Saturday, November 23, 2013

Making Accommodations Easy

Every child is different; therefore, every child learns in a different way also.  But as teachers, we are responsible for the success of all our students.  That includes making the necessary accommodations that all our students need, both during instruction and during assessment.  I've been reflecting on the idea of accommodations and what they mean in working with English learners and similar diverse populations of students.  I wanted to share some of my ideas about accommodations in hopes that it can help you in planning appropriate accommodations for your ELs and all your students.

Accommodations should be made throughout the learning process.  Accommodations are not retroactive efforts made to help a student achieve a barely-passing grade on an assessment.  Accommodations should be something you contemplate as you're planning your instruction.  The best instruction includes accommodations throughout the entire teaching and learning process so that when it's time for the assessment, students won't need as many accommodations (or won't need any at all).  When implemented properly, accommodations scaffold instruction for diverse learners and allow them equal access to the content material.  When accommodations are provided during instruction (as opposed to during assessment only), it allows students to truly learn the material, which makes assessment a breeze.

Accommodations aren't all "bells and whistles".  We cannot fall into the trap of thinking that we don't have time to accommodate.  EVERY student deserves an education, and it's our responsibility to provide that for each student.  But we also don't have to make accommodations out to be something harder than they have to be.  It can be something as simple as color-coding the questions on a test to a word bank of possible answers to that question.  It could mean providing cloze notes (a.k.a. fill-in-the-blank) for students who struggle with note-taking skills.  It could mean providing a peer tutor, additional pictures, or even extended time to complete an assignment.  One of my favorite accommodations is the sentence frame.  Students, especially English learners, often struggle with writing, and a sentence frame provides a structure for that student to express his or her understanding of the content.  Basically, it's like a sentence starter.  For example, if I'm assessing my students on the water cycle, I could provide the following sentence frame for an open-ended question.  "The stages of the water cycle include..." Another sentence frame for the same question could be "During the ... stage, ...."  I haven't given my students any clues to the content answers, but they now have the language they need to answer the question according to my expectations.  These ideas do not take long to develop and soon become second-nature when planning. 

Before I began my journey as an ESL teacher, I was a paraprofessional.  Both positions require documentation of the needs of unique learners, and when there are many students involved, this process can be very lengthy.  I developed a label with check-off options to indicate the types of accommodations a student received on a particular assignment and printed them on Avery labels #5163.  This process sped up the documentation process tremendously and created a sense of consistency as well.  I just uploaded these files to my TPT store so that you can use them too!  Check them out using this link.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Grouping Sticks

I've been contemplating how to kick off my new blogging endeavor, and I think I know just what to do. I've already shared this little trick with several of my closest teacher friends, and we've found it to be a dream come true for establishing multiple grouping configurations.  (Interaction and multiple grouping configurations are absolutely essential for English learners to get the most from their content classes.)

About two years ago, I developed these grouping sticks to ensure that my students were able to work with all their classmates in different settings and in different groups. The concept is a little tricky to articulate, but I have taken pictures to support my attempt at a detailed explanation.  

The first decision is determining the number of sticks you need. For a class set, I usually use 25, although some of you probably need a class set of 36 (in which case, purchase 2 packs). You can purchase a pack of multi-colored Popsicle sticks at your local craft store. (My favorites are the jumbo sticks.) 

Begin by dividing your sticks into groups by color. There should be either five groups of five colors (for a class set of 25) or six groups of six colors (for a class set of 36).  Take one stick of each color and line them up to label them all with an A. Repeat this again and label the next group with B. Continue with this process until all your sticks have a letter on them. (You should have five groups with five letters or six groups with six letters.) (See photos below.)

Essentially, you've created grouping sticks with two ways of grouping so far. Students can use their Popsicle sticks to group themselves according to colors or letters.  But we're not finished yet!  Next, you will line your sticks up in alphabetical order with the same color pattern repeating in each group. Take the first stick from the A group, the second stick from the B group, the third stick from the C group, the fourth stick from the D group, and the fifth stick from the E group. (Unless you have six groups, in which case, you'll get your sixth stick from the F group.)  Label these sticks with a number 1, as shown below. When you're ready for the sticks to label as number 2, choose the stick that was second in the A group, third in the B group, fourth in the C group, and so on. Basically, you're moving to the stick to the right each time you select a new stick. These will become your sticks labeled with the number 2.

When you are finished with your grouping sticks, you should have 25 (or 36) completely different sticks.  You will need to create five or six matching signs to post in your classroom. Just use a color of cardstock to match each of your Popsicle stick colors. Write one letter and one number on each cardstock. That way, your students can clearly see where each group should "report" when you call out the ways they should group themselves.  

Each day when your students arrive, they can draw their stick from a tin can.  As you're ready for them to move around, call out, "Give me groups by color!" or "Give me groups by number!"  It may take a few rehearsals, especially with younger students, but they will catch on quickly. Once the procedure has been taught, you can use it to create an infinite number of student groupings in your classroom to make sure everyone has a chance to work with everyone else. 

Hope you enjoy!  Please feel free to post comments and feedback below!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Limeades for Learning: Take Two!

Hello, teachers and friends! I am so excited that my second Donors Choose project was recently posted. Our classroom project from last year was fully funded in conjunction with Sonic's AMAZING program called Limeades for Learning. I am eager to share this second project with you and let you know that it is available for voting on the Limeades for Learning website. You can read the project details at the following link: Please take a few minutes to vote daily. When you register with your email address, you can mark my project as one of your favorites so it's easy to return to vote again the next day. You can also receive daily vote reminders. Plus, for every 10 votes you enter, you receive two bonus codes for voting. I hope you'll use them on our project! Visit your local Sonic too and get additional codes on soft drinks. Keep calm and limeade on!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Project Synergize!

Well, my fellow teacher friends, I must say I've really been enjoying spectating in the blogging world. Also, if you know me, you know I've been a long-time fan of TPT (Teachers Pay Teachers). That being said, I have been receiving a lot of encouragement from my wonderful coworkers to really delve into my blog with more resources, advice, etc., and to take the leap into the TPT world as a seller! I'm really excited about the possibilities! But, as all teachers know, it's always a good idea to do a little formative assessment before launching any new unit or project. So here's where you become involved. I want the resources I create, the information I share, the research I post, etc., to be beneficial, practical, and useful for you. So what would you like to see most? What would you like to learn together? What resources do you need in your classroom? Please take this opportunity to comment and interact. Collaboration is one of the best resources we can offer each other. So please post here and follow my blog so that you receive all the latest updates as we synergize!