Encouraging Literacy through Pen Pals

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Last fall my grades one through four English language learners in central Taiwan began writing to their ELL pen pals in southeast Missouri. The slideshow below is just a sample of the more than 40 letters that are sent at a time between our students. The project has been met with a lot of enthusiasm on both sides of the Pacific! On my side I’ve noticed my students have been highly motivated to put a lot of effort into their work and frequently ask for updates about whether or not their letters have been received and how much longer I expect for new letters to arrive.

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Professionalism in Taiwan’s Native English Speaking Teacher Population

The following work is research I conducted for my final project in my Problems in TESOL course at Southeast Missouri State University during the fall 2018 semester. A survey was designed and disseminated to gather data about Taiwan’s native English speaking teacher population. Survey responses reveal that a majority of NESTs in Taiwan are male, North American, have more than five years of teaching experience, and rarely have any professional certifications beyond a TEFL certificate. Data also indicates that schools are not supporting their teachers to become better educators as half of all respondents stated that their schools never provide opportunities for professional development. Recommendations are designed based on research by Patten, Parker, and Tannehill (2015) on the importance of professional development. Additional recommendations are made using findings by Kelch (2011) to improve the state of English language teaching in the Far East context.
Continue reading Professionalism in Taiwan’s Native English Speaking Teacher Population

Caring Means Sharing – Resources and Materials for ESL/EFL Teachers

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If, Then… Reading Interventions Menu

Jennifer Jones is a K-12 Reading Specialist and the founder of the blog Hello Literacy. This source is a list of research-based reading interventions to help better meet the instructional needs of struggling readers. I am sharing the If, Then… Reading Interventions Menu because it is an excellent, free resource and I am confident that my others out there are teaching English language learners who also struggle to read. I find this resource valuable because our school does not employ a reading specialist and even if we did it is essential to understand what targeted interventions are at our disposal for addressing specific reading problems.

This resource is arranged in two columns: the first column lists reading challenges and the second column is comprised of a checklist of strategies to try to address that problem. For example, the fifth challenge says, “If a student struggles with accurate oral reading of punctuation, and it affects comprehension.” Suggested interventions include to, “Practice intonation with echo reading: student repeats teacher’s rendition of the passage” and “Reproduce a piece of text, eliminating punctuation; show how punctuation placement affects reading.”

I have found this resource very useful in my classroom. In our school’s pre-k program I have the pleasure of teaching our students to read in a foreign language at the same time they are learning to read in their first language. The reading interventions menu that Ms. Jones’s compiled has really helped me assist my struggling students so they do not fall behind their classmates and help them learn to read with fluency and accuracy.

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Conversation Questions for the ESL/EFL Classrooms

Although it is no longer updated, the Conversation Questions for the ESL/EFL Classroom available from the Internet TESL Journal hosts a variety of topics for teachers to choose from. There are over 200 topics including: Getting to Know Each Other, Gay Community, The Unexplained, and even a list of questions devoted to Pope John Paul II.

The number of questions in each topic varies. Many topics contain several dozen questions each. These are really handy for getting students to talk. Teachers must use discretion as obviously some topics may be inappropriate for your students’ ages, mismatched to their proficiency levels, or considered taboo in their home culture. Lists may contain individual questions that need to be edited to make them age or level appropriate.

I’ve used these lists both with students I tutor and in the classroom. I usually cut and paste the questions and make edits and deletions as needed. Then I print the list and cut the questions into individual strips. These are placed in a hat and students and myself take turns asking and answering questions. With some discretion and minor changes, these topics can be an excellent tool to encourage speaking in your ESL/EFL classroom.

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50 Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners

50 Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners is a collection of field-tested, practical strategies for meeting the instructional needs of English language learners. Both Adrienne Herrell and Michael Jordan are professor emeriti at California State University, Fresno. Both are prolific writers of books for teachers, serve as educational consultants for school districts, and have presented at numerous conferences about literacy. The book includes a DVD showing teachers demonstrating some of these teaching strategies in their classrooms.

The book is divided into six main sections: Theoretical Overview, Strategies for Encouraging Active Involvement, Strategies for Language Development, Strategies for Literacy Development, Strategies for Content Instruction, and Technology Strategies for English Learners. Some of the strategies you are already familiar with such as: cloze, story reenactments, learning centers, and repeated readings. This book is an excellent resource for both novice teachers and veteran teachers. I like how the strategies in the book are easy to understand and apply. The one drawback to this book is that most of the strategies are geared towards primary school students. There is little discussion in each strategy for how to effectively use them with other age groups. A lot of the suggestions will require creative changes if implemented in secondary classrooms.

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Oxford Dominoes

Dominoes is a four-level collection of carefully graded readers geared towards upper-elementary to lower-secondary aged students. Each level has over a dozen titles and each title is also available as an e-book or as a MultiROM. The MultiROMs include a dramatized audio recording of the story as well as interactive activities to practice reading and language skills on a PC. This collection includes illustrated classics and modern, original stories. There is no doubt that with the range of titles available teachers can find books to match student interests. The artwork in each title is very appealing for students and they make great additions as either class readers or as titles available for students to read independently. Key vocabulary terms in the text are bolded and include definitions in the margins. The end of each two-to-six page chapter includes a variety of activities to check for understanding including fixing mistakes in sentences regarding the plot, completing sentences with key vocabulary items, and ordering events of the story. The end of each book includes projects that make the text more meaningful and several pages of grammar exercises that use examples that relate to the text.

There’s a lot you can do with these readers. I have one class period each week devoted to them. We typically spend three 40 minute class periods on one chapter. The first class is spent pre-teaching key vocabulary terms from the chapter and presenting questions about the plot for students to look out for. Then, I have students follow along as I play the audio dramatization from the MultiROM. Next, we take turns echo reading the first half of the chapter to help the students become more expressive readers. The second class focuses on the second half of the chapter while the third class focuses primarily on reviewing the chapter and doing the exercises at the end of each chapter. Some supplementary activities that I often use with this series include having the students create chapter summaries using blank comic book pages, creating character bios, or writing what if compositions to allow students to imagine how the story would proceed if a major element of the plot were changed somehow.

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Oxford Read and Discover

Read and Discover is a six-level, non-fiction graded reader series published by Oxford University Press. Each level of Read and Discover is comprised of ten books. The series is geared towards elementary school aged students. Book titles in this series include: Amazing Minibeasts, Machines: Then and Now, Super Structures, Free Time, All About Space, and Festivals Around the World. As you can see from the titles, this series provides expository texts in the content areas of science and social studies. Titles are also available as e-books and downloadable audio files are available. Each title is comprised of an introduction followed by eight chapters, activities pages related to each chapter, project pages, and a picture dictionary.

I like this series because of its vivid photographs and eye-catching artwork. Each chapter presents a topic and is only two pages long so students don’t feel bogged down. With each chapter, there are activity pages at the end of the book. The activities on these pages include filling in blanks, matching, and question and answer. In our school’s third and fourth grade classrooms we devote forty minutes of instructional time per week with this series and do one chapter each session. The students get a good dose of content area vocabulary and opportunities to learn about science and other cultures. Even if you don’t have plans to include this series in your curriculum, these titles make a great addition to classroom bookshelves.

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Oxford Discover

Another review of materials by Oxford University Press. They are really good at what they do so I can’t help myself! Oxford Discover is a six-level series of ESL/EFL English learning materials. Each of the six-levels include a student book, a workbook, a grammar book, a writing and spelling book and an online practice site for students. For teachers, options include a teacher’s edition, assessment CD-ROM, posters, picture cards, and the iTools DVD-ROM which contain digital class resources to be used on an interactive whiteboard.

The Oxford Discover series is aimed towards elementary school students. The topics are appropriate for this age of learners and the artwork and photographs are suitable for this group. I like this series because the readings include locales all around the world and students are introduced to people and characters of several different cultures. The content of the main student book is organized around nine Big Questions. These serve as a theme for the subsequent two units. Each unit starts by introducing vocabulary followed by a pre-reading primer that highlights a reading strategy. This is followed by a two page fictional story or informative article. Next is a page devoted to reading comprehension. The following page of each unit are the Grammar in Use sections. These introduce students to the target grammar focus of the unit with a song.

The workbook has a variety of activities to support the material in the student books. The grammar books expand on each unit’s Grammar in Use section. They start with a short story or dialogue and ask students to underline or circle target words related to the grammar focus. With each page of the unit, the activities in the grammar book become more and more challenging. The Writing and Spelling books in the series have a variety of activities to support student writing by guiding them through the writing process from brainstorming, planning, writing, and editing. My students usually respond very positively to the videos that are on the iTools DVD-ROM for each Big Question. Oxford University Press produced a fantastic and thorough product with the Discover series and it can serve as the foundation to build an English language learning program’s curriculum around.

Material Selection in Diverse Classrooms

How can we as teachers guarantee our increasingly diverse student body experience educational equality? In choosing a secondary American history textbook, one of the first criteria when ensuring a multicultural perspective is how far into book one must read before Christopher Columbus shows up. What criteria should we keep in mind for our English language learners when choosing materials?

When selecting materials for English language learners it is important to take into account the diversity of the districts in which we teach. Commercially produced materials for L1 Spanish students learning English would be inappropriate in a US school district largely serving L1 Vietnamese students. Likewise, materials produced overseas for Japanese junior high school students would be of little value for somewhere like the El Paso Independent School District. When selecting commercially available textbooks for use in classrooms, one must look out for who isn’t included. You may find yourself thumbing through an entire, multi-level English learning series and not finding depictions of people with disabilities, characters living in non-traditional nuclear families, people of color in positions of power or high socioeconomic status, or women in male dominated careers.

When selecting or creating materials for the ESL classroom, educators must ask themselves if the topics, artwork, photographs, and/or videos ignite student interest? Are the graphics bland? Is the text overly-sanitized? Do reading materials have characters who experience challenges to which students can relate? What a Greenwich, Connecticut AP Literature class finds engaging likely won’t be the same a freshmen ELL-majority literature course in Dearborn, Michigan.

Publishing companies that produce educational materials often make incredible sales pitches as they fight over the shares of meager budgets that individual schools and districts have for purchasing instructional materials. They may claim that their materials are suited for a seemingly infinite range of proficiency levels, every known learning style, and students of any home culture. Unfortunately, no single textbook or series will ever meet the instructional needs of all students. It’s up to educators to incorporate a variety of materials into the curriculum in order to ensure all students experience educational equality.

By keeping in mind the students we serve, we can choose and create materials that they will find engaging. Through careful, thoughtful selection, we can ignite student interest to provide youngsters with a foundation from which to build academic success. We can choose materials that provide positive portrayals of diverse groups of people. Our classrooms have students who come from neighborhoods in which the wealthiest person on the block is someone who dropped out and engages in illegal activities. From an early age, students coming from these dire environments must see that there are individuals out there that speak the same first language, that have the same cultural heritage, that experienced the same hardships growing up but were able to be academically and professionally successful.

Monolingual America

The majority of Americans are monolingual largely due to the legacy of isolationism. Assimilation of new immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe was the primary goal of school systems in the early twentieth century (Rowe & Levine, 2015, p. 253). Even into the twenty-first century, there is a sizable portion of the population who become irritated and combative when people around them speak languages other than English or because the automated call center has the option of pressing two for Spanish. According to Amelia Friedman, “Less than 1 percent of American adults today are proficient in a foreign language that they studied in a U.S. classroom” (2015). This is very disheartening that so many students receive foreign language instruction in high schools across America and in the end less than one percent come out proficient. I think that if the country prioritized language learning it would be another story. If foreign languages were required from early elementary school through high school there would likely be more interest in continuing to pursue language learning in universities and into adulthood. Sadly, becoming proficient in a foreign language takes a lot of time and it is difficult for many Americans to see the benefit in something that takes so much energy without an immediate financial reward.

Speaking more than one language certainly has its benefits. Whether you are born into a bilingual environment or devote yourself to become proficient in another language you can help keep your mind sharp and according to one study can even delay the onset of dementia (Bak et al., 2014). I believe that speakers of more than one language have better diversity awareness making them more flexible at interacting with members of different culture groups. I have a lot of admiration for people who have devoted tens of thousands of hours into learning another language. My first Chinese language classroom in Taipei was an interesting group of people: Three students from Japan, two from Malaysia, one from Malawi, one from France, one from Mexico, and two Americans (myself and a retired NYC bus driver). With the exception of the other American and I, everyone else was already proficient in at least two other languages.

References

Bak, T. H., Nissan, J. J., Allerhand, M. M. and Deary, I. J. (2014), Does bilingualism influence cognitive aging?. Ann Neurol., 75: 959–963. doi:10.1002/ana.24158

Friedman, A. (2015, May 10). America’s Lacking Language Skills. Retrieved November 26, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/05/filling-americas-language-education-potholes/392876/

Rowe, B. M., & Levine, D. P. (2015). A concise introduction to linguistics. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.