The importance of self-reflection when teaching English learners
Monday, June 18, 2018
Schools all over the United States have released students and teachers for the summer break, and teachers are beginning to decompress from the hectic schedule of the school year. Hopefully, they are also taking some time to relax and spend time with loved ones.
During this break, it is critically important that teachers take some time to consider the school year that has just closed, and think about what worked in terms of educating English learners as well as what they might do differently next year to improve their instruction and improve the success of each child in their classrooms, including the English learners.
Perhaps the first step in reflecting on our practice is the recognition that as teachers, we are all in different places in our educational journey.
Each of us has had differing experiences in our lives that have led us to become teachers. We have differing areas of expertise, we are educated on different topics, and have varying levels of experience teaching specific grade levels, topics, and student populations.
This is not only normal, but should be celebrated as a wonderful and beautiful part of our lives and profession. We all continue to learn and grow on our journey of life.
With this variety of experience and knowledge, and as we work to continually improve our practice, we are bound to both have great successes during the school year as well as make some mistakes. In the reflection process, people often first turn to the errors, areas of needed growth, or to considering what they would do differently.
This is a natural part of being human. In fact, we may be hard-wired to consider and focus on our mistakes as a survival technique. We want to avoid those things that are painful or that may harm us.
However, when it comes to considering our professional practice, we need to carefully consider both what went well throughout the school ear, as well as consider what we might do differently.
What went well? How did you best meet the needs of your ELs?
Begin your reflection by considering what went well and how you met the needs of your students. Consider these successes in both general terms as well as specifics.
For example, what are some of the strategies that you tried this year that worked well with students? What activities were your students most excited about?
The strategies and activities that were fun and exciting for students, and, more importantly, which led to high levels of learning and academic success should be incorporated into instruction again next year!
Once you have considered the students in general, consider specific students.
What were the specific academic and linguistic needs that you were able to meet for this student? How were you able to do that? What information did you need to best meet this student’s specific needs?
What instruction did you provide to the student? What was your relationship to the student that facilitated deeper learning?
While no two students are alike, in considering the needs of specific students, you can apply the successful strategies you used to other students you work with in the future.
There is certainly some useful information when considering what worked with your English learners. To start, it is very helpful to learn and understand each student’s English proficiency level.
When students are identified as English learners, they take an assessment that helps to determine their language proficiency level. While one score does not tell everything about what a student knows in terms of language, it is a useful starting point. It is important to gain knowledge on what the language proficiency scores mean as well, so that you can interpret the score and plan instruction.
Because language proficiency assessments only provide one piece of information, you likely used formative and summative assessments to also determine the content and linguistic skills of the particular student you are considering. You likely looked at what the student was able to produce in class in terms of assignments and activities as well how well the student participated in class or partner discussions to help you determine the specific needs the student has.
Consider now which assessments and activities were most beneficial to you in terms of learning about your students. You may want to build those activities into your instruction early in the year to help you get to know the students in your classroom more quickly.
What would you do differently?
After you have considered and taken note of what went well in your classroom and helped to meet the needs of your students, consider what you might do differently. Just as you considered the strategies and activities that were helpful, useful, and engaging, consider those that did not work so well.
It may be that there were factors outside of your control that prevented success. When possible, anticipate these barriers and try to avoid them. Also, reflect on how the strategy or activity might be improved, or how you might make adjustments or modification in order to better serve your students.
Gathering data is a key aspect to meeting the needs of your English learners, and indeed all students. Who has access to and can share information about language proficiency regarding your students? You might consider being proactive in gathering this data, as all school professionals are buys and it may take some time to distribute needed information.
Consider what new knowledge and skills would be beneficial for you to acquire in terms of better meeting the needs of the English learners in your classroom. You may have determined that you would like to better learn to teach reading or writing to your English learner students, how to best meet the social emotional needs of your students, how to make your instruction more comprehensible to newcomer students, or any range of topics that may be of interest.
Having identified your needed areas of professional growth will both make it more likely that you are able to get support in those areas as well as help you start the year with goals that you can share with school administration.
Having reflected on both what worked to meet the needs of your students in general, as well as what worked for specific students, consider sharing helpful information with next year’s teachers.
As professionals, it is important that we communicate as much information as possible to other teachers in order to best meet the needs of our students. Just as doctors collaborate to share information with each other to best meet the needs of their patients, teachers can share information via a short letter or email to communicate the strategies and activities that were beneficial, as well as any anecdotal information that may be of use or assessment data you gathered throughout the year.
As you reflect on your practice and your students, take the time to talk about your reflections with other, trusted educators. Write down what was helpful and what you might want to change.
Set goals for what you want to accomplish for next year, and make a plan. Once you have a plan to meet the needs of your English learners, the next step will be to execute the plan!
Having a plan will help facilitate the execution of the plan and help you to continue to grow as an educator, and to better meet the needs of each of the children in your classroom.
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