April 2015 - Down River Resources
"No matter how much success you're having, you can't continue working together if you can't communicate." -Matt Cameron
Howdy, friends.
I greatly appreciate you joining me again as I continue to share my knowledge on the components of sheltered instruction. This is another installment in my new blog series. In the event, you missed last week's blog on making text accessible, click here.
We must teach students how to "be nice" and cooperate in our classrooms, but teaching them how to socially interact also helps the English language learner process new information too!
When planning for peer interactions, there are several key components we must remember. It is within these interactions that our students learn and grow, especially in their oral communication skills. The phrase "use it or lose it" helps us understand learning a second language. If we do not practice the language, it is difficult to maintain, much less improve.
It is important to provide frequent opportunities for students to interact with one another engaging in the content presented during the duration of a lesson. This is very difficult when first applying this to your practice, as it is natural for the teacher to do most of the talking. (Trust me, it was a hard habit to break, but keep pushing forward!)
Other than providing multiple opportunities to process content, we must be considerate as to how the students are grouped. Is this a whole group time during the lesson? If so, how can I build in opportunities for a "Turn and Talk?" It is important that we vary the groups to provide various linguistic examples for our students.
Once we have planned frequent opportunities to communicate in various groupings, we must also consider the appropriate amount of wait time a student is allowed for processing the information and their answer. I often see teachers overlooking this aspect in lessons. Teachers often generate a response or they call on the student who is ALWAYS raising their hand. (Guilty as charged!)

School districts often have policies in place to provide teachers with direction with ESL/ELL or Dual Language programs. For instance, all science instruction in my district is taught in 100% English, regardless of the grade or the students' arrival to the United States. Clarifying key concepts in the students' native language is not an option for me, but could be at your district.
By encouraging your students in peer interactions, you are allowing students to have a deeper understanding of the content. I do not feel that I had a very good grasp at peer interactions until this year. A few months ago, instructional specialists from the district were in my classroom daily. They were watching my practice, but also providing feedback. Increasing peer interactions was my goal through the process and I can say that it has greatly improved student achievement in my classroom. It did take another set of eyes to help me see the areas for improvement. We are all on a journey!
I hope you find these tips useful! Look for more on peer interactions in the future.
Happy Planning!

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” -Albert Einstein   
Howdy, friends!
I greatly appreciate you joining me again as I continue to share my knowledge on the components of sheltered instruction. This is another installment in my new blog series. In the event, you missed last week's blog on focusing on the language, click here.
Have you ever began choral reading and the class is barely murmuring? This has happened to me many times, especially as a new teacher. The students start off strong with the word "the" and then slowly taper off as the text becomes very content-specific with complex words.
Text is often times too difficult for English language learners to read and comprehend, but "watering down" the text is not the this answer to this issue. We must find ways as teachers to make the text and other resource materials accessible for all students so that all of the content concepts are left intact.
We can start activating students' prior knowledge as discussed a few blog posts ago and using some of the strategies lists below. I love emphasizing the main components of text before reading, including the author, illustrator, and the clues the illustrator gives us about the text on the front cover.
As we begin to read text, I want my students to understand the text and have metacognition as we go along. Metacognition is something that teachers learned in college, but I do not see students learning this skill in the classroom. I like to give my students the example of sitting and church. Often times, the priest or the pastor is talking our minds wander off. It is hard to focus. (Any kiddo that has been to church, can identify with this!) When our mind wander off, we are not thinking about our thinking.
In reading, we must often "STOP AND THINK!" I tell my students that after a few sentences or at the end of the paragraph, we need to "Stop and think!" (I hold out my hand like a stop sign and point to my head while saying this! It gives the kids some visual support as to my expectation!)
After reading, there are so many things we can do to help students process the text. I wrote down one strategies for the two text types: informational and literary.
My favorite strategy that I like to use when making text accessible whether in a book or an anchor chart is the quick sketch. I am not nearly up to the standards of many of my peers in their sketching abilities...but I do try my best and no stick figures are aloud...though my people often go without their necks.
I have used the Quick Sketch in my kindergarten, first, second, and fifth grade classroom and it truly has a place for all students, especially the English learner. In second and fifth grades, I would teach my students to draw a quick sketch that summarizes the paragraph so when answering comprehension questions they can look at the margins for clues as to where the information is. If you are taking a state test, this can save a lot of time! Students do not have to reread the entire passage! This is a big benefit for timed tests! 

I hope you are enjoying this blog series as much as I am! It reminds me how many little things teachers do for help all of their students. I often say that teachers have a toolbox full of their go-to strategies.  It is my hope that through this blog you can add another to your toolbox!
Thank you for your continued commitment to your students, especially your English language learners.
Happy Reading!
For more on sheltered instruction, check out my other posts.
Background Knowledge
Meaning with Realia
Focusing on Language
"The limits of my language are the limits of my world." -Lugwig Wittgenstein
Howdy, friends.
I greatly appreciate you joining me again as I continue to share my knowledge on the components of sheltered instruction. This is another installment in my new blog series. In the event, you missed last week's blog on supporting meaning with realia, click here.
Have you ever heard of the distinguished Robert J. Marzano, PhD? If so, you know he is a guru in education. If not, he is a leading researcher in modern education and has written over 30 books and 150 articles. (I only have 148 articles left to tie this accomplishment!) Marzano and fellow researcher, Isabel L. Beck has helped us understand direct vocabulary instruction better (2002).
The biggest question is...
First, let's look at how these educational researchers classify words. Vocabulary words are designated into three tiers of as shown below. The higher the tier, the more complex the words become. I think of my one year old nephew versus my college-bound cousin, Tier 1 to Tier 3 respectively.
In their research, they found that Tier 1 words are easily acquired for most native speakers, but our English language learners have difficulty. It is suggested that these basic words need to be taught directly to the students. 
When planning our lessons, it becomes essential that we are aware of our students and their backgrounds to make sure that they have all of the vocabulary necessary to learn the content. I look at three things specifically: the language function (often found in the content objective--in Texas, this is my TEKS and most elsewhere, the CCSS), the content vocabulary, and the language structure. See the example below as I focus on the language as I plan for a subunit of Force and Motion in my kindergarten classroom:
Now that I have a plan as to how I will focus on language during my science instruction, I can make sure that my students have the language necessary to master the content. I need to be mindful that many of the objects we will use to explore this concept will not be known the students, these will be my Tier 1 words. I can include realia as we discussed last week, in my lesson so the students can tie the meaning of the word to an object, photograph, or illustration.
When we FOCUS ON LANGUAGE, we must consider how we are going to approach this during the instructional day. Two of my favorite ways to focus on the language include word walls and sentence stems/frames. Both of these strategies are seen often in the research of best instructional practices, but are often underutilized.
I think of a sweet colleague of mine, whose words were faded on her word wall as she built it the first year it was a requirement (let's just say 2010, for practical purposes) and she never took it down after that year, you know, 2010. The word wall was not built with the students, nor was it used a scaffold for learning. I completely get it, it HAS to be up on the wall....but it is not serving a purpose, just meeting a requirement!
I prefer an easily accessible word wall, including the word and a picture (added to and referred to often), and oral and written sentence frames/stems to help them generate responses to question prompts. At the bottom of this chart, I wrote the sentence frame that we would be using to share our conclusions after an outdoor investigation on texture. I highlighted our sight words: the and is. I also wrote the four texture words, we were learning including: rough, hard, soft, and smooth. Notice my illustrations under the words for additional support.
These are just a few of the ways that I plan for language. Whether or not you are big into the research or you just want to improve the learning in your classroom, we must focus on language if we expect students to have mastery of the content we are teaching. What are some ways you focus on language?
Happy Planning!
For more on sheltered instruction, please check out my other posts.
Background Knowledge
Meaning with Realia

Howdy, friends.
I appreciate you joining me again as I share my knowledge on the components of sheltered instruction. This is another installment in my new blog series. In the event, you missed last week's blog on activating background knowledge and creating shared experiences with your students, click here.
I want to share with you more information on how to involve students in their learning. A new buzz word I want you to learn is realia.
Educators use the word realia (pronunciation ree-ah-lee-ah) when describing the objects from real life used in classroom instruction to improve students' understanding. Teachers of English Language Learners employ its use to strength students' associations between academic vocabulary words and the objects themselves, hence another way we bride the academic gap.
These language learners make more rapid progress in mastering content objectives when they are given multiple opportunities to practice with realia. In my school district (West Texas), we are often immersed with the idea of students have concrete (2-D if you will) practice before they apply the concept in an abstract way (3-D if you will). I will be completely honest, I have never once heard where this learning theory came from or what training it was originally discussed at, but it made it way into the casual conversations at many afterschool trainings.
In my preparation for this blog series, I tracked down this idea in learning theory. David Kolb, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Case Western Reserve University, is credited with launching the learning styles movement in the early seventies.
<a href="//www.pinterest.com/pin/create/button/" data-pin-do="buttonBookmark"  data-pin-shape="round" data-pin-height="32"><img src="//assets.pinterest.com/images/pidgets/pinit_fg_en_round_red_32.png" /></a>
There are four main steps in the experiential learning model are as follows:
  • Concrete experience (feeling): Learning from specific experiences and relating to people. Sensitive to other's feelings.
  • Reflective observation (watching): Observing before making a judgment by viewing the environment from different perspectives. Looks for the meaning of things.
  • Abstract conceptualization (thinking): Logical analysis of ideas and acting on intellectual understanding of a situation.
  • Active experimentation (doing): Ability to get things done by influencing people and events through action. Includes risk-taking.

    Kolb describes that experiential learning has six main characteristics as seen in the photograph above.
    The component we are focusing on, supporting meaning with realia, is emphasized in the second and fifth characteristics. Learning is a continuous process grounded in experiences. We need to use real-life objects to support student learning.
    Often times, concepts studied in schools focus on objects we do not have access to bring into the classroom. For instance, as we study organisms in the winter season, we have a unit on penguins. I am not able to bring in a penguin for the students to experience so I bring in a colored photograph of a penguin. This helps the students conceptualize the organism, before applying abstract thinking.
    Having transactions between the learners and the environment, Kolb says, is also important in experiential learning. When exploring texture in our physical properties of matter unit, it is significant that students are touching different types of materials. This transaction helps have understanding of the topic.
    Realia, it may be a new word for you, but I know it is not a new practice! What is your favorite way of supporting meaning with its use? Let me know and comment below.
    Happy Supporting!

    Back to Top