Friday, July 17, 2015

What Do I Do About the Silent Period?

Have you ever heard of the Silent Period? If you have English Language Learners in your class, I'm sure it's something you're familiar with.  If you're new to teaching ELL's, it can be a daunting challenge to face, but I have some tips to help you get through!

I'm going to give you a brief overview of the term, but I'm mostly focusing on how to best help the students in your class- not just your ELL's, your native-born students as well.  

Taking risks can be scary.  Taking risks in a classroom with 40 expecting eyes on you can be downright terrifying.  The Silent Period can keep hold of a student for any length of time, from 2 days to 4 months to over a year.  Something to note is the Silent Period doesn't always mean complete silence- more on that in a bit! 

TPR, or Total Physical Response, is a technique used by many world language teachers to make vocabulary stick.  It's not a strategy often talked about by English Language teachers, but I am here to tell you that it works! When students repeat an action in correlation with a word, that word gets cemented in their brains.  Want to try it?  Many preschools teach vocabulary with American Sign Language, but I don't know any ASL, so I came up with my own gestures to suit my students' needs!

Please, please, please let your students talk.  I know you have rules and procedures for when students are allowed to speak and when they're not, but learning language requires speaking, and not just on command.  Case in point: I have a kindergarten friend who is still in the silent period (unable to answer teacher questions) after 1 full year of being continually "shushed" by his well-meaning teacher.  

This is a case where Silent Period doesn't mean silent, because when he works independently in my room, he chatters constantly in what seems to be toddler babble.  It sounds like this: "Ok, yes, ready, HELLO, you ready? Superman. ok, got it, perfect! Chris can do! Yay! I see, fish, big, yellow, HELLO, ready? ok, one two three, ok Chris." It may not seem like it, but all of this chatter is GOOD chatter- in fact, it's GREAT chatter.  This chatter tells me that he has words up there, even if he doesn't have the structure for them. Now I can direct my questions with the words I know he knows. I heard him say the word fish and big, so I may point to a picture and ask, "Chris, is the fish BIG or small?"  I'm putting his babble to good use and gently guiding him towards phrases and sentences.

In the example above, Chris has and uses some social phrases like, "You ready?" "I can do it!" "Ok, Chris!" I've also heard him say, "My turn!" which made me nearly burst into tears of pride.  This is all Social Language, which develops first and quickly.  Academic Language is much slower to develop, and takes years and years to master. Keep thinking back to your own baby at home- he learned to talk to and about toys well before learning the ABC's, and it was probably a few more years before he learned colors and shapes.  ELL's follow the same pattern; they pick up the language that is used daily, and struggle more often with abstract or situational language.

I learned this the hard way.  A few years ago, I had a 4th grade student in the Silent Period, and we worked one on one for close to 90 minutes a day.  When he was able to complete a sentence frame or answer a question, I used to jump for joy and clap my hands.  After a while, I noticed I was getting no reaction from him, and my praise was not motivating him to continue on.  This puzzled me, because don't ALL kids like cheering and clapping? Big fat no. 

I read through some studies on his culture and realized that if praise is given, it is because the child has done the equivalent of a triple salchow (you know, from figure skating!).  Students in his country were not praised for completing something they were already expected to do, and when praise was given, it was short and curt.  This threw me for a loop! I quickly reigned in my enthusiasm and found a new system of praise: a check on his paper, which was silent and tangible- something he could relate to.  

Teaching students who are in the Silent Period is not an easy task, and it may often seem like you aren't getting results.  Hang in there- even though you can't see or hear the results, they are swirling around in that sponge of a brain, germinating and getting ready to spill out.  If you're looking for some ways to encourage social and academic language, read this post! Or, check out some of my Speaking and Listening activities over at TPT.  And believe me: patience, persistence, and positivity will pay off! 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

5 Ways to Increase Parent Involvement

Whether it's Open House, Parent Conferences, or Back to School Night, many teachers of ELL's and other subgroups struggle with various barriers to reach their students' parents.  For some groups, it is a language barrier and lack of translators.  For others, it's a cultural barrier, where the parents are reluctant to visit the school.  For even more, it's a time barrier, with one parent on day shift and another on night shift.  Put these barriers together and you have an empty room at Open House. Teachers and administrators know it's important to forge a strong relationship with families to create the best learning environment for our students, but how can we cross some of those barriers?

After years working with English Language Learners of all demographics, I've put together a list of the best and simplest ways I've been able to reach parents.  This is by no means a one-size fits all list (nothing is, when it comes to ELL's!), but it contains some of the strategies that have worked for me. 

1. We know that time is an issue for many families.  At our parent nights, my teammate and I focus on 3 or 4 pressing issues (which are related to each other) so as not to overwhelm our families. 

Some issues we've put together in the past are: 
school uniforms, hygiene, school safety
supply lists, reading at home, talking to your child
internet safety, stranger-danger, telling a teacher
homework, grades, report cards

We've found that by focusing on just a few issues, we can spend more time answering parent questions and providing student-tailored suggestions.  This makes our presentations much more personal, and allows the parents time to digest the important facts rather than struggle with minute details.

2. If you feed them, they will come.  Click the links to read about the incentives at our End of Summer School Party or our annual Christmas party, which have become annual traditions at school.  
Don't worry if you have a small budget, or no budget at all- providing incentives doesn't have to stretch your wallet.  We ask for donations from our faculty and school community, and receive most of our clothes and raffle prizes that way.  If you have a few dollars in your budget, do like my teammate and I: we scour dollar store shelves and clearance racks throughout the year for possible prizes, and hoard them away in our classrooms.  

Food and snacks can be donated too! Ask your PTA or HSA for help with food for a large event, or for a smaller event, just put out pretzels and bottled water.  Food is a universal ice-breaker, and having something to munch on makes everyone happy happy happy!

3.  Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words.  Possibly two thousand, depending on how many languages are spoken at your school!   In all our communications with our parents, we try to follow the 90/10 rule: 90% visual, 10% words. 

Here's a great example of the 90/10 rule: One day the school nurse called me in my classroom.  She had been having trouble getting in touch with a refugee family for a dentist appointment.  She had been sending home form after form, but nothing was coming back.  What could she do? 

Go back one sentence and read these words: sending home form after form. Therein lies the problem.  ELL parents (at least in my school) are not able to read a form that looks like this, much less fill it out.  

So how did I solve the problem?  I made a note to go home with explicit images and words my ELL student could read and understand. It's not cute and there are no fancy fonts, but it gets the job done with 90% visuals and 10% words. (Usually, we include the student's name and put the phone number/address for the dentist as well.) This format can be modified for any sort of appointment the family needs to make, as well as for a school conference- just swap out the images as needed. 

4.  Make your Open House play a double role by inviting important community organizations to attend.  Think of the resources your families need access to: is it the local Goodwill? is it a library card? is it an understanding of safety laws?  Consider contacting your local police department for a mini DARE session, or your fire department for a tour of a fire truck.  Connecting your families with the resources available in your area is something our parents are always grateful for; without a guiding hand, many are unaware of the services that are out there!

5. At our Thanksgiving and Christmas parties, we invite the faculty and staff to help serve food and act as crowd control.  The students are always so excited to see their teachers outside of the classroom setting, and it shows the parents that the teachers care about their children.  

Over time, these strategies have made our ELL parents more comfortable in the school setting and more invested in their childrens' education. However, this is by no means an overnight solution! It takes time, effort, and commitment. 

Do you have a hard time with parent involvement at your school? Tell me all about it! I'd love to hear if you have used any of these strategies, or are planning to this school year.  Leave a comment or, if you have questions about increasing parental involvement, send me an email!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Summer School Visual Plans (Grades 1 and 2)

I look forward to summer school all year long (3 days a week! 3.5 hours a day!), but about a week or two before, I always begin to panic about my plans.  I generally have the same students 3 years in a row, so coming up with fresh, new ideas for the same group of kids can be a little daunting! I decided to share my plans in visual format, just in case you're teaching summer school and need some new ideas.

This year I'll be teaching a class of upcoming 1st and 2nd graders for the first half of the day, and then a class of 4th and 5th graders.  Dividing our 4 weeks into themes makes planning a lot easier! I can separate out the books and activities I need well in advance. 

Our general summer school schedule is as follows: 
Morning Meeting/Warm-up/Morning Work
Computer Lab

{For all the crafts listed in this post, check out my ESL Summer School Pinterest board}

For the first week, my littles will learn all about the 4th of July: how we celebrate and why we celebrate.  This 4th of July pack is super versatile, and perfect for my varying proficiency levels.  And how cute is that door hanger? We'll be able to do lots of speaking and listening about colors, shapes, and directions while we work on it.

In week 2, I'll keep things light with some fun beach and ocean fiction reads.  The summer literacy and math centers, summer printables, and ready set print are some of my favorite TPT buys- I can pick and choose the pages that work the best.  When I go to the beach for 4th of July, I'll bring back a huge ziplock bag full of sand that we can play and paint with!

Week 3 ups the rigor a little, with some non-fiction ocean reads.  We'll focus on some math and phonics skills.  I love finding resources that work for multiple levels of reading and math readiness!  The fish-bowl craft looks ambitious...I'll keep you posted about how it turns out! 

And with that, it's week 4, and summer school is over.  This is a short week, as the last day is an Open House for parents, and I have my minions students help me clean and pack up my room for summer cleaning.  We will focus on some safety skills, like crossing the street and putting on sunscreen.  This camping pack has all the safety ideas I need. plus some cute campfire songs that I'll attempt to teach!  I'm not sold on the hand craft just yet...if you have other safety craft ideas, please let me know!

Now, a summer at my school wouldn't be complete without lots and lots of computer time.  We are paperless, and our administration is focused on having students utilize personalized learning tools.  So during the times I don't have my students, they'll be with an aide working on these great websites.  We use them all during the year, so it shouldn't be hard to get back into them! 

Do you teach summer school, or have suggestions for crafts and activities? I'd love to hear them! 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Dare To Dream #tptsellerchallenge

When I started my blog and store I was filling a need for resources that I couldn't find elsewhere.  I teach a very specific type of ESL students whose needs and abilities are often overlooked by the publishing world.  Frustrated, I decided to share my experiences so that maybe someone, somewhere, might find something useful when teaching newcomers or refugees. Over the years, my blog and store have transformed as my students and I have transformed, and it's been a fun-filled journey!

1.  ESL teachers, where are you!?!? I get lots of comments and emails from primary grade teachers, but very rarely hear from any ESL teachers.  I want to connect more and become a go-to resource for ideas and activities.

2. Looking forward a few years, I know I won't be in the classroom.  I've got my heart set on administration and I'm determined to get there sooner rather than later.  When that happens, I want this to be a place teachers and administrators can come for help with curriculum planning, scheduling, school events, collaboration, and technology.

3. So many blogging buddies are traveling to present at national and regional conferences, and I want that to be me one day! But with my little learner arriving in November, I'll probably have to put that dream on the back burner for a few years.  

4. Well that's a pipe dream if there ever was one! Right now I'm very happy to be able to use my TPT money to pay for our monthly house-cleaners and a few Starbucks lattes.  Eventually, I'd love to pay for our mortgage, and then vacations and...well, who knows!

Do you have a dream for your blog or store? Link up with #tptsellerchallenge! 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Makeover Madness!

It's my first day of summer vacation, and what better way to spend it than spending some much needed time sprucing up my TPT store? I joined the talented teacher-authors in the TPT Seller Challenge to ramp up my store, right before #tptvegas15.  I decided to work on my Reader's Theater scripts, which were sorely in need of an update.

(Basically everything wasn't working! Do your eyes hurt? I'm sorry!)

(Isn't that frog just adorable? I love him!)

(I think Red might be my favorite clipart cutie ever.  And I have a lot!)

I am really happy with how these came out! These Reader's Theaters were among the first products I posted, when I was still using Microsoft Word (yikes!).  But now, with their spiffy updated covers, I won't cringe while scrolling through my TPT store- that's a win in my book!

Want to join in on the fun? Head over to these fabulous blogs to link up.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Classroom Library Makeover

At the end of the school year, I looked around my room and realized there was no way I could leave for the summer with the current state of my library.  It was so bad, I didn't even take before pictures.  But I have plenty of after pictures! Let me show you the transformation.

 I teach grades 1-5, but on any given day I may have Kinders or middle schoolers come in my room.  So, I have to have a really wide range of books.  I've slowly added to my collection as I've been in this position, and finally feel like I have enough for all my learners.  My old system started out with stickers on the front of the books to level them, but the stickers easily ripped off.  Then I tried to arrange them by genre.  Then, I tried to arrange them by series/author, but it kept getting messy.  

Finally, I had had enough! I decided to re-do my library, no matter how long it took.  I started by ordering some neon bins from Really Good Stuff.  They match the bins on bookshelves in another corner of my room, which makes my OCD heart very happy.

Once they came in, I pulled all the books off my shelves and had my students help me level them through Book Wizard.  I would say that 80% of my books were "levelable" but some we had to guess.  It was a good learning experience for the students who helped me, because they began to see how to compare text complexity.  

We piled them by levels, then realized that it made sense to put levels together, since we didn't have enough of each to fill a bin.  

Next, we began to stack books in the bins.  My students took so much ownership in this part of the job- they made sure all the books were facing the same way and in height order.  They also made sure the pattern of colors was just right.  They must take after me!

Once we had all the books sorted into bins, I had to figure out a labeling system.  After thinking about it for quite a few days, I came up with a very simple dot system.  

I am so excited about the dot system! This is going to be perfect for my littles, my middles, and my newcomers.  For my littles it will reinforce one-to-one correspondence and ten frames, my middles will be able to better understand the concepts of symbols, and my newcomers won't have the stress of identifying a letter or a name. 

Once we had established the dot system, we worked over the course of a few days and put black marker dots on the inside front cover of EVERY book in my library.  I should have counted them...I'm guessing I have close to 1,000.  

 Finally, I wrote the key for each bin on a little index card, laminated them, and hung them from the baskets.  I'll make prettier labels over the summer, but for now, these will do!

 The large bins hold all my fiction books, and the tall narrow bins hold all my nonfiction. 
 I am so happy with the way it turned out!  I keep walking over just to stare at it!

Isn't it pretty!? I'm so excited to start teaching my kids how to use it! I'm positive this change will make for a more functional, practical, and inviting space for my kiddos to read!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Home Office Tour

We moved in to our house in September of 2013, and I'm just now (June '15) feeling happy with it! Come along as I link up with Ashley and Angie for #2getherwearebetter and share my work-in-progress office.

Here's what it looked like a few months after moving in...barely functional, and basically a catch-all space.  Yikes!

Here's what it looked like last summer, kind of cluttered and unfocused.

Here's what it looks like now! We (and by we, I mean my husband) painted the room during the spring, because I was sick of the plain beige walls.  I wanted something happy and energetic, and this color fit the bill.  My black furniture toned down the brightness a little.  Now I have to put things back on the walls, which always makes me nervous.  I think I'm going to try the Command picture hooks instead of making a hole. 

 I tried to keep one shelf (from Crate and Barrel) for personal and one bookshelf for business, but that looked unbalanced.  Since the top two shelves are narrow and short, I decided to do decor up there and business down below.  The desk (from IKEA) just so happened to fit perfectly in the space under the window, and I love working and watching the neighborhood go by.

  If the beach stuff doesn't seem to "go" it's because our upstairs guest bedroom was beach themed, but is being changed into a nursery.  I couldn't part with any of it, so I decided to just toss it in my office.  It make make design people cringe, but it makes me happy and that's what counts! 

The white bench was from Homegoods, and we had it at the foot of our bed for a while.  However, we have a black dog whose fur stuck like glue, so it got moved to my office.  It has become my mail place and organizing space.  If I have an event coming up I lay out everything I need on the bench to keep myself organized. 

My short bookshelves are from Big Lots.  Notice the bottom shelf...I read and re-read and re-re-read the directions and STILL got the bottom shelf wrong.  I keep saying I'll cover it with contact paper, but never get around to it.  The white statue was part of a set I designed in college, and currently holds my wedding veil.  

It's not a huge room, but it works perfectly for little old me.  Head over to Schroeder Shenanigans in 2nd or Lucky Little Learners to link up!