Tips for Working With ELL Students

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1 Session One: Increasing Comprehensibility One goal for every teacher working with ELL students is to increase comprehensibility. In other words, to increase understanding or make course content more intelligible. A good question to pose: Does the material I am covering make sense to my ELL student/s? If the answer is no or you are uncertain, here are a few tips to increase comprehensibility: 1. Build Background Knowledge in its simplest terms, background knowledge is the information and knowledge we possess about a subject that allows us to understand it. Background knowledge fills in the blanks about a new topic. Because ELL students may not share the same type of life experiences as your native born students, you must provide them with the background information necessary to understand. Make sure your students understand the key terms and vocabulary (IN THEIR OWN WORDS). Building vocabulary is the best way to build background knowledge. Explain similarities and differences between the concept you are discussing and things the student is familiar with. 2. Nonverbal Cues pictures, realia (i.e., real objects), and gestures are all important to an ELL student s level of comprehension. Some research suggests that up to 80% of what we understand is because of nonverbal cues. Use your hands, gestures, and body movements as an extension of your verbal communication. BE SURE YOU ARE AWARE OF ANY AMERICAN GESTURES WHICH MIGHT BE OFFENSIVE IN OTHER CULTURES! 3. Model use the words you expect your students to use. If your students make an error correct gently through modeling the appropriate language. With most students, it is acceptable to directly correct a student privately by saying, In English we say, but this should NEVER be done in front of others. In many cultures one of the most important things in life is saving face! 4. Adjust Instructional Language What academic terms do you UNNECESSARILY use? What are the key vocabulary words that a student must know to be successful in your class? Do you regularly use synonyms without explain the relationship between/among words? Does your class know the twelve powerful words of Larry Bell? What can you do to adjust your instructional language in order to make your course content comprehensible? Staff Discussion: What do you currently do to increase comprehensibility? 1

2 Session Two: Understanding Language Proficiency Five areas of language development are necessary for a student to be considered English Proficient: speaking, listening, reading, writing, and comprehension. When considering these areas, it is important to realize that English proficiency most always develops on a slant. Speaking and listening skills will be higher than reading skills, which will be higher than writings skills, until a student becomes totally proficient. e.g., Levels of Writing, Reading, Listening, Speaking might look like this. It can be very frustrating as a teacher when you hear a student speaking fluently, but he/she does not appear capable of completing reading and writing assignments. According to Bear et al. in Words Their Way with English Language Learners, the slant of development also is true in the relationship between reading and spelling. In other words, a student s reading ability will most often be higher than his/her spelling, etc. For example, a student might spell the word FLOT but read float correctly when it is presented as part of a text. And, don t forget, interpersonal communication skills develop before academic language skills. A student may tell a great story about what he/she did over the weekend, but not have the words to discuss the topic being covered in your class. For any student, your ELL teacher can tell you the level of language development in each of the five areas. Pursue this information and make accommodations and adjustments based on the differences in your students speaking, listening, reading, writing, and comprehension levels. Staff Discussion: What kinds of accommodations are you using/making for ELL students? 2

3 Session Three: Fluency Three important concepts are part of an ELL student s fluency: (a) prosody, (b) automaticity, and (c) accuracy. 1. Prosody the rhythm, stress, and intonation used in language. Do your students understand the form (e.g., question, command, etc.) of what they are saying and reading? Are appropriate emotions conveyed through a student s speech? 2. Automaticity is reading or speaking (especially of high frequency words) automatic? Are you using word walls to build sight word recognition? Are you frequently using sight words in speech? Are you providing students the opportunity to say and repeat new words frequently? 3. Accuracy are you building student accuracy? Especially with immigrants, it is easy to decide we should not be overly critical of pronunciation. While it is true you cannot attack accuracy in all language at once, it is important to choose words for accuracy (similar to a spelling list) that will be worked on by the student until the words are mastered. Remember that, while it is important to build fluency in ELL students, instruction that balances fluency with comprehension is more beneficial. For example, do not focus on reading rate at the expense of expression of meaning. The rhythm, intonation, and form (i.e., prosody) used by a student is one indicator of comprehension. Have students practice reading passages by designating an emotion (e.g., let s read this next sentence as if we are sad ) that should be expressed through the reading. Give students the opportunity to practice saying and reading words out loud. One of the best ways to improve fluency is for the teacher to read a text or passage and then have the student read it back to them. Repetition and re-reading often help build fluency. A final suggestion for building fluency is to have ELL students read along with a taped text. This allows the student to practice all three components of fluency. Staff Discussion: What are some strategies that you currently use to assist with fluency? 3

4 Session Four: Reading Level Just like any student in your classroom, an ELL student s reading level is a significant part of his/her academic success. In order to read a text fluently and for comprehension, a student should read a text with a 90% accuracy rate. In other words, if a student misses more than ten out of every 100 words he/she is reading, the student will not understand what is being read. Here are some suggestions from Colorin Colorado for adjusting/assisting with reading level: Provide plenty of supplemental texts at varying reading levels. Use texts with strong graphic support. Create word walls that are organized by topic (e.g., help words, new words). Let students create personal dictionaries in English that relate to the subject being taught. Show students how to use clues such as bold print, chapter headings, and chapter summaries (and be sure to introduce the different parts of a text table of contents, etc.) to build comprehension of text. Whenever possible, identify a student s literacy level in the native language and if a student is literate in his/her native language, use this to your advantage. (Did you know that NPS can administer the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) in Spanish?) Staff Discussion: What instructional materials can you add to your classroom to assist with reading levels? 4

5 Session Five: Classroom Attributes August and Hakute conducted an analysis of ELL students and learning. Their research indicates that certain attributes exist in classrooms where ELL students are most successful. Successful classrooms include: 1. Explicit Skill Instruction Teacher led instruction that overtly demonstrates how to complete a task; or, making explicit connections between concepts words or ideas. 2. Student Directed Activities activities that are student led such as small group or paired work extend learning for ELL students. 3. Instructional Strategies that Enhance Understanding using graphic organizers, manipulatives, or doing activities such as playing games enhance understanding. 4. Provide opportunities to Practice. 5. Conduct ongoing systematic student assessments (either formal or informal). Staff Discussion: What do these classroom attributes suggest about instruction for ELL students? 5

6 Session Six: Teaching Vocabulary Vocabulary development is one of the most important steps to develop language proficiency. In fact, the ELL assessment test that each student must pass to become proficient is a measure of academic language proficiency. Tips for teaching vocabulary include: Teach vocabulary in an explicit, systematic way. Are you teaching the vocabulary that is most essential for your students to know? Are you providing the students with repeated exposure to the vocabulary? Are you using student-friendly words to provide definitions? Do you have routines for teaching vocabulary? Focus on common root words and affixes to expand word knowledge. Teaching ELL students about roots and prefixes and suffixes is a great way to reinforce an ELL student s vocabulary. Capitalize on cognates. What words are the same and similar from the student s native language to English? What words are extremely different? According to Ruben Moran, most Americans can understand approximately 25,000 words in multiple languages because of the similarities across languages. Of course, we also must be cautious about false cognates. For example, while we might assume that the Spanish word embarzada means embarrassed because of similarity in sound, it actually means pregnant. There are many dictionaries of cognates online that can assist you. Teach transition words. Words that signal a relationship will help your ELL build understanding in ELL students. Understanding cause and effect words such as therefore and because; comparison words such as while; and, time sequence words such as then or before, will increase comprehension for your ELL students. Staff Discussion: Marzano claims that if you teach students vocabulary, you have educated them. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why or why not? 6

7 Session Seven: Modifications ELL students often benefit from modifications. According to Judie Haynes, content area homework and tests must be differentiated. Differentiation can include things such as using alternative types of assessments (e.g., drawing, physical response act it out, etc.) or assignments with the same goal, but with different instructional products (e. g., posters or videos rather than papers). The list below includes common modifications for ELL students. 1. Shorten or modify assignments (make work more manageable) or simplify instructions (give both written and oral instructions). 2. Allow translation dictionaries when feasible. 3. Modify reading; direct students to read sections that focus on the most important concepts. 4. Limit choices on multiple choice tests and avoid true/false questions. 5. Create an assignment notebook. Give students a copy of the teacher s notes or an outline of each lesson. 6. Pair student with a high achieving buddy. 7. Test students on content vocabulary rather than concepts. 8. When doing essays as part of testing, allow newcomers to create lists rather than paragraphs. 9. Require oral presentations, but modify length and content. 10. Ask direct questions (e.g., do you understand the assignment), or have the student explain the assignment back to you. Staff Discussion: Discuss the pros and cons of doing modifications. 7

8 Session Eight: Vocabulary Objectives Good teachers know that every lesson taught includes a content objective. For ELL students, a second objective extends the learning process: the vocabulary objective. If a co-worker was describing you to a new boss and said, he/she is a skybald and you don t know what the word means, how would you react? Will you smile benignly and wonder what your friend is talking about? If you know, however, that skybald means worthless or good-for-nothing, your reaction is more predictable and you would not appreciate this word being used to describe you to your boss. ELL students frequently encounter the challenges of not knowing or understanding the academic language needed to be successful. As you plan your lessons think about the key word or phrase that is the essence or foundation of the lesson. Once the vocabulary objective has been identified, consider different strategies that can be used to teach and assess the vocabulary objective. It is common for ELL students to keep vocabulary notebooks or make personal dictionaries to assist them. Don t however, fall into the rut of having the student record the word and use it in a sentence. Make the student explain what the word means and how it relates to the course content. Frequently conduct informal assessments for vocabulary comprehension. For instance, have students generate a list of synonyms for the word, or create a story with the primary idea being the vocabulary word. Ask students to tell you what a word is not. By assisting students with the development of vocabulary, you will expand their learning opportunities. Staff Discussion: What are the challenges associated with creating vocabulary objectives? How can you overcome them? 8

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