Thursday, January 28, 2016

Taking a CLOSER look our state standards:

By S. Romero

As teachers, no matter what grade level we teach, we all rely heavily on our state standards. Our students’ academic success depends on how effectively those standards are delivered.

However, what I've learned from experience is that many times we as teachers don't quite understand how to properly or effectively implement those standards. Sometimes we teach them at a surface level without reaching the depth in which those standards need to be taught or we fail to make sure that our students are fulfilling those expectations to the fullest through the appropriate application. When this breakdown happens, we begin to teach without any real focus or purpose, we over-teach some things, or teach without relevance to the objective.  And then we spend time wondering why our student's are not meeting expectations.

When looking at a standard, start by pulling out the nouns. The nouns are what it is YOU the teacher are expected to teach your students for that particular standard and subject matter. Next, pull out the verbs from that standard which are what your STUDENTS are expected to DO with that knowledge they were taught. For example: 

Let's begin with a simple math standard.

Start by pulling out the nouns (the knowledge): halves, fourths, and eighths.

Now let's pull the verb. What are our students EXPECTED to do with that KNOWLEDGE? They are expected to identify

It's not asking us to tell our students to build a model that shows a half, fourth or eighths. Although it may seem like an awesome idea, this is where we lose some of our students (over teaching). Of course once they mastered the standards expectation, then we can use those grandeur lesson ideas as extensions for learning. 

That's it! If we learn to deconstruct and take a closer look at our standards, we will save lots of time in our teaching and our student's learning will be more meaningful and purposeful which will result in an a better outcome when they are assessed on those standards. 

Here is another example:

Nouns (Knowledge): plot, problem, solution, beginning, middle, end of a story, events

Verb (DO with that knowledge): describe plot (problem and solution) and retell sequence of events (beginning, middle, and end).

Deconstructing the standards, we will not only teach our students what it is they are suppose to know for that grade level but also teach them what to do with that knowledge. Many times we only pull out the nouns and say..." I taught it!” But, the important question is, “Did our students learn the standard in its entirety?” 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Assessing Language for Progress - READING AND WRITING

Last weeks' blog I explained the varieties of ways to assess language for progress in listening in speaking. This weeks' blog is over the next two domains of language: reading and writing.

Assessing our students’ reading and writing is essential especially when they are learning to read and write in two languages. Our students' should be building a strong foundation in their first language (L1) and by doing so their L2 will be acquired more easily in both reading and writing. However, we need to be sure that we are monitoring that progress and not solely depending on that notion. A good way to ensure progress in both reading and writing in the L2 is to keep an on going record or documentation to make sure progress IS taking place.

When assessing for reading, I assess using my districts’ required reading assessment. When I assess them in their second language reading (L2), I assess using DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) which determines my student's instructional reading level. I start assessing my students in their (L2) reading once I notice that they have a good reading foundation in their first language (L1). When assessing, I make sure to assess students' comprehension and fluency. Although the amount of miscues is important; comprehension is vital to determine a reader from a non-reader. Otherwise if you are just assessing the amount of miscues and not comprehension, your student is only calling out words and not authentically reading. Below is an example of a reading graph I use to monitor reading levels as well and language proficiency.

Journal Writing - From the beginning of the school year, I keep track of my students’ writing progress. I have my students write in their journal from the first day of school. I make sure they have each page dated to keep track of progress. 
On one side of the journal students write in their L1 and on the back side of the journal they write in their L2. What is found is that as their L1 improves, their L2 is developing just as well. Keeping a writing journal throughout the year allows students, parents and administrators to see the writing growth in both languages.
As I grade my students work, I also rate their writing by writing on the right hand corner of their paper the level of descriptor for that particular writing. For example, I write a B for beginner an I for intermediate and so on and so forth. This is based on their writing that matches that particular English language proficiency descriptor.

Work on Writing Station - I have a writing station where my students can practice their creative writing (without a given prompt). This is a good way to assess your students "authentic writing" without a guideline or particular subject matter. It's kind of like taking a look at the BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) in writing if you will.

Pen Pal Letter Writing – I like to "Pal Up" with an upper grade level classroom. Have students from that classroom read with your students. Then set up a system where they can send letters to each other throughout the school year. This is another great way for your student to practice "authentic writing" in their L2. They will not only be practicing their writing skills but also work on their comprehension skills as well.

Every year our students are assessed using a standardized language proficiency test in some if not all domains (depending on grade level). Although this assessment shouldn’t be the main reason that we pay attention to language proficiency progress, it is our duty to ensure that our ELL's show PROGRESS in second language acquisition. By doing these simple informal assessments, we can better ensure both academic and language proficiency success.

We’ve spent all the time and effort monitoring and assessing our students’ language acquisition, and now what?  The absolute more important and crucial piece after assessing your students' language proficiency is providing the appropriate accommodations to continue their progress.  This is such an important piece to the language acquisition puzzle that we are going to dedicate the next blog post to accommodations. What are some good ones? What are some resources that we can use? How long should we accommodate? 

So we are asking for your expertise.  Tell us some of the most effective accommodations that you use with your students at different levels of proficiency. Share your ideas with us by commenting below and you may be featured in our next blog!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Assessing Language for Progress - LISTENING AND SPEAKING
Assessing students’ academic learning is crucial in order to keep track of students’ on going progress. However, in a dual language classroom, we also need to remember that it is just as important to monitor the language proficiency progress. The question is how. How can we assess language progress throughout the year to ensure language acquisition is occurring at the rate expected?
You might be thinking, “How do I monitor or assess for listening or speaking?  These domains are not as concrete as reading and writing so how do we do that in a clear and concise way?”  The best advice I can give you is to remind you that assessments don’t have to be formal.  There is a great amount of information that can be collected simply by observing and really listening to your students. 
When assessing for listening and speaking skills, I like to carry around a clipboard while I listen and assess using a check off sheet that includes listening and speaking language descriptors for each of the proficiency levels. Or, I use sticky notes to make comments about what I hear from individual students. It is a very informal way to assess, but the key is consistency. I listen in on students’ conversations and determine their language proficiency based on my observation and the language descriptors. 
I try to assess several students daily to make sure to have everyone assessed by the end of the week. I do this weekly so that throughout the year I have ongoing documentation of my student's language progress, as well as an idea on how to accommodate instruction for each student in order to ensure progress.

After a read aloud or when discussing a particular topic, students will turn to a partner and one person will be the listener while the other shares their thoughts. I then have the listener share what the speaker had to share. After this, the listener becomes the speaker and vice versa. Listening becomes purposeful and meaningful. 
Tape Recording Questionnaire
During small groups, I have students listen to a tape recording of a conversation or perhaps a story being told. I then ask my students particular questions about what they just heard.
Checking for Understanding
During a read aloud, I check for understanding by asking questions about specific parts of the story or a quick summary just to see if they get the "gist" of what was read.
Giving Purposeful Commands
As you give purposeful commands such as: open your notebooks, get in line, hand me a pencil, hand me the stapler, write your name and date on your paper, fold your paper, cut out a circle, give your partner a high five, check for listening comprehension. Make notes of your observations.
During small/peer group activities walk around the room and listen in on your students’ conversations.
Asking Specific Questions
A great website I use for this particular activity is After the students watch an academic video, they are asked specific questions about what they just watched. It's an awesome way to assess listening and speaking skills.

Once you assess, what's next? The most important piece after assessing your students’ language proficiency is accommodations, accommodations, accommodations! Make sure that you accommodate for each students specific needs. ELPS at aGLANCE is a great resource that gives you the necessary tools to help you accommodate your students’ language needs according to the descriptor he/she falls under. It also includes strategies/activities specific for that level of NO need to reinvent the wheel!

How do you assess your student's language proficiency? Please share your ideas!