages.
My reaction to this question was that it would be fun to have songs that switch between languages - especially for ESL. It’s normal for bilingual children to switch from one language to the other. I was looking at the question from an affective point of view, not a linguistic one. I was thinking of the ELL who is bombarded by information in English all day long. He may be new to the country and suffering from culture shock. He may be a young preschooler or kindergarten student who feels homesick. By including bilingual songs in the curriculum, I believed that teachers are demonstrating an appreciation of other languages and establishing a welcoming environment for ELLs in our classroom.

My friend and active #ELLchat participant @Karen Nemeth. Preschool expert and author of Many Languages, One Classroom: Teaching Dual and English Language Learners convinced me that I can not ignore the linguistic ramifications. Thank you Karen for your input.
Here is Karen’s answer to me.
Language experts are always in favor of using songs and music to support language learning because of the rhythms, focus on sounds like rhymes, the repetition and the familiarity and the kinesthetic learning associated with movement and dancing - as well as the fun! Early literacy experts focus heavily on the value of music for supporting language and literacy learning for ALL young children - and we also know that plenty of music education is linked to better math skills later on also.

What I object to is the notion of having two languages in the same song. We know from research about young children's language processing that their brains will focus on the familiar language and tune out the new language when they are presented simultaneously. I recommend singing lots of songs - but singing in one language or the other. Songs sung completely in one language or the other help the children to focus on whole phrases and sentences and get used to pronouncing strings of words.

So, by all means, I would expect that every early childhood teacher that has children from other languages in her class should be singing songs in their language right from the start. Even if the class were called "ESL" I would never condone a class for preschool or kindergarten that has nothing in the child's home language. So even if the teacher knows no words in Polish, for example, she can play Polish music and learn with the kids - and all the kids can learn some of their friend's language too.

I believe it is essential that teachers of young children in diverse classrooms MUST learn at least a few words of every language in their class and they MUST have materials to support every language they have. Every teacher MUST show respect for each child's language because it is part of his or her identity - and the teacher does this by making the effort to learn those few words and songs and stories. And the teacher must actively demonstrate this respect because she is a critical role model for respecting differences and valuing each student equally regardless of majority or minority status. When the teacher brings in Polish music and learns with her student, this forms the bridge that supports the Polish child getting used to school and learning in English as well. And - sometimes the whole class should also be singing songs in English because the repetition, movement, sounds etc will help with the transition to English, while nicely supporting literacy learning in the monolingual English speakers at the same time.

Thank you Karen for this outstanding answer. From now on, I will advocate that teachers make children feel welcome in their classrooms through the use of songs in the native languages of her students.

To Karen and me, this conversation is an example of the collegiality and collaboration that grows via Twitter, Facebook and our other social media.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Do children really learn languages more easily than teenagers or adults?

I recently received an e-mail from a colleague who stated “There seems to be some conflict with the statement you make in your book (Getting Started with English Language Learners) about adults learning language faster than children."
I do say this in my book. I present this as a myth of second language acquisition in order to give classroom teachers realistic expectations for the English language learners in their class. When I say that teenagers and adults learn a second language faster than children, I am talking about academic language. (Mc Laughlin, 1992) The purpose of presenting this myth to teachers is to emphasize that they should not expect miraculous results, assume that children have few inhibitions than adults or expect that learning a new language is easier for children than it is for adults.

I think we all recognize that young children easily acquire the language required for social interaction in an elementary school. Children outperform adults in the area of pronunciation, Children might also be more motivated to interact socially with their classmates and to acquire social language. They do not have to learn as much to achieve communicative competence in a second language. A child's constructions are shorter and simpler, and vocabulary is smaller.

Older students and adults, however, have access to the memory techniques and other strategies that more experienced learners use in acquiring vocabulary and in learning grammatical rules. These findings may reflect the mode of language instruction used in Europe, where emphasis has traditionally been placed on formal grammatical analysis. Older children are more skilled in dealing with this approach and hence might do better.

This same colleague told me that Patricia Kuhl’s findings prove that children learn languages faster. However, Patricia Kuhl's research does not negate the myth. She maintains that babies' brains have the ability to retain sounds from different languages There are many more factors involved in language acquisition than retaining sounds. .

New studies are being done all the time. New studies are exciting and do spark a lot of interesting conversations.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Reading Comprehension Strategies for ELLs: Inferring

Good readers make predictions and inferences while they read. Inferring is how readers “read between the lines.” Much of what an author conveys in English is not directly stated. It is implied. English language learners (ELLs) need to learn strategies to infer meaning. The goal is to help readers get deeper meaning from the text by making connections to prior knowledge, visualizing, and predicting. Inference is a very difficult task for English language learners. In addition to struggling with decoding, grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary and a myriad of other language and reading skills, ELLs are also trying to understand what the inferences mean. We want English language learners to develop critical thinking skills, interpret the text that they read and draw conclusions. These skills must be explicitly taught. Teachers need to give their English language learners a model in a frame to help them to express their ideas. Teach students phrases such as *I predict . . ., My guess is . . .I think that….., My conclusion is… I infer that……”

Let’s visit Mrs. Schnee’s 1st grade ESL class. Her students are on the rug on a cold winter day. They can see the field covered in snow from the window. Mrs.Schnee is holding up the book, The Snowy Day (Keats,1976) and tells students, "When I look at the cover, I can infer that this story takes place in the winter. I infer that because I see snow, just like outside my window." She then asks students to infer from the picture what happens in the story. One student, Karim, said, I infer that boy can’t play outside for a long time. ” He used the language that he had been taught to describe what he believed had occurred in the story. When Mrs. Schnee asked him why he thought that, he replied, “My schema tells me that it is winter and the snow is cold.” Then, Mrs. Schnee asked Karim to point out what in the picture helped him think it was winter and Karim pointed to the snowsuit that the boy is wearing and the snow, Thus, she checked for Karim’s understanding by asking him for a rationale for his answer. All students need strategies and language to infer meaning from pictures and text. English language learners especially need this modeling from the teacher and peers with a clear demonstration of how the inferences are made.

Reading Comprehension Strategies for ELLs: Determining Importance

Ms. Mc Bride was teaching animal adaptations to her 3rd grade science class. She wrote down the key idea of the chapter that the class is reading on the chalkboard: Adaptations are important to an animal’s survival. She taught her students that relevant information is that which is related to the key idea. She gave several examples of information from the chapter and asked students to practice deciding what is relevant and what isn't. Students then read the chapter. When they were done, Ms. McBride divided them into groups and had them brainstorm what they'd learned. Students in each group wrote a list of information they'd learned from the chapter, and then placed an R next to facts that they feel were relevant. Ms. McBride made a large T-chart and displayed the relevant and irrelevant facts from the groups' lists in front of the whole class.

Good readers can distinguish between important and unimportant information in nonfiction text. This ability is key to understanding the content that students must read. First, teachers should introduce students to the conventions of nonfiction text, such as by having them scan chapter titles, headings, subheadings, picture captions, maps, glossaries, and indexes. English language learners should receive plenty of support before they even begin to read the text. They need to understand that reading is not necessarily a front-to-back task.

Students can then learn to identify the title, table of contents, bolded words, photographs, captions, maps, headings, subheadings, and labels in a textbook chapter to preview information. These conventions of nonfiction text help students to identify what is important in the text. Even though the text as a whole was above the reading level

Reading Comprehension Strategies for ELLs: Asking Questions

Good readers are always asking themselves questions before reading, during reading and after reading. In this blog, I will discuss how to help English language learners learn to use this strategy. It's difficult for ELLs to ask questions about a topic for which they have no background knowledge.

Let's peek in Mrs. Mahoney's 6th grade social studies class and observe as she discusses the title of a nonfiction book about the Underground Railroad. Mrs. Mahoney modeled “I wonder” questions for the students. Maria, an English language learner in the class, wondered how a railroad could really be underground. It was apparent that she knew the meaning of the words “underground” and “railroad” but had a lot of difficulty with the concept. Through picture books and reading material on her reading level, Maria was able to participate in this discussion.

Hyung Jae, another ELL in Mrs. Mahoney’s class, read an entire book at home about the American Civil War in Korean. This background information gave him a springboard for asking questions. Although his language was still quite limited,he developed the schema that he needed to participate in the social studies lesson. The important point is that the ELLs in Mrs. Mahoney’s class were able to read about the topic on their own level or in their own language and ask questions that were on their English language levels. They were able to follow much of the class discussion and pose simple “I wonder” questions such as “Why is this family running away?” “Were the people afraid?” Also, they were able to participate because their teacher had made a point to teach her students about the ways to respond to “I wonder” statements. The teacher modeled these questioning strategies and Maria and Hyung-Jae were able to draw from her examples.

English language learners may not be able to ask questions about the author’s language or vocabulary in the same the way that proficient English native speakers do. However, they can begin to make a habit of questioning and this habit will improve their capacity for understanding and thus support their becoming more proficient readers of English text. It is important to emphasis with ELLs that they need to voice what they don’t understand and use reading strategies to figure out answers.

Here are some questions to help your ELLs get started.
• Ask students to predict what the story will be about based on the title and/or a picture on the cover. This is a strategy that can be used at all grade levels.
• Explain that a prediction is a guess. It doesn’t have to be correct. It just needs to make sense. Help students to become aware that their predictions might change as they read.
• Help ELLs identify “stopping places” in the text where they may have questions or should make predictions. Ask them to mark these places with sticky notes or write about them in their reading notebook. This will help ELLs to become better readers and supports their reading comprehension.

Reading Comprehension Strategies for ELLs: Making Connections

Good readers make connections to their background knowledge. They activate their schema. Schema is the prior experience that students bring to the text they are reading. In the case of ELLs, the schema that they bring to the classroom may be very different from their classmates’ experiences. It is important that classroom teachers help English language learners to relate their schema to the book they are reading. Our goal during Reader’s Workshop is to help our students make the following connections: text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world.
Text-to-self connectiona are associations that readers make between the text they are reading and something that happened in their own lives. This connection allows ELLs to share their unique schema with classmates. They learn the phrases, “ I have a text to self connection; “This reminds me of when I....” We use this strategy so that students see how their own experiences help them better understand what the characters in the story feel.
Text-to-text connections is a link that students make between the text that they are reading and another story that they have read. It is important to teach students the language of text-to-text connections. When I teach this strategy in my ESL classroom, I prompt the connections by asking, “Does anyone remember another book where children had to share with their friends?”
Text-to-world connections are those links students make between the text and something that has happened in the world. My students make connections to their lives in Korea, Japan, China, India and South America. If we read about a hurricane in a 5th grade ESL class, the students have the language to make the connection between the text that we are reading and extreme weather that has occurred in their own countries. This is a powerful strategy for ELLs because they are using their schema to contribute to the class discussions..I teach them to use sentences such as “This makes me think about,” “I remember when..” or “this is what happened in my country.”
Help your ELLs to learn how to comprehend what it is they read in English. Begin by using the strategies used in Reading Workshops.

Reading Comprehension Strategies for ELLs: Visualizing

I am reposting several blogs that I published #ELLCHAT will be able to read them.

Part One: Reading Comprehension Strategies for ELLs: Visualization

I was reading a story with my 2st grade ESL class entitled The Doorbell Rang (Hutchins, 1989). I wanted to teach my students the reading comprehension strategy of visualizing what was happening as they read. At the end of the first page, I asked them to make a picture in their minds of the cookies they thought Ma made for the two children to share. Once they had the picture in their minds, I asked them to draw it. After students made their drawings, we examined the picture of the twelve chocolate chip cookies that appeared on the next page of the book. One of my students, Yeon Ji sighed, “I was wrong” and showed me her picture of twelve sugar cookies with red sprinkles. I explained to students that the “movie” in their minds could change when they got new information and that a picture is new information. This is important to teach to students from other cultures because they are often product-oriented and focus on the “right” response..

When teachers in my school started exploring Reader’s Workshop and began to teach their students what good readers do, I immediately saw the application to teaching reading comprehension strategies to English language learners (ELLs). I liked the format of a short mini-lessons about comprehension strategies followed by independent or partner practice using books that are on each student’s reading level. The mini-lesson is directed to the whole class but the practice is individualized. Classroom teachers are able to differentiate instruction by holding extra conferences with English language learners. I decided to adapt this instructional model to teach reading to my ESL classroom so that I am using the same language as the classroom teachers.
Over the next few weeks I will be talking about 6 different strategies to teach reading comprehension to ELLs. In this first blog, I will discuss two reading comprehension strategies that ESL teachers adapt for English language learners of any age: Visualization and Making Connections.

Visualizing what is happening in the story
Good teachers teach students to visualize, to make pictures in their minds as they read. We might ask students to practice this skill as we read to them. Have students close their eyes and imagine what is happening in the story. In the above scenario, the visualization techniques in The Doorbell Rang, help students understand how the 12 cookies are divided first by 2 children, then by 4 and by 6. Eventually, 12 friends are sharing the cookies. We want students to use visualization as a means of understanding the story structure. As the story progressed, students were asked to visualize four children and the cookies that they would have on their plates. Students then made a drawing of their mental picture. If students didn’t draw a plate of three chocolate chip cookies at this point in the story, the teacher could monitor how well they were understanding the meaning of the story. She could have the class get in groups of four and make and divide twelve cookies. Students should be taught to visualize before, during and after reading.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Collaborative Teaching for ELLs: Are Two Teachers Better Than One?

Over the past few years collaborative or co-teaching has become more popular as school districts search for ways to best serve the needs of their English language learners. What is collaborative teaching? Does it work? In this blog I will try to explain how collaborative teaching works for English language learners.

In a collaborative or co-teaching setting, the ESL teacher "pushes into" the general education classroom to collaborate with the teacher. Collaborative teaching involves two credentialed professionals who are partners in the instruction of the lesson. One professional is usually a classroom or subject area teacher and the other is a certified ESL teacher. Ideally, co-teachers have equal responsibilities for planning instruction. Together the two teachers are lowering the student-teacher ratio and providing differentiated instruction in a manner that is not possible for one teacher.

Collaborative teachers are using the same physical space. Students are not pulled out of the classroom for one of the teachers to instruct. Although small heterogeneous groups may occasionally be pulled aside for reinforcement, I think that English language learners should not be isolated from mainstream students in the back of the classroom. In elementary schools, ESL teachers may come into the classroom for one instructional period each day.

Over the past few years collaborative teaching has become more popular as school districts search for ways to best serve the needs of their English language learners. If you ask ESL teachers who have tried co-teaching, you will hear both negative and positive responses.

Here is an example for a poor collaborative teaching situation. Paulo is a "push-in ESL teacher in a large school district in N.J. He teams with five different teachers each school day. He also teaches two classes of beginners in a pullout setting. Because of his work load, he is unable to plan lessons with his co-teachers. When Paulo goes into some classrooms, the teacher turns the students over to him and uses the time as a prep period. In others, he is helping a few ESL students at the back of the room while the classroom teacher works with the rest of the students. Usually, he serves as a classroom aide, roving around the room to help students who do not understand the instruction. He is not necessarily scheduled into a classroom when the students need him most. In one class, he comes in when kids are eating snack.

This is collaborative teaching at its worse. ESL professionals are not classroom aides. They should not be relegated to the back of the room with English language learners. What is the point of "push-in" ESL if students are kept on the fringes of the "real" instruction? Both teachers have a contribution to make. The classroom teacher contributes knowledge of the curriculum and of all the students in the class while the ESL teacher brings information about teaching strategies, second language acquisition and diverse cultures.

It is my experience that ESL teachers who are pushing into general education classrooms are generally more satisfied if they:

* have input into their schedule and whom they will be teaching with.
* co-teach specific subject and are in the classroom each time the subject is taught.
* have time to plan with the co-teacher
* enjoy equal status with the co-teacher.
* can discuss and decide their role and responsibilities in advance.

Here are some models that are used when co-teaching English language learners:

* Teach and write. One teacher teaches the lesson while the other records the important points on an overhead or chalkboard. ELLs benefit from this because information is being presented to them through different modalities. Station teaching. Students rotate through predetermined stations or activities. Each teachers works with all the students as they come through the station.
* Parallel teaching. The class is divided into two groups and each teacher delivers the content information to their group simultaneously. This allows teachers with distinctly different styles to work together.
* Alternative teaching. Teachers divide responsibility for planning. The majority of the students work in a large group setting but some students are pulled into to a smaller group for pre-teaching or other types of individualized instruction. The same students should not be pulled into the small group each time.
* Team Teaching. Teachers co-teach each lesson. This requires a great deal of planning and cooperation. Both teachers are responsible for all of the students.
* Lead and support. The lead teacher instructs the class while the supporting teacher provides assistance as she roams around the room. The supporting teacher may elaborate the important points or retell parts of the lesson. Ideally, classroom and ESL teachers should alternate roles so that one is not always the lead teacher. This type of instruction can be misused and the ESL teacher may find herself in a subordinate role.

There are many obvious benefits to co-teaching for students. ESL students have both academic and social benefits. They are exposed to the mainstream content but have the support of a second teacher. They are not pulled out of the class and learn with their classmates.

ESL teachers, however, cite many concerns. They do not want to lose ownership of their students be relegated to the status of an aide. They feel that collaboration is a lot of additional work especially if they are co-teaching with several different teachers. ESL teachers are concerned about beginners, who they feel do not really benefit from learning in the large group setting.

I think the benefits of collaboration outweigh the drawbacks. When teachers share the responsibility of instruction, lessons are more creative because two people are planning them. It's nice to have another adult in the room to be able to provide a range of support to students and to share those "ah-ha" moments.
Posted by everythingESL at 4:38 PM

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Tips for Teaching ELLs to Write

Writing is the most difficult language skill for ELLs to master. Here are some of the challenges these students face in a writing class.

* English language learners have a limited vocabulary. They repeat the same words and phrases again and again. Content is restricted to known vocabulary.
* ELLs are reluctant to use invented spelling and content is restricted to words they know how to spell.
* Verb tenses are inaccurate. ELLs will usually write in the present tense.
* The chaotic structure and grammar of students' composition make their writing difficult to understand.
* When ELLs read their writing aloud, they have no sense of what sounds right and what doesn't.
* In many cultures, students are not encouraged to express their opinions. ELLs may have little experience with creative writing to bring from their native language.

What is Translated Writing?

The biggest challenge for teachers working with ELLs is translated writing. This occurs when English language learners develop their ideas in native language and then try to translate them into English. Even if they don't write this native language text down, they are thinking in native language first. When this happens, the writing is full of inaccurate verb tenses and unintelligible sentences. The chaotic structure and grammar make the writing difficult to understand.

Editing this type of writing presents insurmountable challenges for teachers. One strategy is to pick a skill, such as verb tenses, to correct. However, it is better to avoid having students write down their ideas in English through the filter of their native language. Once the student has written an incomprehensible passage, you are stuck with it.
What about Free Writing and Unscaffolded Journal Writing?

Should students be encouraged to free write? (Free writing is a method of writing where students write without stopping for a predetermined amount of time.) The idea behind this is that the more students practice, the better they will write and they will write without an internal censor. It is my experience that free writing and unscaffolded journal writing are not beneficial to beginning ESL students. Students will translate from native language when writing in English.

Teach nonfiction Reading and Writing

Here are some tips to help your students avoid translated writing and promote thinking in English.

* Teach nonfiction reading writing first. This type of instruction gives ELLs language chunks that they can use in their writing.
* More time should be spent in the pre-writing stage. It is better for ELLS to develop a topic orally with a small group rather than to allow them to choose their own subjects.
* Chart facts about a nonfiction topic. Strengthen the link between oral and written language. Have students read the facts from the chart aloud.
* Use graphic organizers to introduce the skill of arranging information for writing. Have students learn to write from this organizer.
* Use sentences on your organizer rather than phrases. ELLs sometimes find it difficult to go from notes to comprehensible sentences.
* Don't expect students who are not fluent in English to self-edit. They will not usually find their mistakes. Teachers will have to be more hands-on with the writing of their non-native speakers.
* When ELLs read their writing aloud, they have no sense of what sounds right and what doesn't. Working in pairs to edit work is good practice for social skills but it probably won't improve the beginner's writing.
* Specifically model good writing from texts at the learner's English language level. For example, to demonstrate a specific skill such as writing a good opening paragraph, have students examine opening paragraphs in books on the same topic.

Selecting Other Genre

Once students have written nonfiction pieces and you want them to move on to other types of writing, you will still need to carefully select the genre. You still want to avoid translated writing. Give students real reasons to write: Letters, invitations, postcards, lists and interviews with classmates.

When you are ready to teach creative writing, use a dialogue journal rather than having students write in their own journals.

Have students write about topics they find interesting. Reflect what they have told you in your response in correct English. If students write at home on their own, you will find that the work is not always their own and you risk having them revert to translated writing.