There nine more days until the end of our school year. I think I’m doing a pretty good job at maintaining positive, upbeat energy in my classes, with engaging activities. However, inside I feel like I’m running on fumes, particularly because we’re having to pack up everything to prepare the school for renovation this summer (though we’re not really getting any extra time to do it).
Even though I’d rather be relaxing watching the Nuggets/Heat game (somewhat tempered by my sadness that the Warriors aren’t in the mix this year), I know from experience that it’s critical for me to sit down at the end of a year to make a list of what I want to do differently next year. If I don’t, it’s highly likely I won’t remember at least a few important items.
My IB Theory of Knowledge classes went very well this year, as they usually have, and as they especially have during the past three years since IB changed the curriculum (though I harbor resentment at their insistence of changing it during the distance learning year).
My ELL Newcomers class also went well. However, I think there’s definite room for improvement.
After teaching the class every year for a long time, the past three years I had a student teacher handle the Newcomer comers while I taught ELL Intermediates. That “lay-off” made me a bit “rusty,” and it took some time for me to get back “in the groove.”
I share some ideas in a previous post, 5 THINGS THAT HAVE GONE WELL & 5 THINGS THAT COULD HAVE GONE BETTER THIS SCHOOL YEAR. Today, though, I’d like to be very specific about some changes I’d like to implement in my Newcomers class next year, especially since I’ll have them for two periods then instead of the one hour I had them this year.
1.Be very intentional about providing training and specific direction to peer tutors when working with the Newcomers, including doing much more careful modeling of everything I expect them to do. They aren’t teachers, student teachers, or instructional aides, so it’s not reasonable to have those expectations for them. However, I do want them to be very present to working with Newcomer students during the typical sixty percent of class time when I expect them to be doing so. This year, they were during the first semester, and at the beginning of second semester, but “senioritis” set in for a number of them for the past two-or-three months.
2. Be very intentional about fairly strict cellphone restrictions during class time. With everyone having Chromebooks, there’s really no reason students need to use cellphones for class work. I’ve always had an exception if they are expecting calls from family or work, but I am going to ask students to keep cellphones in their backpacks in most situations. When I explain this cellphone rule, however, it will be in the context of a multilingual lesson reviewing the research on how having a cellphone where it can be seen or felt is distracting to learning. Usually, however, there are also a couple of minutes at the end of class when we’re cleaning-up that I’ve generally allowed cellphone usage. And there are seven minutes between classes, too, so there is ample time for people to use their phone.
3. Almost immediately incorporate having students do weekly Google Slides presentations related to the theme we are studying (presenting them “speed-dating” style). I began doing this in the later part of this year, and it was excellent practice for all domains – speaking, listening, reading, writing.
4. Be very intentional from the beginning of the year about practicing English at home. This might look like a strategy I’ve done before – beginning by making it voluntary and having a few students do it. Then, during the warm-up time, they review it with a top-notch peer tutor while others do the regular warm-up. When I’ve done something like this in the past, this “homework” group became envied by other students who then, too, wanted to be part of it. This homework might be a particularly engaging workbook (which I would give students the opportunity to choose) or a strategy I’ve written about utilizing Artificial Intelligence.
5. Speaking of artificial intelligence, I’ll certainly have students begin to work on some new sites that they tried out this year – ReadM and Speakable. I’m less sure about a writing tool called Pressto, but I’m going to experiment with it over the summer to see if it could work with Newcomers. Of course, new AI tools will be coming out in the coming months, as well. Though I’m skeptical about AI having more than a marginal positive impact on education, language learning is one area where it could be a different story.
6. Do a much better job at regularly reviewing topics that we’ve previously studied, possibly doing regular review topics borrowing a strategy I’ve used in my ELL History classes. This idea basically challenges students to reflect on what they’ve learned and explain what knowledge they think is most important and why. This year, I have to admit that our themes have sort of been “one and done” with little revisiting of prior content.
7. Though using the “True Stories” books in leveled “warm-up” groups with peer tutors generally worked well with peer tutors, I need to make some changes to make the activity even better. These changes can include, as I said earlier, better modeling by me about how peer tutors should lead the groups; better logistics so students can begin to immediately begin working on their book when they enter the classroom instead of waiting for their folders to be distributed (since I have two rooms, it would be easy for me to just leave the books in small trays there so they could pick them up and put them back when done); and “mixing-it-up” a bit so they don’t always have to work on the same book (the school did purchase some alternatives, so this would be easy to do).
8. Do a better job using formative assessment data. I develop a lot of it, including graphed weekly test results that are easily understandable by students and by me. However, I didn’t do much with it this past year, though I tried. I’ve got to figure out a structured way so it’s not just on me to analyze and act on the data – after all, formative assessments are supposed to challenge both the teacher and student to reflect and act on it. I think I need to create some kind of accessible self-reflective form and process that the entire class does bi-weekly or monthly that includes students setting goals and reviewing previous ones. I’ve got to think about this over the summer.
9. Do a stronger job on classroom management. Though I very successfully taught what some might call “intervention” classes for many years, teaching ELLs and IB classes have made me a bit lax in this area, to the detriment of learning. It generally hasn’t been a problem in my ELL classes, but some years there are more students who have been out of school for a long time, or who have experienced substantial trauma, and those experiences impact the classroom – as they did this year. The class could have benefited with a bit more “tough love” from me.
I’m sure I’ll think of more than these nine changes, but they’re a good start!