So we already know that we teach learners and not subjects. It is a tricky question when someone asks a teacher “What do you teach?” The answer is very simply “learners.” It is easy to think “social studies” or “math”… but it is always “learners” first. So something good to teach? You bet – our kids! Now what to teach and how to teach is a different question… In a world of canned curriculum and a sea of sailing ships of educational trends, it can be tough to decide if it is a trick or treat when it comes to knowing what is best for our kids (aka – learners).
Recently I had the privilege of attending the Minnesota English Learner Education Conference (MELEd) with colleagues from Marshall Public Schools. Some of you may be thinking “privilege” might be stretching the truth some, but it is so true! (I know; I know… I am completely addicted to learning. But would you want a teacher any other way?! 🙂 )
The sessions that I attended focused on best practices based on research to use in our teaching repertoire. One of the top sessions in my humble opinion was on the topic of differentiation for linguistically diverse students. Amy Faust Fraser, WIDA expert, shared with the attendees a variety of ways to differentiate for English learners considering the literacy domains of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. What was really great about this hands-on session was that differentiation helps to support English learners as well as all learners. One concrete example was how graphic organizers support the WIDA ELD (English Language Development) standards in our teaching. For example, the Venn Diagram allows learners to compare and contrast two entities. Ms. Fraser provided examples of incorporating the diagram into social and instructional language, the language of language arts, the language of mathematics, the language of science, and the language of social studies. It is more than just implementing an organizer. It is about appropriately matching it to the content, the language, and the learner.
Another great take-away from this session was creating a class portrait and student portraits using the WIDA Can Do Descriptors based on ACCESS scores – and knowing who our students are. EL teachers can collaborate with classroom teachers to provide a list of supporting strategies by the literacy domains (listening, speaking, reading, and writing). These portraits should include assets, contributions, and potential for learners. This provides insight for the teacher as well as the learner as it is important for each student to recognize strengths and challenges as well as help set personal goals.
Speaking of challenges and goals… Dr. Cari Maguire presented a session that discussed linguistic scaffolds for writing language objectives, highlighting expressive language. Basically, language objectives address how students are learning concepts considering the literacy domains: reading, writing, speaking, and listening while scaffolding provides learners with stepping stones to climb the hill of learning. The goal here is that teachers – whether EL teachers or classroom teachers – should be aware of more than the content of their teaching. We need to know how students are using their literacy skills to learn. Language objectives look something like this… “Learners will (active verb phrase) using (language target).” The more concisely we can state what learners are expected to do and how, the more learners will flourish in our classrooms. That is simply the trick to teaching – learnings flourishing in our classrooms – and it is a special treat when it happens for them all.
The conference highlighted many best practices based on research. I recommend it for any colleagues looking to learn more teaching English learners – and that’s no trick! 😉