Multisensory Approach to Letter Formation

As per our school’s Learning Improvement Plan (LIP) focusing on student writing growth, I am embedding different modalities of letter formation into our phonics lessons. The students are enjoying a multi-sensory approach to writing: play-dough, chalkboards, whiteboard tables, wiki sticks, letter magnets, wooden pieces, etc. A new favorite is writing our letters with paint brushes in shaving cream. It is a really simple lesson that warrants student engagement.

A typical phonics lesson activity: Lakeshore letter-sound buckets for sorting initial sounds.

Shaving Cream Letters Lesson:

  1. Hold up letter cards and get students to state the letter name, sound, and action.
  2. Students copy the letter, starting at the top, with paint brushes in shaving cream. They form the lowercase and the uppercase for each letter.
  3. Students “erase” their letter with their brushes and repeat the process for the rest of the target letters.

Writing letter ‘v’ in shaving cream.

But What About the Mess?

I find that it is not as messy as it may seem. Each student needs to roll up their sleeves and be reminded not to eat, fling, or touch the shaving cream with their hands. We talk about how it smells good but would not taste good (you may want to note that it is NOT whipped cream). I get students to wipe off any excess shaving cream on the side of their tin (get baking pan tins with higher edges rather than baking sheet tins with lower edges) and then at the end of the lesson we use paper towel to clean the brushes before putting them in water.

Ready for the next letter!

The Benefits

The best part of shaving cream letters is that students do not feel pressure to form their letters perfectly. If they make a mistake, they simply can “erase” and try again! The teacher can observe the letter formation and remind students to hold brushes appropriately and start from the top during the lesson so the practice is meaningful. All students, especially those who dislike pencil-to-paper work, seem to buy-in to the novelty of shaving cream letters. No tears, busy minds at work, and smiling faces… seems like a win to me!

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6 Ways EdTech Can Knock Your Principal’s Socks Off Infographic

A great info-graph that highlights the benefits of technology! Check Mr. Kirsch’s blog out! 🙂

Teaching Strategies, Lesson Plans, and Classroom Arrangements

Favorite Instructional Strategies

Pre-Assessment

  • KWL
  • Entrance/Exit
  • Bell work
  • Anticipation Guide
  • Texting in answers
  • Interest inventory

–          Brainstorming

During/Formative

  • Plus, Minus, Interesting
  • Thumbs up/down/side
  • Fist of five
  • Yes/No cards
  • Making connections
  • Determining importance
  • Think-pair-share
  • Inside-Outside Circles
  • Peer-teaching
  • TAPS
  • Jigsaw
  • Carousel
  • Centers
  • Multiple intelligences – learned more from what?
  • Metacognition questions (why did I do this/what did I learn/how can I improve)
  • Examples of ideal
  • Work sheets
  • Drawing for comprehension
  • Graphic organizers
  • Venn diagrams
  • circles
  • Narrative
  • Role play
  • Talking circle
  • Lectures with objectives, sheets to follow along, activities after, summary at end

–          Inquiry assignment or student-interest assignment

 Post/Summative

  • Reflections
  • Self-assessments
  • Rubrics
  • Portfolios
  • Interviews

–          Essays

Behavior/Routine

  • Marble jar
  • Proximity
  • Praise students who do it well
  • Give me five = be quiet
  • Continue when silent

–          Contracts (given before for clear expectations)

Questioning:

  • Popsicle sticks
  • Cold call

–          Blend of popsicle sticks with cold call

Favorite Classroom Arrangement

Image one: Horseshoe

Horseshoe plus groups

Image Two: Teacher/Student Work Space

Favorite Unit and Reflection Plans

See kgorhamblog: Unit Template and Professional Development Worksheets

 My Favorite Unit Plan

See kgorhamblog: Health 3/4 Unit Plan: Healthy Eating, Exercise, and the Immune System

Internship Rating – October

At the midway point of internship (where has all the time gone!?) this is my current rating:

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I have moved up in regards to Professional Competence and Development (2.67 to 3), Interactions with Learners (2.55 to 2.82), and Instructional Competence (1.43 to 2.4). I have maintained my ratings in Planning, Organization, Assessment, and Evaluation (2.6), Teaching Strategies, Skills, and Methods (2.25), and Professional Qualities (3.56). My goal is to increase Interactions with Learners, Instructional Competence, Planning, and Teaching Strategies to 3 (or more).

My goals are to work on classroom management (extreme behaviors), providing students with more choice, differentiating assignments (tiered lessons), and using more technology.

How to Flip the Classroom

During my pre-internship, there were a couple classes that were running on the new, flipped model! I have so much to learn about this and have attached some how-to’s and descriptions. I think this may be the step in the right direction for our globalized economy and 21st century learners!

Turning Learning on It’s Head Blog

Teaching for Tomorrow: Flipped Learning: Mentions that this started because he was recording lessons so students who missed class could consult info. on their own time. Then he decided all students should access information on their own time. This allows slower and fast learners to go at a rate they need because in class, everyone is working on different things. He also does not make students do his tests if they can show their learning in a different way. This has helped failure rates.

I Flip, You Flip, We All Flip: Setting Up a Flipped Classroom: This does not just talk about what a flipped classroom is but how you can do it and make the videos! Highlights inquiry-based learning!

Preparing Students for the Flipped Classroom: Discusses the shock to students who are good at the “game of school.”

Introduction to Our Flipped Classroom: This provides an overview that could be given to students and it features an ELA classroom.

Flipping The Classroom With FIZZ: Katie Gimbar’s & Dr. Lodge McCammon’s TedTalk

Please feel free to share resources that you have about the Flipped Classroom or share your thoughts! 🙂

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.

 

 

How Learning Contracts Motivate Students

This semester I decided that I want to use portfolios in my future English classroom. I think this practice aligns quite nicely with a lot of the current research, particularly what Davies has to say. I would have students create an online portfolio to foster technology in my classroom. I would also have the portfolio blog pages be separated by “I Can Statements.” Then students would post all their work to the appropriate spot and highlight a couple pieces from each outcome to be marked at the end of the year. Constant feedback would be given, deadlines would not be set in stone, and communication between parents could easily be maintained by simply looking at the blog. Students could also showcase their work and progress at parent-student-teacher interviews or open houses. With that in mind, I wondered how I would set this up and keep students accountable.

Greenwood and McCabe (2006) suggest using learning contracts. These are “written [agreements] between teacher and learner in which the learner undertakes to complete mutually agreed upon tasks in a specified amount of time on his or her own initiative” (15). I think these documents would be great to use because students get to direct their own learning and have choices. Teachers could make sure that students were not just picking their favorite medium of representation by making students pick tasks from various categories. Students know what is expected of them from the beginning and they are held responsible. I think teachers could also differentiate easier using online portfolios with contracts because students could use any indicator they want. Teachers could also aid some students more than others and let advanced learners work at a pace and level that meets their own needs. I would give 20-30 minutes of general instruction that everyone receives, and then students could break off and work on their contracted tasks. During that time, I could do remedial activities with those that need extra help. Some students may be accomplishing less advanced work or tasks but since everyone is doing a different thing, no one should be singled out. Grouping choices and making sure all students get one-on-one instruction with the teacher can maintain an inclusive classroom.

One thing I am still trying to figure out is how to report under the outcomes. It seems like many assignments could fit under many outcomes. Maybe students could place an assignment under more than one outcome? Would you make one rubric per outcome? Would that work if students are exploring an outcome through all the various indicators? How do you teach students who are working on different things and at various levels? I think some intense classroom management strategies would need to be in place so that students self-manage and direct their own learning. I think this will be a lot of work but I have thought about it a lot lately and I really want to try it out. I think individualized online portfolios with agreed upon contracts are the best way (and only way I can think of now) to accomplish the current assessment trends. I just need to take it one step at a time….

Article: http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.uregina.ca:2048/stable/pdfplus/10.2307/23044364.pdf

Campus For All

I have had the privilege to be part of the Campus for All program at the University of Regina for the last two years – my only regret is that I did not join earlier. Campus for All is an inclusive post-secondary education program for people with intellectual disabilities.  The program allows students to develop academic skills, participate in lifelong learning, explore their interests and interact with others. In my time with the program, I have been able to become a friend, a classmate and a peer. Campus for All has been one of the most valuable university experiences I have had to date.

I am very proud to be part of this inclusive program because it is a positive step towards a more inclusive society.  This experience has proven to be very beneficial, as I am studying to be an inclusive educator.  I feel that my own creativity and confidence towards differentiating assignments and presenting subject matter in unique ways has improved.  I learned how to teach the writing process, the reading process and be a guide on the side. My student has also shared her passion of history with me. Her various life experiences challenge my assumptions and perceptions on a daily basis. No matter how hectic my week is, she shows me the value of appreciating the small things in life and stopping to smell the roses. Furthermore, I leave every session with a smile on my face because of how much she has accomplished.

There are not too many things that are better than teaching someone to read and watching their eyes light up as they soar through the passages with ease, but building a relationship of upmost trust and understanding “takes the cake.” Over the last two years, my student and I have become very close. Sometimes I think we only work so hard so that we can celebrate over a spinach bowl at the Owl or a cup of coffee at “Timmies.” As I teach her how to write a research paper, she teaches me even more about working with individuals with varying needs and it is this support system and co-operation that makes being part of the Campus for All program a blessing.

I am proud to be a part of the Campus for All program, as I believe it will bridge the gap between our reality and the ideal. My student is gaining a positive self-image through the inclusive, caring atmosphere. After completing her first essay in 2012 she told me, “I never have written an essay before. I was never taught. But I’m pretty good!” and it is moments like this when I am proud of what I do and the opportunities that Campus for All provides all learners. There is an anonymous quote that says, “if you give people a chance, everyone has something amazing to offer;” Campus for All provides all learners a chance to be a friend, a classmate and a peer and most importantly, everyone involved is given the opportunity to shine. You too, will only regret that you did not join earlier!

Read: Campus for All Fosters Inclusive Post-Secondary Education

“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.

“Many teachers …

Quote

Many teachers teach every child the same material in the same way, and measure each child’s performance by the same standards… Thus, teachers embrace the value of treating each child as a unique individual while instructing children as if they were virtually identical” (Mehlinger, 1995).