Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bringing Creativity and Choice to Language Learning

For 7 years, I worked as the title I reading specialist at Eccles.  I loved the work I did, bringing confidence to struggling readers.  I formed relationships with students and their families over years of working together, and I learned new things every day.  I was curious about how kids learn, and what causes them difficulty.  I got to delve deeply in the specific struggles of my students, in order to pin point the aspects of reading to be developed and strengthened.  One of the things I enjoyed most about this teaching and learning, was the opportunity to work with small groups. I know of no better way to individualize for student strength and need.

But, in this setting, of targeted and specific intervention, I didn’t get to see my students integrate these skills and apply them to the real work of learning.  I didn’t get to see students dig into deep thinking about the world around.  And so I met the move to 2nd grade with enthusiasm and excitement.  I spent the summer creating thematic units, studying the standards to find connection and relevance.  I looked forward to creating and curriculum mapping with my teaching partner.  When I discovered that every 2nd grade teacher doesn't share my belief in integrated curriculum planning, I continued my journey and found professional conversations in other places.  In district-wide grade level meetings, and in Saturday morning twitter chats we talked about next generation science standards and literacy in the content areas.  In my 2nd year of 2nd grade a third teacher joined my team, and we learned together about innovation in the Maker Space and the power of choice in Genius Hour projects.  Just as I was planning for meaningful Project Based Learning in 2nd grade… my career turns another corner.  

Next year, I will be the English Language Development specialist at my school. This Summer, I find myself reflecting on how I can bring all of these exciting ideas (of creativity, relevance and choice) to my English Language Development groups.  In language instruction, as in reading intervention, my role shifts again to targeted instruction and specific skill building.  I will work with small groups of students for 30 minutes each day.  I will need to get to know my students quickly, to identify language strengths and provide kids with strategies for learning and communicating when they leave my class, when they walk out my door.  

So, this blog continues to be my place for reflection.  It is my learning space.  I’m sure to try some strategies that flop, but hope also to discover teaching practices that inspire.  I am hoping that as my students develop their ability to think, learn, and communicate in English I provide them opportunities to make connections, find relevance, and express their creativity.

I have some hopes and dreams…
  • I hope that teachers will share their plans with me (curriculum maps, thematic units) so I can plan language instruction that will enable my students to ask questions and discover with their classmates.
  • I hope that teachers will look closely at the language needs of our students, so the skills my students are working on are reinforced and practiced in home room classes.
  • I hope that whatever curriculum our district uses will allow for flexibility and adaptation, so students can make choices and express genuine curiosity in meaningful contexts.
  • I hope that the district team of English Language Development teachers continue the commitment to professional development I believe they are pursuing, so I can be part of this learning community.
  • I hope that the team of educators in my building works well together with great communication and common goals, so students find consistency and efficiency in their time “pulled out” of home room classes.
  • I hope that the parent community of English Language Learners feels supported and valued, so they become a stronger voice in our school.

And I have some plans…
  • I will share my students language goals, progress and current learning with teachers, so that dialogue and communication are invited.
  • I will communicate with teachers about the specific language levels of their students, so they can apply appropriate scaffolds and strategies to support growth.
  • I will create a daily routine that integrates reflection and self assessment, so students feel confident in their goals and know what they need to practice.
  • I will incorporate language goals that come directly from student reflection into the curriculum, so that learning is meaningful and relevant.
  • I will invite my ELD colleagues to the #ellchat on twitter, and bring questions and resources to our PLC meetings on Wednesday mornings, so I contribute to an attitude of life-long learning and professionalism in my district.
  • I will ask my instructional assistants to reflect on their own learning strengths and needs, so I can plan professional development opportunities for my team to grow together.
  • I will communicate often with parents (making use of translation services, standard notes, and student voices) so they feel connected to the program and the school.
I am ready for a Summer of preparation and planning.  I look forward to finding ways to bring creativity, choice and meaning to my language learning classroom!