Preparing to more effectively teach English learners next year
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
As the school year wraps up for many teachers this month, we begin the process of relaxing and rejuvenating so that we can be ready to start the new school year with a fresh group of students.
Many, if not most, teachers also begin thinking about and preparing for the next school year as the summer progresses. There are multiple ways that we can better prepare for our incoming students, even as we take time to be with family and friends and recharge.
When we do, it helps to make the beginning of the school year go more smoothly, and helps us to start the year in a more relaxed manner as we are better prepared to meet the needs of our students.
Consider the following strategies and ideas to incorporate into your summer plans to be better prepared for your English learners.
Perhaps the first strategy that we should employ is a simple yet powerful one: reflection. As teachers, during the school year we have very few opportunities to take time to reflect on our instruction and our practice.
Begin your summer by taking time to reflect on last school year: what went well? How do you know, or what evidence do you have of your instruction or practice going well? Keep these strategies and practices in place. If your students were successful, then what you did worked!
After that, reflect on those areas, topics, or strategies that were challenging. What didn’t work very well? What might you do differently in order to make those practices more effective? The reflection process should include both our general instructional practices and management practices, as well as our topics and units of study.
Keep the units in place that are powerful and successful. Consider the units that were more challenging, or did not have as high a level of success, and how you might revise or adjust those particular units.
Yearlong and Unit Planning
After reflecting on your instruction, consider the scope and sequence of the units of study you have in place. If you do not have a scope and sequence in place, or it needs adjustment and revision, summer can be a great time to relook at your year plan.
Consider, for example, the particular standards that students had success with and the standards that were challenging for students.
For those standards that students found success with, keep the unit and instruction in place. If there are standards that students found challenging to master, carefully consider if there are other places the standard could be integrated across the curriculum or into other units of study.
Many standards will take multiple teaching and practice opportunities to be mastered. Look for those opportunities during the summer months so that instruction can be planned with the areas of need in mind.
Unit and even lesson planning can also be done in summer, especially as we consider the areas that need additional work to make the concepts comprehensible for students. For example, we may find materials to support and scaffold the unit of study that will be helpful, such as pictures, alternative text, sentence frames, and hands-on activities to make the abstract concrete.
These materials can all help to make instruction more comprehensible to students and help them to gain deeper understanding of the lesson concepts.
Review the ELD Standards
If you are not familiar with the English language development standards for your state, summer can be a great time to take a look and dig into them. Look for how the standards already align with your practice, and where the standards naturally fit into your instructional units.
As you engage in unit planning, look for opportunities to naturally emphasize and embed the standards into your units of instruction. Students can always benefit from opportunities to increase academic discourse; have students talk to each other utilizing academic language and vocabulary from the unit of study.
Additionally, emphasize particular reading and writing standards as possible and practical. Opportunities to have students write opinion or argument pieces, informative pieces, and narrative writing pieces can and should be integrated wherever it makes sense.
Look up the specific English language development standards for your state. In addition, you may want to look at the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) standards and resources. WIDA standards serve a consortium of states, and the standards and resources provided are excellent.
Some of these materials, such as the “CAN DO Descriptors” ae applicable to other state standards and classroom situations. Similarly, the ELPA21 standards serve 11 states, and have helpful information and as great resources that may be of help to you as you review your particular ELD standards.
Talk to Last Year’s Teacher(s)
Most teachers talk with the previous year’s teacher to discuss individual students and the incoming class. However, some teachers do not have the opportunity to tak to the previous year’s teacher, for a variety of reasons.
It may be that they changed schools, or it may be that they are at another campus that students are transitioning to. In these cases, it can be beneficial for districts to facilitate a time when teachers can meet for a short period of time to discuss incoming students.
An additional, powerful strategy to employ is reviewing the students’ cumulative files. Once you know the specific students in your class, reviewing their individual cumulative folders can provide invaluable information.
The cumulative file generally holds information about the student’s school history, and may include information about the student’s progress in school, language proficiency level, and more.
Look for PD Opportunities, Including Online Courses and F2F Workshops
There are a variety of professional development opportunities that are available to educators, often offered from individual school districts, from county offices of education or from national organizations. These opportunities can be extremely valuable to take in the summer, as we continue our learning journey.
In the summer, the pressure of managing and planning for our absence from the classroom can be daunting and challenging. We have a bit more time to learn about a variety of topics in a more calm and focused way, as we do not have the pressure of immediately going back to the classroom.
Online courses are another great opportunity in the summer. Numerous companies offer interesting courses on numerous topics related to teaching English learners.
Look specifically for those areas of interest to you or are areas of need. Think back to the reflection you did on what worked well and what needed adjustment. Look for PD in the areas that your students were not as successful in.
Additionally, consider the instructional practices that benefit English learners. For example, topics such as teaching reading and writing to English learners, providing comprehensible input, activating prior knowledge and building background knowledge, and increasing academic discourse are all examples of potential topics that, when integrated into our instruction, can benefit English learners.
Taking Time to Relax and Rejuvenate
Perhaps most importantly, take some time to relax, have fun, and replenish this summer!
Spend time with family and friends, enjoy nature, read a book, go someplace you have never been. Taking a bit of time for ourselves, perhaps to go on vacation, to relax, and to mentally decompress, will help us to return to school with a renewed focus, and ready to meet the needs of each of our students.
While we cannot prepare for every possible scenario that will come to us next year, with a bit of summer planning and preparation, we can better prepare ourselves for a successful year of teaching.
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