Tag Archives: international

Learning About English Language Learning

In recent years, Baltimore’s student population has grown more and more diverse, with large increases in the numbers of Latino/a students most predominantly, but also with growing numbers of students from all ethnic backgrounds and nationalities.

My school, in addition to having the largest overall student body for each of the past years during my quadrimular teaching experience there, also has by far the largest population of English Language Learners (ELLs) of any high school in Baltimore City (or, for that matter, any school at all in the city). We have over thirty countries of origin represented and over twenty languages spoken at our school. This is in part due to an accident of geography: Patterson is located in Southeast Baltimore, which is where many immigrant families are concentrated. It is also self-reinforcing: since we have more ESOL teachers than other schools, families of ELLs are more likely to send their children here where we have supports in place for the students to learn English and succeed in school. Not that our school is perfect and all our ELL students succeed, but we can provide supports that other schools–with very few ELLs–have the resources, connections, or knowledge to provide.

This has been a learning experience for me, to go back and rethink my teaching strategies to figure out how to make math and engineering accessible to English Language Learners. This year, I have very much appreciated the ideas and support provided by #ELLCHAT on Twitter, which takes place every Monday evening from 9-10pm Eastern. Earlier this year, conversations I participated in included how to create a welcoming environment in the classroom, and how to support students’ first languages & promote bi- or multi-lingualism.

#ELLCHAT has provided me with a community of educators, some of whom are experts at working with ELL students, and others of whom are going through the same struggles I am. I always feel welcome to ask questions, even if they’re not 100% related to that week’s topic, and know that I will receive some great ideas in response. I have shared my first steps at how I teach ELLs (learning how to say hello in each student’s first language, accepting sketches of object designs instead of written descriptions to prove understanding of key ideas in design for manufacturing). And I’ve received many good suggestions for pushing both myself and my ELL students further in the math and engineering classroom.

This evening, the topic of #ELLCHAT was parent/teacher conferences with families of ELLs. This is timely, since this Thursday is our parent/teacher conference night for report card distribution. Much of the discussion centered around translators, either provided by the school, or an adult trusted by the family. I believe our school district offers to translate report cards into Spanish, but not other languages. And I know my school has access to translators for more languages in addition to Spanish, and has used them for family-school meetings in the past. I guess I felt as a teacher that I had less to contribute to tonight’s discussion (both in dialogue and in questions), since so much of the discussion was about school-based solutions and not at the teacher level. Still, I picked up a few tips that I can use at report card night for parents of both ELL and non-ELL students who come. Plus, I was introduced to a few web resources for ELL family conferences, which I have not yet had time to read through: one, two, three.

I look forward to next week’s chat, about what kinds of support for students’ first language should be available, and to more chats in the future!

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Collaboration Time

First, a note on the forum from which this post springs: #edchat on Twitter.  #Edchat is a weekly discussion of a topic related to education, taking place on Tuesdays 12pm-1pm and again 7pm-8pm eastern time zone (U.S.).  A good explanation of it is here.  Unfortunately, I have not figured out a good way to follow and contribute to this discussion.  Same thing for another conversation I’d like to follow and engage in: #BlackEd, related to the education of black students.  To me, the participation volume of these discussions is just overwhelming.  I read a page worth of posts (~20), and by that time a message has popped up, saying “36 new tweets since you started searching”!  And if I see a message to which I’d like to respond among those on the page, I pause for a minute or two to craft a response, then that number jumps even higher with 50-60 new tweets for me to read!  Now I am aware that I need not read every single one, but then I would feel rude if I brought up the same point someone else already had.  So if anyone has suggestions for a way to better follow these discussions, please let me know!  For those who follow #edchat, what works for you?

Today’s midday chat, parts of which I read (along the fringes) after the fact around 1:00, concerned restructuring school schedules to a 4-day week.  Folks participating in the conversation identified pros and cons, and suggested ways to make up for lost learning time: extended school day Mon-Thurs, Friday community-based learning, Friday online learning, requiring more independent student work, etc. To me, one of the most interesting ideas proposed was having students attend school four days, and using the fifth day for teacher collaboration, professional development, and lesson planning.  This idea came from Mr. William Chamberlain in the following posts:

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I believe this is a wonderful idea. Yesterday and today, since kids began the days with standardized testing (HSAs), I have had 5-6 hours of planning and collaboration time each day.  Monday I met with other teachers to plan out events for an upcoming outdoor STEM Competition (STEM=Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). I also worked with other teachers to help us all prepare for administering the online-based engineering final exams. Today I wrote eight projects.  One is a video review project for my Algebra II  with Trigonometry (A2T) students, where they will create video recaps of important skills they’ve learned this semester to help them get ready for the final exam in three weeks.  The other projects, together with more that I had already written, bring my list of A2T final projects up to fourteen.  This is enough for each student to choose a different final project topic and do some independent exploration into an algebraic or analytic topic related to the course.  I also had a student research Glogster for me for future use in a math project, and, of course, I read through parts of #edchat!

Other countries seem to allot significantly more planning time to teachers out of their school days and weeks. According to this blog post, the ratio of planning time to teaching time in the U.S.  is 1:4 (i.e. 20% of total work time is devoted to planning) whereas other countries’ average is 2:3 (40% of total work time is devoted to planning).  The chart posted here shows hours teachers spend in front of the classroom in various countries; note that Japan has less than half the face-time hours of the United States! For those interested in further reading, a nice argument for greater planning time is here.

As a teacher who also helps run the engineering department at my school, this year I have had more planning time than most of my colleagues. Now I use that time and more every day: I arrive each day at 7:30 for a school day that starts at 8:45, and stay most afternoons until 5 or 6 because so much needs to get done that even my extra planning time is not enough! But I am grateful for this extra planning time, and I believe that all my fellow teachers should have this advantage. We should follow the trend of other countries, reducing the time spent in front of classes of students, while increasing the time available for teachers to plan. During planning time, teachers should create and modify lessons, observe each other, share ideas, critique others’ lesson plans, learn new things, collaborate on joint projects between multiple classes, plan field trips and other events, build personal learning networks (PLNs) both in-school and online, and discuss strategies to improve education at their school and globally. This could be done by using Friday as a teacher collaboration and planning day, or in other ways like reduing teachers’ course-load. What do you think?

I am aware that I am lucky to have this time

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