Our Favorite Learning Tools!

I asked my Grade 1s to share some of their favorite tools for learning! Here are their top picks:

Emotions/Classroom Community:

This year I combined Inside Out lessons with our Bucket Filling, good/poor choices, and Zones of Regulation emotional programming. I have found that the students are more engaged with the lessons and are able to relate better.. (this could be because we watch the movie together with some delicious popcorn!?). The “Let’s Talk About” book series is also a learning tool that we utilize.

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The Zones of Regulation Presentation  (see Zones of Regulation Curriculum by Leah Kuypers for resources)

 

 

Reading:

The Grade 1s enjoy Flashlight Fridays and using our slinkies to sound out words, our ropes to retell a story, and our mirrors to visualize our pronunciation of words and letter sounds!

 

 

Sight Word and Alphabet Learning:

The students love forming letters with magnets, salt, play dough, and shaving cream. Writing on our Buddha boards and chalkboards is always fun, too! Some alphabet and sight word games that they enjoy are: upper/lower match boxes with popsicle sticks, bowling, fishing, balloon pop, ball toss, golfing, toppling bunnies, scavenger hunts, fly swatter, cup stacking, bingo dabber, egg flip, and toppling towers sight word/alphabet games. We enjoy sounding out CVC words on our pool noodles and by jumping in our hula hoops. As a teacher, my favorites are the word walls and my Lakeshore rhyme and alphabet buckets with initial sound or word family toys/examples. The picture cards are also a great find! As always, I recommend the Florida Center for Reading Research for engaging, research-based phonics and phonological awareness games.

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The Beauty of Sign Language and Inclusion

This is beautiful. The amount of work for the community to come together is immense but it would definitely be worth it! This video also highlights the possibilities created when technology (cameras, Samsung services, Youtube, etc.) is coupled with traditional learning (sign language courses taken by community members). The possibilities of learning are endless. Better yet, the possibilities of creating an inclusive society are at an all time high thanks to technology! 🙂

Feedly Follows

I chose to follow Think Inclusive, Edutopia, Free Technology for Teachers, and Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. My interest in inclusive education and membership in ECMP355 drove my decision to follow these pages. Inclusive education and technology (and the marriage of these two things) are vast topics that I will spend my entire life learning about. Furthermore, I am passionate and interested in these topics.

Feedly

So far I have read these articles:

5 Strategies For Structuring An Inclusive Classroom Environment – In summary, it suggests that all students benefit from a multi-sensory approach to learning, “fair isn’t always equal” and holding students to different levels/expectations is reasonable and allows them to learn at their own level, stations and centers benefit all students, rules and expectations must be clear, and teachers must be flexible/able to “read the room.” I read this article because as a fourth year education student, I am hoping to create my very own inclusive classroom environment very soon. I couldn’t agree more with what this article is saying. I am a strong believer in using Gardiner’s multiple-intelligences and used this theory to plan lessons/activities in my internship at Mossbank School. I also used stations in my 3/4 health class and this was by far their favorite lesson (aside from when I took them skating to promote healthy exercise). It was a lot of work but the learning was so valuable and well-received by all that it was worth every second! Finally, I believe that the best quality I can bring to the table as a student support teacher/inclusive educator is flexibility. I need to be flexible to meet the needs of students, parents, and teachers.

7 Things Every Special Education Teacher Should Know About Themselves – Once again, as a fourth year ed. student I read this article in hopes of getting some insight about what I should expect in my first job (hopefully!) as a student support teacher. The article highlights the need for self-reflection, asking for help, acting/trying your best, being flexible, accepting your own imperfections/inability to keep up to the workload, and maintaining a positive attitude. I agree with these observations, although I am reluctant to admit that accepting my own imperfections/inability to keep up to the workload will be part of my job. This is something that I will have to work on. The three things that resonated with me the most are: “The worst thing you can do is nothing” – Temple Grandin, “attitude makes or breaks your day,” and “flexibility solves 99% of all problems.” I didn’t, however, agree with the belief that I should accept weight gain. I think it is important for educators to take time for themselves. If your job is getting in the way of your eating/sleeping/working out and other basic health necessities, I think it is time to take a step back and reflect. The airplane analogy of fixing your own breathing mask in a crash before helping someone else here may apply – you can’t teach your students if you’re dead. I plan to do the best I can at my job, while still maintaining my own personal physical/mental health. I’m an avid runner/biker/swimmer and take pride in my cleaning eating lifestyle; I want to be a role-model for children and for them to see me leading a positive lifestyle! Balance is key!

8 Examples of Assistive Technology in the Classroom – This article is a great one to tab and keep around for future reference. It acknowledges the benefits to inclusion: “The philosophy of inclusion promotes a sense of community. Children learn valuable social skills like empathy, problem solving, communication, taking turns, teamwork and more!” but also lists assistive technology/tools that can help you create that inclusive environment, such as Class Dojo. Inclusion doesn’t happen overnight and it is nice to see an article that lists the benefits but also acknowledges how to carry this philosophy out! See also: 13 Disability Resources on the Web You May Not Know About 

The 8 Most Atrocious Myths About Inclusive Education – Another great article to tab and keep around if those difficult conversations ever arise. The reality of being a student support teacher is that resistant behaviors will arise and these must be met with data/facts.. as well as, a cool head!

12 Things To Remember When Working With Challenging Students – The do’s and don’ts of working with those challenging students (which we all will)! I think the most important thing to remember is the children who need the most love show this need in the most unconventional ways. The article mentions getting to know your students, realizing they want your love, AND not letting them walk all over you. To me, that is the recipe for success and all three ingredients must be added or it will be thrown in the trash. Tough love!

Assistive Technology Increasing Inclusion in Classrooms and Beyond – This article discussed the importance of problem solving in inclusive education and looked at a Desktop Desk invention that was made for a student in a wheelchair. We can go a long way and see great success if we think outside the box! It is all in the mindset we let ourselves have! To read more about mindset and reflective questioning/listening read: Opinion: Open-Mindedness Needed for Inclusion to Thrive

Providing Structure Without Stifling Creativity – This article caught my eye because in ECE 325 we were talking about how to balance exploration and play/child directed learning with our human instinct/desire of structure and teacher curriculum planning. This is something that I am just beginning to grapple with and it is one of my personal goals to take advantage of more “teaching moments.” I find this balance to be one of the hardest.  Maybe if I allow for choice in the set structure students will  be able to learn in a creative environment? Maybe I just need to throw out my watch? I am interested in how other educators deal with this tension; please comment below!

What Is Autism? A Definition By Nick Walker – I chose to look at this article because it is always good to refresh  my basic knowledge about varying abilities. Autism is a genetically based human neurological variant that starts in utero. It is a pervasive development disorder and 1-2% of our population is diagnosed on this spectrum,. Early diagnosis and information/research is needed. Autism is characterized by language development, social interactions, behavioral, and sensory issues. However, it is a broad spectrum and no one should be defined/categorized into these rigid boxes. Autism is different for each person because all people are unique!

Happy reading! 🙂

Perspectives: Blogging About Autism

Wonderful perspective! Give this a read!

The WordPress.com Blog

Back on Autism Awareness Day, Katie Tackettwrote a post on Thought Catalog to share her feelings and raise awareness of what it’s like to parent Aubrey, her three-year-old daughter who has severe autism:

How can we expect that snotty woman behind us in line at the grocery store to know that our daughter is not just an out-of-control three-year-old, and it’s also not us just being ineffective parents? The truth is, we can’t expect people to take autism seriously unless they know what it’s like to love someone with severe autism or be someone with severe autism.

Living With Autism

Over at Living With Autism, blogger, teacher, and poet Liz shares the challenges and celebrations of caring for her adult son Dylan, who has autism. Liz reflects on early interventions for Dylan and the risks and rewards of new experiences.

Through her poetry, Liz considers how…

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Diversity and Education: EAL Learners

Abstract

This reflection explores the issues related to diversity and education. English as an Additional Language Learners (EAL) are one diverse population of leaners. EAL education poses many challenges, both professionally and educationally, to our current structure of education. Things like student placement, labels, and support or resource allocation are things that need to be considered. EAL learners bring with them a variety of stories, strengths, weaknesses, and language experiences that need to be addressed and reflected in the overall school environment and classroom. This involves a high level of differentiation and the implementation of various assessment measures to ensure academic success and confidence with the English language. Like any students, EAL learners are shaping their own identities as adolescence and need environments that provide a safe place to grow. Within our current structure, tensions between stability-change and diversity-uniformity need to constantly be addressed when considering our diverse population of EAL learners.

Keywords – EAL, diversity, education, English Language Arts (ELA), educational assistant (EA), response to intervention (RTI), sheltered program, mainstream, modified, differentiation, belonging, academic achievement, 21st Century learners, globalization, technology, tensions, stability-change, diversity-uniformity, fair and equitable treatment, advanced placement English (AP)

 Diversity and Education

I had the privilege to observe Ms. P’s Grade Ten English as an Additional Language Learner (EAL) English 10 class, while pre-interning at a Regina High School. This was a new experience for me and the diversity of these learners was overwhelming. The learners included three Caucasian students, fourteen students from the Philippines, a refugee from Sudan, a refugee from Afghanistan, three exchange students, and three students from Africa. Ortmeier-Hooper notes that “immigrant students represent one of the largest categories of ELLs in our schools” (2013, p. 7) and this proved true at this school. The class is structured or administered as a “sheltered” English course. Ortmeier-Hooper explains sheltered instruction as classes where “subject matter instruction is organized to promote second language acquisition, while teaching cognitively demanding, grade-level appropriate material” (2013, p. 15). This means that students complete the exact same outcomes as a regular class. However, a regular English 10 class would complete more indicators. Since the completion of outcomes is what matters, this class appears on a transcript just like any Grade 10 English Language Arts (ELA) course would.

The purpose of a sheltered program is not to teach English per say, but to allow students to adjust and function to our Canadian school system. Students are familiarized with our western teaching practices, such as persuasive writing, rubrics, presentations, rules, and group work. This highlights the tension between uniformity (maintaining the current structures and traditions) and diversity (adapting to incorporate diverse learners and learning styles). Ms. P’s sheltered EAL class is a pilot project for all Regina Catholic schools. Since it is a trail, other EAL learners in the school who require explicit English instruction are placed in separate or modified courses. Other EAL learners work alongside their peers in mainstream courses, which is a more progressive and inclusive practice. However, these learners often struggle academically and face a daunting workload, due to the lack of supports and modifications that are usually present in mainstream classes. Ortmeier-Hooper recognizes that although mainstream classes are the ideal, we need to remember that EAL students need to balance “school and home expectations and struggles, [learn] a new language” and create their identity as an adolescent (2013, p. 9). Whether or not an EAL learner is placed in a modified or mainstream program is based on testing results from the Welcoming Center or an EAL consultant. I view “sheltered” EAL English courses as a way around structural tensions of change-stability and uniformity-diversity; sheltered courses allow students to receive the supports they need, while working on the same curricular outcomes. This structural adaptation is an attempt to balance stability and change because we are adapting our current system to incorporate a third placement option.

Even within a sheltered classroom, the needs vary; some of Ms. P’s students have been in Canada for years, while others have just arrived within the past month. Furthermore, some students are learning English as a third or fourth language. Each student has their own distinct experiences and educational backgrounds, regardless of a shared EAL label. As an inclusive education minor, I am very aware of the necessity and value of labels. However, I often find that labels – which serve a structural purpose of determining instructional choices, supports, and resource allocation – are the very things that undermined students’ distinct experiences, linguistic diversity, and educational backgrounds. Beyond the label is a learner with their own strengths and weaknesses but these labels often “shape [educators’] understanding of these students” about what they can and cannot do (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 6). Labels can limit educational opportunities for students. I find that when students have a label, educators have a “tendency to look for deficits, focusing almost exclusively on concerns and challenges in teaching them” (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 94). Furthermore, the labels we use continually change, causing some confusion. The current term is EAL but recent textbooks often use terms such as English Language Learner (ELL). The tension between our need to identify our learners and the tension between treating each student as an individual with unique strengths and weaknesses is one of the main structural challenges.

With our desire to label students comes the issue of determining whether or not an EAL student has an additional disability. It is hard to decipher between a lack of language proficiency and extensive learning challenges. Within Ms. P’s classroom, four of the students require their own individualized programming; however, they are not officially on individualized program plans (IPP) but are on the waiting list to meet with an educational psychologist. These students require instructional and assignment modifications, as well as, extra supports. However, an educational assistant (EA) had not been assigned to any of the students and the community EAL consultant only showed up twice. Instead of in-class supports, Ms. P will be sent to SIOP training in April. This lack of support puts a lot of onus on Ms. P, who is a new educator with no formal EAL training. Sadly, a lack of supports is a reality in many of our schools and illustrates the gap that remains between our ideals.

At the end of the day, it is our job as professional educators to try our best to differentiate instruction and collaborate with our colleagues to help our students succeed, regardless of structural flaws. Although differentiation is important in all classes, I found that it is vital within a sheltered English class. Ms. P meets with eight colleagues to discuss the direction of sheltered EAL English classes on her own accord. She also varies the reading levels of her materials. When studying Macbeth, three different graphic novels at various reading levels were used. She also modifies exams. For instance, one of the refugees just arrived in Canada this month. She let this particular student use their graphic novel to write the test. Another student did not think this was fair, showing the tension between fair and equitable treatment. Ms. P handled the situation by saying,“You’re telling me that when you just came here no one ever made accommodations for you?”

Ms. P also utilizes Response to Intervention (RTI) Tier 1 interventions as a way to make inclusive modifications for the entire class. For example, she utilizes culturally responsive practices, immerses technology into her regular instruction, and creates various groupings. Currently, the desks are together on either side of the classroom with a space in the middle and working tables at the back. This allows students to assist one another and work through the English language together. They often sit beside peers who share a similar language background so that they can translate together. Although this allows them to succeed academically, it creates an issue of students being segregated into racial groupings. Thus, Ms. P changes the seating plan on various occasions.

Another important consideration for EAL learners is creating a positive environment and sound routines. This can be hard because our current structure is not formed around EAL learners. However, Ms. P’s classroom and routines have been structured with her learners in mind. Posters with the writing process, parts of speech, and new vocabulary words act as extra supports. As students read or hear new words, they get added to the chalkboard. “My Journey” posters were on the walls around a map of the world. Each student’s background, culture, family, and experiences with the English language were represented.

Not only did the environment foster support and belonging, but so did the daily routines. On Monday and Wednesday students read silently, alongside their teacher. Tuesday is #talktuesday and students get a chance to speak informally to their peers about their lives. On Thursday they have #throwbackthursday where students share stories about their childhood, culture, family, and past. Friday is #phoneticfriday and it is dedicated to grammar instruction. Ms. P constructs these lessons based on the grammatical errors that the class is making as a whole. For instance, students learned about when to use dashes, ellipses, and brackets after they misused this punctuation in their previous writing assignment. Students benefit from this explicit instruction. The routines allow them to express themselves and work on skills – speaking, writing, and reading – that they may be insecure about. Ortmeier-Hooper notes that “as students get older, the most valuable gift we can give them is a sense of confidence in their voices and their written expressions” (2013, p. 163) and our routines in EAL classrooms must encourage voice and belonging.

Before this experience, I thought the biggest concern with EAL learners would be academic success. However, it is surprising how much EAL learners are capable of if the expectations are high. The main thing that Ms. P had to do to ensure the academic success of her students was vary her assessment. Students write, act, create videos, draw, etc. She also found out that comprehension questions are not as challenging as application and opinion questions for EAL learners. Since comprehension questions are things that 21st century learners can simply Google, these activities are completed as a class, before and during reading. After reading, students are evaluated on their ability to use their comprehension of a text as a springboard for their opinions and inquiries. This type of instruction is the difference between looking up a definition of a word – instigator, for example – versus being asked to apply the term in a sentence – Do you think Lady Macbeth is an instigator?.” On exams, Ms. P provides more writing opportunities rather than less. This means that fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice questions are almost non-existent. This helps students get rid of their insecurities about writing and develop their vocabulary. Furthermore, as Young et al. point out (2007), “writing is a means of self-expression, creativity, and a way to tell a story or explain our thinking” (p. 16). This is a vital skill to have in our globalized and technological economy (p. 4). These types of assessments allow students to draw from their own personal experiences, knowledge, and thoughts rather than their ability to regurgitate answers. This is a prime example where modernized teaching practices take precedence over traditional methods.

Our current educational structures seem to be slow to change but “more recently there has been an increasing, though by no means universal, tendency to allow greater diversity in the schools” (Young et al., 2007, p. 90). I believe that Ms. P’s sheltered English class is an example of breaking away from the stability and past traditions of our schools. Although learners are still expected to assimilate to our current system of education in many ways, we are slowly adapting our instructional practices, assessment measures, routines, and environments to accommodate a more diverse group of leaners. I believe that this sheltered program will only continue to improve and receive supports. Some improvements that I would like to see are a buddy system between EAL learners and advanced placement (AP) English learners. This buddy system could be structured as a tutoring system or even through collaboration during extra-curricular activities such as, yearbook, school newspaper, book clubs, writing clubs, or research programs. EAL learners would benefit from extra exposure to the English language – as many of these students do not speak English at home – and native English speakers could also benefit from extra writing and reading time. Ortmeier-Hooper (2013) notes that “learning to write [and read] in a second language is a lifelong process” (p. 158) and I think there are many opportunities to expand beyond our English classrooms and create environments that foster belonging and academic achievement for all students grappling with the English language, whether as their only language or one of many. Our population of learners is very diverse and we need to create an educational structure that is flexible enough to meet these needs and balance the tensions.

Resources

Ortmeier-Hooper, C. (2013). The ELL writer: Moving beyond basics in the secondary classroom. Columbia University, New York: Teachers College Press.

Young, J., Levin, B., & Wallin, D. (2007). Understanding Canadian schools: An introduction to educational administration. (4th ed.). Toronto: Thomson.

 

 

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Saskatchewan Standardized Testing Plan Scrapped Leader Post

Over this past year the standardized testing debate has been at the forefront of discussions about education. Over the last few months, the implementation of standardized testing had been put on hold. During this time, school boards, professors, educators, students, and parents expressed their general unhappiness with this movement. Don Morgan, our minister of education, stated that “”we know that kind of large-scale testing regime wouldn’t work for teachers… I don’t think it benefits the students and I don’t think it benefits the province.”” I could not agree more!

My biggest concern was that they were going to put standardized testing on hold until educators calmed down. However, Don Morgan notes that “”it wasn’t put on pause so we could turn around and go ahead with it three months later after things had cooled off.”” I am very pleased and inspired that the government listened to the voices of educators, students, and parents. It is inspiring that teachers stood up for something they believed in and were able to determine the future of education in Saskatchewan. As someone on the anti-standardized testing side of the line, I could not be happier. This was the best news I received all day! If I have learned anything from my third year classes, and ECS 410 in particular, it is that students all learn in different ways and need to express their knowledge in different ways. Testing is not the answer for many of our learners. Paul Tough’s work in “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character” talks about how “character is at least as important as intellect.” Research shows that students’ GPA scores have a lot more to do with their self-discipline than their IQs. This is problematic for our at-risk learners. Thus, in a sense, standardized tests only disadvantage our at-risk learners even more and they do more to test behavior than actual intelligence. I also feel like there is a disconnect between standardized testing and our curriculum outcomes, broad areas of learning, and general goals.

Instead of standardized testing we will focus on a sector plan. This plan focuses on reading and First Nations/Metis education. “The target is to have at least 78 per cent of Grade 3 students reading at or above grade level by 2015” and I think this is a challenging, but important goal. Written literacy and numeracy are also important areas to focus on; areas that should be addressed in all classes, just like reading. This takes a lot of pressure off our ELA and math teachers. It makes sense to have reading and writing instruction in all classes, as writing and reading are a muscle that requires as much or more practice as nailing the perfect three pointer in basketball. Dan Florizone, Deputy Minister, stated that our focus needs to be on “curriculum… instruction, assessment, professional development” and teacher training, rather than only assessment or testing. By 2020 the goal is to have “85 per cent graduation rate (10 per cent higher than the current rate), 90-per-cent of kindergarten students scoring age-appropriate marks and 80 per cent of all students performing at grade level in reading, writing and math.” This news makes me extremely excited to be a future educator in Saskatchewan. It is news like this that makes me believe that change can happen for the better!

Here’s to working our butts off in the next bit to create a more inclusive school culture and a group of literate students! 🙂

The Stoplight Method: An End-of-Lesson Assessment

This video is from the Teaching Channel. (By now you have learned that this channel is my obsession). I was drawn to it because a high school English teacher actually uses this formative assessment strategy. Students use a post-it note at the end of class to write what they learned (green light), their ideas and questions (yellow light), and if anything stopped their learning during class (red light). This is not only data on student learning but data for the teacher about what went well and what didn’t. I would take the red light information and try to avoid it (if it was a distraction, etc.) or work through it (if it was a lack of clarification) the next class. What students learned can help direct the next lesson because you will not have to guess their understanding. This is a fun way of doing an exit slip and I think using this from time to time would change it up. It also provides closure for the students and is easy to administer. This is almost an adaptation of the red, green, and yellow cups from the Classroom Experiment.

Trauma, Brain and Relationship: Helping Children Heal

“Early childhood trauma changes the biology of the brain. Well, early childhood support also changes the biology of the brain!”

Curriculum encompasses more than just the written documents. We cannot ignore the social curriculum that our students bring to our classrooms. This is a large part of our jobs. As someone who has not experienced trauma, I often wonder how I will reach out to students who have or are currently experiencing trauma. I think it starts out with building relationships of trust and respect and creating that inclusive and safe classroom environment. This video gave me a lot more confidence in my abilities to help students. For instance, one of the individuals suggests that students only need one person to connect with and that person does not have to be knowledgeable about trauma or healing; they just have to be willing to help and listen. This video is worth the watch and a good reminder that we need to find ways to balance the written curriculum with the social, hidden, null, etc. in order for learning to take place. Our classrooms are not separate entities and our students are not empty vessels.

“Whose English Counts? Indigenous English in Saskatchewan Schools”

After our class talking circle on February 3, 2014 I was sparked by what Night shared. To refresh all of your memories, she talked about her university professor calling out her accent in front of the entire class. My first thought was, what accent? My second thought was what kind of teaching practice is that? We should be celebrating differences and not ostracizing our students for them. Night mentioned that she still is bothered by that today and that shows the impact that teachers have on learners.

Andrea Sterzuk’s article “Whose English Counts? Indigenous English in Saskatchewan Schools” also highlights the impact teachers, speech pathologists and educational psychologists have on our most disadvantaged students. This article was written in 2008 and contains a lot of data from 2004 but it is still relevant because the education gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students is a current concern, which is addressed in the Continuous Achievement and Improvement Framework and the First Nations and Metis Education Plan. We cannot ignore these issues because “by 2016, First Nations and Metis children will make up 46.6% of the student population” (Sterzuk 9). If we do not find ways to include diverse learners and their diverse experiences “it is only a matter of several decades before half of the population of Saskatchewan will not have access to the necessary skills and education to gain access to employment” (Sterzuk 10), which is one of the main purposes of education. What will happen if the majority of our people are being suppressed like a minority?

I was very aware that education was used to assimilate First Nations individuals, for instance at Residential Schools. However, I never thought of the linguistically oppressive practices and procedures that have negative effects on Aboriginal students (Sterzuk 11). That is the thing about being a person from the majority: you are not forced to realize all the ways in which you are benefiting. Sterzuk expresses that “Indigenous English differs systematically from standard English on phonological, morphological, and lexical levels and in terms of pragmatics, syntax, and non-verbal language” (13). Not only does this mean some of our students will have an accent but they also learn differently. Indigenous English speakers learn more through storytelling and listening (Sterzuk 12). When these learning styles are ignored, Aboriginal students often fall below grade level and require additional support.

Since my future goal is to become an Educational Psychologist, I was very interested in the piece about biased assessment and misdiagnosis. In my inclusive education course about assessment we often discussed the bias found in standardized tests used to diagnose and label students. Some common tests that assess general intelligence levels are the WIAT – III and WISC – IV. Current tests that assess written and oral language are the TOWL – IV and TOLD-IV. Written spelling is assessed by the TWS. Throughout the course we got to deconstruct these tests and find their strengths and weaknesses. Although all of these tests are assessed numerous times to make sure they are unbiased, it is true that making an unbiased test is almost impossible to do. However, more than one test should be used to assess learners to help detect errors. Furthermore, the results are impacted a lot more by environment, the fairness and accuracy of the test giver and the current mood of the child on that day. If these factors are not considered then the child could be misdiagnosed. It is important to note that testing is never a first resort and it often takes up to six months for the testing process to start. Although there will always be misdiagnoses, the current team approach often combats these issues. It is the responsibility of the teacher and the LRT to keep data on a student and to apply tier 1 interventions (Response to Intervention) if they notice a problem. Testing only occurs when many strategies fail to work over a long period of time and the goal is never to label a student but to help them. I do believe that people are misdiagnosed but I would suggest that First Nations students are marginalized more by exclusive English teaching practices because very few learners go through the testing process, yet many of our First Nations students are struggling. Also, because of federal jurisdiction on aboriginal education, testing, which is provincially funded, is often very hard for First Nations learners to access (which is another problem entirely).

As teachers we need to make sure we are varying our teaching strategies. We need to consider how all of our students learn best and incorporate these techniques as much as possible. Sterzuk states that “students should not be penalized for their differences” (14) and I would expand that idea because differences should be celebrated and encouraged. Sterzuk calls for a document that “outlines the characteristics of Indigenous English” (16) but I have not seen such a document. Would it not make more sense to differentiate instruction and not penalize someone for their accent? I mean, characteristic sheet or not, I should be able to teach all my students effectively and a learner inventory will let me know how my students learn best. It is our job as educators to teach without bias and to find ways to help our students succeed. No student deserves to be called out because of their differences and everyone deserves to be in an inclusive learning environment that supports their learning style. Our class seems very passionate about including First Nations learners and I have no doubt in my mind that we will include First Nations resources, differentiate our teaching strategies and assignments and not judge our students based on how they talk.

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.