Technology-Enhanced Instruction for English Learners

About a year and a half ago, I facilitated a one day workshop on behalf of Missouri’s Department of Education. Participating educators wanted to learn about how technology such as digital portfolios might enhance instruction for the English learners they worked with.

While I felt comfortable sharing about technologies could enhance instruction, I was less confident in how to apply these tools with English learners. In preparation, I reread a section in Regie Routman’s book Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners. She notes that I was not alone in my lack of confidence in this area.

All ELLs need to have high-level curriculum with expert scaffolding and sustained time to apply what they are learning, all done in a meaningful and relevant manner. Part of the problem is that many teachers are unsure about how to teacher ELLs. (299)

Additional research revealed the following four categories of instructional practices effective for English learners that also lend themselves well to technology integration:

  • Family Engagement
  • Scaffolded Learning Experiences
  • Representing and Celebrating Diversity
  • Community Partnerships

The group of teachers in Missouri appreciated the list, so maybe you will too! If you have additional suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

Family Engagement

“True engagement requires bidirectional and ongoing conversations where both teachers and parents share information the child’s learning.” (Tambyraja, 2017)

  • Share information about home literacy activities through a notification/announcements function of a digital portfolio (DP) tool. (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw)
  • Teachers can take a picture of a book to be sent home and post for those students, accompanied with ideas for families to explore it at home. (FreshGrade, Seesaw, Smore)
  • Encourage parents to use the DP parent app to email teacher (linked) about questions they have regarding their child’s reading progress, words that were tricky for them, etc to be used for future instruction. (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw)
  • Post a survey questions, asking parents to share favorite book titles in their home in the comments. (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw)
  • Send “interview” questions through DP for parents to ask their child to guide home reading.  (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw)
  • Have students reflect in DP about their current reading instead of a formal reading log, using video, audio, and/or text. (FreshGrade, Kidblog, Seesaw)

Scaffolding Literacy Experiences

“More than 80% of students’ reading comprehension test scores can be accounted for by vocabulary knowledge.” (Rasinski, Padak, and Newton, 2017) 

  • Provide multiple days at the beginning of a unit for students to read and immerse themselves in the focus for the study. (OverDrive, Kidblog, Biblionasium)
  • Offer a choice board in media to explore to build background knowledge around the topic of study. (QR Codes, YouTube, podcasts)
  • Include audio versions of selected texts so students can access literature they are interested in during the study. (Playaways, OverDrive, Audible)
  • Give students choice in a primary text to read during a unit of study, and facilitate a book club with guiding questions and discussions. (Google Classroom, Edmodo)
  • Document student discussions, both in small and whole groups, to prepare for future strategy instruction. (iPad, Apple Pencil, Notability; MacBook, Day One)

Representing and Celebrating Diversity

“No one story can represent an entire group.” – (Adichie, 2009) 

  • Have parents video record or write and share a story from their earlier lives. (Google Drive)
  • Record students reading a text aloud in both English and Spanish. (FreshGrade, Seesaw)
  • Read and record discussions of diverse literature in book clubs/literature circles. (FreshGrade, Seesaw)
  • Examine and organize your classroom library with students, focusing on the amount and quality of culturally-representative text. 
  • Maintain a wish list of culturally diverse books and share it with families regularly to purchase for the classroom. (Amazon, Google Site)
  • Develop a digital pen pal relationship with classrooms in other parts of the world. (Kidblog, ePals)
  • Create a bilingual book with audio, images, and text and share it online for a public audience. (Book Creator, Little Bird Tales)

Community Partnerships

“What we need…is an orientation toward service.” (Sobel, 1996) 

  • Create original content where students teach others life skills, such as how to speak Spanish or how to use a computer. (YouTube, Vimeo, Book Creator)
  • Bring in a local family from another country to speak about their culture and values to kickstart a geography or storytelling unit. (Smore, Remind)
  • Develop a community room for visitors to sit in and learn about the school’s mission, vision and beliefs, offering bilingual resources. (Google Translate, Smore)
  • Design advertisements for local businesses in both English and Spanish as a performance task for a unit on persuasive writing + economics. (Canva, Google Docs, MS Word, Pages)
  • Create a public service announcement (PSA) about a local problem, such as hunger or an environmental/safety issue. (iMovie, YouTube)
  • Assign volunteers to record themselves reading aloud selected literature via audio or video (Google Drive, Evernote, Vimeo)

References

Adichie, C. N. (2009). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story. TED Talk retrieved at https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

Rasinski, T., Padak, N. and Newton, J. (2017). The Roots of Comprehension. Educational Leadership. 74(5), 41-45. 

Sobel, D. (1996). Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education (No. 1). Orion Society.

Tambyraja, S. (2017), The Literacy Link. Literacy Today. 35(1), 12-13. 

Assessing and Celebrating School Culture #WSRA19

Below is a short article from my staff newsletter I wrote yesterday. We are the midway point of the school year, and I wanted to highlight our successes as a school culture by documenting evidence of our work in writing. I’ll be speaking more about this topic at the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention next week in Milwaukee. If you are also attending, I hope we are able to connect! -Matt

I’ve asked a few staff members for feedback about my plan for publishing To the Point every other week. My theory on this is that our communication as a staff, both formal and informal, is strong. Information shared seems to be frequent and accurate. That is a major reason for my staff newsletters which also helps with not having more than one short staff meeting a month.

This thinking became apparent as I have prepared for a session I am leading at the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention next week: “How to Build a Literacy Culture”. As I go through artifacts of our success and growth to present to others, I could confirm many indicators of a healthy and thriving school culture beyond only communication (these characteristics come from Literacy Essentials by Regie Routman). 

  • Trusting – We focus on our strengths first and follow through on our tasks before facilitating feedback about areas for growth.
  • Collaborative – Our different school teams work together to guide the school toward goals; instructional coaching is common.
  • Intellectual – We have thirteen shared beliefs about the reading-writing connection and reading to understand.
  • Responsible – The goals for the school are limited, focused, student-driven and clear, i.e. “A Community of Readers”. 
  • Equitable – We have high expectations for our students and provide additional support when necessary.
  • Joyful – Celebration and appreciation are interwoven in our interactions with each other and with the community.

It’s an honor to be able to highlight our collective work for others and share our journey toward success. Sustaining a school culture is an ongoing process that is far from perfect and is sometimes challenging. Yet the results we see with our students makes all the difference.

Building Trust

As I began reading Literacy Essentials by Regie Routman, I felt as though she were sitting in the room with me. Beginning the book with an entire chapter discussing trust and building relationships, I wondered how she knew what I needed to read at that moment. For me, this school year has been unlike any other. I began my eighteenth year of teaching as a reading specialist who couldn’t wait to begin co-teaching writing in first and fourth grade. And the students did not disappoint! Those two chunks of time in my day were by far my favorite parts.

Fast forward to the middle of December…I had my second hip surgery of the year in December and just like that, my job as a reading specialist and my excitement about writing was diminished. I began the long road to recovery and put my job on hold for almost five months! I returned to work in May and found just how much I had taken trusting relationships for granted. I walked back into a building that had not stopped while I was gone. Instead, things changed, people changed, and I had changed. It has not been an easy road to begin rebuilding relationships with staff and students.

I think that something I have learned through my experiences this year is that while trust can be destroyed in the blink of an eye, it takes much, much longer to build a trusting relationship. Regie states, “When we feel personally and professionally valued, we are apt to be happier, more productive, and more likely to take risks as teachers and learners” (p. 10). How true! Coming back into a culture where I had not been for so long made it feel like I was invisible to the staff for a while.

I love that Regie give some simple suggestions on ways to build relationships with all involved in the school community. And one of the biggest suggestions that stood out to me was kindness. Seem simple, right? I find myself saying, “Be kind!” in all aspects of my life but sometimes I think it is hard to take our own advice. Reading this first chapter made me rethink how I approached each day, and I truly tried to focus on the kindness that I could spread to others. From the simple hellos when seeing someone to asking about his or her day to giving a hug when it was needed!

I think one of my favorite ideas from this chapter has to do with passion. Find your passion and run with it. Help students find their passions and use that passion to guide them on the road to learning. One final thought…as I walked down the hall taking two students to my classroom, a third student chased me down the hall to ask if she could come with me today. Umm…of course! She actually wanted to come spend time reading and writing with me. What a wonderful reminder of the trusting relationship I have created with this student.

This post is part of a book study around Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners by Regie Routman (Stenhouse, 2018). Check out more resources associated with the text at this website (https://sites.stenhouse.com/literacyessentials/), including a free curriculum for teaching an undergraduate course using Literacy Essentials.

Is joy the main event at your school?

When we work in a school, especially at this time of year, we all have much to think about and do. It is easy to get lost in the ‘to-do’ lists and lose track of the ‘why we became educators’ in the first place.

Now is the perfect time to pause.

When we pause to celebrate all that is around us, it refuels our minds, bodies and hearts so that we can walk these final steps with joy. In the final weeks of school it is more important than ever to pick joy back up. We can use joy to energize and focus our final opportunities of this year and guide our planning into next year.

Some of you may be deeply sighing and thinking, yes! While others are thinking joy sounds nice but come on, what does joy in our schools really mean? Thankfully Regie Routman offers some practical actions in her latest book Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence and Equity for All Learners (2018).

Routman remains steadfast in her commitment towards joy in her new book. She reminds us:

“Joy is the main event. In my work in schools, the main reasons the teachers and principals “buy in” is not because test scores go up – and they do – and  not because kids become better readers and writers – which they do. It’s because the work and the learning are so joyful for students, teachers and principals.”

When thinking about creating and maintaining joyful schools, Routman suggests three main leverage points: the physical environment, the social-emotional environment, and the intellectual environment.

 The Physical Environment

 The physical spaces in our schools, or ‘The Third Teacher’, can “add a sense of order, comfort, and calm that can make engagement, productivity and enjoyment more likely” (Routman, 2018, p. 40). What do you see when you intentionally look around and analyze your physical space? How does this change when you invite a new set of eyes to look with you? When we invite students, parents and/or colleagues to walk and talk with us and share their impressions of our learning spaces, we have the opportunity to see our spaces through new eyes.

Start at the front door of your school. Wander through your shared learning spaces and your classrooms asking what beliefs and learning are made visible. What is the culture reflected in your physical environment? How does your physical environment support the beliefs you collectively hold and are working towards?

In my work with teachers I have used this Literacy-Rich Classroom Discussion Guide to analyze school-wide learning spaces and open up dialogue. Teachers feel good about celebrating what is already in place and are usually open to choosing one area to approach with more intention. As educators, we can feel joyful about designing intentional learning spaces that invite students to engage with literacies in new ways.

The Social-Emotional Environment

 Routman’s attention to both students and staffs’ social-emotional learning felt like a warm hug when I read her words. This is a tough time of year for educators and it is important we take care of ourselves as we care for our students. I felt her suggestion to ‘take back time’ was an important one at this time of year. We have precious days left so we need to make sure they count. Take the five minutes you need to recharge – be it through a quick chat with a colleague or a quiet walk outside at lunch. As educators it is important to take care of our own social-emotional state with the same commitment and care we offer each day to our students.

One caution Routman (2018) reminds us is that, “it’s easy to organize our classrooms to fit our own needs and personal styles and to forget what it was like to be a child… “ (p. 52). If you are a leader, take the time to check in with staff and see what they need to finish the year with success. For those who teach in the classroom, consider how you might open up opportunities to check in with your students. Sometimes it’s as simple as standing at the school or classroom door and bookending the day with a smile, the question “How are you?”, and a pause to let them know you really care about their answer.

 The Intellectual Environment

 Sometimes joy and serious learning are mistakenly considered in opposition to each other. An intellectual environment is a key component in joyful literacy environments – “Joy comes from the celebration we do of teachers’ and students’ strengths and efforts” (Routman, 2018). In my work with educators, we have scheduled year-end meetings with celebration as our key focus. Scheduling time to reflect on professional learning and student learning has been a gift. Make time to celebrate with your learning community – trust me, the stories invite laughter, tears of joy and provide the energy to take us through the final steps of this school year. The joyful stories also provide us with tangible first steps when planning for next year’s success.

For students, engagement comes from a culture that “kids can sense is real and true” (Ripley, 2013, cited by Routman, 2018, p. 60). Our final days of learning need to be our most intellectually engaging. Plan lessons that you cannot wait to explore with your students. Fill your shelves and your read aloud times with new books to keep your students reading and talking. Consider your last weeks together as a school version of an advent calendar. Every day can become an exciting opportunity when we decide it will be. This includes time to nurture and follow our students and our own passions, as well as ‘relaxing our grip’ and just enjoying the learning time we have in our final moments of this school year.

I want to end this post with a special thank you to Regie Routman for her continued commitment to joyful literacy and providing practical suggestions for leaders and teachers in her book Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence and Equity for All Learners (2018). Regie continues to be a light that helps me find my footing when I stumble.

Thinking about joyful literacy and your own experiences, what can you add to this post? How do you make sure joy remains the main event at your school?

This post is part of a book study around Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners by Regie Routman (Stenhouse, 2018). Check out more resources associated with the text at this website (https://sites.stenhouse.com/literacyessentials/), including a free curriculum for teaching an undergraduate course using Literacy Essentials.

Literacy Essentials: A Video Introduction with Regie Routman @StenhousePub #litessentials

We are kicking off our book club with a video from Regie Routman, author of the text we will be reading and responding to together: Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellent, and Equity for All Learners (Stenhouse, 2018).
 

Next are titles for upcoming posts here related to Regie’s excellent resource.

  • How can we create a community of readers?
  • Why celebrating with our students is worth it
  • Agency in the Classroom
  • Inviting students into learning: Literacy-rich learning spaces
  • Expert Teaching through Frontloading
  • How can reading conferences work in math?

This online book study is open to all educators. We encourage readers to respond in the comments to posts and create a conversation around this professional learning.

Recommended Additional Resource: Angela Watson: A Conversation with Regie Routman

Building a Literacy Culture – a @StenhousePub Blog Series #litessentials

 

When I am not blogging, it usually means I am on a tech sabbatical, on vacation (I wish!), or working on a writing project. Lately, I have been reading and enjoying Regie Routman’s new resource Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All LearnersLike Regie’s previous work, this book is a necessary text for any teacher of literacy (see: you).

As a way for me to connect with and reflect upon the ideas in Literacy Essentials, I have written three articles for Stenhouse’s blog. They describe the importance of building a literacy culture, addressing the elements of trust, communication, and relationships. You can read the first two posts by clicking here and here. Look for the third post on the Stenhouse blog in the near future.

Reading Literacy Essentials, it could almost be called “Life Essentials”. Regie mixes research and practice with personal stories as a wife, parent, grandparent, friend, and unique individual. She offers suggestions for becoming a better teacher and a more interesting person. Joy can be had in the classroom and in life; they are not mutually exclusive. This makes Regie’s new book essential reading for all educators.

Literacy Essentials