In September, I had the opportunity to spend a couple hours with Dr. Barbara Flores, an English Language Learner guru from California, who has been working with Salem-Keizer to develop a model of literacy instruction for our ELL students. She had a lot to say, and I was able to take away 3 ideas that have impacted the way I teach all my students, not just ELLs.
Writing must be authentic and meaningful
Our 4th grade teacher spends nearly an hour with students each day working through the writing process. On a full week, that is about 5 hours a week. With that much time, she might be able to introduce a new writing technique using a mentor text, demonstrate that technique, provide group practice, and assign an independent task that incorporates the technique.
This is meaningful and authentic. In one week the can build background knowledge, provide multiple examples, scaffold instruction, and gradually release responsibility onto the students. Students become so familiar with the techniques, students who need additional support are required to talk with a peer before asking the teacher for help.
In my setup, I see students for writing 1-2 hours a week (on average, but differs for individual student needs). Especially for older students, it does not seem like enough time to build the background knowledge and provide the scaffolding of the 4th grade teacher. I would become frustrated after giving a choice of writing prompts, and students would say, “I don’t know what to write about.”
In comes Dr. Flores. “Students cannot write what is not authentic or meaningful.” I already knew I needed to make some changes, but this helped push me to providing writing instruction and support in the Gen. Ed. classrooms for 3rd and 4th graders. Instead of trying to build my own, separate lessons, I can work with the students where meaning has already been built.
I would say it has been a success. The teacher likes it because I can provide support to the students who need it most, freeing her up to support others. My students like it because they get to work on (and eventually finish!) the assignment their peers are working on. Other students like it because there is another teacher available to help them. I like it because my students are writing something that is meaningful. There is also the bonus that I get to know students who are not on my caseload.
Mini-Shared Teacher-led Reading Groups
Dr. Flores introduced this Mini Shared lesson plan and I immediately began using it during reading groups in the LRC. It provides students multiple opportunities to discuss, hear, then echo the words of a story before being expected to read it independently. Obviously it was developed for ELLs, but I find that it works great with my struggling readers, the almost-non-reader, who benefits from the multiple exposures to the text before trying to read it. You can find demonstrations of Mini Shared lessons on the Salem-Keizer website by searching “mini shared” or by clicking here.
“You cannot write what is not organized.”
If you substitute “learn” for “write,” the new sentence is “You cannot learn what is not organized.” This rang especially true after my principal began asking teachers to post learning targets in the classroom.
Although it is hard to write learning targets for multiple groups in multiple subjects at multiple grade levels, I can see how learning targets help students organize what they are learning. The more clear I can be about the target of the learning for the day, the better the students will learn because I organized it for them.