Monday, September 28, 2015

Academic Language for ELLs-Online Course

One of the areas that I am always looking to strengthen is how to best incorporate academic vocabulary into my lessons.  I recently came across information about an online course on Twitter and decided to sign up.  Check out the Teaching Channel for more information.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Getting Students to Talk

Recent Friday afternoon traffic caused one of my colleagues to reflect to the point of calling me (I was already home).  This colleague has a few students that are recent arrivals from English-speaking countries, but did not test into the ESOL program.  He was concerned that these students are not participating enough during group work and seemed desperate to turn this situation around.  Here is some of the advice that I gave him:
  • Allow Students to Choose Their Own Seats: While I am a stickler for other minor classroom management details, I allow my students to choose their own seats (but will separate students if they cause major disruptions).  This allows students to work with those who they are comfortable with.  Students often change seats as they begin to meet their classmates or want to avoid normal middle school drama.  
  • If You Assign Seats, Be Strategic: This teacher assigns seats in order to form heterogeneous groups based on reading scores.  I suggested that as he forms relationships with his students, he reconsiders his grouping.  While a range of abilities is nice, it may be beneficial to group his quieter students with encouraging and understanding peers, regardless of their reading scores.
  • Consider Partners Instead of Groups: For some students, speaking in front of a group is intimidating, even if that group only has three or four other students.  Working with only one other familiar classmate may ease the anxiety.
  • Give Students Time to Formulate Answers Before Sharing: Some students are able to process information and immediately formulate oral answers.  Many students do not possess this gift.  Giving students time to formulate answers in writing before holding them accountable for contributing to an oral discussion may encourage more participation.
This colleague seemed eager to implement some of my suggestions, especially the last two.  As the year progresses, it is my hope that these suggestions make a difference in his classroom.  In the meantime, I will continue to lend support as needed.  While answering the phone on a Friday afternoon may not be the most pleasant thing about being a leader, it goes a long way to making the trenches a more positive environment.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


In an effort to be a good resource for my colleagues, I am always on the hunt for new websites that will aide them in explaining class material to their English language learners (and all students in general).  The other day as I was sitting in a meeting, I stumbled across, a cross-curricular website geared towards beginner and intermediate English language learners.  The site's layout is basic, but the vocabulary games and picture dictionary look especially promising, especially for beginner students.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Interactive Notebooks

I am always looking for creative and innovative ways to make class material interactive and meaningful.  As I've leaped into the teacher blogging world, I have discovered I'm Lovin' Lit, a fellow middle school teacher.  This teacher has a plethora of self-created materials on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Some of her more popular products are her interactive notebook templates.  She has claimed to have a high degree of success using interactive notebooks in her classroom, so this year I decided to take the plunge and try them in my classroom.

One of the things that scared me the most about using interactive notebooks is the fact I am not very creative in an arts and crafts type way.  Luckily, all of the templates come with detailed instructions and pictures of what the finished products should look like.  I've slowly introduced the templates as they've corresponded to our first unit (author's purpose) and use a visualizer to show the students how to properly assemble each template.  Not only do the students find this to be a much more enjoyable way to record notes, I've actually "caught" many of them flipping the pages back and forth to complete class assignments.  This is something that rarely happened when students took traditional notes.

As far as managing interactive notebooks, I have my students keep them in the classroom.  This prevents situations such as students not having them available on days when new material is introduced.  The designated notebook captains distribute and collect them at the appointed times during the class period.

As suggested on many sites dedicated to interactive notebooks, I purchased liquid school glue as opposed to glue sticks to prevent the templates from falling out of the notebooks. I lucked out and purchased bottles of glue for 50 cents each during Staples' Back to School sale.  I also purchased a set of 5-inch scissors from Amazon, also on sale. While I was not able to purchase enough materials for each of the thirty-six (yes, that's right, 3-6) students in my class, they are learning the valuable skill of sharing.  The materials captains manage all of the materials.  I have told them that with so many students they can be fired and replaced at any moment, so they have been gentle with the materials so far.

All in all, I am excited about introducing interactive notebooks into my classroom.  Not only do they help my students remember and make connections to class material, they help make the trenches a more interesting and creative place to learn.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Writing the Right Prescriptions

Back in my youth I was a star field hockey player.  During my senior year of high school there was a whooping cough outbreak among the student-athletes and as a precaution, we had to show proof that we were taking an antibiotic in order to attend school.  I remember that the pills we were prescribed were about the size of my thumb and made me absolutely sick.

I called my doctor to report that I was suffering severe side effects from the medication and asked to be prescribed another antibiotic.  He was absolutely perplexed as he had prescribed the same medication to over a dozen other student-athletes and none of them had reported similar side effects.  He told me that I was a unique case and that he would get back to me.  In the end, I was successfully prescribed a new medication.

I tell you this story because it reminds me that like doctors, teachers work with unique individuals.  Just like the whooping cough prescription, some teaching methods may work for many students, but not all.  As we begin to meet our students and learn what makes them unique, we must search for the right prescriptions.  While we hope that our students will not become violently ill from our methods, there will be "side effects" to look out for, such as frustration, confusion and loss of a joy for learning.  Of course as we get the prescriptions right, we will see the "side effects" that we happily get out of bed each morning to witness, such as success, happiness and the desire to dream big.  Good luck to you all as you begin the new school year.  May it be the best school year yet.