Monday, July 24, 2017

6 Reasons Why You Should Attend a Professional Conference

"Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get."
-- Forrest Gump

Whew!  I just got home yesterday from the 4th annual TeachersPayTeachers Conference.  Lasting for 3 days, it ran from early Monday afternoon through Wednesday night in Anaheim, California.  But since I have family in Los Angeles, I visited my relatives afterwards, which is why I didn’t get home until Sunday.

Seeing some of my relatives for the first time in a couple of years was great but what I want to write about now is, of course, the 2017 TpT Conference.  This was the second one I attended; my first TpT Conference was in 2015 in Las Vegas.  At that time, I offered 5 suggestions for having a positive experience at a conference.

6 reasons why you should go to a professional conference & 15 conferences to attend | The ESL Nexus
Entrance to the TpT Conference; source: The ESL Nexus
Today, I’d like to give you 6 reasons for attending a professional conference.  Every conference is different and what you get out of it may not be what you anticipated or expected.  But serendipity is usually a good thing!

Reason #1: Presenting

I was honored that my proposal to give a presentation about creating materials for ELLs was accepted.  Being a presenter is a great experience because it shows that others recognize you have something to offer people and it validates the work you do.

6 reasons why you should go to a professional conference & 15 conferences to attend | The ESL Nexus
Delicious cookie given to presenters; source: The ESL Nexus
Also, when you’re a presenter, there are usually some perks. Some conferences pay part of the fees associated with attending, like TpT, and others do not, like TESOL International Association, at which I’ve also presented.  Naturally, I was nervous about presenting in front of my peers but I’d prepared and rehearsed and knew my subject matter so I was pretty confident on that account.  What I was more stressed about was whether I’d have any technical difficulties during my presentation and if so, how I’d deal with that.  Fortunately, all went off without a hitch. 

Reason #2: Learning
Every conference has its own particular focus.  Conferences often have themes as a way of connecting all the disparate strands of sessions being presented.  The TpT theme was “Discover New Dimensions.”  So in addition to the sessions about product creation and using social media, there were sessions about teaching trends, reaching all learners, and using technology.

6 reasons why you should go to a professional conference & 15 conferences to attend | The ESL Nexus
Giving my presentation about reaching ELLs; source: The ESL Nexus
Conferences are also an opportunity to learn about the future direction of the sponsoring organization, which is always interesting.  Outside speakers are often invited to give keynote addresses and they are opportunities to hear from experts in the field.

Reason #3: Networking
One of the best benefits of attending a professional conference is the chance to network with your peers.  Participating in a Facebook group is not quite the same thing as meeting face to face!  Although – getting to know people online first can give you a reason for seeking out specific people at a conference if you know they are also attending.

Much networking occurs informally, at mealtimes or in the evenings at pre-organized meetups or social activities.  Back in 2015, I asked some of the people I met to contribute to an ELL e-book I was planning to create; without having first established those personal connections, it might’ve been harder to put the e-book together.  This year, I wanted to reconnect with some people I’d met at the 2015 conference and I’m happy to say I did that.

6 reasons why you should go to a professional conference & 15 conferences to attend | The ESL Nexus
Socializing at The House of Blues on Wednesday evening; source: The ESL Nexus
Networking may also involve job hunting.  Some conferences have a section set aside for job interviews and at others, it's done more informally.  If you go to a conference with the goal of looking for a new job or to make connections that could help you obtain a new job in the future, it's a good idea to be able to discuss your philosophy of teaching.  This resource can help you do just that.

Reason #4: Motivating
Whenever I return from a conference, I am excited to immediately put into practice the things I learned.  There are usually 1-2 things that are my key takeaways that I think I can implement right away.  The energy generated at conferences comes home with me and inspires me to get to work promptly and incorporate what I learned into my instructional materials and practice.

It’s great when conferences are held during the summer because then you have more time to process your learning but when you go to conferences during the school year, then you get to see the results of your work more quickly.  So, really, it doesn’t matter when you go as long as you do go!

6 reasons why you should go to a professional conference & 15 conferences to attend | The ESL Nexus
Looking forward to implementing new ideas; source: The ESL Nexus
Reason #5: Invigorating
Especially if you work in isolation – as I did at my school, where I was the only ESL teacher for 9 years – going to a conference surrounds you with people who are doing the same work as you.  That is vitally important because everyone needs to be able to talk shop with other people who can relate to your successes and challenges, who understand the jargon used in your field of work, and can offer emotional and professional support.

It’s so easy, as a teacher, to become demoralized but going to a conference is rejuvenating.  Being in a positive atmosphere is very encouraging and helps you create a positive environment back in your own classroom, school, office, or wherever you do your work.

6 reasons why you should go to a professional conference & 15 conferences to attend | The ESL Nexus
The TpT Conference definitely reignited my passion for creating resources; source: The ESL Nexus
Reason #6: Sightseeing
Conferences are often held in destination cities.  One year, the TESOL Convention was in Vancouver, Canada.  I’d never been to that part of Canada so after the conference ended, I visited the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, which was wonderful.  This year, the TpT Conference was in Anaheim, California, which is where Disneyland is located.  But since I went to Disneyland as a kid, I didn’t go again.  Even when they are in smaller cities, the conference organizers may arrange excursions to local points of interest.

Education conferences may also arrange visits to local schools.  While not exactly sightseeing, such visits do give conference attendees insights into what education is like elsewhere.

Bonus Reason: Exhausting
Conferences that last longer than 1 day are exhausting!  You’re on the go all the time and it’s hard to eat well.  Meeting new people can be mentally tiring if you’re shy or an introvert.  Trying to remember everyone’s name is taxing if, like me, you’re really bad at that.  You probably won’t get much rest, either.  If you're flying to and from the conference, that can be stressful.  However, when you get home, you are sure to get a good night's sleep!

6 reasons why you should go to a professional conference & 15 conferences to attend | The ESL Nexus
Flying home to Arizona--tired but happy; source: The ESL Nexus
So don’t let these minor inconveniences deter you because the benefits of attending a professional conference are so worth it!

Here are some educational conferences you might be interested in attending:
* TESOL International Convention & English Language Expo (TESOL International Association)
* TESOL Affiliates (A list of TESOL's local affiliate groups around the world)
* IATEFL Conference & Exhibition (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language)
* NABE (National Association for Bilingual Education)
* WIDA Consortium (Formerly known as World-class Instructional Design and Assessment)
* ASCD (Formerly known as Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development)
* SDE Link to webpage for upcoming events (Staff Development for Educators)
* ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education)
* NCSS (National Council for the Social Studies)
* NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English)
* NSTA (National Science Teachers Association)
* NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics)
* ILA (International Literacy Association)
* Also, if you belong to the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers, many of not all of the state affiliates have annual conferences


Monday, July 17, 2017

Summer Reading Recommendations for Teachers of ELLs: Books #4 & #5

Continuing with last week’s focus on teaching academic subject matter to English Language Learners, this week I am recommending a textbook series rather than an individual book.  Each book in the series deals with an academic subject and I have used 3 of the 5 books with my students.  (You can read the prior posts in this series of book recommendations for teachers of ELLs here.)

Part 4 in a series of book recommendations that are useful for teachers of ELLs | The ESL Nexus
Source: The ESL Nexus

Books #4 & #5:
Access Math and Access Science
By Dr. Elvira Duran, Jo Gusman, and Dr. John Shefelbine

These 2 books are part of Great Source’s Building Literacy Through Learning series, which also includes books about American History, World History, and English plus a textbook for Newcomers.  I ordered the American History book through my department and so was able to get a set of 5 student textbooks plus the teacher’s book and student workbooks.  The Math and Science textbooks I acquired at ESL conferences and I don’t have the supplementary materials for them.

What I like about this series is that language development is woven into teaching the academic content.  I think these books are most appropriate for ELLs at a low intermediate proficiency level; that is, for students at that level, the books in this series could be used as stand-alone texts.   Students at more advanced levels of proficiency would probably benefit just by using them as supplements to their other textbooks when they need clarification or additional practice. 

Of course, may other textbook series incorporate language learning, too, but I didn’t find many math and science books that did it well.  The Access series does.  For example, each chapter begins with a Big Idea that states what students will learn and is followed by a Building Background section to activate students’ learning.  The most important concepts are highlighted, important vocabulary is explained at the bottom of pages, pair work is explicitly included (Talk and Share and Partner Practice).  Words with multiple meanings are explained in boxes.  All this is in addition to the explanations of the subject concepts and activities and practice exercises, which include writing extended responses to questions for writing practice.  Numerous color photos and charts also help students learn.

The workbook for students, called the Student Activity Journal, contains activities that use the content topics to further the language development of ELLs.  They worked well as in-class tasks and also as homework assignments.  There is also an Assessment Book whose contents can be used as tests, although I didn’t solely rely on it to evaluate my students’ understanding of the material.

I don’t have my own copy of the American History textbook and I don’t remember all the topics in it but below is a list of the topics in the Math and Science books.

Part 4 in a series of book recommendations that are useful for teachers of ELLs | The ESL Nexus
Cover of student textbook; source: The ESL Nexus
The Math book includes the following units:
* Number Concepts
* Introduction to Algebra
* Decimals
* Number Theory
* Fractions and Mixed Numbers
* Ratios, Proportions, and Percents
* Data and Statistics
* Geometry
* Area and Volume
* Probability
* Integers
* More Algebra

Part 4 in a series of book recommendations that are useful for teachers of ELLs | The ESL Nexus
Cover of student textbook; source: The ESL Nexus
The Science book includes the following units:
* Thinking as a Scientist
* Earth Science (3 units)
* Life Science (4 units)
* Physical Science (4 units)

The publisher says this series is aimed at students in Grades 5 – 12.  I think it’s ideal for middle school.  Besides using them in actual classes, you can also use them for tutoring or homework help programs.  I found the math book especially useful in my before-school homework program.

For more information about Access Math, please click here.  You can find out more about Access Science here and about Access American History here.  Links to the other books in this series are provided at the bottom of those webpages.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Summer Reading Recommendations for Teachers of ELLs: Book #3

So far, the books in my Summer Reading Recommendations series have dealt with designing effective lessons for English Language Learners.  In today’s post, I’d like to get more specific and talk about a book that actually teaches academic subject material.

Teaching academic content to ELLs isn’t easy, especially if they are at the lower end of language proficiency.  So I was thrilled to learn about The Oxford Picture Dictionary for the Content Areas when attended a presentation on it at an ESL conference one year.  I was familiar with the concept of picture dictionaries: Show illustrations grouped by topic on one page and identify them in a list at the bottom of the page.  Topics included work, community, school, food, clothing, housing, transportation, health, and so on.  The words were mostly nouns, noun phrases, and adjectives. There might be a supplemental teacher’s guide with ideas on how to present the words to students.

Part 3 in a series of book recommendations for teachers of English Language Learners | The ESL Nexus
Source: The ESL Nexus
Book #3:
The Oxford Picture Dictionary for the Content Areas
By Dorothy Kauffman and Gary Apple

The Oxford Picture Dictionary for the Content Areas is different.  Except for the first unit, which is all about terms for common places and people, all the topics cover academic material commonly taught in upper elementary and middle school.  (High school students could probably also use this book, although the concepts and activities may be a bit too simple for them.)  There are units for social studies, with topics about the regions of the U.S. plus Canada and Mexico; and about U.S. history beginning with Native Americans and continuing through the Civil War, along with a section about the structure of the U.S. government and 16 famous Americans.  There are units for science and health: the human body, biology, zoology, earth and physical science.  A unit on math includes topics for arithmetic, geometry, measurement, numbers, graphs, and related terms.  An appendix covers basic vocabulary like time, colors, food, clothing, etc.

What’s great about this book – one of the things that’s great – there are many! – is the way it’s organized.  Each topic consists of a 2-page spread: The left page includes the terms for the unit and each term is numbered and has a mini illustration of it to the left of the word.  The page to the right is a full-page illustration or, in some cases, a few smaller illustrations that take up the whole page, showing all the terms in use.  However, these illustrations are not numbered so students need to refer to the list to identify them, which I think is a better way for learning the terms.

In addition to the picture dictionary itself, there is a whole slew of materials for teachers that you can purchase separately.  The teacher’s guide is excellent as it spells out explicitly what and how to do things.  There is a workbook with exercises for students that gives them practice using the words. (Each student should have his or her own workbook.)  There is also something called the Reproducibles Collection, which consists of flashcards that teachers have to photocopy, short reading passages about each topic, chants about the topics, and another workbook with more exercises.  The chants are on a CD which can be purchased separately.  Large posters of each full-page illustration are also available separately and they are great for whole class activities.  I used the first edition with my students and the updated second edition includes an assessment component; I don’t know what it includes but the website says it was developed by Margo Gottlieb, whom you may know as one of the people behind WIDA and the ACCESS tests.

Part 3 in a series of book recommendations for teachers of English Language Learners | The ESL Nexus
Cover of the 1st edition; source: The ESL Nexus
You can use The Oxford Picture Dictionary for the Content Areas with small groups of ELLs in a mainstream class who need extra support or with ELLs in pull-out or content-based ESL classes.  I used it in all of those contexts and found it very beneficial for my students.  Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about this program!

You can find out more about The Oxford Picture Dictionary for the Content Areas HERE.


Monday, July 3, 2017

Resource Roundup: Materials about the Revolutionary War for ELLs

"The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world."
-- James Madison

Reading primary sources is hard for ELLs whose language skills are not at an advanced level of proficiency.  Teaching about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and describing the causes, battles, other events, and results of the Revolutionary War can also be difficult because many ELLs don’t have the background knowledge necessary for understanding this seminal period of American history.

Find lots of books and other resources about teaching the War for Independence to ELLs in this blog post | The ESL Nexus
Read on for resources for teaching ELLs about the War for Independence; source: The ESL Nexus
So although most U.S. schools are now on vacation, in keeping with the spirit of my past 2 blog posts of book recommendations, today I’m going to do a resource round up of materials that I’ve found helpful to use with ELLs when teaching about the War for Independence, as well as a few other sources of information I've found personally interesting.  Links are embedded in the green text so just click on them for more info about the resources.


America’s Founding Documents
* The Declaration of Independence
* The Constitution of the United States
* The Bill of Rights

Find lots of books and other resources about teaching the War for Independence to ELLs in this blog post | The ESL Nexus
2 textbooks I used with my students: source: The ESL Nexus
* Land, People, Nation: A History of the United States by Anna Uhl Chamot and Kathleen Anderson Steeves
I used the 2nd edition, which was paperback; now there is a newer hardcover version.  I really liked this book because it used the CALLA approach -- the student tasks mixed language learning with strategies for how to learn academic content.  There is a separate teacher’s book which I didn’t use much because it was pretty easy to figure out how to use the student book.  The hardcover book is expensive so unless you’re desperate, I’d ask your school to buy it instead of paying out of pocket yourself.
* Content Area ESL: Social Studies by Dennis Terdy
Two chapters, called The War for Independence and A Nation Begins, use simplified language and describe in very general terms what the war was about and its aftermath.  There are a lot of language-focused exercises so this is a good choice for ELLs at low intermediate levels of proficiency.

* Road to Revolution by Francis Downey; National Geographic School Publishing
A 26-page book with text that intermediate proficiency level ELLs should be able to comprehend; includes 4 pages of activities at the end plus a 2-page glossary (words are also glossed in the text itself).  As can be expected with a National Geographic publication, there are loads of pictures; in fact, the content is about half text and half images.  Good for independent reading and doing research.
* The American Revolution by Cindy Barden
Lots of short reading passages with comprehension questions and some activities.  Also includes a timeline from 1733 – 1783 detailing causes and events of the war up to the signing of the Treaty of Paris.  Good for activities to supplement your teaching.
 * American Revolution by Dorling Kindersley/Eyewitness Books
If you’re familiar with these books, you’ll know that they are great reference sources.  Tons of full color pictures with paragraph-long captions, along with more detailed paragraphs about various topics related to the Revolutionary War.  For high intermediate proficiency level ELLs, this book can be used to keep early finishers occupied and can also be used when doing research.

Find lots of books and other resources about teaching the War for Independence to ELLs in this blog post | The ESL Nexus
These little books are great for research & independent reading; source: The ESL Nexus
* Houghton Mifflin published a slew of short biographies of people involved in the War for Independence.  They are leveled and ELLs at high beginning proficiency levels can comprehend some of them; all have lots of full color illustrations.  Between 16 – 24 pages long, they have a few comprehension questions on the inside back cover along with an activity.  If you can find them, they are great for having your students read them and then writing their own biographies; students can also create and give presentations about the persons.  Click here for a link to the book about Joseph Brant.
* McGraw Hill / The Wright Group also published a series of biographies called Amazing Americans.  I have the ones about George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.  These are longer (32 pages) and at a higher proficiency level (intermediate and up) but also have lots of full color pictures.  Use these books in the same ways as above.

Find lots of books and other resources about teaching the War for Independence to ELLs in this blog post | The ESL Nexus
More books that ELLs can read on their own; source: The ESL Nexus
* Time for Kids has a biography of George Washington, by Dona Herweck.  With more pictures than text, this is good for ELLS at a low intermediate level.  At 24 pages, it includes a timeline of Washington’s life, a glossary, and “Important Vocabulary Words” at the end.  This book is also available in a Kindle version (but I used the printed version).
* Rosen Classroom / PrimarySource also publishes biographies.  I have 3 in their series: 2 about Paul Revere (one is focused on his Midnight Ride and the other is more general) and another about George Washington crossing the Delaware River.  These books are at an intermediate level, are all 32 pages long, and include full color illustrations and photos.  They are also good for independent reading and creating presentations.

Find lots of books and other resources about teaching the War for Independence to ELLs in this blog post | The ESL Nexus
Even more books for independent reading or research; source: The ESL Nexus
* Rigby On Our Way to English published The Midnight Ride of Sybil Ludington.  What’s nice about this 24-page book with lots of illustrations is that it comes in a 6-pack so you have more flexibility for using it when teaching about the Revolutionary War.  I got it at an ESL conference and there was a 4-page teacher’s guide that came with it; I don’t know if that’s available when buying the book from the publisher’s website.  You can use this book in the same ways as all the other books listed above.

Find lots of books and other resources about teaching the War for Independence to ELLs in this blog post | The ESL Nexus
Having lots of resources on these topics is always a good idea; source: The ESL Nexus
* U.S. Constitution by Teacher Created Materials, Inc.
Lots of activities to supplement your teaching.  ELLs will need to be at an intermediate level of language proficiency or higher in order to do them.
* American Government Today series by Steadwell Books/Steck-Vaughan
A book series with titles on The Presidency, Congress, The Supreme Court, and Your Right to Vote.  (Also includes Washington, D.C., and The White House but I don’t have those.)  For high intermediate proficiency and up.  Each book is only 48 pages and has lots of pictures.  Useful for doing jigsaw reading and doing research.  You might also consider reading portions aloud and discussing them with your students
* Barron’s series by Syl Sobel
This links to the first book listed below but links to the others are on the webpage.  I have 3 of the books in this series, which is at a high intermediate proficiency level: The Declaration of Independence, The U.S. Constitution and You, and The Bill of Rights.  Also included are How the U.S. Government Works, Presidential Elections but I don't have these two.  Lots of drawings, though not in color; again, these books are good for jigsaw reading, doing research, and read alouds.

* Liberty’s Kids
This is a wonderful animated TV show that ran on PBS years ago.  In the episodes I videotaped, there are segments comparing life in the Colonial period with modern life, a newscast that summarized the main ideas of the episode, and a game; these segments are not included in the YouTube videos but that doesn’t detract at all from them.  There are 40 episodes in all but I didn’t show all of them.  My 5th graders loved watching this show!
* Origins of the song Yankee Doodle:
This article from The New York Times gives some interesting background information about the song.

I wrote 2 previous 4th of July posts; you can read them HERE.

Happy Fourth of July!