Monday, October 16, 2017

What is the Silent Period and Why is It Important?

"Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together."
-- Thomas Carlyle

When I was still teaching lower elementary English Language Learners, one of my students was a Chinese-American girl whose native language was Mandarin.  She didn’t know any English when she started school -- her father told me the family wanted their daughter to maintain her Chinese language skills so they only used Chinese at home.  At school, the girl barely spoke the entire day. 

That concerned her teacher, who wondered if there might be a special education issue that was the reason for the student's silence.  I was asked to observe the child in her pre-school class.  What I saw was a little girl who was alert and doing her best to follow along with what was going on.  When the teacher called on her for something (so I could see how she reacted), she spoke so softly it was almost impossible to hear what she said. 

Learn what the Silent Period is in English language learning, the characteristics that influence how long an ELL remains in the Silent Period, and the teaching implications for students who are in the Silent Period. | The ESL Nexus
Silence is an important part of learning for ELLs; source: The ESL Nexus
But I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary that indicated a learning disability, just a child who didn’t know English who was doing her best to keep up with her class.  To get a better sense of things, I chatted with her in Mandarin, which I’d learned when I worked in China, and that reinforced my view that this English Language Learner was just going through the Silent Period.  (For information on identifying learning disabilities in English Language Learners, please see my resource, Is it an ESL Issue or a Special Ed Issue?)

The Silent Period is a concept developed by Stephen Krashen, a noted linguist who has written prolifically about second language acquisition.  All teachers should know about the Silent Period because it’s a stage in the process of learning English that all ELLs go through, regardless of age.  Simply put, it means that before an ELL starts speaking in English, he or she spends time watching and listening to people use the language.  During this time, it might appear that the ELL is just passively sitting in the classroom.  In fact, although the student is not orally participating in class or rarely does so, she or he is absorbing the structures and vocabulary of the English language.  Learning is definitely occurring!  This stage of second language learning is also called the pre-production stage.

Learn what the Silent Period is in English language learning, the characteristics that influence how long an ELL remains in the Silent Period, and the teaching implications for students who are in the Silent Period. | The ESL Nexus
Just because an ELL isn't talking, that doesn't mean an ELL isn't learning; source: The ESL Nexus
The length of time an ELL spends in the Silent Period depends on several characteristics.  Personality is one factor; if an ELL is naturally out-going and an extrovert, that student is likely to emerge from the Silent Period more quickly than shy, introverted students.  ELLs who come from cultures where active learning and participation is not emphasized, such as some Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, will probably spend more time in the Silent Period.  How closely the ELL’s native language is related to English also influences the length of time a student spends in the Silent Period; the less closely related, the longer the time will be.  Age is also a factor.  Younger ELLs tend to spend more time in the Silent Period than older ones.  According to the American-Speech-Language-Hearing-Association, “Older children may remain in the silent period for a few weeks or a few months, whereas preschoolers may be relatively silent for a year or more.” 

What are the teaching implications of the Silent Period?  First of all, it’s imperative that regular ed teachers do not force ELLs to speak in class if they are just beginning to learn English.  That is counter-productive; a major reason ELLs go through the Silent Period is because they don’t want to make a mistake when speaking English and risk being ridiculed by their classmates.  Instead, teachers need to use other ways to involve their pre-emergent ELLs in their classes.  Activities that involve movement, such as using commands to do things; letting ELLs draw about topics instead of talking about them; using lots of visuals and realia to explain meaning; working with a partner where the ELL need only speak to one person instead of the whole class, which minimizes embarrassment if errors are made; and letting students use their native language to communicate, will all support the language learning of ELLs in the Silent Period.

Learn what the Silent Period is in English language learning, the characteristics that influence how long an ELL remains in the Silent Period, and the teaching implications for students who are in the Silent Period. | The ESL Nexus
The duration of the Silent Period varies among ELLs; source: The ESL Nexus
When an ELL is ready to speak, that’s when the Silent Period for that student will end.  At this point, the student will have the confidence to participate orally in class but will still make mistakes when speaking.  To encourage continued participation, teachers should not focus on the errors, although a little gentle modeling of correct language may be done so the ELL hears the correct form.  Learning English is a process and when an ELL emerges from the Silent Period, she or he is ready to begin the next stage of acquiring the English language.

In the case of my Chinese-American student, she was very quiet in my kindergarten ESL class and rarely spoke above a whisper.  I had her again the next year in my 1st grade ESL class and she was much more talkative then.  In fact, when she spoke, her grammar was excellent.  She was obviously the kind of student who didn’t want to speak English until she was able to do so without making major mistakes.  At the end of 1st grade, she exited the ESL program -- which was highly unusual since virtually all of my students needed at least a third year of language support -- because she was doing so well.  Her time in the Silent Period clearly was beneficial and she was very successful in her classes in the years that followed.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

How to Build Background Knowledge: October 2107 #ELLEdTech Chat

"Many of the gaps in my knowledge and understanding were simply limits of class and cultural background, not lack of aptitude or application as I feared."
-- Sonya Sotomayor

My professors in grad school emphasized the importance of developing schema among English Language Learners.  Schema is the fancy word for background knowledge.  (And schemata is the plural.)  ELLs who are immigrants or who grow up in the U.S. immersed in cultures that are not the dominant American culture often come to school lacking essential information that would help them be successful. 

For example, ELLs may not be familiar with the traditions of American holidays such as Halloween or Thanksgiving.  They might not have the same reaction to hearing the names George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as kids who’ve grown up hearing about them and celebrating these iconic presidents.  They probably have never heard various proverbs, like An apple a day keeps the doctor away.   ELLs are at a disadvantage when they are in classes with other students who already have this cultural foundation if their teachers do not provide the background knowledge they need in order to fully understand lessons that build on these concepts.

You are invited to the October #ELLEdTech chat on 10/15/17, where we'll discuss using technology tools to build background knowledge | The ESL Nexus
This is why building schema for ELLs is essential; source: The ESL Nexus
It’s not just holidays and history, though, where building background knowledge is essential.  Culture permeates learning!  When students read fiction or information texts in language arts, when they do word problems in math, when they read about discoveries in science – there’s often an underlying assumption that people will recognize and understand the unstated cultural aspects in those subjects.  When ELLs don’t understand those references, their learning can suffer.

This is even more important when it comes to taking tests.  That’s why there are committees who analyze every test item on standardized tests to ensure there is no cultural bias in them.  I served on one such committee in Massachusetts and it was fascinating to see how the process worked.  We spent a lot of time doing our best to ensure that students did not need any prior background knowledge in order to answer questions correctly.

If you are interested in finding out how you can help build schema in your ELLs, please join us this Sunday, October 15, 2017, for this month’s #ELLEdTech chat.  We’ll discuss what technology tools can help build background knowledge, what their pros and cons are, and offer some advice for teachers who would like to use these tools.

You are invited to the October #ELLEdTech chat on 10/15/17, where we'll discuss using technology tools to build background knowledge | The ESL Nexus
All are welcome! source: Tools for Teachers by Laurah J
Here are the details:

Schedule and Questions
7:00 = Introduction: Tell us your name, location, level/grade and subject taught #ELLEdTech
7:05 = Q1: What tools do you recommend to help ELLs with background knowledge? #ELLEdTech
7:13 = Q2: How do these tools help teachers facilitate ELLs’ learning? #ELLEdTech
7:21 = Q3: What are the advantages & benefits of using these tools? #ELLEdTech
7:29 = Q4: Are there any cons or drawbacks teachers or students might have when using these tools? #ELLEdTech
7:37 = Q5: What advice do you have for teachers on using technology to build background knowledge? #ELLEdTech

Directions for Joining the Chat
1. Log into Twitter on Sunday; the chat runs from 7:00 - 7:45pm Eastern.
2. Search for tweets with the hashtag #ELLEdTech in the search bar.  Make sure to click “All tweets.”
3. The first five minutes will be spent introducing ourselves.
4. Starting at 7:05, @ESOL_Odyssey or @The_ESL_Nexus will post questions every 8 minutes using Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. to identify the questions and the hashtag #ELLEdTech.
5.  Answer the questions by prefacing them with A1, A2, A3, etc. and use the hashtag #ELLEdTech.
6.  Follow any teachers who respond and are also using #ELLEdTech.
7.  Like (click the heart icon) and post responses to other teachers' tweets.

You can schedule your answers to the questions in advance by using an online scheduler such as TweetDeck or HootSuite (and remember to use A1, A2, etc. and #ELLEdTech).  Links are encouraged, but use tinyurl, bitly, goo.gl or ow.ly to shorten your link so it can be included in your tweet.  Just click one of those links, paste the longer link in the app's box to shorten it for Twitter, then paste the shortened link into your tweet. If you have relevant images, we encourage you to post them, too.



Is this your first Twitter chat? Here are our rules:
1. Please stay on topic.
2. Please do not post about paid products unless explicitly asked.
3. If you arrive after the chat has started, please try to read the previous tweets before joining in.
4. Feel free to just read, like, and/or retweet if you prefer -- we know the first time can be a little overwhelming!
5. Always use the hashtag #ELLEdTech when tweeting.
6. Make sure your twitter feed is set to "public." (And do remember that Twitter is completely public; that means anyone--students, parents, administrators--may see what you tweet.)

You are welcome to let your teacher friends who might be interested in joining us know about this Twitter chat. We look forward to chatting with you on Sunday!

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Monday, October 2, 2017

8 Ways to Increase ELL Parent Involvement

"A child's first teacher is its mother."
-- Peng Yuan
A child's first teacher is its mother.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_teacher6.html?vm=l
A child's first teacher is its mother.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_teacher6.html?vm=l
A child's first teacher is its mother.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_teacher6.html?vm=l

I had to make a special effort to get the parents of my English Language Learners involved in school activities.  Not knowing English, or thinking they didn't know it well enough, kept a lot of the parents of my ELLs from attending parent-teacher conferences.  A lot of my students' parents worked second or third shift so they couldn't come to any night-time or even afternoon activities, such as beginning-of-the-year open houses, unless they took time off from their jobs but most couldn't afford to lose that pay.  Transportation was also an issue; one parent didn't have a car because she had moved with her 6th grade daughter to the suburban district in which I worked and couldn't afford the taxi fare to the school.

However, we all know it’s essential to get parents and caregivers involved because then their children do better in school.



8 Ways to Increase ELL Parent Involvement in School | The ESL Nexus
Read on to find out how to keep your ELL parents & caregiver informed; source: The ESL Nexus
So, how did I get the parents of my Grade 5 - 8 students involved?  (And by involved, I mean coming to open houses and parent conferences.)  Here's what I did:


* I sent home personal invitations to open houses, in addition to those sent by the principal's office.  I wrote up a letter, got it approved by my principal, had it translated into Spanish by the parent liaison and then sent it home with my students.  Once I started doing that, attendance by my ELL parents and caregivers skyrocketed at the school open houses as well as for parent-teacher conferences.


* I used my rudimentary knowledge of Spanish to communicate with parents who didn't know English, used GoogleTranslate with a Turkish parent, and greeted parents in whatever language they spoke to make them more comfortable.  Doing this also showed them that although my knowledge of certain languages was limited, I wasn't afraid to use them and make mistakes and look silly.  Therefore they shouldn't be nervous or embarrassed when using English, either.


* With parents who weren't able to attend parent conferences in person, I arranged to Skype with them at their convenience.  I'm pretty sure I was the only teacher in my building who did that when I first started doing it.  Another plus for doing video chats is that I got a glimpse of my students’ homes, which was really interesting.


* I made sure to email more positive notes home than negative ones, so when I did have to tell the parents and caregivers something not-so-good about their children, it was easier for them to accept hearing it because they had already developed a relationship with me.  I also sent home little paper notes that I bought from a teacher supply store with complimentary sayings on them, for when students did especially nice or good things in class.


* At the open house, I showed parents my teacher website and how to find the webpage where I posted all my homework assignments.  For the parents who weren’t able to make it in person, I emailed them the information.  Teachers at my school weren't required to have websites and not all of them did.  But knowing the homework assignments were posted online meant that students couldn't say they forgot it or there wasn't any, which some kids tried to do.  I know that some parents did go to the website to check for homework because on occasion they asked.


* As the years went on, I sent home a form on Fridays that gave an overview of how each student did that week in their class with me.  (Click here to see the resource in my TpT store.)  There were times when I didn't send it home because we had a shortened week or, well, I just didn't get around to filling it out for everyone, and a couple parents would then email me to ask where it was!  So I took that to mean it was a successful tool for keeping parents informed and involved.


8 Ways to Increase ELL Parent Involvement in School | The ESL Nexus
For more info about this resource, please click HERE; source: The ESL Nexus
* In the last two years I worked at that school, I had my 7th and 8th graders create electronic portfolios.  Whenever they finished a unit or project, they uploaded something about it to their portfolio.  I then shared the links with their families so the adults would know what their kids had been doing in my class.


* I asked the parents to call me by my first name.  I always found it odd when they called me Ms/Miss/Mrs (it varied!) when I considered us to be equal partners in the education of their children.  Doing that helped to close the distance between us and put the relationship on a more informal footing, which I think enhanced our communication.  I’ve listed this tip last but I think it might just be the most important one of all.



I really enjoyed working with my students’ parents and I think they sensed that.  Conferences were supposed to just 10 minutes but I usually spent at least twice as much time with them.  (I took that into consideration when building my schedule so there wouldn’t be any issues.)  In some cases, I had visited the country the parents came from or I had some other connection to the country and that also helped bridge the gap because I made sure to let them know how much I enjoyed visiting there.

8 Ways to Increase ELL Parent Involvement in School | The ESL Nexus
A note from a parent; source: The ESL Nexus
It did take a fair amount of time and effort but the results were clear, when compared to before I started doing these things.  In fact, I had such a positive relationship with the mother of one of my students that when I told her I was moving to Arizona, she started crying and told me how much she appreciated everything I had done for her and her daughter.  Hearing that, I teared up and knew that all the work I’d put in to keeping my ELL families informed about school was well worth it.



If you’d like more information about getting your ELL families involved with school activities, please follow my Pinterest board that is dedicated to this topic.  Just click here to follow it.


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Saturday, September 16, 2017

September's #ELLEdTech chat: Tech Tools that Help ELLs With Homework

"My parents were very firm about me always getting my homework done."
-- Chelsea Clinton

Not all students are lucky enough to have parents who have the time and knowledge to help their children do homework.  In addition to not knowing enough English to help their children complete homework assignments, many parents and other caregivers of ELLs have to work during the afternoons and evenings and aren't even home when their kids are trying to do their homework.

So what kind of support can teachers and parents provide to English Language Learners to ensure they can do their homework tasks?  Join the #ELLEdTech Twitter chat on Sunday, September 17, 2017 at 7pm Eastern to discuss using technology that aids ELLs in doing their homework.
What tech tools do you use to help ELLs do their homework? Share your tips at this week's #ELLEdTEch chat on 9/17/17 | The ESL Nexus
Share your favorite tech tools with other educators; source: The ESL Nexus
Schedule and Questions
7:00 = Introduction: Tell us your name, location, level/grade and subject taught #ELLEdTech
7:05 = Q1: What tools do you recommend to help ELLs with homework? #ELLEdTech
7:13 = Q2: How do these tools help teachers facilitate ELLs’ learning? #ELLEdTech
7:21 = Q3: What are the advantages & benefits of using these tools? #ELLEdTech
7:29 = Q4: Are there any cons or drawbacks teachers or students might have when using these tools? #ELLEdTech
7:37 = Q5: What advice do you have for teachers who want to incorporate technology into HW assignments for their ELLS? #ELLEdTech

Directions for Joining the Chat
1. Log into Twitter on Sunday; the chat runs from 7:00 - 7:45pm Eastern.
2. Search for tweets with the hashtag #ELLEdTech in the search bar.  Make sure to click “All tweets.”
3. The first five minutes will be spent introducing ourselves.
4. Starting at 7:05, @ESOL_Odyssey or @The_ESL_Nexus will post questions every 8 minutes using Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. to identify the questions and the hashtag #ELLEdTech.
5.  Answer the questions by prefacing them with A1, A2, A3, etc. and use the hashtag #ELLEdTech.
6.  Follow any teachers who respond and are also using #ELLEdTech.
7.  Like (click the heart icon) and post responses to other teachers' tweets.

What tech tools do you use to help ELLs do their homework? Share your tips at this week's #ELLEdTEch chat on 9/17/17 | The ESL Nexus
Topic: Tech tools that help ELLs with homework; source: The ESL Nexus
You can schedule your answers to the questions in advance by using an online scheduler such as TweetDeck or HootSuite (and remember to use A1, A2, etc. and #ELLEdTech).  Links are encouraged, but use tinyurl, bitly, goo.gl or ow.ly to shorten your link so it can be included in your tweet.  Just click one of those links, paste the longer link in the app's box to shorten it for Twitter, then paste the shortened link into your tweet. If you have relevant images, we encourage you to post them, too.



Is this your first Twitter chat? Here are our rules:
1. Please stay on topic.
2. Please do not post about paid products unless explicitly asked.
3. If you arrive after the chat has started, please try to read the previous tweets before joining in.
4. Feel free to just read, like, and/or retweet if you prefer -- we know the first time can be a little overwhelming!
5. Always use the hashtag #ELLEdTech when tweeting.
6. Make sure your twitter feed is set to "public." (And do remember that Twitter is completely public; that means anyone--students, parents, administrators--may see what you tweet.)

You are welcome to let your teacher friends who might be interested in joining us know about this Twitter chat. We look forward to chatting with you on Sunday!

SHARE:
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