Using Journal Writing with English Learners (and Other Students)

By Katharine Davies Samway

Journal writing provides an opportunity for students to reflect upon their lives and learning. This type of writing can enhance the language, literacy, and content learning of English learners (ELs) (e.g., Peyton & Reed, 1990; Taylor, 1990; Samway & Taylor, 1993), as well as non-ELs. While I have found that this type of reflective writing can be a powerful learning tool in good times, it can be particularly relevant and helpful during difficult times, such as now with schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and teaching/learning moved to online. However, keep in mind that online journal writing requires access to the Internet and a computer or cell phone—see my earlier K-12Talk post for solutions to these equity issues: What About Students Who Do Not Have Access to the Tools that Are Needed for Online Learning?

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An Inquiry Approach to Learning Content with Newcomer Students

By Laura Alvarez and Lucinda Pease-Alvarez

 When trying to support their newcomer students who are also new to English, teachers often wonder if they can even address content area learning in English.  Based on our experience, an inquiry-based approach to content learning in English can be very effective. This approach involves students in actively constructing knowledge and doing work in the disciplines.  We have found the following instructional practices are helpful when structuring inquiry-based content units.  Many of these practices can be adapted when planning for remote instruction.

  • Articulate clear and strategic learning objectives
  • Engage students’ curiosity and wonder
  • Facilitate and make meaning of hands-on learning experiences
  • Involve students in accessible and relevant ways of applying and communicating what they’ve learned.
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Teacher Appreciation Week: 20% OFF a Selection of Books from our Contributors

Just click on the book title and you’ll be brought to the special discount webpage for ordering. And check out our authors’ blog posts by clicking on the links below their names.

Meena Srinivasan, author of SEL Every Day: Integrating Social and Emotional Learning with Instruction in Secondary Classrooms (SEL Solution Series), $19.95 $15.96

“With Appreciation: For the Love Teachers Bring to Their Work”

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What About Students Who Do Not Have Access to the Tools that Are Needed for Online Learning?

By Katharine Davies Samway

If we have a computer, regular access to the Internet, and a cell phone with unlimited calls and texts, we may forget that our students may not have the same access to these tools, which are essential for online learning.  In some cases, schools surveyed their students about their technological needs before the schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.  In other cases, teachers have had to use time during the school closure to identify students’ needs. 

Teachers I’ve interviewed comment on the importance of surveying students and families in order to determine which technological tools they have access to.  At Laura Alvarez’s K-8 two-way immersion bilingual school, teachers polled their students by phone, text, and email about their access to a computer and the Internet (as well as their access to everyday necessities, such as food).  Alvarez estimated that she spent one-third of her time in the two weeks before spring break calling, texting, and emailing students and their families.  She learned that most have some Internet access via a smartphone, but none of her 8th grade students had solid access to the Internet.  A couple of her students had a cousin or aunt who had a computer, and some had computers at home, but weren’t sure how well they worked.  Recently, the school has been distributing Chromebooks to students who do not have access to computers, using social distancing when doing so.

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Early Learners Need a Home-School Connection

By Cindy Terebush

I recently participated in an online gathering of early learners.  Their teacher was reading a book.  The children, in little boxes on the computer screen, were making faces at each other, pointing, dancing and performing other feats of imagination.  When the session was over, the teacher asked me, “Why am I doing this?  They aren’t listening.”

In other areas where children may have less access to technology, teachers are preparing materials and packets that families can get in the mail or pick up at bus stops.  Numerous teachers have shared with me that they are convinced that it is a futile effort because most families are overwhelmed and not doing the activities.

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Supporting All Learners During Remote Learning

By Kathryn Nieves, a special education teacher at Sparta Middle School in New Jersey

When my school district called me on a Thursday evening, I did not have to answer to know what the message said. I knew it meant we were going into remote learning. As a special education teacher, I worried about IEPs, accommodations, modifications, and, in short, just supporting the emotional needs of my students. Although my students have 1:1 Chromebook devices and experience using them, I knew we still faced many obstacles. The following are tips for supporting all learners that I have discovered throughout my journey (so far) in this uncharted area of education.

Stick with the technology they know first

    As an advocate of educational technology and a Google Trainer, I’m the first person to dive into using a new tool. Even though I was getting almost hourly updates from different edtech companies offering free accounts or trials, I knew this was not the time for me to try out all these tools with my students. For the first few weeks, I kept it consistent. I used tools where my students had a level of comfort and familiarity. Since moving into a fully online platform was new for them, I did not want to add more novelty to the pile until they felt more comfortable.

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Supporting EL Students’ Vocabulary Development While Schools Are Closed

By Katharine Davies Samway, author and Professor Emerita at San José State University in California

Having an extensive vocabulary is very helpful in order to understand, enjoy, and appreciate oral and written language, as well as to succeed in school and the outside world.  Vocabulary is often taught in isolation in a rather boring, uninspiring way for many students—being given ten words to define is one example.  However, vocabulary development can be a very engaging and exciting experience. Word Consciousness is one such approach—it focuses on language in context and an awareness of and love for language (e.g., Graves & Watts-Taffe, 2008; Samway & Taylor, 2009; Scott & Nagy, 2004).

The following word consciousness/vocabulary development activities are very helpful for English learners (ELs), as well as for non-ELs.  Importantly, students who do not have access to a computer and/or the Internet can complete these activities.  I mention this because there has been a lot of talk about the importance of online teaching while students are likely to be out of school for weeks, if not months, during the coronavirus epidemic.  However, many students who are immigrants and/or come from low-income homes do not have access to the Internet or computers that are necessary for online learning to occur. 

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Teaching in the Time of Corona: Supporting Newcomer Students During School Closures

By Laura Alvarez, author, teacher, researcher, and professional development provider

As educators, we currently face an unprecedented challenge: continuing to provide rich learning opportunities when our physical school sites are closed. While most schools are going online, many students do not have internet access or computers at home. These inequities threaten to further exacerbate equity gaps for our students who have historically not been well-served by U.S. schools and who must rely on our educational institutions, including recently arrived immigrant students, or newcomers.

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Back to School: Promoting English Learners’ Assets

The proportion of English learners (ELs) in the United States public school system has reached nearly ten percent of all students, and is on a nationwide growth trajectory1.  Along with this growth in numbers, ELs tend to experience an opportunity gap, which generally refers to the impact that factors such as students’ English proficiency, socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity have on their achievement. For example, 79% of English fluent eighth graders scored at the basic or above reading level in 2017, while only 32% of ELs scored at those levels during that same year.2  In addition, ELs have one of the lowest graduation rates among all students on a national level, approximately 63% as compared to 82% of all students3.Gaps such as these have helped lead far too many educators to see ELs as one-dimensional, defined primarily as being lacking in areas such as English proficiency, achievement in content areas, and/or ability to graduate. Recent research4 on teachers’ perceptions of ELs in kindergarten through second grade suggests that classifying students as ELs has a “direct and negative effect on teachers’ perceptions of students’ academic skills.”

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