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How to Boost Teaching and Engage English Learners with Technology

by Aileen Hower

One thing every teacher asks when they have an English Learner in their classroom is, what more can I be doing to help support this student? Technology can be a great resource to help a teacher who wants to engage their EL as a literacy learner.

First and foremost, it is important to remember that learning a new language takes time. In our high-stakes testing environments, we want to have ELs reading on grade level as soon as possible. We see that they are intelligent and are curious about the world. We want to learn what they are thinking and share our passion for learning with them. We must remind ourselves that learning a new language, especially when there may be gaps in a student’s education, caused by time away from school due to travelling or differences in curriculum, which insist on us to give the student time to acclimate and listen first.

When the student is ready to work on literacy skills, there are digital tools that can support a variety of learning goals. Read more

Tools of the Trade: Literacy and Beyond

by Rita Sorrentino

Print vs. digital. Handwriting vs. keyboarding. Bound books vs. eBooks. There are writing-vs-typing.jpgproponents of each side of these ongoing debates. For some, keyboarding is the new handwriting. For others, handwriting is a crucial cognitive skill that stimulates the brain, aids acquisition of language skills in young learners, and well – it’s nostalgic.  

The philosophers Socrates and Plato were no strangers to the pros and cons of written communication long before its digital debut. As they argued, elements of loss and gain would result as paradigms shifted. Socrates believed that writing would create forgetfulness in the learner; Plato envisioned the intellectual benefits that the alphabet would bring to civilization. Undoubtedly, as teachers and learners, we value the contributions of all systems of communication and incorporate all types of reading and writing into our practices to heighten consciousness of ourselves and the world.

I certainly agree with the Greek philosophers that voice intonations, facial expressions, and hand gestures enhance communication and actively engage the audience. Additionally, knowledge through dialogue and learning through inquiry popularized by Socrates remain powerful teaching methods to this day. Jump through the centuries and ponder if Socrates would find today’s social media a suitable space for dialogue and communication… Would today’s digital doings add to his fear that writing would roam about indiscriminately causing chaos and danger for the masses? Or would he value the potential for dialogue and convenient connectivity to create deeper bonds between writers and readers?  Read more

Books on the Blog: The Marvelous Magic of Miss Mabel by Natasha Lowe

by Linda Walker

5950971.jpgChoosing a book to review can sometimes be a challenge because there are just so many interesting titles. I will admit the reason I chose The Marvelous Magic of Miss Mabel is not for the engaging title but because the witch caricature has a distinct resemblance to me and green is my favorite color. This book is a fantasy which would interest grades 3-5.

As a baby, Mabel was abandoned by her birth mother. She was nestled into a large terra-cotta flowerpot at the doorstep of Nora Ratcliff. Nora raises the child as her own. Soon it becomes obvious that Mable has some unusual talents; lifting off the ground, sending objects swirling through the air, making things change color.

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Teacher to Teacher: What About Vocabulary?

By Lynne R. Dorfman

The investigation of the meaning of words is the beginning of wisdom.  – Antisthenes

 Do you remember getting a list of vocabulary words each week?  We had to look up the meaning and part of speech and use the word in a sentence. Then there was a test on Friday. Although I memorized the spelling of the words and their meanings to do well on the quizzes, most of the words did not stay with me. Often, the words on the lists had little or no relationship with one another. The words were just a random list – and such a list and method to learn new words is inefficient and ineffective.

Words are symbols for concepts, and readers bring meaning to the symbols. Readers develop schema from their reading experiences, and words will have many associations. Associations with each word’s most general meaning that most users share is called denotative, while associations not directly connected to a word’s denotative meaning are called connotative. For example, the word “hand” might connote horse trainers, veterinarians, and equestrians. As students move up the grades, new concepts are added each year.  Flanigan (Chester County Reading Association presentation, April 2017) suggests that the average high school senior’s vocabulary is about 40,000 words.  That suggests learning about 3000 words per grade level.   It makes good sense that our students are able to distinguish which meaning is intended within the context of the reading or discussion/lecture, and must account for and build on the students’ prior experiences.

How do we help students grow a love of language and words while growing their vocabularies? The authors of Vocbulary at the Core: Teaching the Common Core Standards suggest that teachers make use of graphic organizers and word games in their classrooms. They talk about building in opportunities for deep processing, teaching derivations, collocations, idioms, register (level of formality in speech with others; register depends on the situation, location, topic discussed, and other factors) and gender.  The authors tell us that to truly know a word, we should know many different aspects of the word including (but not limited to) the following:

  • spelling
  • pronunciation
  • meaning(s)
  • derivations (how words take on prefixes and suffixes to make new forms)
  • collocations: groups of words that form acceptable phrases (For example: “do the dishes” or “make the bed”)
  • register: (from formal to informal to slang)
  • idioms: phrases whose meaning cannot be discerned by looking up individual words (a figurative meaning – not a literal meaning. When you “tie the knot,” you are getting married and when it’s “raining cats and dogs,” it is raining very hard).
  • opposites (antonyms)
  • words that mean almost the same thing (synonyms)
  • gender: which words or collocations sound more feminine or masculine
  • intentions: how a word can change meanings by changing intonation and gestures

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Breathe Life into All of Your Lessons with Poetry

by Vicki Meigs-Kahlenberg

In my classroom, poetry is the river of life that runs through everything we do. While some may find it one of the easiest and most convenient items to trim from an already packed curriculum, I search for places in every unit where I can add poetry that supports and fortifies all aspects of my English and language arts classroom instruction.

If you think about it, poetry is the one facet of our content area that encompasses all of our core teaching benchmarks: reading and literary analysis; writing and conventions of language; speaking and listening. It’s all right there in each concise, deliberately selected and crafted group of words that we call poetry. If only we could harness a poem’s power and unleash it to reinforce the lessons that we already teach in our classroom…

It is possible.

Since becoming a PA Writing Fellow back in 2000, teaching poetry is one of my absolute favorite things to do in the classroom with kids of any age. Until that one intensive summer so long ago, I think I felt a little… intimidated by poetry, even as an adult. I mean, what if my interpretation of a poem was completely different from what the teacher’s guide said? And how on earth can you possibly place a grade on a child’s emotions that he or she was brave enough to put down on paper? What I’ve learned is that poetry isn’t just about hearts, flowers and sunshine. It’s not just something girls do in their private notebooks or that old men wrote long ago in language we can’t understand. Poetry breathes with the essence of life. (I know, that sounded so poetic, right?) Seriously, though, it can breathe life into your existing lessons, too. We need to reclaim our classrooms and establish a culture where myriad forms of the written and spoken word are valued as potential opportunities to deepen understanding of our content (as well as all content areas in the humanities). Read more

From the Classroom: Fearless Reading (and Analysis)

By Tricia Ebarvia

Ever since the NCTE Convention in November, I’ve been thinking a lot about the theme of advocacy. How can we advocate for our students—and the teaching practices that we know will best serve them? How can we help students advocate for themselves—on their own behalf and perhaps more importantly, on behalf of others? How can we help students advocate for issues that can help make their world and our society a better place?

As educators, we know the power of empathy. Just yesterday, as we finished up our unit on Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, my students and I discussed how important that novel is to our understanding of others around us who may be feel vulnerable or disempowered. Literature has the unique power to allow us to walk around in another character’s point-of-view, to broaden and deepen our own experiences so that we can become, ultimately, more understanding fellow human beings.

But lately I’ve been thinking that literature, by itself, may not be enough. If we read books, no matter how rich and wonderful and engaging they are, but we fail to expose students to study today’s relevant social issues, we miss an opportunity to help students to read the world. And in this era of #fakenews, reading the world may be more important than ever. Read more