Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bilteracy--what's your experience?

We recently began what will be a yearlong professional development ("we" being the ESL and dual language teachers in our county) about the aspect of teaching biliteracy, reading and writing in two languages within US classrooms. Although not an entirely new concept, our presenters and the authors of the book  Teaching for Biliteracy, Karen Beeman and Cheryl Urow formalize the idea of purposefully bringing two languages together in what is known as The Bridge--the formal comparison and contrast of languages.  (Fascinating stuff, personally!) 

They promote the idea of learning something well, with an outcome of only needing to learn something "once", no matter which language--and for me, that idea really gave me pause for reflection. 45 minutes of teaching a concept in Spanish should transfer as readily to English as if I'd spent 90. In turn, this flips scheduling a bit on its head since 45 min of Spanish + 45 min of English are as effective as 90 minutes of each!! What would you do with that extra 90 minutes?

I'd never considered my own instruction and my students' learning through that lens:  was/ am I teaching a concept solidly enough that they will NOT have to relearn it in their own language? If not, how can I change that to optimize their cross-linguistic strategies and transfer abilities? 

Academic oracy--students' ability to express themselves and their understanding of a variety of concepts, well. It is this, that is the essence of their successful biliteracy. As for success, it rarely comes without a struggle of some sort, but as Beeman quotes: "There are no mistakes, only approximations." And this, in the world of learning among languages, reminds us that each of their approximations has a reason behind it. Use those "mistakes" to inform your instruction and look upon your students with an "asset" (here's what they can do--how can I use that to leverage their learning) mentality rather than a "deficit" one. (they can't do this...)

Use content to generate bridges -- create anchor charts that are unit-based, laden with meta-linguistic elements, speech events with differing underlying cultural norms, etc. Make sure the students are GENERATING language as frequently as possible, and create codes (whether with colors, visual markers, specific spaces in the room) to simplify their mental gymnastics between languages.

Speaking of mental gymnastics, explicitly promote their cognitive flexibility--as bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural learners, our students are pretty darn amazing. We want them to listen, read, write, and speak at grade level, in both languages, ideally. How often do we promote their native language(s) in our classrooms? Perhaps some of you would love to debate the question: Why should we promote their native language in our classroom if they are in the United States? (I'd love to hear your comments below!)  Think, too, of how often your students are immersed in English. That percentage of time immersed in English (or not) has a tremendous impact on academics--so what are we doing to minimize that gap?

There are several strategies when teaching language, and the Language Experience Approach is one opportunity to approach reading, writing, listening, and speaking naturally. Oracy (speaking and listening), once again, the oft-neglected portion of our classes, is the cornerstone of literacy.
Oracy leads to literacy! 
Get students to generate language, teacher friends, and let us know your successes down below. Always wear your formative assessment cap, too--observe and listen--then mine that Big Data to inform your next steps.

Talk to us and please let us know how you honor what your biliterate/ bicultural/ bilingual students know? I'd love to hear from you.

(All #sketchnotes #edusketches were done by me, Wendi Pillars, so they are my photos.)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Read this to get ready for the new school year!

I just read an exciting announcement this morning--a new book on teaching English Language Learners is forthcoming in Spring 2016 by one of my favorite teacher-authors, Larry Ferlazzo. In case you haven't heard of him, he's a community organizer-turned teacher and his classes range from Newcomer ELLs to IB Theory of Knowledge. Talk about a range of learners and experiences!

This is why his books are such valuable resources. Personal classroom experience makes all the difference in practical academic books--and this one is no exception.  He addresses common classroom challenges--from teaching ELLs to classroom management and motivation, and turns them into practical, do-able lessons, complete with standards. His lessons include multimedia resources from his extensive blog and website, which every teacher should visit thanks to his many, many resources.

I really have NO idea when this man sleeps, and for him to churn out another book on the heels of this last one, well, he's on a roll. He has a LOT of ideas to share! And if it's at all similar to his other books, I plan on having a stash of sticky notes at the ready to help me take notes and plan my own lesson sequences.

I read his most recent book, Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners, as one of my academic book goals  this month, and I deeply appreciate it. Reading it has gotten my mind ready, excited, and full of ideas for the new year. Mr. Ferlazzo really has a bead on the pulse of what teachers need and want, and often solicits suggestions and ideas for his EdWeek Classroom Q&A column, and is one place he gleans common questions to respond to in this book.

If you're looking for resources and ideas that are backed up by research, and run the gamut from teaching students about goal-setting, physically active learners, and flow, to motivating readers and writers, this book is for you. How about classroom management, you ask? Absolutely. One of my favorite chapters is that of learning transfer. I realized I've never explicitly taught that before, nor did I know about Backward Reaching Transfer vs. Forward Thinking Transfer. Let me just say, I can't wait to teach my students to "Be Like James Bond!" (yep, you'll have to read it to learn about it!)

Happy reading!

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Modern-Day Alchemist Inspires With Peanuts


Normally, that sort of cry at a baseball game resonates only when you're actually in the mood to have some peanuts. Otherwise, it blends into the glorious background noises that comprise a gorgeous summertime evening of Durham Bulls baseball. One would think that amid the great hits, diving catches, and 6 or 7 foul balls hit into our seating section alone, that vendor cry would go unnoticed completely.

Not so at the Durham Bulls baseball field in Durham, North Carolina. Watch this man in action--20 seconds is all you need to understand his appeal--and his ability to divert attention from the main attraction.

Full disclaimer: I have never met this man, and know nothing of his story, but he's an icon at the park, and memorable beyond compare. I don't know his background or what his "day job" is, but I imagine he has a few tales to tell!

This man doesn't know his "clients" like I might know my students, but he engages and entertains, and models what I think of as "generosity of the spirit".  A modern-day alchemist, he tweaks what many might consider an ordinary job, to make his work extraordinary. Much of that extraordinariness (isn't that a word? :-) ) stems from his relational (as opposed to transactional, where others feel used) interactions, witnessed in how he ensures people feel valued in the process of achieving his results. ("PEANUTS!")

He creates participation through actions, simple though they appear. I see a man who is creating value for others, without costing the Durham Bulls an extra penny--an incredible skill in the 21st century. I see a man who has learned that the difference between ordinary and extraordinary lies not in the tangible things, or the structures, but with people. I see a man whose work is both inspired, and inspiring. And I am reminded once again, that relationships don't occur with organizations; instead relationships--hence, inspiration and value--occur with individuals.

As a teacher, I want to know how to develop the extraordinary in my students, as I strive to do so within myself.  So I ask myself: What are three small tweaks I can make that will improve my value to others? How can I invest in myself to better serve those in my life? How can I ensure I will never fail to try? Something special exists in all of us--how can I bring that out in others? What step can I take today toward my goal of developing the extraordinary?

Readers, what about you? How do you ensure that you provide value to others--without spending a single extra penny? How do you make sure the world is never again the same because you came this way?

And to the man who sells peanuts in an extraordinary way, thanks for the burst of inspiration.