Thursday, October 1, 2015

You've Been Boo'ed! (Staff Morale Booster)

One of the traditions at our school is the annual "You've Been Boo'ed" game.  It's something I look forward to every year, and this year, I decided to give our tradition a little face-lift.

If you've never been boo'ed, it's simple! One person starts the chain by placing an anonymous basket of Halloween goodies in front of another classroom door.  The recipient then puts an "I've Been Boo'ed" sign on the door and "boo's" another person.

It's completely anonymous, low cost, and requires no staff meetings (hooray!).  Want to try it? I just posted a free version in my TPT store- click any picture to download! If you're not sure what to put in your basket, here's an example.  Best part? Everything came from the dollar store!  

In my basket: 
A mixed bag of candy (because chocolate makes everything better)
Fake spiders (for decoration or to make someone squirm!)
More candy (because, why not?)
A rubber bat (for decoration or to really make someone squirm!)

I wanted to make my basket look like a cauldron, so I placed everything in layers of tissue paper.  I had a specific person in mind for my boo basket, so I made sure to layer the candy with the fake spiders for an extra spooky twist.   

Here's what it looked like in our hallway when I dropped it off:

Post the directions in your faculty room or near your copier so everyone can see, and then get  your boo on!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fun for Fall: Write on a Pumpkin!

Need a fun and engaging idea for your students? Try writing stories on a pumpkin! This is an activity I've done for the past 3 or 4 years in a row, and it always comes out so well! You can adapt it for any grade or subject area, too! In math and science, have students write their predictions for weight or graph whether the pumpkin will sink or float. For Social Studies, have students research facts about fall and share them on the pumpkin.  Here's how I did it with my 4th and 5th grade ESL class:

I started by bringing my pumpkin in a bag and having the students guess what it was.  I wrote sentence frames for my lower proficiency students so they could easily say, "I guess there is a ___________ in the bag."  

Next we guessed how much the pumpkin weighed using the same sentence frames, and I started the story with that sentence.  "Mrs. M-C picked a pumpkin that weighs 9 lbs."  We passed (rolled) the pumpkin around the carpet, and everyone added one or two sentences to the story.  Of course, our story took a rather strange turn, but once everyone had dictated their portion of the story, they read it back to me from the chart.  That is the basic tenet of LEA- "what you say, you can read."  It's a great ELL strategy, because it proves to struggling students that they can read, and that gives them so much confidence to keep going.

The cool (and unexpected) thing about using a pumpkin as a vehicle for our story was the motor development practice it gave them.  It's hard to write on a pumpkin!  I traced a straight line with chalk for some of my students who really needed help, but I think they did a pretty good job with their handwriting, bumps and lumps and all!  They were so proud of their pumpkin, and it sat on my desk practically until Christmas. 

I think I may switch it up this year and do smaller, individual pumpkins that we can display on our windowsill.  How cute would that be?! 

Here are some other pumpkin writing ideas I love! 
Unique pumpkin decorating ideas -- this would be adorable on the kitchen counter for Fall.:
Easy I am Thankful Pumpkin Craft! Perfect for children's ministry or the classroom. We have paper and paper cutters down in the IRC, so not only can you make these but you won't have to worry about tediously cutting each strip one at a time with scissors!:
Source: The Moffatt Girls
Bookbto make after exploring the inside of a pumpkin:
Source: Simply Second Grade

Let me know if you plan to write on a pumpkin this fall- I'd love to see the results! Happy fall, friends!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

New to ESL? Here's What to Do First! (Part 2)

Brand new pencils, unbroken crayons, and fresh clean notebooks signal the beginning of a new school year.  But if you're in a new position, all you may be thinking is, "What do I do first?"  In this second installment of my "What to Do" series, I'll help you answer the question: "What do I do next?" If you missed Part 1, click here to read it!

By now you've identified existing and potential English Language Learners and tested them for eligibility.  You may be working on parent notification letters, which will need to be sent home.  Once you've created a list of students in the program for this year, here are your next steps.

Step 6: Organize your student information.  

If you're familiar with Microsoft Excel, now is a great time to put those skills to use! I create a simple spreadsheet with name, grade, home language, homeroom teacher, and proficiency level as my column headers, then fill in all the students I need to service in the following rows.  If Excel makes you shiver, know that creating a table in Word or Powerpoint will give you the same results. 

Now, in the same document or a new one, keep a list of the students who have recently exited the program.  Keeping tabs on exited students is not easy to do, but it is a requirement in many states.  In Excel, I create a new sheet titled "recent exits" and set up the same table as mentioned above, with the addition of their exit date.

Tip: Be aware of the date your state requires enrollment information from the school.  In New Jersey, it is October 15th.  All eligible students need to be inputted into our data system by that date, or we won't receive Title III funding for them.  So get that information in order as quick as possible!

Step 7: Create a schedule

This may have already been done for you by your administration, but if yours is still up in the air, you'll want to sit with the master schedule and plan out your intervention time.  Share that with the teachers you'll be working with so they know when to expect you to push-in or pull-out.

Step 8: Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Working with classroom teachers is an integral part of being a push-in or pull-out teacher.  The best tip I have is to be as open and approachable as possible.  Set up a meeting early on in the year to discuss strategies for differentiation and the needs of the ELL's.  But don't expect it to be a one-and-done type of thing- constant communication is the best way to go.  

Step 9: Sharing is Caring

Below are three documents I send to our teachers at the beginning of each school year.  The first two are Can-Do Descriptors, which tell you what a student can be expected to do in content areas at a certain proficiency level.  The official ones from WIDA are pretty wordy and monotonous, so I use these instead.  Same information, more user-friendly! 
This modification plan is something we've recently started sending.  It's in a checklist format, so you can fill out the sheet as pertains to each student.

Step 10: Now Teach!

You've got your students listed, your schedule made, and your collaboration started.  Now it's time to get down to business! Here are some posts that may help you as you work with your students.

I hope this has been helpful and informational! Are there any steps I'm missing, or things you do differently? I love to hear how other schools work with their ELL's. Let me know by leaving a comment!

Monday, August 31, 2015

New to ESL? Here's What to Do First! (Part 1)

Brand new pencils, unbroken crayons and fresh clean notebooks signal the beginning of a new school year.  But if you're in a new position, all you may be thinking is, "What do I do first?!" I know that feeling very, very well! In this series, I'll give you a general rundown that may make your next few days and weeks a little easier and set you up for an effective school year.

Step 1: Gather a list of existing ESL students and exited ESL students

You'll need this to create a schedule of services later on. 

Step 2: Gather a list of any NEW students to the building

Hopefully your district collects Home Language information upon registration.  If so, you can use that information to identify students who may be in need of language services.  If not, you will have to visit or contact each teacher to identify any potential need for services.  In the case of no Home Language Survey, consider making one for any new entries to school after the first day.  (This may have to be approved by administration/the board of education.)

A home language survey can be as simple as this: 

Name of Student: _____________
Was your child born in the US? ____ If not, where? ________________
Is English the primary spoken language in your home? _________
Does your child speak/understand any other languages? ___________

Step 3: Get ready to test incoming students for eligibility

Once you have identified any new students who may be eligible for language services, you have to (HAVE TO!!) test them to determine language proficiency.  A simple "My child speaks Spanish at home" is not enough to warrant language services.  Many states require multiple measures of identification, and should an audit be conducted, you'll need to prove your rationale for including the child in language services.

Now that you're ready to test, what test should you use?  If you are a WIDA state (click to check) you can use the W-APT (free!!!) or the MODEL.  Either test will give you a mostly accurate measure of language proficiency.  At this point in my career I'm only familiar with WIDA measures and products, but I do know that other states have their own testing systems which you will want to explore.

Step 4: Test new students, determine eligibility

Photo courtesy of morgueFile.  
You will need to contact the students' homeroom teachers to find out their schedule and an appropriate time to test.  In my experience, testing can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 40 minutes, depending on proficiency.  Please don't take students out of lunch or recess, though...those first few days on the playground can be formative when it comes to making friends!

*It may be helpful to spend a few minutes or a period in the classroom observing the student before testing- this will give you an idea of their general language proficiency in the classroom.*

Once you've tested, you'll need to score the test, then compare it to your district's or state's mandate for eligibility.  You can usually find that information on the DOE website.

Step 5: Legal requirements 

If your school or district accepts Title I or Title III money: you MUST! (and I say MUST because it's IMPORTANT!!!) send a letter home to parents notifying them of their student's eligibility and their impending change in programming.

Photo courtesy of morgueFile
  Simply search for "Title III parent notification letter" and you'll find plenty of examples.  Keep one copy in the student's file in case of audit. In some states, parents have the right to opt-out of language services, even if the student is eligible- it's your legal responsibility to give them that option. 

That's a lot to do for the first week! In Part 2, I'll talk about creating a schedule, collaborating with teachers, and monitoring students who have exited.  

If you have any questions about what to do the first few days, please leave a comment or send me an email- I'm happy to help!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Give Those Minds a Compass

It's easy to get discouraged these days, whether from state or district mandates, increased pressure on test scores, or new initiatives to implement.  I often feel burned out even before the school year starts, as I watch memo after memo pile up in my inbox.  If that sounds like you, know that you are not alone.  

I came across this quote from Mr. Holland's Opus, and found it so refreshing...just the pep talk I needed to bring back some bounce in my step.

Whether heading back to school for your first, second, or thirtieth year, I hope this quote brings you a renewed sense of purpose.  And whether you teach English, math, art, music, or science, know that the effect of your job is much more than a score. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Back to School Tips and Resources for English Language Learners

Going back to school soon? I have some tips and tricks that will help whether it's your first or 50th year teaching ELL's!

If you want to read more about each trick, hop over to my post here

Looking for something to start your year off right? I can help you with that, too!

 What is your plan for the first day of school? Let me walk you through mine! 

When my students walk in the door, they immediately work on these sentence starters, which work for grades 1-5 and any proficiency level!  This keeps them busy while I address any new students, lunch count, or other administrative tasks.  Click the picture to follow the link!

Once we're ready, we gather on the rug to review our classroom rules.  These posters are bright, cheerful, and not wordy- perfect for my kids.

After explaining our rules, I go over our clip chart and reward coupons.  Click here to read more about how I use my coupons. 

We usually do a read-aloud at that point, but it depends on time and proficiency level.  I might need to quickly assess a new student, too, so this is the time when we get a little bit independent.  I have a great new class project for us to work on! For fast finishers or my younger students who aren't as independent, I let them work on this back to school writing center. 

That's usually all we have time for.  The next day is a review of our rules, rewards, and procedures, and we finish anything we need to from the first day.  It's then that I explain our year-long homework.  The first week's homework is done in class so I can model with my kids, but the second week is all up to them! 

Lucky for you, the back to school sale at TPT is right around the corner, so you can pick up all the resources you need to start your year off with a bang! If you're interested in my first day of school resources, check out the bundle!

Everything in my store will be 20% off! Add BTS15 at checkout for an extra 10% off, too.

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!