Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cooperative Learning PLUS--A Path to Academic Success for ELLs and Other Struggling Students

Now that the school year has started, teachers are already grappling over what types of instructional strategies will most effectively reach their very diverse student population.  More often than not, teachers are also facing classes that are mixed with English language learners at all English language proficiency levels.  Therefore a question most frequently pondered by most educators is how to meet the needs of all 36 students successively including those few English language learners at several different proficiency levels.

Well, until those English language assessment results arrive, here are some approaches to use that will deliver content to all and some English language development to the ELLs. 

1.  Have a clear content standard on the board rewritten in student friendly language.  Common core standards are very easy to follow as opposed to the earlier content standards which were incredibly wordy and almost impossible for students to follow.
2.  Make sure that there is a clear, easy-to-understand learning objective on the board again in student friendly language.  Have the students listen to you read the objective.  Have them read it back to you.  Call on random kids to read it and so on.  Inform students that this is the focus of the lesson and they will be held accountable for learning it (with your help).
3.  Before a lesson is started, see what students already know.  Activate any prior knowledge so that students can explore past experiences to see if there are any connections.  Teachers may show visuals, video clips, games, etc.  Basically whatever works to get them excited about the lesson will work:)
4.  Model, model, model!  Before any work is assigned to students to do, teachers must model it while students follow along.  Then, before students are left to try a similar activity on their own, they should do it with a partner.  This is one type of teaching strategy which helps ELLs since they have time to try the assignment with a partner.  In this scenario, they are free to ask clarification questions of their partner and vice versa.
5.  LOTS of CFUs (checks for understanding) should be conducted throughout the class.  Such checks should not be more than a few minutes to keep them on track.  What are some sorts of checks?  Exit slips, whiteboards, appointments, give one/get one, wooden popsicle sticks with student names on them, structured cooperative learning groups, rally, carousel, numbered heads together, jigsaw, cornell notes, journaling, word walls, concept maps, mind maps, etc. (search within this blog for details on each)
6.  If 80%-90% are on task, students can proceed to independent work.  For those who are still not clear, teachers can provide mini-lessons.
7.  Now, homework may be issued and that homework will follow what the students did in class--no surprises.

There are still more ideas in the video below.  These approaches do work.  They will also lower classroom anxiety for your ELLs and other strugglers.




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