Monday, October 31, 2016

How to Keep ELL Families Informed about School

"At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child's success
is the positive involvement of parents."
-- Jane Dee Hull

Regardless of whether you’ve just finished your first quarter parent conferences or they are coming up soon, keeping families informed about how their children are doing is of paramount importance to students’ success in school.  I’ve written before about why I so enjoyed working with the parents of my English Language Learners and while communicating with non-native English-speaking parents of ELLs can be a challenge, it is also very rewarding. 

There are also many more tools available now than when I was in the classroom for keeping ELLs families apprised of how their kids are doing in school.  Many of these tech tools have built-in translation capabilities, so there’s really no longer any excuse for not maintaining frequent contact with ELL families.  Today I’d like to offer several ways you can keep ELL parents and guardians up-to-date about your classroom activities and their children’s progress in school.  Of course, you can also use all these tools with native English speakers, too!

Most of these ideas were mentioned in our recent #ELLEdTech Twitter chat about tech tools for communicating with parents.  For the websites/apps in the list below, I added explanations from the sites themselves (hence the quotation marks) as well as my own comments.  Please note that I have not used any of these apps myself to communicate with parents, other than Google Translate and my own resource mentioned at the end, but I have heard positive things about Remind, Google Voice, and Twitter from other teachers who’ve used them for this purpose.

10 tools you can use to easily communicate with the families of ELL students, plus more resources in a linky party. | The ESL Connection
Source: The ESL Nexus
Websites, Apps & Resources for Staying In Touch

* Bloomz "is a new, free tool designed to help teachers, parents, and PTA members share information and photos through real-time communication and coordination.  Built primarily for the K-8 environment…"  You can send class updates, share photos and videos, manage events, create student portfolios, and track behavior.

* brightwheel (sic) is "Designed specifically to meet the needs of early education – brightwheel was built to be your all-in-one solution."  It's a program that offers ways to track enrollment, payments, food consumption, and activities as well as other things that are helpful in daycare settings.  It can also send messages, reports, and photos about children's activities.

* FreshGrade "is an online portfolio where teachers, students and parents all interact to capture and comment on the student's school work. The program also allows teachers to create and grade custom assignments, which are then tracked in the tool."  You can create digital portfolios which can then be shared with families.  A free e-book and training are also available.

* Google Voice and Google Translate: My #ELLEdTech co-host, Laurah, wrote a blog post on how to use these two programs to communicate with the families of ELLs.  There is also a very helpful infographic in her post that outlines the steps to follow.

* Parent Hub is a way to "Engage parents with updates about the amazing things happening in your classroom."  You create "channels" that group people, such as a class or an after-school club, into communities and then you send messages and attachments to them.  Recipients can respond to you, too.  It’s based in the European Union so privacy laws are different from those in the U.S.

* Remind "is a communication tool that helps teachers connect instantly with students and parents. Send quick, simple messages to any device."  You can send a text and have it translated into 70 other languages; you can also schedule when you want a text to be sent.

* TalkingPoints is a “multilingual texting platform easily connects teachers and families through text messages."  You send a text in English, it's translated into the family's language, they text back in their language, and that gets translated into English.

* Twitter: Thanks to S@FloradTeach for recommending Twitter to send messages and photos.  Tweets can be sent in real time or scheduled in advance.  According to Twitter, tweets can also be translated using Bing’s translation program but they may not be 100% accurate so the original tweet is also included.  I’d be curious to know if anyone has used this Twitter function; please leave a comment below if you have and let us know how well it worked.

* Weekly Progress Update Forms: A TpT resource with one-page forms in English and Spanish that comes in print and Google Drive versions.  Teachers fill out the forms on a weekly basis and send them home.  Academic progress, homework completion, attitude, participation and behavior are noted and there is space for comments.  Signed forms can be saved in folders to show progress during the course of the school year.

How do you stay in touch with your ELL families and keep them up-to-date on how their children are doing in school?  Please share the resources you use in the link party below!

10 tools you can use to easily communicate with the families of ELL students, plus more resources in a linky party. | The ESL Connection
An InLinkz Link-up

Monday, October 24, 2016

What Went Wrong With My Volunteer Presentation

"Go out and do something for somebody.  Go out and give something to somebody.
It will take you away from yourself and make you happy."
-- Joseph Jefferson

Remember how you over-prepare for the first day of a new class?  Well, that was me last week on my first day as a volunteer at a local K-8 school.  One of the volunteer positions was to test 4th graders on reading skills but I thought it would be more fun to help a teacher in her combination career exploration and life skills class and opted to do that instead.

So I met with that teacher a few weeks ago and scheduled this past Thursday for me to go in and talk to her 7th-8th class about a career teaching in a foreign country.  I spent about a day and half preparing my presentation.  Unlike when I was a classroom teacher and had a plan book with only a 3" x 3" box to write up each lesson plan, now I could type whatever I wanted without being constrained by space limitations.  And type I did: The notes for my presentation took up 5 pages.  That's where I went wrong!

REad this blog post to find out the 2 mistakes the writer makes when giving a volunteer presentation. Grab a freebie, too. | The ESL Connection
Here I am teaching in China; source: The ESL Nexus
Everything was going reasonably well but before I knew it, the teacher was indicating that just 5 minutes were left…and I was only about halfway through my notes!  I had crammed in 4 different activities and tasks to cover such a broad topic and had carefully allocated time to each part of the lesson.  However, transitioning into the class took longer than expected and students needed more time to take notes than I'd figured.  So I had to rush through the remainder of my presentation.  I probably should have omitted the turn-and-talk activity because that would've allowed more time for the exit ticket task I’d planned.  The teacher was kind enough to photocopy and cut the exit tickets up for me in advance so I wanted to make sure that got done.

You can grab a version of the exit tickets here; I modified them so they can be used when giving a presentation about any kind of job.  Click on Make a copy when prompted by the message on your screen and then you can access the file.

Grab this freebie and read about lessons learned when a volunteer presentation doesn't go exactly as planned. | The ESL Connection
Download your own copy HERE; source: The ESL Nexus
It was disappointing not to be able to present the material the way I’d intended but it was a good learning experience for me.  (I’m not so sure it was for the students!)  Clearly, I didn’t pace things well.  Too much preparation is not a bad thing but I so wanted the presentation to go well that I overplanned to the extreme.  The good thing is that this class is a half-year elective and come January, there will be a new group of students.  My presentation will be much better next time!

REad this blog post to find out the 2 mistakes the writer makes when giving a volunteer presentation.  You can grab a freebie, too. | The ESL Connection
Here I am practicing taiji with a friend in China; source: The ESL Nexus
This week and the week after, I’ll be talking to the same group of students about being a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Now that I know how much time I really have available and I have a good idea of who the students are, I’ll be able to plan that presentation much more effectively.

The classroom teacher has already asked if I’d be interested in doing some classes about cooking Chinese food—of course I said yes!--and I will also be helping out in the school garden.  I’m really looking forward to this opportunity and periodically I’ll blog about my experiences as a school volunteer.  If you volunteer at a school or if you have any advice for volunteers, I’d love to read them in the Comments section below.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Halloween: It's Not Just About the Candy

"UNICEF is working for the survival of children worldwide.  What can we do
to get more Americans committed to the cause?"
-- Clay Aiken

When I was a kid, every year on Halloween I carried a little cardboard orange box with me when I went trick-or-treating.  So did most of the other kids I went around the neighborhood with or saw walking along the streets.  Collecting money for UNICEF was as much a part of Halloween as wearing a costume and getting candy.

Bring Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF to your students with their collection boxes & classroom resources.  Help kids participate in a worthy cause this Halloween!
Official logo; source: Wikimedia Commons
After I got home and dumped all my loot on the floor in the family room, I opened that little orange box and counted how much money I’d gotten in donations.  Whatever the amount was, it always made me happy that I would be able to help some less fortunate kids elsewhere in the world.

Bring Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF to your students with their collection boxes & classroom resources.  Help kids participate in a worthy cause this Halloween!
Who doesn't love candy corn?! Source: The ESL Nexus
Looking back, I’m sure that carrying that small container in my left hand, the hand that didn’t hold the bag I hoped to fill with candy, played an important role in inspiring me to work overseas in development, first as a Peace Corps Volunteer helping people in West Africa grow more food and then in Asia teaching English so university students and professors could speak English with foreigners and read the journals that would help them help their communities improve their standards of living.

Halloween has changed a lot over the years.  Lots of cities and towns in the U.S. now proscribe which day and what time kids can go out trick or treating.  Giving unwrapped food such as fruit is no longer an option.  Many costumes are bought, not hand-made.

Bring Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF to your students with their collection boxes & classroom resources.  Help kids participate in a worthy cause this Halloween!
They need their UNICEF boxes! Source: Photo by gracey at
But one thing is still the same: You can still go trick or treating for UNICEF.  I don’t know where my parents got those orange boxes I used every year but nowadays, you can order them online.  UNICEF has a website where you can not only order the boxes but also find other resource materials, such as stories about how the donations have helped children in various parts of the world.  There are also lesson plans, maps, posters, and certificates for kids who have collected money.  The website has sections for teachers, families, and community organizations.

Bring Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF to your students with their collection boxes & classroom resources.  Help kids participate in a worthy cause this Halloween!
Certificate of Appreciation; source: UNICEF
It’s not too late to order those little orange boxes for Halloween in 2016!  The deadline is Monday, October 24th, to ensure you receive them in time but the sooner they’re ordered the better.  The website also has info on how you can make your own wrappers for boxes to collect donations.  I encourage everyone to try and get their students to participate in this worthy cause!

Bring Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF to your students with their collection boxes & classroom resources.  Help kids participate in a worthy cause this Halloween!
Super-sized collection boxes; source: Photos from UNICEF
And while you’re waiting to receive your order of orange boxes, your students might enjoy these Halloween resources from my TpT store:

Read how you can help UNICEF this Halloween & find other classroom resources for students in this bog post.
You can find them HERE and HERE

Monday, October 10, 2016

Tools for Communicating with ELL Families: October #ELLEdTech Chat

When you have to communicate with the families of your English Language Learners, do you:
a) Procrastinate as long as possible because you find it difficult to talk with people who don't have strong English skills?
b) Ask a parent liaison to get in touch with them on your behalf?
c) Send a text, email, or written message home in English and hope your student or someone else will translate it accurately?
d) Open Google Translate and hope the language you need is available and the translation will be comprehensible by you and the family?
e) Get excited because you enjoy interacting with people from other cultures and know the family is eager to hear how their child is doing in school?

If you picked a, b, c, or d to answer the question above, then the next #ELLEdTech Twitter chat is for you!  And if you picked e, our next Twitter chat is also for you!
Join 2 ESL educators on October 16, 2016 as they moderate the monthly #ELLEdTEch Twitter chat.  Topic: Tools for Communicating with ELL Families.
Use the hashtag #ELLEdTech on October 16th to join us!
As we all know, the level of involvement of parents and guardians is an important factor in how well their children do in school.  ELL families are just as interested and concerned about how their kids are doing as other families.  But language and culture barriers may prevent some of them from being as involved as they or their children's teachers would like.  On the flip side, some teachers may hesitate from contacting the families of their ELL students because they don't know how they can reach them if they don't speak English well.  

There are more tech tools besides Google Translate available and co-host Laurah and I will be discussing a variety of Tools that Help Teachers Communicate with Parents and Guardians of ELLs.  Come join us on Sunday, October 16th, and share your thoughts and suggestions for effectively communicating with ELL parents and guardians.

Schedule and Questions
7:00 = Introductions: Tell us your name, location, level and subject taught #ELLEdTech
7:05 = Q1: What tools do you recommend for communicating with parents & guardians of ELLs? #ELLEdTech
7:13 = Q2: How are these tools useful? #ELLEdTech
7:21 = Q3: What are the pros or benefits to using these tools? #ELLEdTech
7:29 = Q4: Are there any cons or drawbacks Ts should be aware of with these tools? #ELLEdTech
7:37 = Q5: What advice do you have for teachers beginning to use technology to communicate with ELL parents & guardians? #ELLEdTech

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, October 3, 2016

Need Resources about the Presidential Election? Here They Are!

"Elections remind us not only of the rights but the
responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy."
-- Robert Kennedy

Only five weeks left to the U.S. presidential election!  You might be saying hooray but when I was a classroom teacher working with ELLs, some of whom were immigrants from countries with very different political systems, I always enjoyed election season.  It offered so many great, real-life opportunities for teaching my students about the American electoral system.  I flipped the curriculum and instead of teaching about the three branches of government at the end of the year, when it was supposed to be covered, I taught that unit in the Fall so my students had a better understanding of what was going on when they saw commercials and advertisements and heard other people discussing the election.

Find links to websites that teach about the presidential election & more resources in this month's Excelerating ELL linky party | The ESL Connection
Source: Pixabay
Having lived in countries that didn’t hold elections on a regular basis, or where the elections didn’t really matter, I always stressed to my students the importance of being informed about the candidates running for office.  I also encouraged them to accompany their parents or guardians when they went to their polling place to vote.  It’s my firm belief that if teachers can get their students interested in the political process and help them understand how elections work in this country, then when they are older they will be more likely to be regular voters.

Find links to websites that teach about the presidential election & more resources in this month's Excelerating ELL linky party | The ESL Connection
Source: Pixabay
My Social Studies for ELLs Pinterest board has several resources for teaching about this year’s presidential election that help students develop a deeper understanding and appreciation about the 2016 election.  They include material for helping students understand the debates between the candidates, suggestions on how to facilitate classroom discussions about the election, and resources for engaging students in the political process and becoming civically-involved citizens.  I am pleased to share these resources with you here so you can help your own students participate in the wonderful process we in the U.S. call democracy.  If you have another resource to recommend, please leave the name and link for it in a Comment at the end of this blog post.

Find links to websites that teach about the presidential election & more resources in this month's Excelerating ELL linky party | The ESL Connection
Voting booths in Arizona; source: The ESL Nexus
Blog post from MiddleWeb with suggestions for preparing students to watch the debates and questions for post-debate discussions
8 websites recommended by the School Library Journal
A collection of resources for teaching about civics, bias, and immigration issues

Teaching 4th Gr. Civics This Election Year
Blog post from MiddleWeb with links to resources about the Constitution, the three branches of government, voting, and more

The Election and the Educator
11 suggestions for teachers on how to appropriately discuss the election with students, by an Edutopia columnist

Description of the Letters to the Next President project, from Teaching Channel
Website where students age 13-18 can submit their own letters (deadline November 8, 2016)

American Presidents Series 2015-16 webinars
Links to webinars profiling 10 presidents

For more resources about the presidential election that you can use in your classroom, please check out the materials in this month's link up.

Find links to websites that teach about the presidential election & more resources in this month's Excelerating ELL linky party | The ESL Connection