Sunday, February 2, 2014

6 Simple Instructional Adjustments to Support Struggling ELLs in Mainstream Classrooms

The 6 week progress report is fast approaching.  Some teachers are again faced with the 64 thousand dollar question-how to approach the grading routine in such a way that ELLs can succeed without watering down the course curriculum.  No student wants to fail and no teacher enjoys failing students so looking at different approaches in collecting data on an ELL's academic performance should be a high priority.

Here are methods I use which have led to a more accurate view of what my students really know and understand.  You may be already using them.  If so, share the ideas (yours and mine) with teachers who are having a problem in this area:)

1.  Have students keep learning logs/journals.  These learning logs or journals should be notes in student language.  After all, if they write the notes in their own words, they will be more likely to remember what they wrote.  For example, in a math class (any level of mathematics), at the end of class instruction and practice, students would put in their journals what they learned, a sample problem with answer, and notes on how they arrived at the answers.  This way, when test time approaches and they need to review, they have their journal notes to review.  I let my students use their own notes in tests.  This becomes a major incentive to actually keep their journals current.  I also grade the journals every 2 or 3 weeks.  Students get a two week warning so they can stay with me in tutorial or see me during lunch or after school.

2.  Allow a portion of class time to small group activities with the teacher selecting the groups.  ELLs especially benefit here since they have time with classmates to ask questions that will not lead to the embarrassment that could occur in a whole class setting.  With anxiety levels low, ELLs are more receptive to the learning process.  Students in these small groups can analyze and discuss assigned tasks with the teacher facilitating as needed.  However, how does a teacher make sure that the ELLs (and others) are actually working and not coasting by on the work of others---by using the technique of random call-ons.  This can be done with names on popsicle sticks (low tech) or via an infinite number of randomizer apps on cell phones, Android and Apple tablets.  By using these tools, every student knows not only that she or he can be called on at least once, but that her/his name can be called on again.

3.  Differentiate the complexity of homework assignments without watering down content.  For me, the reading assignments cover the same information, but I use more scaffolding techniques with the weaker students to help them follow the assignment.  I also have examples of the quality of work I expect (and I give them photocopies of them to refer to as models).  With the entire class, I do part of the homework with them to start them off.  As I do this, I have my eyes on students who might not fully understand all that is required.  I will make it a point to sit with them as a small group and put them on the right path.

4.  Give credit for everything students produce in class.  This may sound a bit amusing, but when students know that everything they do has the potential to help them earn a decent grade, they are far more receptive to paying attention.  For me, this would include keeping an organized binder with notes (I let them use their notes in taking tests--big incentive for them).  Everything we do in class goes into it into the appropriate section.  Organized binders make it easier for them to also review for examinations.  If a student's binder is a mess (9th graders are notorious for this), s/he stays with me during lunch, or tutorial, or after school to fix it.  After all, I want them to know the material and pass the class.  I also give class participation points for all serious attempts to contribute to class discussion both as a whole class or in small groups.  Helping other students also earns points since "we are a family here working to help everyone do well."

5.  Let students retake quizzes and examinations.  This is important because not all students are great test takers.  Many teachers I know as well as myself have different versions of tests so there is never a risk of kids memorizing answers from a friend and "acing" the retake.  Often times, students really appreciate the opportunity and take it seriously.  Also, for the ELLs, they have an opportunity to clarify confusion on items they didn't quite get before the retake.

6.  Acknowledge every achievement no matter how small--it makes a difference.  Even though I have high school students, I still use stickers.  Believe it or not, students love them and enjoy seeing them on their work as recognition of a job well done.  If the entire class has done a great job, I come in with treats the next day.  Recognition means a lot.

These are only some tools I use.  Feel free to add your thoughts:)


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