Mentoring Moments: Importance of Our Names

I always wanted to write why the name each of us are given is important to consider. Each year we have the privilege as an educator to touch and impact families as we teach their children. I emphasize as a teacher we teach children that belong to many cultures and backgrounds…As a teacher we have so many opportunities to reflect on pronunciation of names, spelling of names and the chance to talk about each individual story behind the name that we are given. As we celebrate World Teacher Day this month reflect on the privilege we hold as teachers to embrace diversity, be inclusive and bring about change in the education system that we work for towards a better future for all.

This blog starts with you getting to know me a bit better as an Educator in Ontario. Nilmini is my middle name- it was given to me by my parents because “Nil” in Sinhala means the colour Blue. “Mini” in Sinhala translates into “Gem”…Nilmini means a Blue Gem a precious stone, and important name that I was given. I love it…I never really thought about how when I was born the white part of my eyes had grey and blue tones….Moreover, now as an educator I reflect on why my name holds a special place in my heart since it is also apart of my heritage the beautiful country I was born in Sri Lanka before I immigrated to Canada with my family as a child.

“Each year we have the privilege as an educator to touch and impact families as we teach their children.” @NRatwatte

Ask your students about their Name Stories

As an educator there is no better way to build a trusting relationship than to ask students about who they are so you can connect it to the curriculum that is being taught each year.

  • Build in lessons through out the year to get to know your students names
  • Their heritage
  • Their traditions
  • Call students by their names – real names
  • Don’t change them since they are long
  • Do give them pride and ownership in using their own name

Some Books that can help you start the conversation about Names

Name Jar

I love using this book to discuss the importance of keeping our language cultural name and customs. The book helps us talk about inclusion practises in a school setting and importance of feeling belonging.

Chrysanthemum

No better book for me as a teacher since my name is very long and I go by my middle name Nilmini that is a family tradition.

They call me Number One

A book I start the conversation with about the importance of making students feel welcome when learning about the First Nations Peoples of Canada and the Residential School System.

Growth Mindset to Teaching

I encourage you as an educator to embrace the differences and not shorten names but call students by their real names to give them respect for their identity. Names are apart of each individual identity since they are interconnected to who we are, our cultural heritage or our customs.

  • Ask Questions
  • Encourage sharing
  • Embrace the Learning

In my culture we have a “letter sound” that is given to us when we are born according to our horoscope and that is the sound that we use to name each child according to be prosperous in our lives. These traditions carry with us over the generations because they are meaningful and they encourage customs that hold our heritage over the centuries close to our hearts.

Reflection Question: Think about why your name is important; write down your name story that you can share with your student during a lesson and courageous conversation.

Yours in Education,

Nilmini

Report Cards Are Coming: Professional Reporting

Growing Success K-12
Growing Success K-12

Elementary Report Cards … the mere mention of report cards can send some teachers into anxious ridden days and sleepless nights. Even after 17 years of writing elementary report cards, I anticipated that my levels of anxiety would be non-existent but, no, for me, the thought of report card writing still stresses me out. I know of some colleagues who are so anxious about report card writing, that they had to seek medical support.

The source of this anxiety is embedded in inconsistencies in how report card policy is implemented. And the source of the inconsistencies is rooted in the process of educational policy implementation. With each level of educational policy implementation gatekeepers, such as boards of education, superintendents, schools, administrators, and classroom teachers, all interpret and change the policy based on their own context and their own perspectives (Ball, Maguire, & Braun, 2012).

As report card policy initiatives are translated into real life, the policy stakeholders, like administrators and teachers, adapt and reinvent their interpretation of the policy into school contexts. Since the education policy guidelines tend to be abstract and non specific, confusion and disjointedness results (Ball, 1993), and teachers end up decoding and recoding the policy text such as the reporting policy, Growing Success (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010). Even with the well written Growing Success document (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010), the process of understanding and translating report card policy can result in various degrees of intentional and unintentional interpretations (Fuhrman, Clune, & Elmore, 1991). Or, in other words, there are inconsistencies in report card policy implementation. Competing theories between policy authors (i.e., governments and school boards) and report card implementers (i.e., principals and teachers) can cause conflicts between the vision of policy and the practice of policy (Timperley & Parr, 2005). This can result in gatekeepers’ experiencing “most carefully planned” initiatives unfolding in a “non-linear manner” (Timperley & Robinson, 2000, p. 47).

This policy implementation process results in the practice of report card writing that look different from the vision of the report card policy writers. Therefore, because of this flux,  report card formats and content can change from school board to school board, school to school, year to year, administrator to administrator, and sometimes even term to term (Note: this is strictly based on my own experience over 17 years). As noted earlier, at every level of implementation, each person put their own spin on the policy. The result is that teachers have to deal with changing report card writing expectations. Inconsistencies directly result in teachers having to spend a great deal of time trying to meet the expectations of different stakeholders. Teachers then have to use their professional judgement to interpret these expectations.

The document Growing Success (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 152) states “ Judgement that is informed by professional knowledge of curriculum expectations, context, evidence of learning, methods of instruction and assessment, and the criteria and standards that indicate success in student learning. In professional practice, judgement involves a purposeful and systematic thinking process that evolves in terms of accuracy and insight with ongoing reflection and self-correction.”

Further, Growing Success states that “successful implementation of policy depends on the professional judgement of educators at all levels, as well as on educators’ ability to work together” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 2). It is through educators’ collaboration that educational change becomes reality; it is how policy becomes practice. “Teachers’ professional judgements are at the heart of effective assessment, evaluation, and reporting of student achievement.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 8). So teachers, working with other stakeholders, using their professional judgement need “to clarify and share their understanding of policy and to develop and share effective implementation practices” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 2).

Below is a breakdown of the Growing Success policy based on areas I have needed information on while writing report cards. This is not an exhaustive list. Please refer to the documents noted below for further information.

Growing Success Reporting Chart

Ontario Report Card Policy Breakdown with reference to report card writing

The Growing Success document notes the following “It is important that teachers have the opportunity to compose and use personalized comments on report cards as an alternative to selecting from a prepared set of standard comments. School boards should not enact policies that prevent teachers from providing personalized comments on report cards. It is expected that principals will support best practice and encourage teachers to generate their own comments.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 64)

Given the focus of encouraging “teachers to generate their own comments”, having a bank of pre-approved board-wide report card comments available to elementary teachers may or may not be forthcoming.

After the above analysis and reflection regarding report card writing and professional judgement, I ask myself “What has helped me the most in report card writing?”

My answer is collaborating with other teachers. It is in the discussion, co-creating, and sharing of report card comments that I have been supported the most in my writing of the Progress, Term 1, and Term 2 report cards. For me, sharing report card comments does not mean that I simply “cut and paste” my colleagues’ work. This does not happen because I write comments through the lens of my own teaching practice. My colleagues’ shared learning skill comments often inspire me to write comments especially for challenging students.

In writing report cards, I use my professional experience and knowledge that has resulted in the development of my professional judgement. So my advice to any teacher who is being challenge in report card writing is to reach out to your colleague … for advice, support, or debate.

I believe that when working collaboratively, teachers are better together … especially when writing report cards.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

 References

Ball, S. (1993). What is policy? Texts, trajectories, and toolboxes. Discourse, 13(2), 10-17.

Ball, S. J., Maguire, M., & Braun, A. (2012). How schools do policy: Policy enactments in secondary schools. New York, NY: Routledge.

Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. (ETFO). (2016). The elementary provincial report card continued implementation update – Grades 1 to 8, Professional Relations Services, PRS, Volume #66, January 2016. Retrieved from http://www.etfo.ca/SupportingMembers/Employees/PDF%20Versions/The%20Elementary%20Provincial%20Report%20Card%20Continued%20Implementation%20Update%20-%20Grades%201%20to%208.pdf

Fuhrman, S., Clune, W., & Elmore, R. (1991). Research on education reform: Lessons on the implementation of policy (pp. 197-218). AR Odden, Education Policy Implementation. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2000). The Ontario Student Record (OSR) Guideline, Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/curricul/osr/osr.pdf

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Growing success: Assessment, evaluation, and reporting in Ontario schools, First Edition, Covering Grades 1 to 12 Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/growSuccess.pdf

Timperley, H. S., & Parr, J. M. (2005). Theory competition and the process of change. Journal of Educational Change, 6(3), 227-251.

Timperley, H., & Robinson, V. (2000). Workload and the professional culture of teachers. Educational Management & Administration, 28(1), p. 47-62.

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Solution Tree Press.

Celebrating Our Student’s First Language Through Music

Do you recognize the lyrics to this song?

Lyrics better!

I didn’t until one month ago, when my students began a project I created about celebrating songs in other languages. This project came out of a desire to change one part of my music program. The most important part of any arts program is student creations. In my class students create songs, ostinatos, percussion compositions, raps etc… You name it, my students have probably created it. However, I felt that the part of the music curriculum that focuses on exploring forms and cultural contexts could be improved. I felt like the music that I was bringing in was authentic and reflective of my student population but the problem was, it was always initiated by ME. So I decided to try something new and it has been the most amazing project.

I am very fortunate to work in a very diverse school where many of my students are bilingual or multilingual. In previous years, as many songs as we learned from different communities and cultures, I didn’t feel as if I was really helping my students increase their multilinguistic skills or supporting them through their cultural identity journey. In the past, I felt that my students learned a lot about cultural music through units I created, but I wanted something deeper this time.

The idea for this project was inspired by a project called “Dual Language Identity Project” http://www.multiliteracies.ca/index.php/folio/viewProject/8. In this project, students were encouraged to write stories in their first language to support their acquisition of English Language Skills. I really liked how the students had ownership and pride in their linguistic skills in their first language. The inability to write proficiently in English was not placed as an obstacle for their expression.

My students differed from the students in the “Dual Language Identity Project” because they have a lot of proficiency in English. Most of my students were born in Canada and spoke another language at home until they came to school, but are now fairly fluent in English. However, I recognized the pride that came from the “Dual Language Project” and I wanted to emulate that. Being a music teacher, I decided that we would complete a project with songs. Students chose a children’s song from their first language and created a lyrics book so that our younger students could learn the songs. For many of our younger students who do not read or write in their first language, it also gave them exposure to text in Punjabi, Singhalese, Urdu, Guajarati, etc.

In addition to completing the project to increase student’s engagement with their own personal cultural music, I had some other goals with the project:

a)     To increase the exposure to languages that were unfamiliar to them. The project helped students become accustomed to hearing and interacting with people who speak different languages and have different cultural backgrounds. At the beginning of the project, with 6 or 7 different songs being played at the same time in the classroom, students would look up and sometimes react to the sounds of other languages. However, a couple of weeks into the project, students started asking questions about the songs instead of reacting negatively.

b)    To increase students’ pride in their cultural identity. At first, students were very shy to share their cultural heritage. Four weeks in, however, I have heard about students’ family trees and the multitude of different languages that are spoken in my students homes every day, and many, many other stories. I believe that holding onto first languages and culture has positive impacts on the social and emotional well-being of students.

c)     Studying the linguistic structures of one language really helps the growth of language acquisition skills in all languages.

d)    I have been looking for ways to include my incredible multicultural families into our music program and this was a perfect way.

To complete the project, students were primarily placed in groups based on their first language. If they were multilingual, they were allowed to pick which language they wanted to join. If they spoke no other language, they were allowed to choose which language they were interested in learning.  Today, my student who does not speak another language performed quite a lengthy song in Guajarati!

Some students worked alone by choice, others worked in groups of approximately 4 or 5. The students were given an IPad to use as a reference tool if they needed it.

In the first period, the students spent most of the time listening to different songs they might be interested in using. Some students found it difficult to find songs online so they asked their families that night at home for ideas.

20170614_133730

Their next job was to work together to create the books. The students wrote one lyric per page and drew a picture that corresponded with them. They were also responsible for including an English translation at the back of the book and a title page at the front. All of the books were between 6-12 pages.

Title better!

The books turned out amazing and I can really see the desire each group had to create a polished product.

Teaching the younger students has been really fantastic as well. It is so special to see a grade four student connecting with a grade one student who both share the same language.

20170621_135116

In addition to watching the most amazing interactions between students, I had one student who did not speak Japanese but was really interested in learning a Japanese song so I told her go right ahead. Wow! She learned that song in no time. She was even teaching a rather reluctant student in my class to sing it (and he HATES singing). I felt like this project was a miracle worker.

I watched students of Trinidadian background learn songs in Urdu and students who are sometimes rather shy in my class absolutely shine as they shared their deep knowledge of their language and culture. Artistic students helped consult on picture and colour choices

Everyone had something to bring.

Everyone was allowed to choose their direction and course.

Were there mistakes in their multilingual writing? Yes, there were. For those of you who are proficient in Punjabi, my students literally sounded out the word foot and wrote it in Punjabi instead of writing paair. However, I could hear students discussing and trying to figure out how to write certain words, helping them to grow in their first language. Some rarely get this opportunity. I also listened to a 10 minute conversation between two students who speak Tamil about the translation to English. They were working with the song “Nela Nela Odiva” and the direct translation was about the ‘moon running’. They talked it out for a quite a while and decided that the ‘Moon was moving quickly’ made more sense.

I learned a lot about my students, their interests and their cultures through this project. I learned that some of my students work hard on their Saturday morning to learn how to write in Hindi, Singhalese, Punjabi, Tamil and so many other languages. I learned that Guyanese kid songs are incredibly difficult to find on the internet (that might be my next project).

Music is about connecting with who we are as expressions of ourselves and I feel this project helped me to get to know my students more deeply. It was also a powerful way of learning and working with cultural music.

Learning Academic Vocabulary

It is the time of year to start reflecting on what went right and what you would like to improve on for next year. As teachers, it is important to say “I did a good job this year on helping Paramjot learn his timetables or Kayla adjust to a new school and make friends.” However, in more cases than not, we spend time looking at what we can improve on as that is what makes us good teachers.

If I had to choose one area that I would really like to improve in the next couple of years is helping my students acquire academic language in music. This has been an area of my program that has challenged me over the past five years as I feel that the vocabulary is not ‘sinking in’. I feel like we use it to describe the music we are listening to, but when we try to use it again a couple of weeks later, the students have forgotten it. I feel like I am constantly re-teaching the vocabulary.

I teach at a school where there are many English Language Learners, so vocabulary in general is a challenge for them. After doing some reading about vocabulary acquisition for ELLs (there is a great monograph from the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat called “World of Words”) I learned that many of my students come to school about 1000 words behind their peers. This means, as teachers, that we are constantly in a catch up game for our students.

After thinking about why the vocabulary acquisition part of my program is not working, I think one problem is that I do not place enough emphasis on it. We play, compose and rock out all day in music class, but we don’t spend as much time talking about the music. I feel the other problem that could be plaguing that part of my program is that I try to introduce too many words at once, which overwhelms the students.

The other issues are that most of the approaches that are suggested for direct vocabulary instruction don’t really happen in music class. We rarely, if ever, do shared reading, and making inferences from context can be more challenging when the new words are used orally instead of in a reading passage. I also see how word analysis can be really challenging, as a lot of the academic vocabulary that we use is in Italian. Students are therefore unable to look for clues in prefixes and suffixes that they might know from other subject areas.  

The one suggestion that I have read about that I am going to try for next year is called 30 on the wall. The goal is to target 30 subject specific words that students become “intimately familiar” with by the end of each year in every subject. 30 words seems really manageable and by the end of their five years with me they would know 150 words very well-related to music. It would take some forethought and planning to target a specific set of words, but that is going to be my goal for the coming year. I will spend some time this June looking at a natural progression of vocabulary words, which ones will work best with the curriculum expectations for each grade, and which words are most useful and transferable in my students’ academic career.

But at the end of the day, as we work towards our goal, I will still take time to raise a glass and proclaim….

 

 

 

vocabulary

 

Overcoming Math Phobia

A phobia is defined as an extreme fear or aversion to something. This can often be associated with mathematics both by students and teachers alike. Human nature is such that when we feel we are not good at something, we therefore can’t be successful at it and we tend to avoid that what we will fail at. This self-fulfilling prophecy is often alive and well in a teacher’s or student’s thoughts.

I will be the first to say that at an earlier stage of my career I was very uncomfortable and unsure of myself when teaching mathematics. Sure I knew how to do math, but did I know how to teach something I was not very comfortable with. I had to do something to ensure that my skills and pedagogy were improving. Thus began a voyage of self-learning or self-guided professional development. Now, twenty-five years later I am still on that journey of learning about how to best teach mathematics so that my students learn and are engaged in their world that is so filled with math.

As with anything else you must find the right tool or vehicle for learning. I attended as many workshops as I could on mathematics. The Waterloo Region District School Board offers a wealth of learning opportunities for their teachers as does ETFO and the Ontario Association for Mathematics Education (OAME) (http://www.oame.on.ca/main/index1.phplang=en&code=home).

These are several key areas where you can start your journey of learning. I would like to share three key resources that have helped me become a more efficient and knowledgeable mathematics teachers. The first is the work of Dr. Catherine Twomey Fosnot. Her work and approach to the instruction of mathematics is the number one influence I attribute to my growth in mathematical instruction. I attended several of her sessions as well as visiting her site in Harlem. I would highly recommend her series ‘Young Mathematicians at Work’ as a classroom resource.

The second most useful tool I have come upon is the series entitled Super Source. There are many reasons why I like this resource. The first is the rich problem solving tasks that are in each book. There are a variety of tasks and each task is connected to an area of mathematics where it can be used like number sense or patterning. There is a book written for each type of manipulative (Base 10, Pattern Blocks, Tangrams etc…). The most valuable asset of this resource is that there is a section where the mathematics behind each task is explained to the educator (the big ideas) as well as suggestions on how to bring out the math in your students. As with any resource this provides a jumping on point where a teacher can then adapt the task to meet their needs.

The final resource I would like to share with you is one of the many works of Van de Walle. I used this resource as a teaching tool for myself. It helped me understand the concepts I was teaching and how to bring out both a level of engagement as well as a deeper understanding of mathematics in my students. I hope these resources prove to be as valuable a tool to you as they are for me in my teaching of mathematics.

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Helping English Language Learners in Music

Music Class can be tricky to navigate for our ELLs (English Language Learners). Although music is really fun and engaging, learning lyrics to songs and terms for describing music can be challenging to remember.

Lyrics to songs can be difficult for ELLs as there are often slang words, incomplete sentences or words that are used in unusual ways. Lyrics manipulate grammar rules and each genre can have its own style of communication, depending on its origin. In addition to lyrics, vocabulary for music has the same challenges as many content subjects, which is that the vocabulary is often not used in daily life. You don’t hear people talking about how forte, vivace or legato a song was. As the vocabulary is only used for such a small portion of their school week, it is very hard to internalize. 

My student population has around 70-80 percent of students on the STEPS of Language Acquisition. In trying to help my ELLs be successful in music class, I have used the following:

1)      Song selection: My team is very selective when choosing songs to sing in class, and we are always looking to make sure songs are not too long, often repetitive and that new vocabulary is not too overwhelming for students to learn.

2)      Patience: We take time to let students internalize one section of the song before we move onto the next. If we are learning a song that is a little longer, we only focus on one verse for part of a class and visit the next verse in subsequent classes.

3)      Visuals: There are diagrams and visuals to support students in discussing music. (You can find mini posters about the elements of music on the website Teachers Pay Teachers).  Also, illustrating a song can help solidify meaning.

4)      Actions: We often add actions to many songs to help us understand the meaning of what we are singing.

5)      Cooperative Learning: We do some whole group and teacher led instruction to learn some new vocabulary and lyrics. However, more often, students work together as pairs or groups towards internalizing the lyrics and their responses to music.

6)      Use music that represents the culture and language of your students: Using songs from a student’s culture allows them to feel valued and they become the expert in the room.  Finding authentic arrangements and scores can be difficult. Making a connection to a member of the community that can help you is a very important asset.

7)      Make it fun: Ultimately, music should be a fun way to engage with language. So encourage the students to enjoy themselves!

Even though music can be challenging, it can also be very supportive when learning a new language. About 15 years ago, I decided to move to Japan to be a teacher. I ended up loving it so much that I stayed there for three years. In my own personal journey of learning a new language and writing system, music played an important role. I listened to a lot of Japanese music and bopped and bounced along to the music in my home, car and at school. New vocabulary stuck in my brain from the songs that I heard, and I enjoyed learning how new vocabulary was written in Kanji (the Japanese writing system) from the inside of CD covers. Listening to music was great as it was the one Japanese activity in my day that didn’t require a response from me. Music can play a very important role in the acquisition of language.  

Who? What? Where?

One of the anchor charts in my classroom states that Reading is… Remembering and Understanding. This is what I use to help students understand that good reading is so much more than word decoding. In my classroom I am often faced with trying to help students who have difficulty in their reading comprehension. They lack the ability to recall what they have just read or their recall is very generic and lacks specific details. I have developed a game to help improve a student’s ability to recall the specifics around characters, main events and setting. This learning task is called Who? What?  Where?

IMG_1794This is a three phase unit. The first step is to model it using a read aloud novel. After each chapter we pause and take a minute to review the characters that were a part of that chapter, what were the main events that occurred in that chapter and finally where did that part of the story take place. I do this for about two or three chapters into the novel. From there we move to a graphic organizer where they now have to answer questions I have created about a chapter after it has been finished. The questions are designed to elicit one or two word answers and thus can fit easily in the boxes on the page. The other purpose for the short answer is to focus on comprehension and not spelling or sentence structure. After each chapter I ask three questions, one of each type. As the chapters progress, the questions become more and more specific and thus a deeper recall gradually begins to occur with my students. The students earn points based on their ability to recall accurate information. For most students this is a motivator by itself.

IMG_1795The final stage of this unit is to transfer the learning that has occurred to an independent reading task they complete. This is called their Book Project. They are able to select a book that meets the following two criteria:

  • It has to be at a level that is just right or challenging for them (teacher approved)
  • It has to be a narrative (thus focusing in on the three elements of a story characters, setting and main events)

From here they now have to read their novel, decide on a way to share their understanding of the story (that best fits their learning style) with their classmates and teacher. It is here during this summative task I find out what gains have been made by students in their reading comprehension as well as finding further gaps that need to be addressed in the upcoming reading lessons. A natural progression that occurs is also the move away from just basic recall and the move to more critical literacy questioning and answering. But as many students have taught me, they need to have well grounded foundation skills prior to moving into higher level thinking skills.

IMG_1796

 

Is Math Neutral?

The notion of neutrality speaks to the experience of being impartial or unbiased. It speaks to the absence of asserting value, power or privilege over another or the act of being impartial, unprejudiced and nonpartisan in nature. There are many areas of teaching and learning where the existence of prevailing politics is named and sometimes challenged: Whose stories do we include in the social studies/history curricula? What literature is considered to be the cannon? What art forms are considered cultured? But when educators think about the tapestry of math education, this notion of it being neutral tends to be widely agreed upon because of the perceived objectivity and absolutism that characterizes the ideas that are explored. But I wonder…is math really neutral?

“Math is about numbers. Surely it is neutral.”
This year, in supporting English Language Learners in math, I have learned many new Mandarin and Cantonese words from my students. More specifically, I’ve learned the inherent ways that Chinese characters are written to nurture a conceptual understanding of quantity. For example, the number eleven is written 十一 which means “ten-one” or can be understood as “ten plus one”. Similarly, the number twenty is written 二十 which could be understood as “two tens” or “two times ten”. Finally, the number thirty-three is written 三十三 Which could be understood as “three ten and three” or “three times ten plus three”. The fact that the word for the number eleven, when represented in English, has no relationship to the the concept of quantity speaks to the way numbers are represented are not neutral. This discrepancy in language representation speaks to the biased nature numbers are conceptualized through language. Thus proving an inherent bias in the ways in which numbers are conceptualized and number sense is acquired. Similarly, the bias toward English representation of numbers can limit the conceptual understanding of languages that represent numbers in a more conceptually friendly way.

“Math is about problem solving. Every has the capacity to solve problems.”
Consider the following problem: Brandon travels to the city using the subway. Each car seats 30 travelers. How many people might be on the subway if there are 10 cars? What background knowledge might students need to have in order to understand the context yet a alone respond the the problem mathematically? While the problems we pose to our learners may involve numbers that can be calculated and manipulated in flexible ways, the context, when coming from particular experiences, can deny access to the learning that needs to be achieved. In other words, if the context from which we invite students to explore math concepts can be carefully crafted in order for our learners to be able to relate to the ideas, they can also be unintentionally crafted in ways that could limit students access. In this way, contexts are never neutral because they come from a particular place of knowing or experiences that not all students have access to.

So there you have it. I’ve explored two very simple ways bias is experienced in math discourse. The presence of even one form of bias discredits the neutrality of math. If math, a lens for viewing the worlds through numbers, shapes and patterns, can be ladened with bias and politics, what else about the schooling experience share this similar trait?

Suggestions for Making Your Classroom ELL Friendly

This year I have the opportunity to serve my school as an English as Second Language (ESL) teacher for the first time. This privilege allows me to support students in Primary, Junior and Intermediate grades as they navigate the landscape of school and English language acquisition. But to be honest, I have alway been an ESL teacher. Since my very first year of teaching, my classes have always had students for whom English was not their first language. In this way, we are all ESL teachers regardless of if we have the designation or not. Similarly, if we take the notion of learning English literally, all of our students are English Language learners because they are constantly being introduced to new vocabulary and are learning the nuances of academic language for oral communication, reading and writing. In Ontario, however, the term English Language Learner or ELL, is defined as a student “born in Canada or newcomers whose first language is other than English or is a variety of English significantly different from that used for instruction in Ontario schools” (Many Roots, p. 51). Knowing this, how might classroom teachers tweak their practice to make their classrooms ELL friendly? I offer 4 easy teacher practices that will support ELLs in any classroom.

1. Keep expectations developmentally appropriate.
The ways we view our students determines the kind of learning we invite them to. This sentiment is particularly important to understand when designing programs that address the learning needs of students for whom English is a new language. Learning a new language, by any account, is a task of both perseverance and determination. As such, we need to be mindful that our English language learners have a multitasked learning situation. Focusing on the skills they bring from their native language as opposed to the limitations they have as they acquire English nurtures an asset based approach to engaging students as capable learners. When we embrace this mindset towards teaching English language learners, we can maintain high expectations for all students. Valuing the prior learning of all students, including ELLs in imperative in building upward to new understandings. Inviting students to share what they already know about a topic is always a great starting point for learning. Students who are English language learners have prior knowledge and this knowledge may or may not exist in their native Language. Regardless, valuing students’ prior knowledge solidifies the difference between cognition and language acquisition as two separate and distinct processes. For the most part, English language learners are developmentally ready for the learning that their peers are engaged in – they simply need to acquire the English skills to make the thinking that is already taking place in their minds visible in English.

2. Value students’ first language.
Nurturing an inclusive classroom community lets students know that they are both valued and respected as learners. Inviting students to continue to use and develop their native language is another way not only to accommodate ELLs but also to keep the learning expectations high. When students are able to use their native language to demonstrate their understanding and thinking in tasks that invite cognitive demand, the transition to English does not lower the expectation but rather accommodate the student’s opportunity for engaging deeply with ideas. The English language is further acquired when students translate their thoughts into English rather than the other way around. Valuing students’ first language can also be demonstrated by creating dual language or multilingual learning resources. With the partnership of students who are also native speakers of additional languages, parent volunteers, colleges and community partnerships, teachers can prepare translated learning resources for all students to use.

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Students are invited to participate in collaborative learning experiences by expressing their  ideas using their first language

    
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Dual Language posters translated in traditional Chinese to support English Language learners in my class.

3. Develop new vocabulary in context with the help of online resources.
When students are invited to continue to use and development their fluency of their native languages, teachers can employ many new technologies that can support English acquisition while yet maintaining native language fluency. Using tools such as Google Translate can serve as a bridge between a student’s first language and English. Similarly, introducing new vocabulary in context makes both social academic learning more meaningful in English. An idea or word may not be unfamiliar to a student learning English in that they may already have an understanding of the concept in their native language. When this happens, using tools such as Google Images and YouTube can serve as a bridge to comprehension of and acquiring English words. Word walls are also useful resources for students in all grade levels and for all subject areas. It is a tool to support students as they acquire new vocabulary in the context of their learning. In this way, all students can be viewed as English language learners as they engage in expanding their academic vocabulary. The inclusion of students’ native language on word walls is a simple accommodation that goes a long way to supporting student learning. The gesture speaks to the value for the student’s native language and a respect for the process of learning English. Native English speakers can also benefit from the dual language approach in that they can be exposed to the languages of the world and additional ways of knowing.

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I asked my students to add Chinese translations to our Math word wall. This highlighted the relationships between numbers, as the ideas of addition and multiplication are embedded in the ways Chinese numerals are written.

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This is a screenshot of what a Grade 2 student, a stage 1 ELL, wrote as she was communicating an idea with me. I used Google Translate to take a picture of her writing and was able to translate and further communicate with her.

4. Embrace inclusive practices when communicating with parents.
When a student is an English language learner, it is important to also be aware of their parent or guardian’s experience with English as well. Whenever possible, supporting parents in the journey of their child’s language acquisition should be considered. Using resources mentioned above in addition to school-board translators and parent volunteers when communicating with parents is also crucial when English is also being acquired by parents. Ensuring that partnerships between students, teachers and parents is essential for the success of all children. We should be mindful to support parents who are English language learners in the context of the kind of communication that goes home, the necessary accommodations in place for parent-teacher meetings and the information needed for navigating the Ontario school system are essential in order to leverage the playing field for success.

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The first page of a presentation to the parents of my students during Curriculum Night.

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An assessment report sent home as communication to parents about student achievement.

Teachers in Ontario school are all ESL teachers and our students all, English language learners. Designing classroom spaces and learning opportunities with the principles of universal design will support English language learners but also enhance the learning experience of native English speakers. Keeping learning expectations high for all students, valuing students native languages and inviting parents as partners are essential ingredients to providing an enriched learning experience for English language learners. For more information check out the ministry document Many Roots Many Voices:Supporting English Language Learners in Every Classroom A Practical Guide for Ontario Educators https://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/manyroots/manyroots.pdf.