Jeannie London, Ed.D. is a full-time teacher working with ELL students in the Hillsboro School District in Oregon. She has taught in elementary and middle schools, general education, ESL/ELD and bilingual programs. She holds endorsements in English as a Second Language, Reading and Administration, and a doctorate from the University of San Francisco in International Multicultural Education.
Dr. London has taught at Concordia University, University of Portland, Portland State University, Pacific University and California State University, Hayward in Teacher Education, Ethnic Studies and TESOL Graduate and Undergraduate Programs. Recently, she teaches Research Design and Methodologies at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon. She works to support teachers looking to enhance their delivery and instructional practices to English Language Learners. Her research interests focus on supporting and improving English Language Learner's reading and comprehension in Language Arts and content areas through the study of grade level literature ,word development and Corpus studies.....
Our mission is to support classroom teachers serving English Language Learners through the enriching and scaffolding of reading and content curriculum. Using best practices, and a variety of approaches and strategies, our goal is to provide teachers with a diverse toolkit of activities and materials in order to help with their educational practice.
Brown Boys in School: Looking Beyond the Stereotypes
As a parent educator of two brown teenagers, I have watched my boys grow up maneuvering the stereotypes of their gender and ethnicity. While my boys have the privilege of being the sons of an educator, who can advocate for them, many of my other students do not.
Upon entering this middle school as an ESL Teacher, I naturally watched out for brown boys because of my connections to my own. My observations focused on three junior high school students; one from a mixed Native American heritage, and two from Latin America: Philip, Miguel and Tony.
School-aged students hold a special protective place in our society. We expect our youth to act like children or young people who respect our “adult” authority. Boys of color don’t have these same protected youth experiences.
“Tough boy” attitudes are part of their life. Miguel once commented to me “I have seen more in my 13 years than most adults in this building have their entire lives.” Tony also commented “Look, no one really looks after kids like us. We have to man up early.”
The boys of color observed all held full-time jobs during the summer, frequently working overtime. Miguel apologized telling me he couldn’t work on a class project over the weekend, “Hey, I got some extra landscaping work with my friend’s dad. I was too tired to work on it.” Annoyed, I commented, “So earning the money is really that important?” Luckily he didn’t catch my sarcasm and responded “Well, I was the one who had to paid for groceries this week.”
After this, I started listening and asking questions and I found out that Miguel from age 9 worked the strawberry harvest season during the summer months, typically earning enough money to pay for his family’s rent for several months. Tony works as a roofer, helping with the family business on weekends and during summers, often earning thousands of dollars a month and is treated like the other workers. He told me “School is a waste of my time. I know I can’t read worth crap but those kid stories just make me feel bad. I just have to wait for when I am old enough to drop out so I can get out of here. It’s better if I work with my dad. At least I’ll have something good to show for my time.”
Earning money gives these students a sense of economic power and family responsibility thought only to be known by adults. Since these brown boys know how to “earn a living” and have proven that they can take care of their families, why are we surprised when they challenge school authority by asking us. . . “What purpose does school hold for me?”
Not surprisingly, there is much behind their perceived misbehavior. Outside my classroom door, a misunderstanding arose over a tossed balloon filled with milk in the hallway. The balloon happened to fall at the foot of this student. I could see that it was a misunderstanding as I saw two teenage girls quickly depart the area after the toss, so I went to intervene and offer feedback to the VP. Philip nudged me out of the way and deliberately escalated the confrontation. Later, Philip received detention for a week because of the incident.
I approached him on why he took on the VP, why be disrespectful when he knew, he didn’t do anything wrong? Unapologetic for pushing me out of the way, and yet understanding the politics and sociocultural dynamic of the school he advised me “Save it for the kid who can’t fight back. I can take care of myself.” He continued with “Look, since I’m cool with it. You should cool with it too.”
Boys of colored interviewed spoke of exhausted parents with limited English speaking abilities who relied heavily on them to maneuver the English speaking world; Because parents seemed over burdened to them, brown boys make adult choices on what to ignore, filter and translate. Caught not quite translating an entire conversation, Tony explained to me “What’s the use in telling my mom I’m not doing good in reading. She can’t do anything about it. She can’t read either. I am not going to make her feel worst than she already does.”
Because brown boys interact with the adult world making “adult choices’, they already have a sense of ownership of it. It is important for me listen more to all my students of color, especially the brown boys; to withhold judgment on what I see or hear until I understand the entire story; the context and content of their realities. I need to understand each student specifically and I need to support them so they can find a better future for themselves and their families. So, they can find a goal, a dream that they can strive for; that they matter. I need to share these stories with my colleagues, and challenge them to look beyond their own biases and quick judgments; That there is more to a student than their state test score, and their defiant stance. So, they can see beyond the brown face and “tough boy attitude”. So, they can appreciate the student within.
ELs and Students of Color Need Allies
English Learners and students of color are generally unfamiliar with the educational system nor the choices they have that could affect their educational experiences. What classes to take? What classes are the most interesting? Which teachers are the best? Which classes will best meet their needs?
Tracking in my experience was never a deliberate plan among administrators or counselors. It is just something that simply happened, using student lack of enthusiasm and under performance as guidelines for their decisions.
Even for myself, I was denied a chance to change English classes to that of a well-admired teacher in my school because I was perceived as lazy for not working hard enough memorizing the weekly vocabulary list and definitions. I had been taking senior English from an instructor who was also the soccer coach. Nearly one third of the class were his soccer team members, and literary dialogue in class focused on their sharing and speaking among themselves with the rest of the class looking on. I had the same teacher for 3 years and didn’t know I had the choice to request another instructor.
My senior year, I heard from my friends about another senior level English teacher. During lunch my friends excitedly shared about the in-class discussions about feminism and other new ideas brought forth through the English literature they studied. I had never heard of these topics in my past English classes, so I approached this instructor and my counselor to make the change just after the semester started, and while they were positive and supportive, I was called to speak to the principal for final approval.
I attempted to explain my position to the principal, but I could tell she was not open to my changing classes. Defensive and insecure, I know that I struggled in my English to discuss the rationale for my request. I will always remember her words describing me as lazy and that I needed to buckle down and just memorize those vocabulary words and definitions. Devastated, I resigned myself to continue attending the current class and counted the days until graduation.
Sadly, it wasn’t until I was in graduate school that I discovered my true intellectual capacities and capabilities, all due to professors of color who encouraged me, supported me and taught me the culture of being in the academic 'white' world.
I share this experience to illustrate, that if grades and behavior in high school were true indicators of future performance, I wouldn't be where I am today. My one risk to make a change in high school, was then an opportunity lost. I was lucky. I had another chance later on in life. Most of our students don't get that second chance. That's why, ELs and students of color need our support and understanding, and sometimes a chance to make a change.
Using Student Data with Justice
One important thing I tell my students about assessments is that any test, quiz, state exam score, is just a number like any other number. A score is just a snap shot in time that tells us what a student knows in one moment in their educational journey. It is the never the sum of whoa student is but a quick glimpse of one small section of the knowledge he/she is building. This is what I tell students when we review assessments like the state English Language Proficiency [ELP] exam, or the state math or reading exam.
Don’t get me wrong. I use data, lots of data, to guide my instruction. A Teacher on Special Assignment [TOSA] once described me as a data maniac. What can I say? I like numbers. I like how the numbers help me to decide what to teach, what technique might give the students the most benefit, or when to teach a particular skill or content. This is how I use my classroom data. However, I am mindful, and try very hard not to taint or limit the child, the student in my charge.
We live in a time when instructional time is precious time. Days are filled with Reading, Math, Science, and Social Studies time requirements. Specials like gym, library, and music are sprinkled throughout the day if a district is able to provide them. Federal programs such as ESL, SPED, and Title Reading programs fight for precious minutes in a schedule that is already packed with necessary and much needed instruction.
So, instructional time is ever more valuable. Each lesson must be meaningful. Using our data helps instructors use the time they have wisely to purposefully to accomplish clear goals and objectives.
At the beginning of the school year I like to review patterns in the last sets of summative assessments set by the state where I live. ESL students in Oregon must take a yearly exam to assess their English Proficiency Level placement. In the example I have created, I can identify initial needs before starting my instruction. Comparing the two latest scores, I can use the data to plan my major yearly focus. In the boxes, the current score is listed, but the color indicates the progress from one year to the next. Green shows growth from one year to last year while yellow shows no growth. Red indicates a declining score. A deeper red indicates that a student’s score has fallen more than one level. We evaluate English language knowledge into 5 levels: 1 [beginning], 2 [early intermediate], 3 [intermediate], 4 [early advanced] and 5 [advanced].
From this small example that you view above, nearly all the students need some form of oral practice. I know this because all the students have stagnated in that area. The scores have remained the same from the prior year. Further, if I wanted to try to improve their reading, I might consider breaking this group into two ability groups so as to work on reading skills sometime during my instructional period with them. I can see the patterns and possible configurations for ability grouping and mixed ability grouping.
When I begin to work with my students, this is not the only data I will use to guide instruction. Along the way, I will be making more observations and collecting more information on my students so I can continue to meet their needs the best way I can. I am sure there are other ways of reviewing data that may be just as effective, but this seems to work well for me. If however, I find a better way to set up instruction for my students at the start of the year, I will be adjusting my data review process as needed.
Teach the Big Math Ideas
Frankly, I don't think of myself as a math teacher. I’ve always been in the Language Arts. Sometimes, I taught science classes for a local not for profit community organization but never math. However, when I was hired to teach in a 3-week elementary summer school, I found myself teaching in-coming 3rd graders in Math and English. Needless to say, nearly all my students were English Language Learners ranging from proficiency levels 1 to 5.
Because my time was short, I decided to focus my instruction on the bigger concept of multiplication focusing on the 0, 1, 2, 5, and 10 multiplication facts. I looked at different ways of presenting the multiplication sign [ X ] to my students. My pre-test showed very limited to zero concept of multiplication understanding.
My first lesson started with multiplying zeros. After creating a chart that explicitly showed how multiplication worked and where the numbers in a multiplication equation came from [Item 1], I reviewed this with students through different kinds of activities. We matched the equation with the number of zeros added in the equation [Item 2] before finally having students match the equations with the correct answers [Item 3]. In addition, we practiced skip counting after students understood the logic behind it and they used their fingers to make sure they counted the correct number of times when trying to figure out a particular equation. I replicated the same process for the multiplication facts for 1, 2, 5 and 10. I tracked student understanding the best I could in the time I had, taking extra time to practice with students who had trouble with understanding multiplication.
The last week of classes, the summer school director requested a final math assessment to track growth in math for our funder. Since I was in a hurry, I printed out an assessment that reviewed all the multiplication facts up to 12. My plan was to simply track responses to the 0, 1, 2, 5 and 10 multiplication facts. The results completely surprised me.
Students, who concretely grasped the concept of multiplication, not only did well with the taught multiplication facts, were able to complete equations involving 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9. I was amazed. Once they had learned the concept, their understanding allowed them to answer the other questions. Many of the assessments submitted had circles, or dots near the different problems so you could view the student’s attempt to figure out the answer. My class improved their understanding of multiplication facts by 53% in 3 weeks. I have been trained in different ELL methods, and instinctively I knew that teaching to the big ideas could be beneficial to ELL students. Now, I am a true believer. Teaching big ideas reap big rewards.
Finding Personal Renewal in a Transfer
For two years I was happily assigned to my local middle school, then upon returning from a yearlong leave of absence, I found myself returning to elementary education. I have been teaching English as a Second Language [ESL] since 2006 then English Language Development [ELD] since Susana Dutro’s Systematic ELD came to my district in 2009. In 2014, as I teach summer school, I see that all types of instructional strategies are being utilized in order to meet the needs of our English Language Learners [ELLs] including SIOP, GLAD, and Exe-ELL. It is a relief to know that whatever the source; the best educational practices in the delivery and instruction of content are being used to support our students.
Before English Language Learners received support in schools through pullout English services. Ever since Collier and Johnson’s study, which found pullout ESL to be the least effective program, districts are reworking how ELLs are supported in schools. Now, classroom teachers are receiving extra training in SIOP, GLAD, Dutro and Exc-ELL so ELLs can remain in the classroom and receive instruction at the same time as their English only counterparts. ESL/ELD specialists once classroom teachers conducting pullout services now provide instructional support to the teaching staff in their buildings along with their other student support duties. This is now a role that I am preparing myself for since my transfer notice.
Certainly, I am not the first nor will I be the last teacher to be transferred into a new role. ELD is a developing field and ELLs, a growing population. With change there is discomfort but I find the discomfort to be the disequilibrium of my mind and heart adjusting to this new challenge in my career. Naturally, there is sadness at the changing of relationships; anxiety of the unknown in a new building; excitement at doing something new; caution in learning a new organizational culture and hope that what’s coming is better for ELLs and all students. Good teaching for ELLs is good teaching for all. Like a new student preparing for their first day of school, I am filled with same wonderment and nervous energy. I consider myself a life-long learner, always humbled at the constant reminder of the things I do not know. I am hoping to learn a lot this year from my colleagues at my new school and from the new techniques and methods coming from educational researchers. I am optimistic I can do well in my role and that the coming year will be full of many exciting instructional insights which I can share with you.
Thomas, Wayne P., Collier, Virginia. (1997). School Effectiveness for Language Minority Students. NCBE Resource Collection Series, No. 9.
Para-Educators Provide Classroom Support
With the start of the new academic, the bustling of children entering the school grounds and teachers trying to organize their classrooms are common sounds heard through the corridors. All staff bustle about making things ready for in-coming students.
One of our student teachers from the last summer session has asked me how to use assistant teachers or para-educators in the classroom. Our STEM ESL/ESOL Endorsement students struggle with class size, student needs and the challenge of differentiation in classrooms where one size no longer meets the needs of none. The question is then, if you have access to a teaching assistant, what is the best way to utilize this student support resource.
Generally a para-educator is a school employee who can fulfill many duties including but not limited to:
1. Providing one-on-one tutoring to students
2. Providing small group skill practice
3. Assisting with classroom management
4. Conducting parental support activities
5. Translating between parents and teacher during conferences, meetings, or phone calls and,
6. Providing instructional support in the library or media center.
Because of the flexibility to their possible job duties, they are known by many job titles: paraprofessionals, teacher aides or assistants, educational assistants, instructional assistants, alternative school work study assistants, bilingual/bicultural school home assistants, career educational assistants, and communication aides. Most para-educators work in Title 1, ESL or SPED classrooms to support students with specific academic needs.
The collaborative empowerment model includes all stakeholders in the education of a child: parents/family/guardians, student, community members, school personnel, teachers and of course para-educators. Teachers working and planning instruction to include para-educators can make great strides boosting support to ELL students as long as para-educators can fulfill meaningful and strategic educational support to ELL students during their academic day.
Focused support on key vocabulary
When presenting any subject matter unit, an educator has to identify the key vocabulary and the key concepts of a consecutively presented group of lessons. Typically this initial presentation of the key concepts and vocabulary happen at the beginning of the unit lesson. After this initial teacher presentation, a para-educator can easily provide a second review or practice on these concepts. A small table at the back of the room works well to provide a place for any group to review materials needing a second glance.
In-Class Task Support
Each lesson session will probably have a cooperative learning activity. Break out sessions like these are particularly helpful to ELLs as long as each member in the cooperative group has a specific role and can implement the role. Typically in a cooperative group you will see: a facilitator, a timekeeper, a recorder, and a reporter. Groups larger than four tend to be more chaotic and job accountability is unclear. A para-educator can rotate among sets of mixed ability groups and support the working dynamic taking place when completing a set task.
Reading Task Support
For newcomers to intermediate students, para-educators can read books and passages aloud to students who would otherwise be overwhelmed or unable to decode the text presented in class. Reading aloud allows a wider group of students to access the content presented in a reading passage.
Writing Task Support
In the same manner, para-educators can provide a sentence prompt or sentence starter to a written task. Constructing Meaning trainings provided by EL Achieve offer extensive written and oral prompts to different subject areas and these can be very helpful to ELLs in your classroom. Teachers and para-educators armed with these types of support tools can make access to content easier for ELL students.
Phone calls home on what is going well works wonders on counteracting what needs improvement. I found that if I take the time to contact an ELL student’s home and share what good things I saw in the classroom that day, my student made incredible progress in the subject matter I was presenting. Somehow this positive energy had a great impact on overcoming the negative when I did have to call about missing work and such. Concerns were then addressed immediately. Parents want to know that teachers care about their children and can see the positive not always the negative.
It is difficult for teachers to make the time to make those calls, but a systematic monthly phone call home is something a para-educator can do. I found having a list of 4-5 positive statements available and the phone list ready went a long way to systematize my communication. Typically, on a specific day, a checklist of names and possible comments can easily be made and phone calls can take place using the last five minutes of class time.
Providing focused vocabulary support, in-class task support, reading task support, writing task support, and communication support are ways para-educators work with content teachers in addressing ELL classroom needs.
Building Background Knowledge Ideas and Activities
Anchoring content to student prior knowledge is a struggle when the student is not familiar with the language and culture of American society. Building Background Knowledge prior to content presentation is all the more critical in ensuring comprehension and engagement with the subject matter for non-English, Limited English, and English Language Learners.
To help support your teaching practice, I am presenting a short list of Building Background Knowledge activities. The following is a brief list:
1. CLOZE Sentences
Reviewing content vocabulary by presenting a passage with key vocabulary missing. Students complete the passage by filling in the missing words.
2. Concept Definition Map
When a specific theme’s key ideas and vocabulary are graphed to show relationships and connections between the key words and ideas.
3. KWL Charts
A K-W-L Chart what a student knows (K), wants to know (W), and has learned (L) about a topic, can be used before, during, and after the topic/theme unit presented.
Brainstorm words related to a topic then determine their categories and labels.
A questionnaire or informal pre-assessment of student opinions regarding the content about to be taught.
6. Personal Dictionaries
A student creates a personal dictionary that is used as a definition or spelling resource. Students may draw or graph meanings to words.
7. Picture Chart
The key vocabulary is identified with an image and placed in a chart on a bulletin board.
8. Pretest the material/unit
Students review the unit testing material before the unit is taught.
9. Quick Write
Students write 3-5 minutes on a topic/theme of a unit prior to or after its presentation.
10. Read a story, newspaper or journal article, play or picture book
Teacher reads aloud a story, article, or play to the class on the topic/theme being taught in the near future.
Teacher brings in the physical representation of key vocabulary words of a unit being studied.
12. Self-Assessment of Levels of Word Knowledge
A student identifies his/her personal knowledge of a word: 1] Don’t know the word, 2] Have seen the word, but don’t know it, 3] Can associate word vaguely with a concept and 4] know the word well
13. Think Alouds
A teacher deliberately speaks to his/her self when initially presenting a theme/topic of a new unit. As a result, the teacher models her/his thinking process for the students prior to presentation of the topic.
14. Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy (VSS)
A student self selects key vocabulary either individually, with a partner or in a small group to share and discuss with others in class.
15. View a video
A short video providing some background knowledge of the topic/theme to be taught.
16. Wide Reading
Student reading on a theme or topic to be studied involving presentation or identification key vocabulary words present in the theme/topic.
17. Word Generation Activity
A group of words are presented such as unhappy, unsatisfied, unavailable, etch and students then work to find the commonality and definition of that commonality.
18. Word Sort
A student sorts the key vocabulary into categories or ideas in order to develop a deeper understanding of the meaning of the words.
19. Word Study
Similar to the “Word Generation Activity” in that the definition and the suffix or prefix of a word is presented and studied.
20. Word Wall
Key vocabulary words are placed in an alphabetical manner on a wall.
Echevarria, Jana., Vogt, MaryEllen., & Short, Deborah J. (2008). Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners: The SIOP Modle. 3rd Edition. New York: Pearson.
Herrell, Adrienne L., & Jordan, Michael. (2008). 50 Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners. 3rd Edition. New Jersey: Pearson.