Strategies for Working with ELL Writers

Today I will be writing about Christina Ortmeier-Hooper’s The ELL Writer: Moving Beyond Basics in the Secondary Classroom. I was drawn to chapter seven, “Specific Teaching Strategies for Working with ELL Writers,” because of my inclusive education background and philosophy. In our diverse classrooms an inclusive approach to writing makes sense for the entire class; inclusive strategies are simply good teaching strategies that can benefit all students. Furthermore, inclusive assignments are not adapted for each individual student but are constructed with all students in mind. It is not realistic for educators to “create separate assignments for their ELL writers” (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 115). Ortmeier-Hooper notes that ELL writers need more guided instruction and revision time but “these are crucial learning objectives for all students, not just ELLs” (2013, p. 115). All students need to understand that writing is a social conversation where audience, genre, purpose, writers and time period all matter (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 116). By creating these inclusive assignments and lessons, all students will have a voice in the classroom and be part of the community of learners.

Tiered assignments are part of my teaching philosophy. I was taught to tier assignments with colors. For instance, if you wanted students to write a five paragraph essay (curriculum outcome) this would be tier 2. Tier 1 could ask for more paragraphs, advanced sentence structures, a drawing, or anything to make the task more challenging. Tier 3 students could work on writing concrete topic and conclusion sentences. Students would be placed in tiers based on teacher observations and pre-assessments. This means that students would change tiers depending on their strengths and weaknesses. Tiers foster an inclusive classroom because everyone learns the same thing but gets assignments tailored to their needs. The teacher does not make an individual assignment for each student but makes three levels because this is more practical. Ortmeier-Hooper suggest doing “entering,” “bridging,” and “advancing” categories. The students receive the same instruction but the writing activities are in three different levels – ranging from what you know about to what you need to research – to challenge all students. When implementing tiered assignments, I believe it is important to consider how students will improve and raise tiers. A great way to foster improvement is “The Sequenced and Linked Writing Assignments,” which ask students to pick a topic they like and write three to five different pieces that build off each other. They will have more ownership and mastery about their topic/writing and by changing the purpose, genre and audience students can see how these things alter their tone and writing style.

I never thought of creating high-context writing prompts. Often when I think of open-ended writing prompts I think of low-context writing prompts like “What did you do this weekend?” I forget that all students may not think to include a purpose or consider their audience when they write. Ortmeier-Hooper suggests making sure that genre, audience, writer and subject purpose are accounted for in our prompts. This allows for more structure and guidance for our ELL students and can help all students start writing. It also highlights rhetoric and gives all learners a chance to work with this outcome. If students are never given a purpose or audience and then we teach them in the next lesson that writing is a conversation and these things matter, it is not parallel. If their writing is always set up as a conversation I think this will be an easier transition to student work shopping and sharing. As Karen has taught us, we need readers to be writers.

I believe that inclusive practice, tiered assignments and more explicit instruction is not only practical for teachers but beneficial for all learners. With our diverse classrooms, we need to find a way to meet all of the needs but not make 30 individual assignments and lessons for each class. Many of Ortmeier-Hooper’s ideas foster an inclusive, practical environment that allows all students to grow. I hope to incorporate many of her ideas into my future classroom.

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