Tuesday, February 24, 2015

ELLs and the Common Core: Cross-post from EdWeek

Response: ELLs & The Common Core - Part One

(This is the first post in a two-part series on this topic)
An educator who wishes to remain anonymous asked:
The CCSS hold a big challenge for ESL teachers, but at the same time, give us the freedom to choose appropriate materials, strategies, etc. So my question is: How can the school/administration make sure that these ELLs are getting quality (services) education?
Wendi Pillars has taught language learners in ESL/ EFL for 18 years, in grades K-12, both stateside and overseas. She is a member of the CTQ Collaboratory and serves on the leadership team for the Teacher Leadership Initiative as a cohort Facilitator:
Before considering how to address CCSS with ELLs, above all, invest in the time and effort to get staff and colleagues on the same page and realize each others' strengths--because in-house support for curricular shifts is irreplaceable. Working together to understand the rationale behind CCSS and inviting dialogue about its implementation and desired impact for your school are crucial next steps for success.
Administrators, once discussion is on the table, your role is to encourage teachers to try new things, to take risks, and to veer from the "way it's always been done." If teachers don't believe you have their backs, they're going to default to their old norms, the comfort zone. Some aspects of CCSS will be considered "disruptive" with measures of learning not effectively determined by any multiple choice assessment. Transparency and support must be available. Teachers will feel an incredible pull between multiple choice testing results (aka, teaching to the test) vs recommended assessments based in writing, presentation, argumentation, and instructional strategies like document-based questioning or project-based learning.
For teachers new to CCSS, this may be a tremendous change. For others, not so much. The key point here is to delve into CCSS together, and support the deep exploration of each standard. Compare CCSS to the "old" standards and show them how much they're already familiar with. Have honest discussions about areas of dissent, especially in light of the media onslaught. Having staff well-informed is priceless, particularly when they are the ones explaining it to parents.
Then take what's new (may be different for each individual) and prioritize a focus area in each of a language learner's domains--reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Emphasize the fact that each domain is represented for a reason, and that ALL learners will benefit from explicit instruction in each area. It's important to keep scaffolded and differentiated instruction and assessment at the crux/ core of any discussion--specific examples of what scaffolding/ differentiating standards look like in action provide a valuable hook for teachers' own practices. The more grades and proficiency levels exemplified, the better.
Discuss ways to emphasize explicit vocabulary instruction and what literacy looks like in all content areas. Then, together, in grade level teams or content areas, plan as many ways as possible for students to generate knowledge and express what they know. Discuss what success will look like for this work, and create common feedback and grading plans.
Having this type of CCSS foundation among your staff, while fostering the relationships so necessary for collaboration among specialists and content teachers, is critical to the success of CCSS--whether it's for ELLs or non-ELLs.
The thing is, taking the time to learn what CCSS is, how its implementation can benefit your students, and working as a school team to develop common approaches for instruction, output, and assessments, are all investments that demand time, thoughtful intent, and a holistic vision. No one said it would be easy, but you certainly can't expect teachers to go this one alone and get it right.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

How learning impacts the brain (Student guest post!)

Today I'm publishing the first post from one of my ESL students--his first essay this semester. We have practiced pulling evidence from the text, using academic vocabulary, and supporting main ideas with details. JCM completed his essay today, and here is his first "published" work. Please do leave comments for him!

Without further ado....

“How learning impacts the brain”
                                                      By: JCM
 Learning impacts the brain by helping you build up your intelligence. This is done by the process of tiny nerve cells called neurons that grow as you learn more stuff everyday. Many people think that on how much you learn it shows if you are “smart” or “dumb”. No one is born being smart or dumb, you have to develop it while you are growing. According to the article, You can grow your intelligence, “At first, no one can read or solve equations. But with practice, they can learn to do it.”.
 The brain is like a muscle because you can make it grow and get it stronger by exercising it, by practicing something to be better at it or learning something new. The brain doesn’t actually grow in size, what grows are the neurons that are inside the brain. The neurons have tiny branches connecting with other neurons and they just connect with even more cells while you are practicing or learning things. The brain cells communicate even more when they connect with alot more cells and that is what allows us to think and do things easily, with lots of practice of course.
 The data from the scientists shows that the environment of animals and children can make their brains stronger or weaker. They studied animals that lived in bare cages and animals that lived with other animals and toys. The bare caged animals had less neuron connections than the other animals that lived with other ones, they could solve more easily a challenge. The scientists also studied babies brains until they grew 6 years old. It showed that when they were older, their neurons had a lot more connections and communicated more. It was easier for them now to read or solve problems. I agree that the brain can get weak or strong because I stopped going to school and read less, so now it is more difficult for me to read or solve tough problems. So now I’m going back to school and going to try now to read more and study hard.You know what people say,” Use it or lose it!’. So let’s try to use our brain to be smarter, because it is going to help us in the future, to solve challenges in life as we live, and to have the brain always active.