Monday, September 5, 2016

Welcome Back!!

It's a new school year! Yippee!! I love September. Sure, I miss summer, just like any other person, but the time has come for school books, new routines, and fresh opportunities. This year, our ELL population has dramatically increased, which is great! More students, more families, and more healthy connections to facilitate for both newcomers and returning EL's. It seems that now, more than ever, the job of teaching EL's is so vitally important. The political climate is not always exceedingly welcoming or rock solid for immigrants, refugees and other folks looking to learn English. Maybe that's an understatement, but part of my job is simply to make my students and their families feel safe and welcome. That's really the foundation of learning at any level. And so that's what I'm doing on the eve of the first day of school: hosting a Welcome Back Tea for ELL's and their families and advocates. We will have iced tea, snacks, interpreters, and opportunities to ask questions, to be seen and heard.

Good stuff ahead! Can't wait to get Frontier ESL up and running this year!

Best wishes for a GREAT year, all!

Mrs. Blair

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Say No To The Summer Slide

What?!? It's June?? How did that happen? Time flies when you're teaching and learning a new language. Here at FrontierESL, we have been acquiring academic English by leaps and bounds--and we could even prove it by bragging about our just-released ACCESS scores. But we won't do that here, as it's 1) a violation of student confidentiality and 2) not polite to boast.

Still, we've learned a great deal this year, and as we begin to head into sweet summertime, we are making plans on how to prevent the inevitable summer slide - that yearly regression of academic language and skills that plagues many, if not most students. Research shows that students can lose up to 2 months' worth of what they have learned in class over the summer. In addition, 2/3 of the achievement gap between lower and higher income students may be due to summer learning loss.

HAVE NO FEAR! FrontierESL has a plan! Part of this plan includes a cool summer hybrid learning program that involves a little at-school programming, a little tutoring, and a little virtual-classroom instruction - plus the added incentive of a trip to Six Flags!!! Sign me up!!

One key part of our virtual classroom instruction will include participation in Duolingo's #DuoNotErase program, in which students continue to study English over the summer using the incredible language learning program known as...Duolingo. We've even submitted an entry into their summer #DuoNot Erase program, and if we get enough votes, we could win a cool Mac Book for our classroom. So, if you're reading this post, won't you please help our cause by voting for us? Click here:

Thanks! And hopefully you're making plans for avoiding your own #summerslide. The figurative one, that is. As for the real one, well...perhaps we'll see you at the water park!

Happy Summer!

Mrs. Blair
Frontier ESL Teacher

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

6 Quick And Dirty Tips For Supporting ELL's in the Math Classroom

Okay, so there's really nothing dirty about these tips at all. But quick they are, in the sense that mainstream math teachers can invest relatively little time in implementing these strategies and get a lot of return for their small efforts. Each of these suggestions is designed to lead to more supported, more comfortable ELL students, who thereby will be more likely to learn math content as well as acquire academic English. Win win!

Recently a colleague sought advice on how to support a beginner ELL student in his math classroom. While many see math as a language of its own, a remarkable amount of learning in math is dependent on the language of instruction. For ELL's, who are learning both math content as well as a new language, this new challenge can feel overwhelming, particularly for those students who are brand new to English. Here are a few simple suggestions to support ELL's in the math classroom:

1. Create vocabulary banks. Use charts that provide key terms with L1 translations. It's ideal to create vocabulary banks that a student can keep and refer to in a notebook, but even better to have a larger classroom-sized version that makes up the "real estate" in the math classroom. Classroom sized references like this often become useful for non-ELL's as well.

2. Use sentence frames. Math sentence frames do a number of jobs for ELL's. They bring a context to math vocabulary; they provide a structure for extending English language skills; they provide support for ELL's in class discussions; and they help ELL's to apply new vocabulary to discussion and writing using correct grammar and sentence structure. 

3. Use manipulatives. Using tools allows students to create concrete representations of abstract topics, thereby making content more comprehensible. Plus, it makes learning more interesting.

4. Adjust teacher talk/practice wait time. ELL's require more time to process information. Slow down speech and enunciate clearly. Reduce teacher talk, and use a variety of words for the same idea. After asking a question, wait a few moments before asking for a volunteer. Also, avoid "teaching in the air" and write questions on the board for additional language support.

5. Check for understanding using nonverbal cues. Receptive language (listening and reading) typically develops earlier than productive (speaking and writing). Give ELL's the opportunity to safely participate and "show they know" by seeking a thumbs up/thumbs down as a yes/no or agree/disagree. This option allows even brand new students the chance to feel included and offers opportunities for participation.

6. Use partner talk. Partner talk builds opportunities for student participation in discussions without the pressure of being in the spotlight. Partner talk also builds trust and positive collaboration among peers. 

If you happen to use one or several of these strategies, I'd love to hear your feedback!

Mrs. Blair