Category Archives: standards

Mountains in Many Languages

How do you say that in your language?

As more of our students move away from the “Entering” level of WIDA’s English Language Development scale and move toward “Developing,” we need to up the ante.

Our class is all about oral proficiency.

IMG_0487When students can start to express themselves in English, they can start to make use of something we in the ELL world call transfer–when they are able to move knowledge gained in their first language to knowledge in the new language.

It’s not something that always happens automatically; if it did, we could all be able to quickly move from babbling on like children to having academic conversations in a second language as soon as we had the words and grammar structures to express ourselves fully. Yet we see it all the time: well-educated students who start school in the United States and find everything–EVERYTHING–so hard to do.

And many of us have experienced it ourselves: I may know all the words for buying tickets in another language, but every time I go to a country where I’m not relying on English, I get a little confused and nervous about the transactions. Even going to Great Britain or Canada can put one off a bit: The circumstance, the currency, the math, the geography, the background knowledge we have around purchasing tickets–all that cannot be trusted anymore and makes the task that much harder.

So what we can do as teachers is to show students that they do have that language base, and that by practicing, the task will get easier.

We are now in quarter 4, and it’s a bit late to try to transfer students into new classes, even if there were room in the courses where we would put them. We only have five days each left of blue and white days on the block schedule. This is a time for wrapping up the year rather than to start afresh.

But these students have grown beyond our survival English class. They are ready to take on the world NOW. So we’ve decided to launch into a geography unit to prepare them for one of their classes next year. The social studies teacher says one of the most difficult parts of the course is to get them to memorize landforms and biomes.

Two weeks ago, my partner teacher and I went to a SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education) conference with Helaine Marshall and Andrea DeCapua in Massachusetts. There, we learned about the Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm, or MALP.  At the link here, you can download a copy of the checklist. But basically it comes down to this:

  • Making the lesson relevant
  • Maintaining interconnectedness
  • Incorporating Shared and Individual accountability
  • Scaffolding written word through oral interaction
  • Incorporating tasks that require academic thinking
  • Making tasks accessible through familiar language

Because our class is oral, I’ve focused on that to begin with. And this has backing from the realm of brain-based learning as well. Janet Zadina cautions teachers against focusing on lecture alone:

Too often we study just by repeating the receptive pathway; firing and wiring it, by having students see or hear the material repeatedly. That is not very effective. We want students to activate their neural network and recreate, reassemble, and retrieve the information.–Dr. Janet Zadina

So here’s the plan:

We’ve been asking our class to find pictures of words on their ipads. Then we ask them to find that in their own countries and share that picture in a file. The ones below were the ones the shared with me of “mountains.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As soon as we got those photos together, we asked for an artist to make a picture of a IMG_0488mountain and for everybody else to write–if they knew–the word for “mountain” in their own language.

Here’s what we got.

Not bad, huh?

So the one thing that’s missing from this is the academic task. We will learn  how to define terms in English. Categorizing. Such a huge skill. Then, I think I’m going to ask them to create their own flashcards or their own display, perhaps using Animoto, Thinglink or Explain Everything.

The coolest thing about this unit, though, is that students are chatting each other up. The boat picture at the top of the post? The one in the lake? They had to ask me what that was, then they shared words for that. There are some languages in our classroom, Burmese and Karen, for example, that are very close and share words. And sometimes Arabic and Somali can have some similarities in how the words are pronounced.

It’s so wonderful to see them stretching themselves, but most of all, to see them reaching across language subgroups.

It’s a beautiful thing.


Connecting over distances


While we were at a conference to learn about Students with Limited or Interrupted Schooling (SLIFE), our students were working on opposites, connecting with us via email and messaging, and describing selves and family members.

They didn’t quite get to families, but we are well on our way. And the fact that we got anything while a sub was there–our first real sub of the year, where neither of us was in the room–is quite impressive.

Kudos to Carolyn for pulling it off, honestly.

Opposites are so important when learning how to describe. We so often describe ourselves by not only physical features but how we separate ourselves from others. We did this using a framing app. Not the best I’ve ever used. So I’ll keep looking for one that is easy to navigate.

He is tall; I am short. I am big; she is little…

We’re so good at categorizing in English, putting things into boxes…

We’re going to start using Animoto as we move forward. It’s a fun website and app, and it’s easy to use. With students just beginning to learn English, it’s well-suited for using sentence frames and gives enough choice that students can create slideshows that look vastly different, even if they are all using the same sentences. It helps us meet that graduate expectation of creativity, which is so hard at this level. Since they are limited by the words they know, they have to be given other avenues for choice and voice.

The one here is an example of an Animoto video.

And now… VACATION!

Counter-remedy to testing… BREATHE!

Today, we had to give a common assessment in writing.

It is SO frustrating when you don’t have a whole lot of language for someone suddenly to say, “Write!” And then for you to have nothing to write about, because you don’t really know what this person wants.248x249xcmlnewlarge-300x300.png.pagespeed.ic.whX9LpOZe_

I’ve been thinking, though, this morning about how we might be able to use theater games to make our pain lessen… But that’s a post for another day.

After putting our students through torture, I left to see what was going on in Kevin Cross’s class. Where we did torture again. But I was sent an audio file after class was over.

One aspect of the mindfulness work that we are doing with Center for Mindful Learning is to get students to lead. We need to make them speak individually and to understand and own the task. So today, it sounds like what they did was breathe. And perhaps, after such an amazingly difficult task, that is exactly what they should have done.

I talked to Suzy after class, and she told me that the mindfulness work they did was just as challenging as the writing we did–just in a different way.

First, they did some positive talk. “Can you relax for five minutes?” Answer: “Yes, I can.”

After that, they tried to focus and concentrate on being relaxed for five minutes. Suzy said the atmosphere in the classroom went from being antsy and jittery to a really calm calm feeling. Lindsay was talking them through it, asking if they were staying focused, letting them know that if they weren’t, it was OK. They could find that focus again.

Afterwards, they talked about how hard it was, measuring with their hands. They put their hands close together to show it was easy for them, far apart if it was hard.

Suzy said as a teacher, it was difficult to NOT worry about managing behaviors. For her, it was not an easy task.

So we all have stuff to work on. And sometimes, it’s just giving up that bit of control. Wanna join us?

Take a minute or three.

Sit up straight.


URL? Link? What?

Oh my.

This is some pretty complicated stuff…

I want my students to make a website to show that they have met proficiencies:

But getting students to understand this is SO much information! Even the adults who came to help in the room on the day I first showed this were frustrated, walking away, shaking their heads. Which, in turn, made me really frustrated. If students see the adults around them are shutting down, they join in.

And that is bad.

So, we took a step back.

After talking it through with Suzy, we decided to have students make links to a Pages document on the iPad. Once they get what links are, then we can maybe go back to the websites they have created from a Google Sites template and make it work.




A week after showing students what the above video shows, we then demonstrated how to make links to a Pages document, and I shared the video below:

By the end of class Thursday, I had two EXPERTS!!! We try to build capacity in these project-y things. Students sometimes learn more from students than they ever will learn from adults. It’s all about the relationships. And until that relationship can be with me, learning from a peer–particularly a language partner, who can revert back to the first language to explain the process–is optimal.  Two of my students, by the end of class, got it.

(This happened to be in the same class that I taught them how to use the iPad messaging system. Probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. My iPad kept binging all over the place as my students continued to send happy greetings and pictures to each other.)


So today, we danced it. (You can see that process here!)

But first, I had to make it simple. Lida asked me to break the process down to seven sentences. That’s hard to do.

Check out the slideshow below.

How did I do?

Sorta Sorting

So excited about tomorrow’s lesson!

We’re going to CATEGORIZE!

We have been working on learning words for emotions, and now we’re ready to kick it into high gear. We had the smaller group today.

I found this great graphic this week on the blog A Diary of a Mom. While I was printing off enough copies so each student could have one, Suzy had them sort stuff.

They sorted markers BY COLOR.

They sorted coins BY VALUE.

We went through the pictures today and defined the emotions. We only had time to cut them apart.

And we need to teach them to categorize.

I found “categorize” in the Common Core State Standards in 4th grade literature:

Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes and categorize information, and provide a list of sources.

But really what we are working on is a Kindergarten standard:

Sort common objects into categories (e.g., shapes, foods) to gain a sense of the concepts the categories represent.

And this eventually leads to a 9th grade standard that focuses on nuances of word meaning:

Interpret figures of speech (e.g., euphemism, oxymoron) in context and analyze their role in the text.

How sorting common objects eventually morphs into interpreting figures of speech… That’s going to take some investigation. But as far as the skill goes, you’ve gotta start somewhere, though, right???

So our ultimate goal is to get students to sort these emotions. Which is where we will get to tomorrow. And the end goal in this is really grounded in our work with the Center For Mindful Learning: identify emotions that are not helpful in your life and figure out what you can do to deal with these emotions and move yourself in a positive direction.

So here’s what’s on the docket tomorrow with the big group:

Tiered VocabularyFirst, we’re going to sort stuff. I just went to Michael’s and bought a ton of little things: shells, rocks beads… and we will sort. We will create a word bank to introduce the idea of “categories.” I am wondering whether we eventually want to get into the word “properties” to move toward a science spin, but for now, we’re going with the Tier 2 vocabulary.

And then we’re going to use a sentence frame to talk about how we sorted things. Maybe we’ll take pictures and use ThingLink to describe our sorts. That will allow us to reinforce our course goal, to move students into more oral proficiency so they can be successful in the mainstream classroom:

How did you sort this? I sorted this by _______________________ (color, shape, size…)

And then we go back to our faces. And we try to sort emotions. We won’t tell them how to sort. We hope eventually to get to positive and negative emotions. But the thought processes are very interesting to watch. How did you sort these? By the emogi’s forehead squiggles? By the way you feel? What categories are you going to use?

This, in turn, is allowing us to start looking into the graduate expectation of creativity. We want our students to be creative thinkers. And maybe by letting them sort on their own terms, they can figure out a little better how they think.

Wish us luck!

Setting the path

From the beginning, we wanted our goals to be clearly defined, our work to be tied to the Common Core State Standards.

But we also wanted students to understand what we expected of them.

To simplify the communication of goals and to delve into proficiency based learning, we gamified our class. We created units that contained the content we wanted them to learn. We turned those units into badges to win. Once students “get” the content, they get a badge. Find out more about gamification here. And then take a look at our badges and their connectsions to the Common Core.

Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at 3.32.14 PMOur course was based on the scope and sequence developed through, a site created by the US State Department to help recent immigrants develop English skills and work toward self-sufficiency. You can see our course here, on Canvas, a learning management system (LMS) that is being piloted in our district.