A few days ago, a new student arrived in my EAL class in Peru ( EAL- English as an additional language.). The new student speaks Korean and Japanese, and has studied a bit of English; all of the classes, though, are taught in English, except the Spanish class. So, picture yourself in that situation: You are new to an English speaking school in a Spanish speaking country; you are about 12 years old; you speak two languages that have little to do with where you are now. Difficult, to say the least.
To begin the class, I asked students to introduce themselves to the new student. My students are very welcoming so this was easy for them. They clearly tried to make connections with him as they mentioned music, games, and other cultural ideas that he might be interested in. Then, one of the newer students introduced himself saying something like, “I am also new here, not quite as new as you, and I found it easy to make friends here. I hope you also are able to make friends. I will be your friend.”
I will be your friend.
Imagine the world if this is how everyone received new people, immigrants, refugees, the stranger, the unknown. It could happen.
Recently, I was reminded of the power of theater in education. Thinking about students who are new to English… but not completely new… I have been looking at improvisational theater exercises to get students talking. This is not a strategy to teach new vocabulary but to build fluency, spontaneity and confidence while speaking.
Imagine having two students create a skit where someone is lost and the other has to help the first person find his or her way. Imagine adding a third person who says that the first person is wrong. What would you say? What would you do? Can they ask for an additional person to assist?
Make it a little bit harder and open ended: Imagine students creating a skit based off of three nouns- pencil, stove, rake. Throw in a verb and shake things up a bit.
There are a million scenes that you can have students improvise based on anything that students need to practice. Try it; see what happens!
The short answer is: speak to your children in the language you know best. Oral language is the precursor to all literacy skills:
What you can think, you can say;
what you say you can write;
what you can write you can read.
When parents ask me what language they should use with their children I consistently tell them to use the language they know best. Most of the time the parents are non-English speakers wondering if they should speak with their children using the little English they know. “No,” I tell them.
When children are offered rich language in extended discourse they develop amazing vocabularies and complex sentences. If their caregivers offer them limited vocabulary and limited discourse that is what the children will develop. Because literacy skills transfer, the extended discourse will transfer once the children have the necessary vocabulary in the new language… but they can’t transfer what they do not know.
Speak to your children often and listen to their answers.
Have them tell you stories and ask follow-up questions.
Ask open ended questions (questions that require more than yes or no).
Ask them to explain more or tell you what that means.
Give them new vocabulary as you ask them questions and respond to their stories:
Child: I used that thing to cut cheese.
Adult: Oh, you used the cheese slicer.
Child: Yes, I used the cheese slicer and I cut a lot of cheese.
When you read with your children ask them questions such as:
What do you think will happen next?
Would you have done that?
How would you solve the problem?
Tell me the story
Talk, talk, talk!
There is much research about the importance of oral language. Give your child the gift of language through conversation and story telling.
Any time we can help students organize their thinking, plan their learning, make their learning visible, we are helping them build connections and increase the number of synapses– that is learning! With graphic organizers we can increase literacy, too.
In a guided reading group one of the goals is to have students read text while supported by you, the teacher. Remember the idea of gradual release of responsibility:
I do, you watch
I do, you help
You do, I help
You do, I watch
Using staggered-start can be both of the last two bullets; the key is that the student is ‘doing’ while you watch or help:
When you stagger the start, each student has a copy of the text;
One student student begins with the first paragraph (first page, first part,…);
When the first student gets to the second paragraph (second page, second part, …) student number two begins with the first paragraph while the second student continues on;
When student number two gets to the second paragraph, student number three begins with the first paragraph while the previous students continue reading;
While students are reading you are monitoring, taking notes and coaching.
When a student finishes s/he goes to the beginning and starts again and all students stop at the same time.
Did that make sense? The idea is that each student starts and continues reading through to the end. Because each student begins at a different time, each one has to appropriately-struggle with the whole text. No one is getting nervous about everyone listening; no one is counting ahead and pre-reading his or her paragraph. This is not round-robin reading!
As coach, you cue students as they are reading and take notes about their struggles. I always ask students to use their finger or a ruler while they are stagger reading so that I, the teacher, know where they are on the page and I can match the text with their speech as I quickly check in with each student.
Remember, this is one step in a whole process; it is one way to have students practice their reading in a guided reading group. Staggered reading will mean nothing if students do not understand what they are reading. Reading= comprehension.
Literacy Creates Justice (and it’s fun!).
Here is a group of teachers practicing staggered reading:
The results are amazing when done carefully. In order for this to work, though, we have to think about our students and what they know and what they need to learn. When I use this format I pre-teach the aspects that my students will struggle with (you need to know your students!) and work on building oral language around those ideas. By the time they get to the text they will be in that wonderful Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky) and understand most of what they are reading. I try to leave appropriate challenges along the way so that their reading is in the Goldilocks-Zone.
Try it and let me know what you think. If you want some additional coaching please let me know. Remember: Literacy Creates Justice (and it’s fun!).
In a conversation with a friend last month I learned that WIDA has a new way of assessing speaking for their ACCESS test. I have been certified as an ACCESS tester since 2010- 2011 when I was working in SPPS and I wondered how the test had changed. So, I logged in and learned about ACCESS 2.0.
A few changes I noticed right away:
They changed the grade level clusters by adding 1st grade as its own cluster for the on-line test and 1st, 2nd and 3rd are each their own cluster for the paper–based test (on- line);
they reduced the number of tiers from 3 to 2;
they changed the names of the levels: Exemplary, Strong, Adequate, Attempted
they added Nina!
Nina is a wonderful addition because she gives students a model from which they can base their own language and she gives the test proctor an example of the expected academic language. I also liked the clarity around what to do if students did not answer the question but still used English (Off topic= Adequate; Off task= Attempted).
I remember training teachers in St. Paul and we had some wonderful discussions as we worked toward inter-rater reliability on the speaking assessment. ACCESS 2.0 makes things more clear with the addition of Nina and the three bullet points for each level. Yes, there is still room for subjectivity but the guidelines and model make the rating easier, simpler and clearer. (They probably had some great conversations this year, too.)
What I like most about WIDA is the Can Do Descriptors. Yes, every student “can-do” something at every level and in every domain. Our job as teachers is to scaffold the instruction so they can grow in their use of language, language that is used for social and academic situations.
I am still wondering, though, where did the tall-hat people go?
Language and content go together. We cannot learn language first and then learn content; nor can we learn content if we do not have the language. Learning to teach in this way is truly worth your while. I have compiled some resources for your continuing education.