Recently, I had the chance to be a fly on the wall of a middle school classroom where, from the moment I entered the room, the warmth of the environment and the tight focus on learning were palpable. It was only a few minutes into the period when I noticed how carefully the instructor chose her words: this welcoming environment and the clear focus on learning were clearly supported by her diction choices.
It’s common to spend a lot of time on the ‘big things’ in our classrooms, such as fine-tuning our curriculum, considering various spatial structures, implementing strong instructional strategies, and establishing clear policies and procedures. Simultaneously, we must be sure not to overlook one of the littlest things that has some of the biggest impact: our words.
Three specific areas where our diction choices can have a notable impact are:
Below are some specific examples.
Increasing Student Engagement
Ensuring Cultural Responsiveness
Growing a Growth Mindset
That middle school classroom I observed a few weeks ago had an instructor who was strong in making diction choices that mattered in all three of these above areas. She seemed aware of how her words helped establish a classroom culture and maintain academic rigor.
Do you have questions or thoughts on this topic? Consider reaching out to your Instructional Coach or one of us on the Secondary Curriculum and Instruction team. We’d love to help you explore this further.
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate
An Art teacher wants his high school students to do peer critiques and engage in instructional dialogue using the art vocabulary they have learned. Unfortunately, students are reluctant to critique a peer’s work and offer suggestions. An English teacher has a first hour class that seems too groggy most days to engage in discussion, yet he knows that when students engage in instructional dialogue deeper learning takes place and the light bulbs go on. Some great ideas have been shared in recent blog posts about how to increase instructional dialogue; here are a couple more to add to your toolkit from Sharroky Hollie’s book Strategies for Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning.
Stop and Scribble
Teachers who have tried these two strategies are excited to share them with colleagues and use them again. Just when you think there are no new ideas out there, something pops up, and Dr. Hollie’s book, Strategies for Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning, has a lot more to choose from. Some are tried and true, but others have a unique twist. Check it out.
As always, if you want to try one of these, or any new activity, just ask an Instructional Coach or an Implementation Associate to come and help. Together you can make it work for your students’ benefit.
This post brought to you by Ellen Harford, an Instructional Coach at John Marshall High School
Connect with Ellen via email or by calling 507.328.5376
Hollie, Sharroky. Strategies for Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning. Shell Education. 2015.
Have you ever had a student struggle and you are confused as to why?
Have you had a student who isn’t making academic gains and/or struggles in the social realm?
Over the years, we have encountered many students who have struggled and have been a puzzle to each of us. Sometimes our students do not follow the norms of language and academic growth. They are not growing similar to other students who come from the same cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Many different strategies and tools were tried to increase language and academic growth, but nothing seemed to work. The classroom teachers would come to Katie in angst with concerns about EL students with this profile; they didn’t know what more to do. I and the classroom teacher were out of our tools in our toolbox. Where did we go next? Often times the student with EL was then brought to Child Study to request testing. Then came a wonderful model that pulls the best of the best professionals to bear on the problem rather than struggling to solve the puzzle individually. It is called RtI (Response to Intervention)
What is RtI?
The RtI (Response to Intervention) model is very helpful in defining student concerns and developing systematic, research-based interventions that inform instruction and assist in determining whether a student is struggling with executive function (information processing issues), mental-health issues, understanding the hidden academic cultural curriculum, and/or social curriculum used within schools. RtI is used throughout the district in the form of many different titles (i.e. Student Assistance Teams, Student Intervention Teams, Professional Learning Communities, etc.).
Can I bring an EL student forth to use the RtI model?
YES! All students can be brought forth to these teams to use the RtI model. The RtI model is a great way to assist teachers in exploring different strategies.
The power of the RtI model is its focus on accessing a problem-solving team that is focused on student growth. This team brings the expertise of professionals together to define the learning difficulty in measurable terms, pull from their collective tool box of differentiated teaching strategies that best meets the defined need of the student, assists in developing a data collection tool (see data tracker) to collect student response to the differentiated teaching strategy, and then to meet at predetermined intervals to review the student’s response to the intervention in order to determine next steps (RtI Process Chart). The beauty of this team is that it is composed of professionals who work with the student, and also professionals who join the team with expertise in the skill area targeted. Using a Data Tracker gives the team objective, focused data to truly inform the decisions they work together to make. The team membership has the ability to change to meet student needs. This team is also willing to research differentiation strategies or make a referral to the Child Study Team when their collective tool boxes have been exhausted or the data indicates the student potentially has a disability and is responsive to more intensive, daily, individualized interventions.
When supporting a student with English learning needs, parental input from the English Language Learner Parent Interview will provide valuable information when establishing strategic, research based differentiated instructional strategies (SIOP for example). When supporting a student with English learning needs, it is imperative to ensure the EL Teacher is involved from the start to ensure matching differentiated strategies are used support the student’s WIDA level of learning and learning profile. Many of these strategies also help our struggling learners and special education students. Our EL staff are very valuable collaborators.
What can I do before I bring an EL student forth to the team
There are a few things that EL and content teachers can do before they begin the RtI process. It is important that the EL and content teachers work as a team since both will see the student through different lenses. WIDA provides some great resources to assist teachers in understanding what students are capable of doing at different language levels. They provide what is called the Can-Do Descriptors of language. Katie has taken the descriptors and created a document that lists what students are able to do in a more concise format. It also provides scaffolds that teachers can use to support students at different language levels.
Image from WIDA's website.
I don’t know who my ELs are and/or I don't know their language levels?
The EL teachers are a great resource in your building and happy to help you identify your English Learners. They can also provide you their language levels. Additionally, they can give you helpful hints to help you tweak your lessons to provide more language scaffolds. Sometimes small changes in a lesson can make a huge impact. For example, instead of just giving your directions orally, write them on the board, provide visuals and gestures so students know what is expected of them.
Our team has decided to bring a student forth through the RtI Process. What happens first
The EL teacher will complete the Parent Interview. This parent interview is to provide background information, past educational experiences, language exposure and other valuable information that can help the team better understand the student. Sometimes they will ask for support from our amazing bilingual team. Then the team will complete the first couple of pages of the Intervention Form in order to be prepared for your first RtI meeting. Both forms can be found on the 535 Net →Internal Documents → Student Support Services → Child Study-Child Study Information. Then follow the RtI Process Chart to understand next steps.
Who can I contact if I have more questions
The Student Support Services team at your site is a great place to start. They can help guide you through the process. Also, Katie is also happy to assist in any way if you have questions regarding EL.
We hope that this information is helpful as you navigate your way through the RtI model.
With the end of the semester on the horizon, many teachers are searching for review strategies that use formative means to help students prepare for semester exams. The "Stay and Stray" strategy can be very useful when multiple skills or concepts are being reviewed.
I recently saw this strategy being used at CTECH with our students as they prepared for the CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) practical exam. By the time this formative assessment was used the students had already practiced performing many CNA skills throughout the semester and were now preparing for the state certification practical exam. The student's knew when they arrived for the day they would be assessed on one of several skills. The teacher used the "Stay or Stray" strategy summarized in the table below.
The following process was used:
The use of "Stay or Stray" review strategy got the students up and out of their seats, while ensuring they were accountable to themselves, their group members, and their teacher. The strength of this activity is that the teacher used an ungraded formative assessment to give quality feedback though peer, individual, and teacher interaction. The teacher reduced her workload by enlisting students to perform peer and self assessments. No grade was applied, but the students were given ample opportunity to think about and apply their learning.
If you are wondering why she did not apply an actual grade to the assessment, you may wish to read the previous blog post "Grading for Learning". By using peer assessment, the teacher reduced her own workload while still providing quality feedback for the students. There are many ways to give feedback to students while helping them review at the end of the semester; for more ideas see the blog post "Quality Feedback Structures that Save Teachers Time and Keep Students Learning".
This post brought to you by Dan Devine, Secondary Implementation Associate
I love the start of a new year for a variety of reasons. I love buying new calendars, organizers, and seeing that expanse of possibility as I look out at 365 new days to learn and grow. One of my favorite parts of being in the education profession is that our profession is filled with people who love to learn. In fact, many of us loved school so much that we never left.
As you look out on your 365 days of possibility how will you plan for your own continued learning? Here are some of the best ideas that I recently collected from RPS educators:
Plan a time each week to read professionally.
Many people are taking advantage of our “flipped book group” that will meet this winter called Bundle Up with Books. This is a great way to ensure that you set aside time to read, since the way the class works is that you bring your own professional reading (book, magazine, etc.) and spend time actually reading during the book group. Heather Lyke and Katie Miller facilitate this and the best part is that you get to actually read that stack that you’ve been meaning to get to.
Listen to a podcast.
If you are new to podcasts these are basically audio broadcasts that you can listen to at any time. They are great if you spend a lot of time in the car since you can listen as you drive. One of my favorites isPrincipal Center Radio.
Edutopia also suggests these:
Schedule time to network with those outside of education.
When I asked people what they do to continue to grow and learn a surprising pattern emerged. Many people find inspiration from thinkers outside of their chosen field. For instance, Julie Ruzek (the RPS coordinator of Coordinator of Family and Community Engagement and Title I Programs) commented that “the most productive meetings/ideas/outcomes have happened when I've collaborated with people both in and outside of education. Sometimes we forget that people outside our chosen profession have much to offer as well!”
Surround yourself by people who love to learn.
Cultivate relationships with those who are constantly reading, seeking feedback, and trying to improve themselves. If you don’t work directly with these kind of people, find a way to have lunch or coffee with them regularly to keep yourself energized and inspired.
Put yourself in situations where you are the student.
This might be taking a college class, learning a new type of yoga, or learning to rock climb. Putting yourself back in learning mode helps you remember what skills and dispositions are most important for learning something new. For example, Michelle Baines (RPS music educator) commented that she“recently took some classes at the college which helped [her] remember what it is like to be the learner!”
Here’s to 2018! Have a wonderful year learning and growing!
This post brought to you by Heather Willman, APOSA overseeing Secondary Curriculum and Instructional Coaching
If you would like to explore other ways to tackle that stack of professional reading or explore more educational podcast possibilities, check out this blog post from May of 2017.
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