After four years of teaching with the Richmond School District's International Student Programs in Shenzhen, China I have moved back to Canada and will be starting a new position in the district this fall.
Over the past four years I have met and worked with some truly wonderful students, colleagues, and friends. Along with my position I have had the opportunity to travel throughout many Asian countries I otherwise would not have seen. My time abroad has both been rewarding professionally and personally. Transporting my experiences from living and working within the Chinese community is something I look forward to integrating upon my return to Canada.
This fall I am very excited to be starting a new positions as a Special Education and ELL teacher at an elementary school in Richmond. I have been working towards specializing my qualifications and I am looking forward to getting to work with my knew colleagues, take part in some very interesting programs to support students with specific learning needs, working one on one and in small groups with students at my new school.
Over the coming school year I will be sharing experiences from my new role and will continue to share resources and exciting new finds.
Have a wonderful rest of the summer!
Ms. Lang saw Clark out of his desk again and said, “Clark, you must sit in your seat and do your work.” Five minutes later, “Clark, in your seat. How much work have you done?”
|Including ELLs In Mainstream Teaching: English Language Arts 9 Activity Package|
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*To view the British Columbia Ministry of Education’s English Language Learning: Policy, Guidelines and Resources click here.
Article Review: Using Standardized Tests to Make High-Stake Decisions About English-Language Learners: Dilemmas and Critical Issues
Author: Maria del Rosario Basterra
Equityreview’s article Using Standardized Tests to Make High-Sake Decisions on English-Language Learners: Dilemmas and Critical Issues looks at American ELLs and their participation in the National Voluntary Test, which is a standardized exam in the United States. Although this article is specific to America, there are several good points made regarding standardized testing in general with regards to ELLs. The report has come from observations on the changing demographics in American schools and the fact that ELLs, or language minority students, have not been successful overall in the education system (Basterra, 1998-1999). The article was structured into four topics, which interwove together; critical issues concerning ELL assessment, problems that need to be addressed, the improper use of standardized achievement scores used to determine major decisions and proposed recommendations (Basterra, 1998-1999).
Basterra (1998-1999) states that if a student’s English level is not skilled enough then their test scores will not clearly demonstrate their abilities and understanding of the subject being tested. In a 1997 report the National Research Council, in America, indicated three major issues with standardized tests; first, there are norm biases due to the number of ELLs writing these tests being much smaller than non-ELLs; second, there is bias in the content presented, which is targeted at the main culture being represented in the test, and this neglects ELLs from diverse cultural backgrounds; third, generally the structure of tests can pose a challenge with regards to timing and vocabulary content (Basterra, 1998-1999). A major question, which is not unique to this article, was Basterra’s (1998-1999) questioning of whether standardized exams should be used as the central focus when assessing an ELL student. As a recommendation Basterra (1998-1999) noted that instead of relying solely on standardized exams, that performance assessment should also be a part of the evaluation. Performance assessments need to also be carefully constructed to accurately demonstrate true learning, and it is still vital to note that even these tests can pose challenges and should not be relied on as a full assessment of the learner (Basterra, 1998-1999). Basterra (1998-1999) commented that although standardized exams can have a benefit to teachers, student placement and parental and student awareness of needs that they can also be misused and over used for major decision making. For example, to use standardized exams as a measure of high school graduation is a gross misuse of this style of exam (Basterra, 1998-1999). Basterra (1998-1999) concluded by recommending performance be assessed using alternate forms of assessment that incorporate awareness of biases and allow ELLs a more equal advantage to their non-ELL pupils. It was acknowledged that it is a difficult task to make the adaptations and alterations to testing; however, Baterra (1998-1999) was firm on her stance that changes need to be made for the growth of equity and inclusion.
In my own opinion of standardized exams I believe they need to be used very carefully and judiciously. I agree very much with the arguments set forth my Basterra and believe there is a time and place for exams, and especially standardized exams. There needs to be a balance between different forms of assessment to gain a whole picture of a student’s ability, progress and potential. Standardized exams should not be used to determine major decisions, such as high school completion, university entrance or job placements. Standardized exams I feel are better suited for decisions which do not affect permanent decisions; such as the placements in classrooms, where adjustments can be made once the student is able to demonstrate their full range of abilities. Standardized exams should also be used sparingly and for very specific purposes. They need to be created in a very careful way which reduces the potential of bias, and especially for ELLs, cultural bias. For example, I conducted standardized tests in a foreign setting and an animal used in the exam was a beaver, many students were unfamiliar with this animal and because of this their response to the question could not be trusted as an accurate reading of their knowledge. Cultural bias is a very important factor to be aware of and not only for ELLs, but for different cultural groups within any given population.
Basterra, Maria del Rosario. (1998-1999). Using standardized tests to make high-stake decisions on
English-language learners: dilemmas and critical issues. Equityreview. Retrieved from
Pink Shirt Day
What I really liked about this video was the message of hope for change and how it works to empower youth to say no to bullying and stop it at from spreading. The video speaks for its self and I encourage you to share it with your students and talk about it with your own teens. Support the youth in your life to be the hope for change.
English Language Learners (ELLs) come from diverse backgrounds, countries, cultures, and experiences. For example ELLs can be Canadian born students who have come from a non-English home, immigrants, refugees or those learning a new dialect of English (British Columbia, 2009). Approaching ELL instruction with curiosity and openness to learn about the diversity in the classroom sets assumptions to the side and fosters an inquisitive and open learning environment that creates a sense of openness apposed to predetermined beliefs.
Aim to Understand
Similar to forgetting assumptions, aim to understand your ELLs. Look for cultural differences to support in bridging the gaps in their understanding, which can smooth their learning and cultural transitions (British Columbia, 1999). Also, look for similarities in culture to build on commonalities (British Columbia, 1999). Learn about the ELLs heritage and celebrate their heritage (British Columbia, 1999). For example; invite ELLs to be the experts about their cultures, celebrate holidays and festivals, embrace differences between cultures as a way to learn more about the world.
Create Positive Encounters
ELLs need to be supported in building their self-worth (British Columbia, 1999). Just like other students in your school ELLs need to be supported in their personal growth in conjunction with their language development. Look for ways to create positive encounters with ELLs and build relationships with them. For example, ask them about themselves, point out what you like about their work through descriptive feedback and acknowledge them by name outside of the classroom.
Talk with your ELLs. Support them to build their communication skills (British Columbia, 1999). Let them practice with you where they can make errors without fear of isolation. Build communication into your relationship and allow students to feel safe to share their thoughts, feelings and opinions with you and within the classroom. Learn from communication with your students and be flexible and ready to adapt when you learn more about them, their interests, needs and goals.
In Meyers’ (2010) article she says, not all teachers are ESL teachers and therefor are neither ESL trained nor specialists. One of the major elements that I have found to effective ELL instruction is the inclusion of structure. Although structure is not specific to ELLs, and could be considered a “good” teaching practice, it is a major piece in maintaining classroom management and a supportive learning environment for ELLs. Structure can take many forms such as; class schedules written on the board, scaffolded lessons or explaining organisation systems. For example, many ELLs come from a different educational structure and using binders versus workbooks can be a new concept. Structure also mirrors the rote style of learning common in China; placing Chinese ELLs in a more familiar setting as they integrate.
British Columbia Ministry of Education Special Programs Branch. (1999). English as a second language
leaners: a guide for ESL specialists. Retrieved from https://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/ell//policy/special.pdf
British Columbia Ministry of Education. (2009). English as a second language policy and guidelines. Retrieved
Meyers, M. (2010). Myths and delusion: English language instruction in Canadian schools. Canadian
Education Association, 46, 2, 31-34. Retrieved from http://www.cea-ace.ca/sites/default/files/EdCan-
Author: Lisa Harpur
Lisa Harpur’s article on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) teenagers, FASD Teens in the Classroom: Basic Strategies, contains substantial and valuable information. Along with a very clear writing style and nice detail Harpur has provided several very good points, and I would recommend this article as one to bookmark and read when you have a teenager in your classroom or school with FASD. Given the amount of content in the article I have chosen two points, which struck me as especially relevant for FASD teenagers and felt connected with one another.
First, FASD teenagers are described as complex and especially so because of the stage in life they are at; the teenage years where behaviour, development, independence versus dependence are tested and social dynamics play a large role, were all examples provided in the article (Harpur, 2001). Given the added stressors of teenage life Harpur (2001) stated there is a greater potential for anxiety, depression, lowered-self esteem, being used by peers, issues managing emotions and alcohol and drug use concerns. Harpur (2001) expressed that these added stressors were just as damaging to an FASD teenager as the initial concerns of academic growth. The teenage years can act as a cover, hiding the stressors because of their stage of life and what would be typical teenage behaviours and life circumstances (Harpur, 2001). Yet these stressors in FASD teenagers can lead to added concerns and problems. I found this awareness to be very important to note because it highlights the many concerns and cause and affect issues, which FASD teenagers experience above and beyond those concerns that non-FASD teenagers experience.
The second point, I wanted to include here, was an observation strategy. Among the strategies listed in the article, Harpur (2001) noted the importance of communicating with the students and discussing their awareness, insights into themselves and their learning. Given that verbal communication, which is clear and articulated can be a challenge for FASD learners, Harpur (2001) stressed the importance of teachers taking time to observe non-verbal clues such as, looking about the room, becoming angry or tossing papers around. Through making observations the teacher can learn about the FASD student’s possible anxieties, desires, what agitates them and their needs (Harpur, 2001). Through information gained in observation it can become easier to learn what motivates the student (Harpur, 2001). I felt Harpur’s suggested strategy of observation was linked to recognizing the anxieties and stressors FASD teenagers can be experiencing because it calls on the teacher to make note of the student’s behaviours and given that teenagers, and especially FASD teenagers, may not be able to fully articulate their feelings or reasoning, keen observation can become a very valuable strategy in gaining much needed information.
Harpur, Lisa. (2001). FASD teens in the classroom: basic strategies. Guidance & Counseling, vol. 17, issue 1,
24-29. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy.queensu.ca/login.aspx?
I recently took a course on English as a Second Language instruction, which was focused on participatory teaching methods. In the course I reflected often on how I plan my lessons and have arranged the classroom so students are actively engaged in the learning process. In this post I have shared some of my thoughts and reflections behind my own instruction.
In the course I was asked to consider my language teaching philosophy and to do this I first reflected on what led me into the field of education. My background is in secondary Social Studies (SS) instruction and I chose this career path because I wanted to contribute to the growth and development of students as critical thinkers who would contribute to society, both locally and globally. As I developed my philosophy around education, I saw critical thinking as a major part of my role and have brought this belief with me into second language instruction. Along with my role of developing my student’s four facets of language acquisition-listening, speaking, reading and writing- I also strongly believe it is my responsibility to provide opportunities for my students to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions. Critical thinking and self-expression are the underlying objectives to my short and long term planning. Due to this, it has not been a far jump for me to situate myself among the participatory language teaching movement. Patricia Richard-Amato (2010) said that participatory language teaching “reaches into the very core of the individual by concerning itself with that individual’s place in society and with society in general” (p.93). I believe there are strong connections between the learner’s individual self and their external world, which both creates engagement in learning and deepens a student’s need to fully express themselves. Alistair Pennycook expressed participatory language teaching as the “pedagogy of engagement” (Richard-Amato, 2010, p. 93). Just as I have found that guiding students to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions can be empowering, participatory language teaching also empowers students to look beyond themselves and examine their roles within a social and cultural context.
The question then becomes, how to go from the philosophical notions that drive an approach, such as participatory language instruction, towards planning and creating meaningful and targeted activities that not only profess to empower, engage and challenge, but actually follows through on this objective. To explore this question I believe it is important to examine the basis of critical pedagogy. Participatory language teaching is rooted in critical pedagogy, which Paulo Freire developed with the understanding that students arrive in the classroom with a wealth of knowledge that will support them to become active members in their own learning and empowerment (Richard-Amato, 2010). I believe this is an important factor to consider when developing a learning setting as students are viewed as contributors to their education, who are capable, and identifies the teacher’s role as one of a provider of opportunities, which allows for students to grow. In my experience, in order to encourage critical thinking and self-expression I have needed to embrace many of the ideas of critical pedagogy, and specifically the concept Freire presents of students arriving whole and capable, and the teachers’ role as facilitator.
From the start of my career I saw my role shifting from ‘teacher’, as the knowledge body, to ‘facilitator’, an architect guiding the learning process. In order to successfully guide my students to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions I have focused on, and continue to work to learn the depths, of three practices and concepts within education theory, and more specifically language teaching theory. These factors, which have become the core of my planning come from constructivism and Lev Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory and his concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD), second the use of Jerome Bruner’s scaffolding techniques and third the affective domain’s central notion of student motivation.
Vygotsky’s ZPD presents that effective learning takes place between where the level the learner is at and what their ability for development can reach (Walqui, 2006). Vygotsky further states that learning needs to come before the development of the learning, and in turn challenge learners to be working ahead of their level (Walqui, 2006). In my own practice I aim to achieve this through providing students with higher level content and vocabulary than their current level range and guiding their learning through the use of Bruner’s scaffolding techniques. I feel the ZPD and scaffolding are highly linked in their collective support of one another. Aida Walqui’s (2006) states that English Language Learners (ELLs) can both learn content and succeed with high-level academic work when the teacher knows how to support them. This support as Walqui states, and I agree, comes from building in strategic scaffolding to support students through the learning and expression process. Bruner describes scaffolds as “a process of ‘setting up’ the situation to make the child’s entry easy and successful and then gradually pulling back and handing the role to the child as he becomes skilled enough to manage it” (as cited in Walqui, 2006, p. 163). I feel the concepts within participatory language teaching, along with scaffolding, builds student’s independence and as a result this builds confidence. The third factory I consider in my planning, and which I also feel is linked to the practice of scaffolding, is student motivation. Within the affective domain Richard-Amato (2010) presents motivation as a four part concept; first the relationship between teacher and students and the classroom setting, second engaging the learner’s interests and overall encouragement for success, third keeping the content and learning related to the learners and fourth providing feedback that is useful. Motivation can mean something different to each learner and as Richard-Amato presents there are different motivational factors and as an educator, who views their role as a facilitator of learning, motivation is a key component to creating value and interest for my students. In order for my students to elicit and draw out their own thoughts, feelings and opinions I feel I must strive to create lessons, which are challenging, structured and reflect the different motivation factors of each individual learner. It is an ongoing process and just as I challenge my students to reflect on their own learning I too ask myself to do the same.
Richard-Amato, Patricia A. (2010). Making it happen from interactive to participatory language teaching:
evolving theory and practice. White Plains: Pearson Education.
Walqui, Aida. (2006). Scaffolding instruction for English language learners: a conceptual framework. The
International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, vol. 9, No.2, 159-180. Retrieved from
Ms. Kolshuk's Blog