Sunday, November 20, 2016

Being an Advocate

I know that I have been MIA for a while.  However, while I may not have been blogging about education, I definitely have been advocating for it.  A few weeks ago, I took a friend's advice and attended my state's annual educator convention as a delegate.  This means that I finally had the chance to express my passion for public education in a venue other than this blog, Twitter, and of course, happy hour with fellow educators.

The annual representative assembly is where the state association decides which issues to lobby for during the upcoming legislative session.  Educators from across the state come out of their trenches and craft new business items that are near and dear to their hearts.  These items are debated, modified and eventually, voted on.  Since I am new to the process, I did not craft any of my own new business items.  However, I am a quick learner and was able to figure out how to insert language into existing new business items that will benefit ELLs.  As I was one of the few ELL teachers at the convention, I feel that my voice was important and I am proud that I was able to speak up.

This experience leaves me motivated to continue to advocate for students across the state and my classroom in particular.  When I advocate for my students at the school level, I often feel as though I am preaching to deaf ears.  However, with the collective voice of thousands of teachers, I become more powerful and effective.  While leveling the playing field for ELLs and those teachers who work with them is definitely more of a marathon than a sprint, I am glad to say that I am still in the race.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Welcoming Refugees

Several recent crises around the world have resulted in an influx of refugees fleeing to friendlier lands, including the United States.  My school is within walking distance of an apartment complex that has been welcoming refugees for years.  During my tenure, I have welcomed students from Iraq, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sudan and as of last month, Syria.  While these students come in with boundless enthusiasm for education, they do have a unique set of needs.  Here are some tips for welcoming refugee students:
  • Reach Out to Your Local Agency: Refugees enter the United States with the assistance of a refugee agency or sponsor.  I have reached out to the local refugee agency to arrange for students with interrupted education to receive extra tutoring as well as check up on families when I received reports that there was insufficient food in the home.  In turn, they have invited my department to community events. You can find the refugee agency that serves your local area through the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
  • Be on the Lookout for Trauma: Many of the refugee students I have worked with have experienced a great deal of trauma.  Keep in mind that some students may do a better job of masking trauma than others.  While I never force a student to talk, I do line up a support team in advance so that I am prepared to assist a student when they do decide to share information with me.
  • Be Aware of Dietary Restrictions: Many of my refugee students practice religions which prohibit the consumption of products such as pork.  While in their native countries these foods were rarely available, they are abundant in our nation's school cafeterias.  When I anticipate such a dietary conflict, I work with the cafeteria staff to ensure that these types of foods do not end up on these students' plates.
  • Learn the Lingo: While becoming a polyglot is out of reach for most of us, I do try to learn a few key phrases in my students' languages.  For example, I learned the phrase sabah alkhyr (good morning) when welcoming refugees from Iraq several years ago.  My new Syrian students were impressed with this gesture and we are able to greet each other every morning.  Check out the omniglot website for basic greetings in several dozen languages.

Monday, October 3, 2016

PBS Learning Media

I am always on the hunt for new resources and as I launch into the new school year, I have come across PBS Learning Media.  This website provides lesson ideas, media clips and interactive activities.  Of course, the Election 2016 resources are prominently featured.  Teachers can even set up student accounts and create assignments.  Like the TV version of PBS, this resource is free.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

WIDA ACCESS Data Template

Over the past several years, I have had the opportunity to work with a core group of teachers that provide content instruction to the majority of my school's ESOL students.  As this group of teachers have honed their ESOL instructional strategies, they have learned how to utilize WIDA ACCESS data and Can Do descriptors to plan their instruction.  We have now reached the point where the teachers ask me for their students' data before the rosters are officially carved in stone.

In past years, I have attempted to create my own WIDA ACCESS score matrix to distribute to my colleagues.  Unfortunately, I am not very creative and I figured that a simple Google search would yield me a better result than last year's attempt to make my own matrix.  Luckily, I came across this freebie created by Mrs. Castro.  Not only does this template provide a space to type in students' names, it includes a snapshot of the Can Do descriptors for each language proficiency level.  My colleagues agree that this matrix is an excellent resource for them to reference as they plan instruction.  We will continue to use it as a focus point for our instructional conversations deep down in the trenches.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A New Year Begins and I'm Teaching Math...

My summer is officially over and the 2016-2017 school year has begun.  One of the biggest changes this school year is that my school has a new principal.  This is the third principal that we have had in five years.  I continue to remain optimistic.

My role has also changed a bit.  While I will be handling the logistics of my school's ESOL program, the majority of my day will be spent teaching assigned classes.  When the scheduling chips fell, it left a seventh grade math class without a co-teacher.  Since I needed to fill my schedule, I assigned myself this class.

Math is the one subject that I have never actually taught before.  Reflecting back on my time as a math student, one might say that this is a good thing.  While I do plan on brushing up on my math skills in order to be an effective math co-teacher (through Khan Academy, Math Playground and StudyJams), my main role will be reinforcing vocabulary.

With this in mind, I have scoured the Internet for math vocabulary resources from Maths Dictionary, Granite School District and MathWords.  I have also found a website that offers a variety of math vocabulary foldables.

So far, my students seem enthusiastic about math and my co-teacher is receptive to my presence in the classroom.  As this year continues, I will be sure to provide updates from the math trenches.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Where Have I Been?

I hope you are all enjoying your well deserved summer vacation.  I know that it's been a while since I have updated this blog.  My reason for this was that towards the end of the school year, I was dealing with a lot at work and needed some time to de-stress.  So far, I have spent my summer getting some much need rest and relaxation.  My only scheduled professional development activity will take place at the end of the month.  I will be attending Spanish camp in the Midwest.  I am looking forward to this adventure as it will allow me to work on a much needed job-related skill in a fun and relaxed environment.  Do stay tuned for the full review.

As August rolls around, I will inevitably go back to planning for the upcoming school year.  As I find new resources and plan new ideas, I will be sure to update this blog more frequently.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Recap App-Giving All Students a Voice

One of the most difficult aspects of teaching a class of thirty-six students is finding the time to give every student an opportunity to talk.  I recently came across the Recap App, which allows students to answer teacher-created questions via video.  I recently received my 2016 WIDA ACCESS data.  My district moved to WIDA ACCESS 2.0 this year, which meant that every student had to respond to prompts via a microphone and computer.  The notion of completing this type of task caused some students to experience a higher level of anxiety and I noticed a dip in speaking scores.  Using this app is one way that I can turn this trend around in 2017 as well as give every student a voice.  By the way, this app is currently free.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Teacher Appreciation Week 2016

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!  From books to beer, corporate America thanks you for your dedicated service to our nation's youth.  Here are some lists of freebies:

Monday, April 11, 2016

TESOL 2016

I've spent a good two solid weeks away from the trenches.  I was on spring break followed by the 2016 TESOL Conference this week.  This was my first TESOL conference.  While I have heard of this annual event, this year's location (twenty minutes from my house) and the availability of professional development funds made it possible for me to finally attend.  I can definitely say that it was worth the wait.

The week started off with PreK-12 Dream Day, a pre-conference event dedicated to the professional development needs of PreK-12 educators.  This was followed by over 800 educational sessions ranging from roundtable discussions to the latest research findings to teaching tips.  There were also technology sessions, poster sessions and a job fair.  Many of the PowerPoints and handouts that were made available during these sessions can be found here.

Aside from the professional knowledge gained, this conference provided an opportunity to network with new contacts as well as those I have been communicating with on Twitter for the past two years. I was also amazed to meet fellow educators who complete inspiring work day in and day out under circumstances that make my daily challenges seem small in comparison.  While attending conferences can be exhausting, it is events such as this that make life in the trenches a little less lonely.  While I am not 100% sure that it will be possible for me to attend 2017 TESOL Conference (in Seattle), it will definitely be on my professional development radar.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Socratic Seminar

A few weeks ago, a pair of colleagues asked me to assist them with one of their seventh grade classes.  This particular class has a large number of long-term English language learners and both educators are fairly new to the profession. Since this class is completing a mini-unit on economic inequality, one of my suggested modifications was to use leveled text from Newsela.  After planning the initial part of the lesson, we decided to go a step further and have the students engage in a Socratic seminar.

A Socratic seminar is a discussion around a piece of text.  While in some cases there is one leader asking the questions, we modified this piece a bit.  After the students read and annotated the news article, they wrote a discussion question. This meant that during our Socratic seminar, multiple students took on the role of the leader, while their classmates actively participated.  Not only did this activity give students the opportunity to see the material in a new light, it provided some much needed speaking practice.  During the following lesson we connected the new material to the information covered during the Socratic seminar and immediately received student buy-in for that lesson.

There are multiple ways to implement a Socratic seminar in your classroom.  Check out the video below for more information.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Daily Grammar Warm-Ups

Now that WIDA ACCESS testing is over, my department has resumed our weekly meetings.  At the last meeting, some of my colleagues brought up that they are struggling with teaching grammar in a systemic manner.  I shared my strategy, which involves daily grammar warm-ups.  Since many of their students will eventually wind up in my class, I offered to find my colleagues resources that are different than the one that I currently use (Caught'ya! Grammar with a Giggle).  Here's what I found:

  • Everyday Edits: This website provides daily exercises that require students to edit sentences.  The exercises revolve a monthly theme and provide cultural tidbits.  Recommended Levels: Intermediate and Advanced
  • Interactive English Games and Activities: This British site provides exercises related to capitalization, question marks and "full stops" (periods).  Recommended Levels: Newcomer and Beginner
  • Daily Grammar: This site provides more daily lesson lesson than there are days in a calendar year.  Recommended Levels: Beginner-Advanced
  • Grammar Bytes: Users can peruse through the handouts and create a series of daily grammar warm-ups.  Recommended Levels: Beginner-Advanced
  • Grammar Blast: This site covers the basics of sentence structure.  The most efficient way to use this site is probably to display the quizzes on an LCD projector.  Recommended Levels: Newcomer and Beginner

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Teaching to Students' Strengths: Free PD from WIDA

'Tis the season for testing, so WIDA has been on my mind quite a bit lately.  Roughly half of the country makes up the WIDA Consortium and follows and "Can Do" philosophy about English language learners.  In order to help teachers become more effective with their ELLs, the WIDA Consortium has created an online professional development module entitled Engaging English Language Learners: Teaching to Student Strengths.  This module covers a variety of topics related to academic language and is free to educators with a WIDA account.  

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Open eBooks Initiative

The White House issued a press release this past week announcing the Open eBooks Initiative.  In a nutshell, public libraries and major publishers have joined forces to offer a free digital library to students from low income households.  While public libraries have been offering access to ebooks for years, I still have students that are reluctant to apply for a library card.  In addition, people that borrow ebooks have to be a bit tech savvy, as it involves downloading multiple apps.  This initiative breaks down these barriers.

I just registered for and received Open eBook codes for all of my students.  Here are the steps:
  •  If you don't already have a FirstBook account, register for one here.
  • Visit the FirstBook Marketplace and order your free codes and PINs.  You can choose to give your students access to the elementary school collection, middle school collection, high school collection or all collections.
  •  Instruct your students to download the Open eBooks app from either iTunes or Google Play.
  • Issue a code and PIN to each student.  When you receive your codes and PINs, you will receive a letter (in English and Spanish) that you can download, print and send home if you choose to do so.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Make Your Essay REEC

As part of my district's evaluation system, all teachers must write student learning objectives (SLOs).  In order to have data to support our SLOs, each teacher must administer a course pre and post test. Since my district has to calculate thousands of teachers' evaluation scores by May, we recently administered the course post test.  The social studies post test required the students to write a five paragraph essay and my students' teacher gleefully shared with me that all of the students in my class actually wrote five paragraphs.  When I mentioned this to my students, they happily stated that they incorporated the REEC (pronounced "wreak") method that I have been hammering home all year.

When I first started teaching extended writing this year, I noticed that my students wrote adequate introduction and closing paragraphs (with some peer support).  However, their body paragraphs were weak.  They lacked text evidence and very rarely did they connect the body paragraphs back to their thesis statement.  I actually reflect best while brushing my teeth and it was there that I came up with the REEC method to writing body paragraphs:
  • Respond to the question
  • Cite your text evidence 
  • Explain your evidence
  • Close out your paragraph

There are many acronyms out there for writing paragraphs.  However, this is works well for my students, mainly because REEC is fun for them to say.  While it seems like a small thing, it's made a big difference way down in the trenches.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Being a Second Language Learner

As the chairperson of my school's ESOL program, it widely assumed/expected that I have the ability to speak Spanish.  While I took some Command Spanish courses over the years and learned the basics, it was difficult to have an in-depth parent conference without an interpreter present. In order to meet these expectations, last spring I decided to buckle down and take my Spanish studies a bit more seriously. I am still far from fluent, but my communication skills have improved to the point where I am able to comfortably communicate with parents and students.

Two of my barriers to learning Spanish have always been money and the fact that I did not want to attend a formal class.  However, I have been doing most of my studying at home and have spent less than $500 on this effort.  Here's what I've used so far:

  • Living Language: This was my first foray into the world of self-study Spanish.  I purchased this set of books from Amazon for about $30. This series of workbooks teaches the basics and comes with CDs that I listened to on my way to work.  Please note that while one of the books is labeled as advanced, completing this series will get you to the advanced beginner level at best.
  • Duolingo: This free site allows users to practice all four language domains.  It complemented my studies through Living Language and awarded me a certificate and virtual trophy when I successfully completed the program.
  • Rosetta Stone: People seem to have a love-hate relationship with this product.  While it does have its faults (such as lack of grammar explanations), it provides a way to practice speaking and pronunciation. The unit on medical emergencies allowed me to communicate to a parent that an ambulance was on the way to school to pick up her son who was having an asthma attack.
  • Ouino Spanish: To make up for the lack of explicit grammar instruction in Rosetta Stone, I purchased this software product.  It provides excellent explanations and the ability to build phrases and sentences.
  • iTalki: This website allowed me to connect with personal Spanish instructors who offer lessons over Skype.  I made sure to select an instructor from Central America in order to get the dialect of Spanish that I need to communicate with parents.  The lessons are fairly cheap (I pay $8 an hour) and the website also offers a social network platform that you can use to find language partners.  You can also do a Google search for overseas brick and mortar language schools (try Antigua, Guatemala and Granada, Nicaragua) that offer lessons over Skype for roughly the same price.

Of course, there are other avenues to learn and practice speaking another language.  For example, I recently joined a Spanish conversation group through MeetUp.  I've also discovered telenovelas through my Netflix and Hulu subscriptions.  This has turned out to be a great mix of learning and entertainment as the love triangle plot lines have provided an escape after a long day in the trenches.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

West Virgnia's Teach 21 Initiative

While I can only claim to have visited the Mountain State a handful of times, I was recently directed to the West Virginia Department of Education's website via an online class.  West Virginia's Teach 21 (as in 21st Century) Initiative, offers a wealth of resources that are applicable to any teacher in the world.  The strategy bank, formative assessment examples and professional development videos have been added to my favorites toolbar and will definitely be referenced when I plan future lessons.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Help Eliminate the Term LEP

Students that are learning English are labeled with various acronyms.  In my district, they are called English speakers of other languages or ESOL students,  Other districts label these students as ELs, ELLs.  On the federal level, they are considered to be limited English proficient or LEP..  It is the "limited" part of the LEP label that students in Worcester, Massachusetts find troubling,  By stating that students are limited, there is fear that educators can make other assumptions about these students' academic abilities..  They have recently started a petition to officially change the label at the federal level from LEP to Multilingual Students.  I agree that this label focuses on students' ability to speak more than one language.  Like all petitions on, this petition must reach 100,000 signatures (by February 27th) in order to be considered by President Obama.  Join me in signing the petition today.  Click here for more details.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Teaching Social Studies to ELLs

I make an effort to participate in the weekly #ELLChat on Twitter every Monday night at 9 PM (East Coast time).  This past week's topic focused on teaching social studies to English language learners. While sharing my tidbits, opinions and insights, I also shared shared some of the following resources:

Modified Reading Comprehension Passages

Presentations, Handouts and Interactive Activities

Vocabulary Resources

For more information on teaching social studies to English language learners, check out Social Studies Instruction for ELLs.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Long-Term ELLs: The Hidden Population

I recently conducted a school-wide professional development session on long-term ELLs.  This is a group that is near and dear to my heart as they are usually the most neglected group in any school building.  These are the students that were usually born in the United States, yet are still members of the ESOL program five or more years after being identified as limited English proficient.  These students sound native, yet are usually several grade levels behind in reading.  By the time they reach middle school, many of these students are apathetic and/or really good at being invisible.  Believe it or not, this is my favorite group to work with as I believe that they have the most hidden potential.

Many of the teachers at my school do not love to work with this group.  They are either frustrated by these students or up until my presentation, failed to notice that they even existed.  My first step was to distribute a list of long-term ELLs to each interdisciplinary team (each team has at least ten long-term ELLs).  Since I had a three hour time block, we delved into WIDA ACCESS scores and Can Do descriptors. Then, I had each team refer back to their list and choose one long-term ELL student to focus on.  They filled out a student profile sheet and used the WIDA ACCESS scores and Can Do descriptors to create an academic goal for this student.

While many of the teachers admitted that they were not initially enthusiastic about the idea of spending their afternoon at a three hour professional development session, the feedback after the presentation was encouraging.  This hidden group is a little more on the forefront and teachers have reported that they have begun recommending these students for tutoring programs.  With any luck, the fortunes of these students will take a turn for the better in the near future.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Helping Every Student Succeed (Via an Act of Congress)

In case you have not heard the news yet, No Child Left Behind is officially dead.  In its' wake is a new education acronym, the ESSA or Every Student Succeeds Act. This Colorin Colorado blog post explains what this new laws means for English language learners.  If you scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, you will find information about an upcoming webinar on this topic.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


As we all know, vocabulary is a stumbling block for many English language learners.  I recently discovered Wordsift, an online tool that automatically picks out challenging vocabulary and generates a visual thesaurus.  Users also have the option of typing in individual words and getting the same results.  Check out the video below for more information.