There are now about three-and-a-half months left in our school year.

It seems like a good time to sit down and reflect on what’s gone well so far, what are the challenges I’m experiencing, and what, if anything, I can still do about them…

First, here are some things that have gone particularly well:

  • There is no question that the massive increase of peer tutors (see THE BEST RESOURCES ON PEER TUTORS) into my ELL classes is resulting in a dramatic increase in how quickly students are acquiring English. I have never before been able to move as many Newcomer students to more advanced classes as rapidly as I have this year. And I have never been able to cover as much territory and with such depth in my ELL US History class as I have this year.  In theory, our district is supposed to be doing a formal evaluation to quantify how successful this peer program is (as they did with our work with Long Term English Language Learners), but I’ll believe it when I see it.
  • A couple of months ago, I started to have my Newcomers class begin with peer tutors leading very small leveled book groups using the “True Stories” series (see THE “TRUE STORIES” BOOK SERIES IS AN EXTRAORDINARY MATCH FOR MY ELL NEWCOMERS CLASSROOM – DO YOU KNOW OF OTHER SIMILAR TITLES?). This has been fabulously successful in lots of different ways – engagement for both students and peer tutors, language acquisition, setting the class tone, etc.  Even if I didn’t have these particular books, it’s clear that beginning each class with these kinds of leveled books is very effective – it could be used with any kinds of workbooks, reading books, leveled activities.
  • My standard sequence in both my ELL classes works well – Warm-ups (in History, students do Brainpop, while in my Newcomers class, they do the previously mentioned small groups; followed by a short lesson I do in the front; next comes a related activity in peer tutor groups; and then the class ends with an online game (Quizizz, Kahoot or Blooket).
  • In my History class, every other day I use the game as a formal test.  I announce it the day before, and students have to do it quietly on their own (other times students often choose to play in teams).  We then immediately play the same game again.  Generally, many get a higher score the second time.  However, I take ten points off their second score.  This way, the students who studied the most get rewarded, and everyone typically ends up with a decent grade – plus, they get more “touches” on the topic through this kind of retrieval practice. This process has seemed to work well for everyone.
  • My IB Theory of Knowledge classes have gone very well, as they always do.  One change I implemented this year is when we are working on major projects, I create “quiet” rooms and “talking” rooms (I have two adjoining rooms with the second one functioning as an ELD support center.  Students really like this set-up, and everybody generally gets high quality work done on time.

However, not everything is peaches and cream.  Here are some challenges I’ve been experiencing:

  • Though peers tutors have been a fabulous help, not everything else I’ve tried to “accelerate learning” has gone as well.  Though the “zero period” class (before the regular start of school) I began to support ELLs started off strong with thirty students, it has dwindled to ten.  Many told me (and I believe at least half were being honest) that they would like to come, but that they couldn’t either get a ride to school on time, or they had to help with younger siblings.  The other half, I believe, just didn’t want to get up earlier.   Other efforts I tried, like student personal reports, just took up too much time and energy that I didn’t have, and so I had to abandon them.
  • In terms of peer tutors, though they have been fabulous, most are seniors and are suffering from “senioritis” as the year goes on, and it’s taking more of my energy than I had expected to help keep them focused and motivated.  It’s worth it, and they’re all wonderful kids, but, in many ways, it’s an additional class to teach.
  • After initial reservations, I had high hopes for a tutoring program out of a local University where federal funds would pay for their students to come and tutor ours.  It took a long time to get going, and didn’t last very long until it stopped at the end of their first semester, though it did help some of our Newcomers.  It’s taking them a long time to get going again this semester.  I guess I’m just feeling disappointed because our students could have benefited so much from this kind of “high-dosage” tutoring if it had been more consistent.
  • Yes, our students have gained soooo much this year from our peer tutors, and from some of the other accelerated learning strategies we put into place.  However, there still a few students who are still not progressing very rapidly in their English.  I’ve got to find the time, and the energy, to figure out how to provide them the support they need.
  • I’m feeling pretty tired (see WE TEACHERS ARE NOT ALRIGHT & HERE ARE SOME IDEAS FOR MAKING THINGS BETTER).  Unfortunately, though, I just don’t have a high degree of confidence that’s going to change much…