Monday, June 19, 2017

Summer Reading Recommendations for Teachers of ELLs: Book #2

Last week, I began a series of blog posts about books that teachers with ELLs in their classes will find useful.  The book was about scaffolding materials for ELLs and you can read about it here.  This week, I’d like to continue along those lines and discuss a book that shows in more detail how you can create lessons that address the needs of ELLs in academic content classes.

Summer reading: Book recommendations for teachers of English Language Learners, Book #2 | The ESL Nexus
Source: The ESL Nexus
The book I am recommending now is Making Content Comprehensible for English Language Learners: The SIOP Model.  You may have heard the phrase "SIOP."  It stands for "Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol."  This is a framework for planning, implementing, and evaluating lessons so ELLs will understand the material that you are teaching and has become very popular, with good reason.

The SIOP model is intended for use in Sheltered Instruction/SDAIE (Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English) classes but can also be used in ESL classes, especially content-based ESL classes.  That is, it’s aimed at teachers who are teaching content subjects to classes with ELLs in them.  What was innovative about SIOP when it was first developed was the way it incorporated English language development into academic learning.

Making Content Comprehensible for English Language Learners explains the process for doing this.  There is a 30-point form, available in an appendix, for creating lessons.  It’s broken into 3 main categories: Preparation, Instruction, and Review/Assessment.  Under Preparation, there are 6 criteria; in Instruction, there are 26 criteria; and Review/Assessment has 4 criteria.  Each criterion has a Likert scale ranging from 1 to 4 for how well a lesson achieves it.  (Not Applicable is also an option for all criteria.)

The 10 chapters in the book explain how to use the SIOP framework.  Chapter 1 provides a theoretical basis for using sheltered instruction and Chapter 10 discusses how to score and interpret results obtained from using the model.  In between, Chapters 2 – 9 present Indicators (that is, how to include evidence) of Lesson Preparation, Building Background, Comprehensible Input, Strategies, Interaction, Practice/Application, Lesson Delivery, and Review/Assessment.

Each of these chapters starts off with some theoretical background explaining the criteria that that chapter will cover and then offers vignettes from classes at different grade levels and different content subjects to show you what makes a good SIOP lesson.  The classroom examples are evaluated using the SIOP Protocol and explanations are provided for why they were rated a particular way.

If this all sounds confusing, it isn’t when you have the book in front of you.  The material is clearly organized and it makes sense when you read it.  The wide variety of example lessons really helps to clarify how the SIOP framework works.  Charts and diagrams also help explain the process of using the SIOP model in your classes.  Discussion questions at the end of each chapter are a combination of abstract and concrete questions about teaching ELLs and let you reflect on your own teaching practice.

Summer reading: Book recommendations for teachers of English Language Learners, Book #2 | The ESL Nexus
Cover of the book; source: The ESL Nexus
The SIOP Protocol is used in schools throughout the U.S.  Regardless of whether your school is or is not using SIOP, you will find it invaluable for designing lessons that facilitate your ELLs' understanding of your classroom instruction.

Publication information: Published by Allyn and Bacon; ISBN: 0-205-29017-5

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Summer Reading Recommendations for Teachers of ELLs: Book #1

Are you looking to read some professional books during your summer vacation, in between all the fun and relaxing things you will do because you're not facing a classroom full of children five days a week for the next several weeks?  If so, here is the first in a series of book recommendations about teaching English Language Learners.  I wrote a series of book reviews last summer and decided to continue the series this year.   Today is the first book recommendation and over the coming weeks, I'll be reviewing several more books that I think you will find useful.

Summer reading: Book recommendations for teachers of English Language Learners, Book #1 | The ESL Nexus
Source: The ESL Nexus
Book #1:  
Scaffolding Language Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom
by Pauline Gibbons

This 165-page book has a good balance of theoretical information, examples from the classroom, and suggested activities for teachers who have English Language Learners in their classes. 

Chapters 1, 2, and 7 discuss the reasons for incorporating language learning into content subject teaching and the middle chapters focus on how to do that for the language domains of speaking, writing, reading, and listening.  A forward by Jim Cummins, a list with short descriptions of the 49 activities recommended for scaffolding student learning, and an index round out this book.

Chapter 1, Scaffolding Language and Learning, provides the rationale for scaffolding language learning – because language is learned in context.  Chapter 2, Classroom Talk: Creating Contexts for Language Learning, discusses the importance of group and pair work and how to effectively implement group and pair work.  Also, nine types of group and pair work are described, of which four are aimed at beginners, which is very helpful for teachers who have ELLs at low proficiency levels in their classes.

Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 all start with some background theoretical information about the particular language domain being discussed, then move into more practical aspects of teaching speaking, writing, reading, and listening.  Through a scenario presented in Chapter 3, From Speaking to Writing in the Content Classroom, readers see how a teacher can scaffold a science lesson, although the ideas can be applied to other subjects, too.  Chapter 4, Writing in a Second Language Across the Curriculum: An Integrated Approach, follows a similar format.  After some theoretical info is presented in Chapter 5, Reading in a Second Language, numerous activities for "Planning for Reading," "Before-Reading Activities," "During-Reading Activities," and "After-Reading Activities" are suggested.  The format of Chapter 6, Listening: And Active and Thinking Process, conforms to that of Chapter 5, with subsections on "Introducing How to Listen," which is further broken down into sections on "Two-Way Listening" and "One-Way Listening;" sections on "Listening for Specific Information," "Listening for General Information," and "The Sounds of English" are also included.

Chapter 7 is titled Learning Language, Learning Through language, and Learning about Language: Developing and Integrated Curriculum.  It gives teachers a framework for figuring out how to integrate language learning into their lessons and reiterates why it is important to do so.  There are several charts in this chapter with helpful information.  Chapter 7 also devotes some time to explaining how phonics, spelling, and grammar fit into this approach to language teaching.

Summer reading: Book recommendations for teachers of English Language Learners, Book #1 | The ESL Nexus
Cover of the book; source: The ESL Nexus
Although Scaffolding Language Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom was published in 2002, and therefore before the advent of the ELA Common Core, it does reference standards-based learning in the Foreword.  The activities presented in the book are still valid and useful today.  If you are not quite sure how you can implement language teaching into math, science, social studies, and other content subjects, this book is sure to give you lots of ideas.

Publication information: Published by Heinemann; ISBN 0-325-00366-.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

A Lovely Way to Thank School Volunteers

"Well, there's not a day goes by when I don't get up and say thank you to somebody."
-- Rod Stewart

I recently wrote about companies and organizations that honored teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week.  Teachers absolutely deserve attention for their hard work, not just during one special week but throughout the year and in as many forms as possible.  I’ve also written about telling custodians how much they are appreciated for without them, schools would be much less comfortable and conducive places for learning.

There’s another group of people who work in schools who also merit thanks.  Volunteers often do jobs no one has time for, wants to do, or can’t do because they are too busy trying to get other things done.  Tasks such as photocopying and collating, duties such as supervising kids at lunchtime and recess, and supporting teachers in the classroom by making sure kids remain on task during center or station work.  To a certain extent, in this age of having to do more with less, volunteers are the linchpins that keep schools running smoothly because their presence helps the staff do their jobs more effectively.

How one school thanks its volunteers for the support they give students & teachers | The ESL Nexus
Side dishes at the Volunteer Luncheon; source: The ESL Nexus
I was fortunate enough to be a volunteer this past school year in a 7th-8th grade elective class about career and technical education.  Most of the time, I supervised the kids who were cooking and made sure they followed the recipes and didn’t do silly things like throw sugar in a hot oven to see what would happen.  (One student did that on a day I wasn’t there.)  Other times, I gave presentations about being a Peace Corps Volunteer and teaching English in foreign countries, as part of the job exploration component of the course.

Spending one period a week with the class let me stay up-to-date with middle school fads and  foibles – yes, I got to see bottle flipping and fidget spinners first hand, though only bottle flipping was an issue in the class I was in.  Volunteering also let me utilize my teaching skills, albeit not as much as I would’ve liked since it wasn’t a core academic class.  But more importantly, having another body in the class – me – allowed the teacher to give help where it was needed while knowing that the other students weren’t being neglected.  That gave her peace of mind and enabled her to be a better teacher.

How one school thanks its volunteers for the support they give students & teachers | The ESL Nexus
Table decorations; source: The ESL Nexus
The school gave a lunch at the end of the year for all the volunteers to thank us for our work.  The students in “my” class baked brownies, which they made on one of the days I was helping out, and lemon bars for dessert; both were delicious.  Hamburgers, salads, watermelon and a cake were provided by the school.  The tables in the staff dining room were decorated and handwritten signs saying “thank you” were scattered throughout the room.  It was a lovely gesture and I certainly appreciated it.

How one school thanks its volunteers for the support they give students & teachers | The ESL Nexus
Lemon squares & brownies baked by students, with store-bought cake; source: The ESL Nexus
I don’t recall my school in Massachusetts doing anything on a school-wide basis to thank  the volunteers there.  I think it was left to the individual teachers to do something.  But I never had a volunteer work in my class so I didn’t pay much attention.  If you have a volunteer in your class, how do you express your thanks at the end of the school year?

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Education Around the World: Bulgaria

"Time is in us and we are in time.  It changes us and we change it."
-- Vasili Levski, national hero of Bulgaria

Eastern Europe is a part of the world I’ve always wanted to visit because that is my ethnic heritage.  My paternal grandmother emigrated from what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire and other relatives came from other countries, so I know a little about those places.  However, I have no experience with the country today’s guest blogger worked in so I am pleased to welcome Betsy Potash, from TpT store Spark Creativity, to tell us about education in Bulgaria.  Betsy is an American who taught 10th and 12th graders, aged 16-17 and 18-19, respectively, for 2 years in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.

Find out what it's like to be an international teacher at a school in Bulgaria & grab a freebie about teaching abroad | The ESL Nexus
Map of Bulgaria; source: The CIA World Factbook
In her own words:

The School Calendar
The school calendar is similar to the American calendar, with school beginning late August and ending early June. However, there are MANY Bulgarian holidays in honor of various saints, and the government will frequently add days off to turn these holidays into a long extended weekend.

While we were there, school also closed for a week due to swine flu and a week due to a power outage when Russia cut off their oil pipeline to the Ukraine.

Find out what it's like to be an international teacher at a school in Bulgaria & grab a freebie about teaching abroad | The ESL Nexus
Cookies from Betsy's favorite bakery; source: Spark Creativity
The school day was similar to an American school day, however the student schedule was unusual in that they were usually taking fifteen or so different classes. (More on that later!)

Structure of Schools
The  public school system is widely recognized as the worst in all of Europe.

The school where I taught, the American College of Sofia, was an alternative to public education.  It’s a private American school and differs from many international schools in that it primarily exists for Bulgarian students, not international students.

Find out what it's like to be an international teacher at a school in Bulgaria & grab a freebie about teaching abroad | The ESL Nexus
Partial view of Betsy's classroom; source: Spark Creativity
Students could take a test after 7th grade and the highest scorers in the nation were accepted to the school regardless of their ability to speak English. Eighth grade was taught with a heavy ESL emphasis and then students went on to take the American curriculum as well as the Bulgarian curriculum in 9th - 12th grades.

Teaching EFL and English Language Arts
English is the language of instruction, though many students enter the school speaking only Bulgarian. In 8th grade, four periods of the day are devoted to ESL and students have two core ESL teachers -- one international teacher and one Bulgarian teacher. They spend two periods apiece with each teacher, and the 2 teachers communicate closely. After 8th grade, there is no more ESL support. In general, it’s really not needed. I had only one student in two years that I felt was not fluently understanding everything in my classroom, and I just had to help her as best I could, since there was not a scaffolded system of support beyond eighth grade.

I taught several courses, including 10th grade English, 12th grade I.B. English, an English conversation class for seniors, and a blogging elective. My students were incredibly bright and wrote on or above the level of my American students.

Find out what it's like to be an international teacher at a school in Bulgaria & grab a freebie about teaching abroad | The ESL Nexus
Click HERE for more info; source: Spark Creativity
I did design an outside reading program there to help my Bulgarian students embrace English literature. It’s hard to do your “for fun” reading in your second language, so I enjoyed coming up with contests, challenges, displays, and even an outside reading festival to try to spark their enthusiasm for English literature.

Requirements for Becoming a Teacher
I’m afraid I don’t have any information on how Bulgarian teachers pursued their professional requirements.  But as an international teacher, I only needed to have experience in my field and education in my subject. No particular form of certification was required. Though some international schools require the same certification public school teachers in the United States have, many do not. We used the agency Search Associates to find a job, as they cater to many international schools that do not require certification.

Find out what it's like to be an international teacher at a school in Bulgaria & grab a freebie about teaching abroad | The ESL Nexus
For more info about teaching overseas, check out this resource; source: Spark Creativity
My husband went through the CELTA program for teaching ESL before we came (he was previously a history teacher) and became one of the 8th grade core ESL teachers. He took a six-week intensive course in Oxford, England, for this certification, and he was really glad he did.

Curriculum
Our students took an astonishing amount of classes in high school, including the standard slate of American classes and then also Bulgarian history and language and the Bulgarian standard of three sciences every single year - biology, chemistry and physics.  Many of their classes met just once or twice a week, but they had to maintain the work, reading, and organization necessary for each course. Many students additionally took several electives in their favorite subjects.

My teaching there was just like here. I focus a lot on creative, project-based learning and my students loved it there. We did poetry slams and radio shows, one-act play festivals and reading festivals. We read and discussed literature and did tons of writing activities.

Find out what it's like to be an international teacher at a school in Bulgaria & grab a freebie about teaching abroad | The ESL Nexus
View of Sofia; source: Pixabay
Testing
The seniors took a national exam, but we did not administer it at our school. The rest of the students took final exams in randomly assigned classrooms throughout the school. There was a TON of care given to preventing cheating, which was a rampant problem in Bulgaria. I once had a parent refer to me as a “silly American girl” because I was upset that his son had plagiarized an entire essay.

Final Thoughts
I was continually impressed by the creativity and joy my students brought to the classroom, but also often frustrated by the pessimism and corruption that pervades the country. Cheating is a major problem in the student culture, since "cheating" is basically necessary to get things done whenever dealing with public services, police, government officials, etc.

Find out what it's like to be an international teacher at a school in Bulgaria & grab a freebie about teaching abroad | The ESL Nexus
Scenes from around Bulgaria; source: Spark Creativity
And yet, despite some bleak aspects of the environment, discussing literature with my students there was a real joy. And so was dancing in the Bulgarian dance group, coaching 8th grade softball which they did just for fun, teaching faculty tennis clinics, preparing the American Thanksgiving meal to share with Bulgarian faculty, and so much more.

I would certainly recommend the experience of teaching abroad. Though adjusting to a whole new country took some time, my husband and I had an incredible experience. We visited over twenty countries in our two years overseas and we gained a new global perspective on the world.

Find out what it's like to be an international teacher at a school in Bulgaria & grab a freebie about teaching abroad | The ESL Nexus
Bulgarian flag; source: The CIA World Factbook
Thank you very much, Betsy, for describing what teaching at an international school in Bulgaria is like.  You can read more about Betsy’s experiences in her blog From Another Angle and watch a short video she made about her school.  You can also find Betsy on Facebook and at her TpT store, Spark Creativity.

You can find more posts in this series by clicking on these links to read about education in: British Columbia (Canada), New Zealand, Australia, Morocco, Sweden, England, United Arab Emirates, Scotland, Quebec (Canada), and South Africa.

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