Monday, April 24, 2017

7 Technology Tools for Newcomer ELLs

"America was indebted to immigration for her settlement and prosperity. That part of which had encouraged them most had advanced most rapidly in population, agriculture and the arts."
-- James Madison

Yesterday in the #ELLEdTech chat, Laurah and I discussed technology tools for helping newcomers, which we defined as English Language Learners from other countries who have very low proficiency levels of English.  Teaching these students is challenging, especially if they arrive in the middle of the school year and it means rearranging your schedule, which happened to me on more than one occasion.  When I first started teaching, I didn’t like working with beginner-level ELLs but as time went on, my attitude changed and I came to really enjoy teaching them.  It was so easy to see the progress they made and that was really gratifying.

In this blog post, I’d like to share some of the resources that were mentioned in our Twitter chat.  In the future, I’ll write about other resources for newcomers that are not technology-based.  These resources can be utilized by both ESL and mainstream teachers who have newcomers in their classes.

These 7 technology tools are great for helping newcomer ELLs learn English.
Technology can help ELLs in a variety of ways; source: The ESL Nexus
First, though, here is a more complete description of a “newcomer” student, from the Next Generation ESL Project: Curriculum Resource Guide by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education:

Newcomer programs are temporary, transitional programs for recently arrived immigrant ELs at the earliest levels of English language proficiency, often referred to as newcomers(Friedlander, 1991). They are designed to meet the unique needs of this population; among their goals are helping students develop basic English language skills, providing instruction in core content areas in preparation for participation in general education classrooms, developing multicultural understanding and intercultural communication, and guiding students through the acculturation process in American schools (Friedlander, 1991; Short & Boyson, 2012).

* One of Laurah’s favorite tools for vocabulary learning for newcomers is Learning Chocolate.  She said, “It's great because it involves all 4 language domains with vocabulary practice & has visuals.”  First you listen to the words and phrases, and then you can play the games for free; if you want to add your own, though, you have to register.  There are versions in US English, UK English, Chinese (written versions in traditional and simplified Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and German.  There is also a page with links to other sites for learning English.

* “Another great tool to help newcomers to communicate,” according to Laurah, “is Picto4me, a free Google Chrome app. This is great for making word walls or communication boards and allows you to create printable communications boards for varied purposes.”  A communication board is a grid with images on it, similar to a Bingo or Jingo board.  Laurah wrote a blog post that explains why this app is good for ELLs.

* Laurah also loves Read&Write for Chrome by TextHelp.  “Read&Write for Chrome is great for providing accommodations or read-alouds for students with low proficiency -- it will read aloud documents (tests or quizzes, for example) as well as websites. You can use it for whole text or parts of a text.  It also has translation and annotation features.”  You can see how it works on their website by clicking on the orange icon with headphones in the upper right corner of your screen.  A single use subscription for one year is $145 and other options are available as well.

* Imagine Learning is another tool that Laurah says the teachers she works with love.  This is a paid program that offers instruction in reading, speaking, and listening skills, grammar, and vocabulary.  Translation into 15 languages is available.  Other programs are for math, struggling readers and special education students. Ideally used on tablets but can also be used on computers.  I couldn't find any pricing info online, which to me implies it's expensive and probably not something individual teachers would purchase on their own.

* Seesaw, suggested by Shaeley Santiago, is a program for creating digital portfolios.  It works on computers as well as tablets and other devices.  Students can upload written work, photos, videos, links, and more to make a portfolio.  There is a free version and paid versions that offer more features. 

* I recommended BrainPop ESL.  BrainPop ESL is part of the BrainPop group of programs and is aimed specifically at English Language Learners.  It offers videos (with two recurring characters), activities, and games that teach various language skills at 3 different levels.  Some free content is available but the paid version offers more material; an annual subscription for 1 classroom is $150.  Other plans are also available.  This page (ignore the Chinese text and click on the video) explains all the features on the Brain Pop ESL site.

* In a course I took earlier this year, I learned about Vocaroo.  I haven’t used it in the classroom but it’s a free program that lets you make audio recordings online and is really simple to use.  You can record instructions for activities, homework assignments, or messages for students, to name a few possibilities.  You can also use Vocaroo for assessment purposes by recording students at the beginning of the school year and then again at the end.  You can download the recordings in various formats, email them, or create a QR code for them, which I think is pretty neat.

Find out about 7 technology tools that are great for helping newcomer ELLs learn English.
Newcomer ELLs are challenging but rewarding students; source: The ESL Nexus
I hope this gives you some ideas for resources you can use with your newcomers.  I’d love to hear what else works well – just add your suggestions in the Comments below.

Monday, April 17, 2017

April #ELLEdTech Twitter Chat: Tech Tools for Newcomers

"We should embrace our immigrant roots and recognize that newcomers to
our land are not part of the problem, they are part of the solution."
-- Cardinal Roger Mahoney

How does your school district define newcomer students?  Are they immigrants who don't know any English?  Are they students from foreign countries who know some English already but are not yet proficient?  Do SLIFE (students with limited formal education) fit in this category or are they a separate group of learners?  How about students who are born in the U.S. but grow up speaking a different language than English -- would you classify them as newcomers?

Join the #ELLEdTech Twitter chat on April 23, 2017 at 7pm EDT to discuss favorite tech tools | The ESL Connection
The April 2017 #ELLEdTech chat will discuss tech tools for newcomers; source: The ESL Nexus
In my former district, newcomers were ELLs who arrived from other countries knowing very little, if any, English.  In my years of working there, I taught only a few students who were newcomers by that definition: an 8th grader from Turkey, a Russian girl adopted by an American family, a 5th grade girl from Poland, a Brazilian kindergartner, 2 elementary-aged Kurdish siblings from Turkey.  The vast majority of my students were born in the U.S. to parents who spoke a language other than English at home. 

There are probably as many ways of teaching newcomers as there are types of ELLs themselves!  What role can technology play in helping these students learn English and academic content?  Join Laurah and me this Sunday, April 23, 2017 as we discuss Technology Tools for Newcomers (postponed one week due to the Easter holiday).  We look forward to seeing you at 7:00pm Eastern to talk about how we can support newcomers in the classroom with technology.

Schedule and Questions
7:00 = Introductions: Tell us your name, location, level and subject taught #ELLEdTech
7:05 = Q1: How does your district define a newcomer ELL & are there special programs for them? #ELLEdTech?
7:13 = Q2: What tools do you recommend for teaching newcomers? #ELLEdTech
7:21 = Q3: How do these tools help newcomers? #ELLEdTech
7:29 = Q4: Are there any disadvantages to using these tools with newcomers? #ELLEdTech
7:37 = Q5: What advice do you have for teachers using technology with newcomers? ELLEdTech 

Join the #ELLEdTech Twitter chat on April 23, 2017 at 7pm EDT to discuss favorite tech tools | The ESL Connection
Join us on April 23rd to discuss your favorite tech tools!
Directions for Joining the Chat
1. Log into Twitter on Sunday; the chat runs from 7:00 - 7:45pm Eastern.

2. Search for tweets with the hashtag #ELLEdTech in the search bar.  Make sure to click “All tweets.”

3. The first five minutes will be spent introducing ourselves.

4. Starting at 7:05 @ESOL_Odyssey or @The_ESL_Nexus will post questions every 8 minutes using Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. to identify the questions and the hashtag #ELLEdTech.

5.  Answer the questions by prefacing them with A1, A2, A3, etc. and use the hashtag #ELLEdTech.

6.  Follow any teachers who respond and are also using #ELLEdTech.

7.  Like (click the heart icon) and post responses to other teachers' tweets.

You can schedule your answers to the questions in advance by using an online scheduler such as TweetDeck or HootSuite (and remember to use A1, A2, etc. and #ELLEdTech).  Links are encouraged, but use tinyurl, bitly, or to shorten your link so it can be included in your tweet.  Just click one of those links, paste the longer link in the app's box to shorten it for Twitter, then paste the shortened link into your tweet. If you have relevant images, we encourage you to post them, too.

Is this your first Twitter chat?  Here are our rules:

1. Please stay on topic.

2. Please do not post about paid products unless explicitly asked. 

3. If you arrive after the chat has started, please try to read the previous tweets before joining in.

4. Feel free to just read, like, and/or retweet if you prefer -- we know the first time can be a little overwhelming!

5. Always use the hashtag #ELLEdTech when tweeting.

6. Make sure your twitter feed is set to "public." (And do remember that Twitter is completely public; that means anyone--students, parents, administrators--may see what you tweet.) 

You are welcome to let any of your teacher friends who might be interested in joining us as well know about it. We look forward to chatting with you on Sunday evening!

Monday, April 10, 2017

How to Easily Create A QR Code Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger hunt: a game in which players try to find specified items within
a particular period of time.

I used QR codes in the classroom for the first time last week.  You might be asking: What took so long?  Well, for one thing, the school where I used to work didn't allow students or teachers to use cellphones in class.  Now I’m no longer a classroom teacher so that complicates things in a different way.

I am, however, volunteering in a class at a school near me.  So when TESOL International Association offered a free 5-week online course about using QR codes, I jumped at the chance to learn all about it because I thought I might be able to design an activity for the teacher in whose career exploration/life skills elective class I help out in.
How to easily create a QR code scavenger hunt & lessons learned after implementing one for the first time | The ESL Connection
Kitchen Tools Scavenger Hunt resource; source: The ESL Nexus
But first let me give you some background about the course I took.  TESOL International Association is a worldwide organization for educators who work with English Language Learners and it offers a variety of professional development opportunities for members.  One of them is the Electronic Village Online, 5-week courses about using technology with ELLs.  What’s great is that all courses are free.  What’s even greater is that anyone can enroll in one of these courses – you don’t have to be a TESOL member to participate!  If you want to sign up for their newsletter, which I’m assuming is how non-TESOL members will be informed of the 2018 sessions, just click here.

So I learned about lots of tools used to create and read the QR codes as well as about various ways to use QR codes in lessons.  After learning how to create a scavenger hunt, I decided to make one for the teacher I worked with.  Students were always asking where to find various items when they were cooking and they didn’t know what some things were – like colanders – so the teacher and I thought a scavenger hunt would be a great way for the kids to learn these things.  When I told her about the course I was taking, she really liked the idea of using QR codes and incorporating a tech component into the activity.  She had never used QR codes before, either.
How to easily create a QR code scavenger hunt & lessons learned after implementing one for the first time
Home page for EVO course about QR codes; source: TESOL International Association
As recommended in the TESOL course, I used the QR Treasure Hunt Generator to make my scavenger hunt.  The site takes you step by step through the process of creating a scavenger hunt so it was really easy.  I had a list of 11 items that the teacher wanted the kids to become familiar with – things like a sifter, a cooling rack, a double boiler, a candy thermometer, a chef’s knife, and so on.  The goals were to be able to identify each tool and to state where in the kitchen area of the classroom they were located. 

Each question was followed the same format: What is _________ and where is it located?  Then I added a 12th question asking what to do after you finish cooking. (Answer: Clean up!)  After you finish typing in the questions and answers and have created a password, you click a button at the bottom of the screen that says Create the QR Challenge and that takes you to another page with a link where you can access your scavenger hunt.

Actually, what you will see is a page like this, with directions for the teacher:
How to easily create a QR code scavenger hunt & lessons learned after implementing one for the first time | The ESL Connection
Teacher info about creating scavenger hunts with QR codes; source:
To check that the questions and answers you typed came out the way you want, you click on the link that the red arrow points to, View the questions.  If you need to edit the questions or answers, click on the link the yellow arrow points to, Edit this quiz.  When you are satisfied with how everything looks, then you can click on the Get the QR Code for each question! link that the orange arrow is pointing to.

When you click on that, you’ll be taken to another page that shows one QR code for each question you typed.  For the QR code scavenger hunt I created, the beginning looks like this:
How to easily create a QR code scavenger hunt & lessons learned after implementing one for the first time | The ESL Connection
First QR code in my scavenger hunt; source: The ESL Nexus
As you can see, you can find the answers by clicking on the link the red arrow is pointing to.  (I just googled the names of the items to find their purpose; since I didn't know where everything was kept in the classroom, I left that part empty.) The answers are provided in images that look like smartphones, like this:
How to easily create a QR code scavenger hunt & lessons learned after implementing one for the first time | The ESL Connection
First question and answer in my QR code scavenger hunt; source: The ESL Nexus
Then I compiled all the materials into a nice resource for the classroom teacher so she could look it over at her convenience.  I typed up instructions on what to do before the class – ensure one student per group had a smartphone with a QR Code reader, print out the QR codes and place them around the room, and print out answer sheets for students to record their responses to the questions.  I made 2 versions of the answer sheets, one had photos of each kitchen tool and the other didn’t.
How to easily create a QR code scavenger hunt & lessons learned after implementing one for the first time | The ESL Connection
Sample answer sheets for students; source: The ESL Nexus
When we implemented the lesson, the students were in their regular small groups and the 12 QR codes were placed throughout the kitchen area.  Each group got one set of the answer sheets without images of the items.  The teacher explained the directions and made sure the kids had a QR reader on the phones that would be used.  Then off they went.  They had about 35 minutes to complete the activity.  The groups got stumped on a couple items because although the teacher wanted them to know what they were, they weren’t actually available in the kitchen.  So we resorted to showing the students the photos of the items.  Next time, we’ll be sure to use the answer sheets with the photos.  Another minor issue, for me anyway, was getting students to write detailed answers.  That is, in response to the question about a cooling rack, some groups wrote things like: It’s a rack to cool things.  Well that just wasn’t good enough for me!  So I asked the students to be more specific and to explain why that needed to be done.
How to easily create a QR code scavenger hunt & lessons learned after implementing one for the first time | The ESL Connection
Sample QR codes in the classroom; source: The ESL Nexus
All the groups finished in plenty of time and had their answers checked by me or their teacher.  Some students took the activity seriously and put a good effort into it whereas others were less invested in it.  Because there was still some time left in the period, I asked each student to give some feedback by writing 1-2 sentences on the back of their answer sheets.  Their comments were very interesting!  Some students thought it was hard and others thought it was boring.  A couple students said they would have liked it more if it had been outside.  There were also some positive comments: one student said she liked the fact that using phones was part of the activity, another student said it was helpful, and a third student said she hoped they could do more activities like this again.  The most useful comment was that it would’ve been better if not all the questions were the same – that is something I will definitely keep in mind the next time I design a QR code scavenger hunt. 

All in all, both I and the classroom teacher were pleased with how the activity went.  Now I am trying to think of more topics for QR code scavenger hunts!  If you have ever created this kind of activity, I’d love to hear about it in the Comments section below.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Education Around the World: British Columbia, Canada

"By looking at the questions the kids are asking, we learn the scope of what needs to be do."
-- Buffy Sainte-Marie

This month, we’re returning to North America for the next post in this series.  An earlier post discussed the education system in the Francophone province of Quebec, in eastern Canada -- as I’m sure you already know, Canada is a bilingual country -- so now it’s time to find out about education in another part of the country.

Learn about the education system in British Columbia and download a FREE resource about Canadian symbols!
Map of Canada; source: The CIA World Factbook
To help with that, I am very pleased to present Diane, from TpT store One Teacher’s Adventures.  Diane is a teacher in British Columbia, a predominantly English-speaking province on the west coast of Canada.  In her own words:

Structure of Schools in British Columbia
I am not familiar with how education is provided in other provinces, but in British Columbia, there are public and private schools. I work in the public system, in a middle school (Grades 6-8) with 540 students.  I have taught many different subjects from Grade 1 -- Grade 11. This year, I have a split Grade 7/8 homeroom class and I work with a partner teacher who also has a Grade 7/8 split homeroom.  I teach English, Social Studies, French, and Advisory, and my partner teaches Math, Science, Career Education, and Physical Education to both classes. Students are typically 12-13 years old in Grades 7 and 8.

Learn about education in British Columbia, Canada and download a free resource about Canadian symbols
Victoria, British Columbia; source: Pixabay
Every public school teacher in British Columbia belongs to the BCTF (BC Teacher's Federation) and must hold a B. Ed (Bachelor's of Education). Supply teachers (substitute teachers) are referred to as TTOCs (Teachers Teaching on Call) and are fully qualified and certified with a B.Ed degree. Most teachers in private schools also hold B.Ed degrees, but some schools don't require it.

The School Calendar
The school year begins on the Tuesday after Labour Day in September and ends on the Thursday of the last full week in June. The winter break is typically 2 weeks at the end of December, with students returning on the Monday after New Year's Day. Spring Break is typically 1-2 weeks in March (different districts have different lengths).

There is no school on Thanksgiving (Second Monday in October), Remembrance Day (Nov. 11), Family Day (first Monday in February), Good Friday, Easter Monday, or Victoria Day (3rd Monday in May). There are also 4-5 Teacher Professional Development Days (Pro-D Days) throughout the year on which students don't attend school.

Students typically begin Kindergarten at 5, though some start at 4 if their birthday is between September and December and will turn 5 before the end of the year they begin. By the time students graduate at the end of Grade 12, they are usually 17 or 18 years old.

Every school district is a little different with grade configurations, grading, and scheduling. In my district, we have elementary schools (K-5), middle schools (6-8), and secondary schools (9-12). The elementary school day is typically 8:30-2:30, middle is 8:45-3:00, and secondary is 9:00-3:30.

Learn about the education system in British Columbia, Canada and download a FREE resource about Canadian symbols!
Diane's grading scheme for her class; source: One Teacher's Adventures
There are three formal reporting terms in my district, with report cards coming home in early December, March, and June. Elementary students are not assigned letter grades. Teachers use language such as "Not Meeting Expectations," "Minimally Meeting Expectations," "Fully Meeting Expectations," and "Exceeding Expectations." Beginning in Grade 6, students are assigned letter grades for each course. Students can receive the following grades: A, B, C+, C, C-, I (Incomplete), and F.

There are Provincial PLOs (Prescribed Learning Outcomes) that have to be taught in BC. The curriculum for all grades and all subjects has been revised over the past few years. The K-9 Curriculum is published and elementary and middle school teachers are using this new curriculum this year. The Grade 10-12 curriculum is in draft form at the moment. Secondary teachers are allowed to use a blend of the old and new to create their classes until it is finalized.

There used to be more PLOs that were very specific for each subject. The new curriculum deals more with big ideas and core competencies. The core competencies are Critical Thinking, Creative Thinking, Communication, Positive Personal and Cultural Identity, Personal Awareness and Responsibility, and Social Responsibility. The core competencies are reinforced in every grade from K-12. The revised curriculum also puts more emphasis on learning processes, rather than on content knowledge. There is a push for inquiry-based and project-based learning as well. The big ideas are overarching, giving teachers a lot more freedom to teach in a way that their individual students will be able to understand and connect with. To see the curriculum for each subject, click HERE.

To get an idea of what the curriculum looks like in action, check out my No Prep! Early Explorers to Canada -Cabot, Cartier, Frobisher, Champlain, Hudson resource.  It addresses key questions from the Grade 4 Social Studies curriculum that ask, “What motivated explorers and settlers to come to Canada?” and “How did the geography of Canada affect European exploration?”
Read about the education system in British Columbia, Canada, learn about explorers with this product & download a FREE resource about Canadian symbols!
Find out more about this resource HERE; source: One Teacher's Adventures
Teacher Qualifications and Becoming an ESL Teacher
Every public school teacher in British Columbia belongs to the BCTF (BC Teacher's Federation) and must hold a Bachelor's of Education degree. Supply teachers (substitute teachers) are referred to as TTOCs (Teachers Teaching on Call) and are fully qualified and certified with a B.Ed degree. Most teachers in private schools also hold B.Ed degrees, but some schools don't require it.

To specialize in Elementary Education, teachers can take a 4- or 5-year University program (teachers who take the 5-year program start at a higher salary than those opting for the 4-year). Teachers take courses in all core subjects: Writing, Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies, Art, Music, Drama, Physical Education, and French.

Learn about the education system in British Columbia, Canada and download a FREE resource about Canadian symbols!
Grade 8 Social Studies activity; source: One Teacher's Adventures
To specialize in Secondary Education, teachers typically take a 4-year Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in the area they want to teach (English, History, Math, etc.), then take a 1-year Post-Degree B.Ed program. I took the 5-year Elementary B.Ed program, but I have taught at the middle and high school level because I have University coursework in the subjects I taught.

There are ESL (English as a Second Language) courses in most B.Ed programs. When I was at University, we had the choice to take the ESL or FSL (French as a Second Language) course. To become an ESD teacher (English Skills Development), the ESL course must be taken.

Teaching and Learning English
English is a core subject for all students in K-12. In the elementary years, English Language Arts is taught daily, focusing on Oral Communication, Reading, and Writing.

Most middle and secondary schools have rotating schedules: Students take 8 courses, but there are only 5 blocks per day, so they don’t receive English every day. It is still divided among Oral Communication (speaking and listening), Reading, and Writing, but more focus is given to Reading and Writing. English 12, or First Peoples English 12, is the only course that is required for graduation.

As long as students have the required credits to graduate, they have a choice in their other academic courses in grade 12. First Peoples English 12 follows the same PLOs (Prescribed Learning Outcomes) from the Ministry of Education as English 12, but the texts used are from Aboriginal Canadian authors and storytellers.

ELL (English Language Learners) students learn English in an immersion setting with native English speakers in these ELA classes. There are Itinerant ESD (English Skills Development) teachers in the district that work with many schools. They help classroom teachers to plan lessons with strategies for ELL students, and offer pull out support for ELL students. One resource they may find helpful is my free Symbols of Canada booklet for primary students, which helps ELLs learn about Canada.
Learn about the education system in British Columbia, Canada and download this FREE resource about Canadian symbols!
Download your FREE copy HERE; source: One Teacher's Adventures
Unfortunately, there is not enough funding to have dedicated ESD teachers every day at every school. Typically, each ESD teacher has 4 or 5 schools they work with, meaning they can only visit each school once per week.  There are also Literacy Support teachers who work with struggling students, whether they are native English speakers or ELL students.

We are encouraged at my school to use the nature that surrounds us in our lessons. For example, I did a lesson for descriptive writing practice. Students were asked to find a leaf outside and describe it with as much detail as possible.  The leaves were then all put onto the same table and the students had to find their partner's leaf based on the description.  Below is what one of my ELL students wrote.
Learn about education in British Columbia, Canada and download a FREE resource about Canadian symbols!
Grade 8 student's work; source: One Teacher's Adventures
Standardized Testing
Students in Grades 4 and 7 write Foundation Skills Assessment tests (FSA tests). They test numeracy, reading, and writing skills.  The FSA tests typically take 3-5 hours to complete and are sent away to be graded at the provincial level (classroom teachers do not mark them).

These tests are very controversial in BC. Many teachers see it as a waste of time as it takes time out of the regular school day and the grades are not used for school-based assessment (they don’t count toward report card grades).  The results are also published to rank schools.  The local teacher’s unions of many districts (including mine) send home information to parents to ask them to opt their children out of the FSA tests altogether. In my district, very few students actually write the test.  This year in my class, I had only 1 out of my 12 grade 7s write the FSA.

In high school, there will be two provincial exams, one for numeracy and one for literacy.  As the high school curriculum has not yet been finalized, we don’t know exactly what these will look like yet, or how it will fit into the graduation program.

Final Thoughts
I love being a teacher! I feel especially fortunate at my school as the teaching staff is very collaborative in nature. As a classroom teacher, I am able to work with Literacy Support teachers, Aboriginal Education teachers, ESD teachers, and other specialists to give my students the best environment in which to learn. I can also use my interests and my students’ interests to create lessons and learning experiences that they will connect with and that will allow them to think critically.
Learn about the education system in British Columbia, Canada and download a FREE resource about Canadian symbols!
Canadian flag; source: The CIA World Factbook
Thank you very much, Diane, for your detailed explanation of the education system in British Columbia.  What I find most interesting are the PLOs – the Prescribed Learning Outcomes – because although they are standards, they do not describe specific learning objectives tied to content topics, like the standards I am familiar with.  Rather, they describe overarching concepts, the Big Idea if you will, which is coming at the content in a very different way from what I’m used to.  And that’s why I so enjoy learning about the education systems in other countries! 

You can read more about Diane’s teaching on her blog, One Teacher’s Adventures.  And don’t forget to check out her TpT store, too, for some more great resources!

And you can read the previous posts in this series here: You can check out previous blog posts in this series here: South Africa, Canada (Quebec), Scotland, United Arab Emirates, England, Sweden, Morocco, and Australia.