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.