Friday, March 14, 2014

IRC presentation: Essential Middle School Strategies for English Language Learners (ELLs) in the Content Areas

Eight a.m. came pretty early this morning, but I started out my day with a Dr. Pepper Ten and a hope that I would increase my knowledge about reaching our high population of former-bilingual students.  Even though most of our kiddos receive no bilingual or ELL services, I knew that attending a session dedicated to ELLs would arm me with even more strategies and philosophies to take back to the staff and use immediately with our kiddos.  Boy, was I right!

We attended our first session by Amanda Schacht & Gabriela Carbajal from Crystal Lake School District 47.  The ladies started out their session by explaining that their strategies would be presented in three main categories, headed up with an essential question - which seems to be a hot topic the last few years in the education world.  Their three stages were the preview stage, focused literacy stage, and the application stage.  Unfortunately, most of the sessions here are sixty-minute sessions, so we ran out of time before we could go through each stage thoroughly, but the handouts contained explanations of every strategy.  This made it worth attending, in itself, because I could go back to my room and collect more information afterwards (which is what I am doing currently).

We spent most of our time on the preview stage, trying out out some of the strategies and learning about different language frames.  One point that these ladies made was that working with students who are still developing English language, the preview stage should probably be done orally rather than weighing down activities with written language.  The term language frames was new to me, but when I took a look in the packet, I realized that they were similar to Project CRISS's sentence frames.  Over the last few weeks I've been working in an eighth grade US History class.  While supporting students or delivering instruction, I try to interject sentence frames whenever I can.  We have so many students who still grapple with the English language, that sometimes they struggle with the act of even starting out sentences.  By giving students a frame into which to place ideas, they can use the English language properly and focus more in their ideas than formulating language.  Here's how it works.

When you are asking students who are still developing English language to perform a specific task that requires language (ie. answering a question or responding to media), supply them with several choices in language frames.  
  • To make a prediction, start out your sentences with phrases such as "I predict that . . . " "I bet that . . . " or "I wonder if . . . "
  • To ask a question, think about using starters such as "What would happen if . . . " "Why did . . . " or "Do you think that . . . "
  • To clarify something, supply your students with phrases such as "At first I thought _____, but now I think . . . " "Oh, I get it . . . " or "This part is really saying . . . "
  • To encourage students to make a connection, supply them with a things like "This reminds me of . . . " "This part is like . . . " or "This  makes me think of . . . "
  • If students are expected to answer a question, support them by giving them the beginning of what you would expect them to supply as the answer, and then let them continue on with their answer.
The above examples are just a small sampling of what Schacht and Carbajal included in their packet of resources, but I'm guessing you get the idea.  One question that a colleague asked me just today was, "At what point do you stop supplying students with these frames?"  I had to really put some thought into that question because at first glance, I can see how a student would use the frames as a crutch, but then I went back to the presentation that I gave later in the day today.  If our kiddos are armed with one hundred percent of the tools they need to perform a task, they will.  If they rely on what we give them as a crutch, there are still skills that they lack.  It is our job to figure out what those skills are, and one of them may very well be dealing with the fear of failure - a skill that many of our reluctant learners have (making them look unmotivated because they refuse to even try).  Perhaps if we made our efforts two-fold and provided students with academic as well as social-emotional support, we might find them moving forward at a much quicker pace and we might see them taking healthy academic risks more often.

The remainder of the presentation included a whole slew of previewfocused literacy, and application strategies such as Word Sorts, Think-Pair-Share (which they termed Think-Partner-Share), TPR (Total Physical Response), Video Jigsaw (see graphic to the right), Pane It / Retain It, Connect 2, THIEVES, Anticipation Guides, Say Something /Write Something, Narrow Reading, Numbered Brains (like Numbered Heads), Jigsaw, Combination Notes, Question / It Says / I Say / And So, GIST, Magnet Summaries (another CRISS strategy), Sketch to Stretch, LEA (Language Experience Approach), Side-By-Side Translations, and Metalinguistic Focus. So you can see that they supplied their participants with a wide variety of strategies to take back to their buildings and use immediately.  

THIEVES example
Late in the presentation, Schacht and Carbajal discussed the THIEVES strategy, which is an in-depth previewing strategy.  During this part of the talk, the ladies showed us a beautiful bookmark that was color coded, and then they unfolded a color coded copy of a chapter from a text book to demonstrate to students which parts of the bookmark coincided with the parts of the chapter.  It was beautifully done, and I could see this being something that could be adapted to a content area to support our students who are still developing English or for any of our students struggling to grapple with the complicated text in their text books.  

All in all, this presentation was a great way to begin my conference, and I am thrilled to bring back some of this information to start using in supporting our content area teachers and students.  With over forty percent of our student population being native Spanish speakers, each content area classroom contains groups of students who might benefit from any number of the strategies presented today during this first session.  

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