A few weeks of whole to part…..

Last year at this time I was the English Language Acquisition Coordinator for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, in Annapolis, Maryland, supervising the educators who served the needs of a growing community of immigrant and bilingual students. Stressed and a bit weary after 6 years of navigating our political climate, I took a leap, and returned to the school setting as a mentor teacher. I needed to step away from trying to manage the whole situation until I could be reminded of the WHY and how all the parts fit together.

Part of my reasoning behind changing positions was to give myself a sort of sabbatical, a venue for visiting classrooms in a variety of content areas, spending more time with teachers, catching up on new classroom technology ideas, and learning from everyone and everything around me. This week I was inspired by a dance class where small groups choreographed the ending of a dance and performed. It was amazing.  Everyone dancedanced.  Everyone smiled.  There are five students in this class who are part of the “functional life skills” program, meaning they manage significant challenges and need extra support.  After this group performed, I had the best conversation with one of the dancers.  She said, “I can’t move as fast as they do.  I can’t roll on the floor and get back up.  I missed a few steps, but I got back in.  It was like my own solo.”  I told her how much I love her attitude and I wanted to bottle whatever it is this teacher is doing to make every student in the class embrace their solo.  This first-year teacher has truly grasped the value of relationships.  I am re-energized by the parts I see come together each day in working with new teachers as they learn to create their whole. Taking these parts that I come across and sharing them with other educators, THAT is what makes me whole.

I recently had the privilege of spending a week in Madison, Wisconsin, for the WIDA IMG_6945Licensed Trainer Institute. It was 4.5 days of intensive training on 9 different WIDA workshop and training plans.  I spent that 4.5 days with dedicated WIDA facilitators, as well as with 8 other participants from around the country. Talk about impressive!  I learned so much each day from this group.  Each person brought such a wealth of varied experiences to the room.  The program as a whole will be very strong, because each of the parts are individually amazing. Although I am still recovering from eating fried cheese curds more times that week than I’d like to admit, I am excited that I will have the opportunity to meet even more new people through the work with WIDA and WCEPS in the future.

piclabAfter a weekend of recovery from brain and cheese curd overload, I was off for a quick spin at the WIDA Conference in Tampa. Meghan Gregoire-Smith, Lindsay O’Keefe, and I presented “From Whole to Part – Early Literacy Instruction for English Learners” to a full room of participants. I fully enjoyed presenting with Meghan and Lindsay again (as we had a number of time before I left my position at the central office).  The 75 minute session flew by, as our participants were fully engaged, asking questions, sharing insights…everything a presenter could wish for at a conference (including no technology glitches!).

I am particularly proud of this presentation, because it embodies the essence of the culture of our English Language Acquisition Office in Anne Arundel County, MD, over the past 6 years. From the document correlating WIDA Performance Descriptors with Fountas and Pinnell reading levels, to the impromptu sketches explaining our approach to instruction to an assistant principal, to the professional development we designed which aligns our “whole to part” process across schools and now to the conference, our presentation represents who I am as a professional, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Collaboration. Team.  Outreach.  This one presentation represents almost two years of collaboration between the English Language Acquisition Office, the Elementary Reading Office, the Early Childhood Office, administrators, and teachers to share best practices for early literacy instruction for English learners.  While I am no longer in that office, I carry the best practices with me wherever I go and I find great reward each time I see a teacher tweet about their latest “Whole to Part” lesson.

The conference participants gave such positive feedback and encouraged us to take the “Whole to Part” messages into an online course to share with even more people. So, WE ARE!!  Lots of great work ahead and I couldn’t be more excited!

I hope you have a wonderful end to your weekend, recharged where you can notice all the parts that make your whole worthwhile.

 


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Hard writing makes easy reading…

frankToday’s blog post is written by guest blogger, Frank Bonkowski.  Frank has over 30 years of experience writing English language teaching materials, creating e-courses, and teaching English language at university, college, and high school levels.  Frank teaches at Cégep de Saint-Laurent in Montreal, Canada.  He has co-authored nine textbooks and consulted on many projects with publishers and e-learning companies.  We are thrilled to have Frank as an online classroom partner with English Learner portal.
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Hard writing makes easy reading – an old adage

In Teaching by Principles, Brown compares swimming and writing. You might wonder, what does swimming have to do with academic writing? I am a swimmer, so I know how hard it is to swim well. I am a writer too, and it is just as difficult for me to write well.

I do sprint triathlons—a combination of swimming, biking, and running. frankswinSwimming is my weakest event because I never learned to swim correctly. Fortunately, I am a better writer than I am a swimmer.

According to psychologists, human beings easily learn how to walk and talk; learning to swim and write well is another matter. Brown states that “swimming and writing are culturally specific, learned behaviours.” We need to be taught how to swim and write.

So how do you teach academic writing to English language learners?

In today’s post, I will introduce you to a new professional development course coming soon from English Learner Portal that answers this question. It is called Teaching academic writing to intermediate and advanced English language learners.

Here are some of the issues the course will address.

  • Why is teaching academic English important?
  • How does academic English differ from conversational English?
  • What are some of the problems that English language learners face in learning to write at an acceptable level?
  • What are some effective ways to teach academic writing?

Why teach academic writing?

Let me touch on the first issue: why we should teach academic writing—with the emphasis on academic.

If you are an English language teacher in today’s language classroom, you know from experience the importance of teaching academic language as well as academic writing. In fact, it has become an important part of the curriculum.

In “Teaching secondary students to write effectively: practical guide,” Graham argues that academic English is a necessity for English language learners for achieving success both inside and outside the classroom.

However, attaining language proficiency is a long process. It takes three to five years to become orally proficient in English, and four to seven years to become proficient in academic English, according to researcher Gary Cook.

In other research findings, Graham and Perin point out that good reading and writing skills predict academic success. Having these essential skills motivates learners to stay in the classroom and not drop out. Not all English language learners will go on to higher education. However, equipped with these two skills, learners will be better able to participate more fully in society.

There are other intrinsic reasons to teach writing in the classroom as Jeremy Harmer in How to Teach English attests:

  • First, writing reinforces understanding English and keeping language in memory.
  • Second, the actual writing process is a mental activity that helps learners learn better.
  • Third, the task of writing appeals to some learners who need to see the written language and reflect on it.
  • Lastly, writing is a linguistic skill just as important as reading, listening, and speaking. In both language and content classrooms, English language learners must be able to communicate effectively.

In his practical guide, Graham states that learners need to think critically, analyze information, and express their opinions and thoughts if they are to succeed.

New Online Training course

Let me describe briefly the self-paced course that we are in the process of creating at English Learner Portal.

The five modules in the course are designed to help teachers learn and use effective strategies and techniques to teach academic writing to English language learners.

The training course has five objectives:

  • Describe critical issues in teaching academic writing to ELLs.
  • Explain why teaching academic writing to ELLs is important.
  • Demonstrate to ELLs the initial steps in planning to write.
  • Show ELLs examples of effective writing at the sentence, paragraph and text levels.
  • Illustrate to ELLs techniques for editing and revising their writing.

highlighterCourse features

Here are the main features of the training course:

  • Audiovisual presentation of the more than 25 lectures
  • Transcripts of all the lectures
  • Readings: the latest research in the field of English language teaching
  • Interviews: writing specialists share their thinking on teaching writing
  • Activities: tasks to get teachers to implement what they are learning
  • Discussion forum: teachers share their ideas with the instructor and all the teachers
  • Quizzes: self-graded
  • Self-assessments: allow teachers to to get feedback on what they’re learning
  • Graded assignments: allow teachers to get feedback from the instructor
  • Certificate of completion.

Interviews

Knowledgeable resource people will share their ideas about teaching writing:

  • Kelly Reider, founder of ELP, on Wida writing rubrics
  • Dorothy Zemach, author of “50 Ways to Practice Writing”
  • Ktwente, HS teacher, on plagiarism
  • Nick Walker, creator of the Virtual Writing Tutor, on self-correcting.

Bonus Material

An added feature is a fun section dealing with teaching English literature through film.

Downloadable teaching unit

The training course will make available to teachers —at a discount price—a downloadable teaching unit called “The Amazing World of Comics” (Soubliere, 2007).

The unit offers a number of engaging reading, listening, and speaking activities.

Learners build on these activities to create their own comic strips about a famous person or a superhero.

comics

The unit—which I created—shows learners how illustrators and authors present their creative ideas through comics. The broad areas of language learning include career planning, entrepreneurship and media literacy.

The teaching unit encourages learners to:

  • use information
  • exercise critical judgement
  • be creative adopt effective work methods
  • use information and communication Technologies
  • cooperate with other learners, and
  • communicate appropriately.

The materials include the following three components:

  • 40-page teacher guide explaining how to use the unit, including suggested answers for activities end tasks.
  • 18 student activities that teach writing, grammar, and vocabulary leading to three engaging closure projects.
  • 27-page full color teaching unit in PDF format.

School licenses will be available for teachers to use the unit in their classroom.

Stay in touch with us at Englishlearnerportal.com. Sign up for our email updates to get the latest information on the upcoming course launch date!