Philosophy for Teaching ELLs:
Teaching goes far beyond the curriculum and day-to-day lessons. The most effective teachers are the ones that you remember for a lifetime even if you don’t remember the subject that they taught you. I want to be the teacher who students remember because of the way that I was able to make them feel ‘at home’. I thrive to develop a classroom where students come to in order to; be themselves, use their mother tongue, take risks without being judged, show their creativity, and feel valued. This starts by recognizing and appreciating their interests, cultures, extra-curricular activities, and languages. Learning should never come from a teacher teaching students but rather from a collaboration of a teacher and student working together towards achieving a goal. Therefore it is my job to connect with every single student and develop SMART goals that make language and content learning engaging and relevant. I want my student to take risks and make mistakes. I want my students to see mistakes as an opportunity to learn and everyone in the classroom, including the teacher, should model this.
I have been teaching for only a few years and many of these years I have been lucky enough to work closely with many students who English is not their first language. Like many of my colleagues, I focused my daily lesson on addressing the curriculum that was set forth by the ministry of education. I would sit down each day and plan differentiated lesson that would do a wonderful job teaching the content of the lesson, however, these lessons I were planed for my ‘native’ speaking students. I often neglected the needs of my English language learners in the room, and expected that they would pick up the language as we went through the course (this is very naïve, and should not be done). At the start of each lesson I would post content based learning goals for the lesson. I would have my students gauge their progress towards meeting these goals at the end of the lesson or at the start of the next lesson. The problem with this is that it does not support the learning of the academic vocabulary for the students. I have now started providing both content based learning goals and language learning goals for each of my lesson. Even my ‘native’ speaking students have bought into this idea because they see it as an opportunity to identify the key vocabulary that is needed in order to be success to meet the content goal.
Before taking a course on teaching ELL students I had question that I wanted to investigate or that I was not sure about. Two of these questions were: How much of a student native language should be allowed in the classroom? How often should I correct my students language errors?. I have learned that there are no definitive answers to either of these questions but there are a few suggestions that I can give to a teacher who might be asking these same questions. As the classroom teacher, you want to develop a welcoming environment for your students and if this means that you encourage students to use their first language, then it should 100% be allowed in the classroom. I am more interested in who the student ‘is’ and what they know then their ability to communicate it in English. We should encourage our students to stay in their zone of proximal development, meaning that they are being challenged but not to a level where they start to get frustrated and lose interest in learning. This plays into the number of corrections that you give your students. It depends on the level of your student and the language goals that you have set along with the student. For example if you have been working on past tense and the student uses the present tense then you might want to correct this. However, if they have miss spelled a majority of the words on their response to a question and you are still able to understand their cognitive thinking then you should not correct the spelling but rather their thought process. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time a place for spelling corrections but don’t stress on it when assessing content.
In order to be effective at correcting student errors, we need to be aware of grammatical rules and how to teach them to a language learner. Many mainstream teacher are not aware of how to properly explain grammatical structures and as a result they give students responses like “that just the way it is”. As a language learner they don’t have the luxury of learning and its structures for many years and in well planed steps. They need to learn these structures in ‘fast forward’ and at the same time as learning the content of any given course. Therefore to be an effective teacher for our ELL students we need to be effective in giving constructive and meaningful feedback.
Another way to develop a welcoming environment goes beyond the classroom and involves the school as a whole. One thing that I have learned from studying ‘how to teach ELL students’ is that we need to look at the school through the eyes of a new student. When you enter the school, do you see yourself and your culture on the walls? Do you feel welcomed? Are there people that are ‘like’ you? In order to make the student feel welcomed they need to see themselves in the culture of the school. They need to see their native language and cultures on the walls of the school. This can be done with multilingual signs, posters, pictures of students, etc. Also when students and their families first attend the school they should be welcome with teams of teachers/administrators/translators who can answer questions, lead tours, assess the student’s language skills, and make the families feel included in the school.
In the classroom, we want the students to continue to see their skills and abilities as an asset. Students should view learning a second language as an empowerment instead of a disability. We should work with our student to assist them along the way to becoming bi-lingual and bi-literate. This comes from welcoming their language, culture, traditions, and routines into the classroom. As an educator we can do this by developing activities that invite inclusion. Some suggestion that would do this would be culture days, have a student speak to the school about their experiences in their ‘home’ country, invite the community (and families) to school open houses where students show off their academic portfolios, have words/stories of the day from different cultures. We want students to be able to show their higher order thinking and creativity. This comes from developing meaningful tasks and assessments were students have the ability to use multiple modes (oral, visual, written, musical, etc.) to demonstrate their learning. Using assistive technology (Livescribe, Google translate, Google read and write, Kurzweil, YouTube) as both a teaching tool and an assessment tool, you will engage the students more in their own learning. When you are open to creativity, the students will be more willing to take risks in their learning because they feel more comfortable with themselves and their learning environment.
Reflections and Artifacts:
Below are some reflections and artifacts for working with ELL students. Click on any of the following links to see further information.
Below are some extra resources to consider when working with ELL students.