Thursday, September 28, 2006

Our First Day of Literacy Centers

Things are finally coming together. This week I've been picking up most of my kids and by next week my program should be in full swing.

And I am sooo ready. This week I did running records on all of my kids to get their reading level. Then I made up guided reading groups and schedules. I'm now putting the final touches on my centers so that I can start guided reading as soon as possible. Resources that I've read say to wait about six weeks before starting guided reading so that students know the procedures for centers, how to rotate, what to do, who to go to for help, etc. While I am doing guided reading the students have to be able to do centers and rotate with minimal direction. I know this is a huge task but I don't have six weeks to wait to start helping my students grow their reading levels (I have 5th graders on a kindergarten level!!). So, I'm going to teach centers procedures and routines as quickly as possible. (Two weeks maybe?) I'm thinking that with only 10-12 kids (not a full class of 30) it should be manageable.

I got started with the process today. I'm so excited to have "opened" my first center. I did it with the second grade group. First we did our morning message which talked about how exciting it was to open our first center--the Drama Center. Then I read aloud The Little Red Hen (for the second time). I involved the students in the story by giving them character puppets (color photo copies from the book) to hold up when I read their characters part. Students chimed in when I read "'Not I,' said the dog." Then next step was to have two students come up to the front and demonstrate what to do when they went to the Drama Center. First they had to decide who would be the Hen and who would be the other three characters. Then, they retold the story using the cut outs. Next, I moved the cut-outs to the Drama Center and let students try it out two at a time. While they were doing that they rest of us stayed in the Library (or the "Reading Center") reading books. (Later, when I officially open the Reading Center, I'll show them all of the stuff they can do there such as using the whisper phones, how to share pillows and chairs, using our "Book Talk" wall, etc.) I also had two students at the writing center drawing a picture about the story and writing something about it. (Again, I didn't show them everything they could do at the center just yet. For now the focus is on learning the Drama Center).

So now all of the students know how to use our first center (we'll have to review procedures of course). I'll open centers one by one until they know the main centers that we'll be using. Finally, we'll practice rotating, working in the centers, and using the management board for a few days before I pull guided reading groups. I'm so excited that I started the first step in this process today. And it went really well. The kids were excited about starting centers and they were well behaved.

(As a side story, I have one kid, Jose, who had been asking me when we would start centers every day this week. After we went through this whole process he asked "Now are we going to do centers?" "We were just doing centers," I told him. "No, I mean centers with the pillows. And we get cookies." Right, I did tell him that when we started Centers we would get to use the pillows--not during Message Time and not today because we were leaning the Drama Center. As for the cookies, it sounds as if the old ESL teacher used to give them cookies on their way out the door. And here I thought he was so thrilled to do centers.)

A few things about the Drama Center . . . Another name for it would be the "Story Retelling Center." That's really what the kids are getting ot of it. They are practicing sequencing the story, remembering the parts, the characters, the beginning/middle/end of the story etc. For my ELLs I think it is great because it gives them the chance to practice oral language skills too. And, another thing I'm so excited about is that my student in the group who is a real newcomer (speaks no English) was able to successfully participate in the center. I paired him with a more advanced student who did the part of the Little Red Hen while he did the other three characters. All he had to do was hold each one up and say "Not I, said the cat," "Not I, said the dog, "Not I, said the mouse." He'd heard those lines so many times during the read aloud (and participated as well) that he was able to be successful in the center.

The next center to open is the "Writing Center." Bernie the Bear (a stuffed animal who lives at the Writing Center) has written the class a letter and invited them to write back. That and other fun activities are in store for them next time.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Check Her Out!

After a crazy fight that ended up with blood yesterday, Ms. G bounced back with a "mad calm" classroom today.

If you haven't already checked out my new favorite teacher blogger, go on over. She also happens to be roommates with one of my best friends in the city. I had been reading her blog for a few months when she posted a picture of the outside of her new apartment and I recognized it as the building my friend lives in. The unmistakable picture of a half boarded up building along with her description of her new roommate was too perfect.

Very random. And a great coincidence.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

When in Rome . . .

Today I picked up my fifth graders for the first time. They are a pretty good group of kids for the most part. Today we just did some get to know you activities. First we played a name game and then we made name tags with pictures of their favorite foods, activites, sports, and school subject. Finally we practiced doing "Round Robin" conversations. It was a little tricky because some groups had to use English and Spanish for the newcomers. Toward the end a couple of kids started getting a little rowdy. The newcomer girls joined in. (They're pretty chatty and silly at times). I finally had a conversation with the boys responsible for instigating (well to the whole class actually) about how they need to be good models for the girls who are new to the school and the country because they are looking to them to see how they should behave and what they should do. I gave them an example from when I lived in Italy. I said that even though I spoke some Italian when I first got there I still had to observe what the Italians were doing to know how to act and what to do in the country which was new to me. For example here it is normal to walk down the street eating a slice of pizza or a sandwich but in Italy it isn't. I noticed that the first time I did it and people looked at me like I was crazy. Then I started paying attention to what others were doing and I realized that Italians don't do that. So in the same way, they need to be models for these girls so they can know what to do and what not to do. Especially since they don't understand English yet. They can't understand me telling everyone to sit down and get started but they can observe their classmates and follow their lead. The class nodded in agreement with what I was saying but just afterwards I had to speak to one of the boys again. That's OK. I plan to keep on this theme of them being models for the other students.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Complete Roster?

Friday I got a memo from the D!vision of Assessment and Accountab!l!ty saying that they would be updating the NYSESL@T test results rosters and to check ATS (the school computer system) on Monday. Today I pulled up the report and saw I gained 7 students. I'm not sure what the problem was but hopefully everything is complete now. We didn't even get the first roster until a week and a half into school. Funny how a department with the word accountability in the title doesn't seem to be very accountable. Are last year's reading and math scores even in yet? And readers of Ms. Frizzle will remember she had to wait more than a year for her science scores.

Anyway . . .

So now I have a total of 39 students. I pick them up in groups of about 8-12. Then I also have the newcomers in a group of 4. Tomorrow I should start seeing some of my groups. I was ready to pick up my fifth graders today and then I had to cover a second grade class. I'm just ready to get started already.

Friday, September 15, 2006

To Speak The Students' Native Language (Or Not)

Last summer during training for TFA many of the Corps Members assigned to teach ESL were concerned that they didn't speak Spanish (or the numerous other languages our students may speak for that matter). They were always asking how crucial it was that they speak the native language of their students. Some of the speakers (second year CMs) would say that it definitely helps but for ESL it is not required. I always spoke up and was adamant about not needing to speak Spanish to teach Spanish speaking students. EVEN newcomers who don't speak a word of English. I had trained the previous summer in a TEFL course that stressed teaching only in the target language (English) and then worked for a year teaching English at a school in Italy where there were big signs on the wall that said NO ITALIAN! Many language schools that I know of prefer if the teachers don't speak the native language of the students. Many of the CMs still remained skeptical.

So far I have worked with my newcomer group three times this week and I am still committed to the idea of not speaking the students' first language. I think that the whole atmosphere of the classroom changes because I have to try to explain things in simple English. For example when the students first come in my room I tell the to take off their backpacks and put them on the floor. I have to say this fairly slowly and demonstrate also. Then we sit on the rug and I tell them how they should sit demonstrating and again using simple language. We quickly begin the lesson and soon a student has to use the bathroom. He says a sentence completely in Spanish but uses the English word 'bathroom' in the sentence. I take this as an opportunity to teach him how to say the phrase "Can I go to the bathroom?" After the lesson is over I tell the students how they are going to walk in line. I say the are going to line up from shortest to tallest. I show this by demonstrating their different heights. Then I use the comparative to talk about who is taller or shorter in the line.

If I spoke Spanish, the environment would have probably been much different. We probably would have come in speaking Spanish. I would give all of my "important directions" that I want to make sure the students understand in Spanish so there is no confusion. Then the lesson would start and we'd switch to English. At best there would be no Spanish during this time. At the end of the lesson we'd probably go back to Spanish to close the lesson and line students up, etc. This is just one scenario but what I'm saying is that when you have no other way to communicate than to speak in the target language you make it work. Some of the ESL teachers I know speak Spanish but don't let their students know that the students can't rely on speaking their native language.

Now, all of the classes that these students are in have a teacher that also speaks Spanish (some as a native language, some as a second). I think that this is really beneficial to the students. When they are in an environment where they are being spoken at all day long in English (that is not tailored to ELLs) it is nice to have the teacher be able to give additional instructions or explanations. The students can also make their needs known this way. As an English teacher though, I think all English is the way to go.

I will say though that it is nice to speak the native language of you students when it comes to communicating with parents. It's so much easier if you don't have to use a translator.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

English Lesson #1

Today I met with my newcomers (i.e. students who just moved to the U.S. and don't speak any English) for the first time. The four students are all brothers/sisters/cousins. The two girls are in the fifth grade and the boys are in first and second.

I picked them up for the 37.5 minutes. We sat in a circle on the rug in my library and I introduced myself saying "Hi. My name is Ms. M." Then I gestured and encouraged one of the girls to introduce herself. We had to say "Hi. My name is" a few times together before she got it. Then the other sister tried. By this time the younger ones had caught on to what we were doing and introduced themselves. (I had previously tried to do this with just the first grader alone and he just looked at me with a scared, confused look on his face.) Next, we practiced going around the circle introducing ourselves and then shaking hands saying "Nice to meet you." It took a couple of times to get that we only shake hands when saying "Nice to meet you" and not "My name is."

Next I showed them a book and said "book." They each repeated the word quite easily. Then, I shrugged my shoulders and turned both of my palms up and asked with a confused look on my face, "What is this?" I answered myself "This is a book." After modeling a few times, I finally was able to ask the students "What is this" and have them respond "This is a book." Then they took turns asking and answering about a pencil and a paper.

And that was the end of our time.

This method of teaching English is what I learned teaching in Italy at a private language school called Inlingua. It works really well for learning English from zero because students start speaking right away. Slowly the vocabulary builds up until they can make sentences on their own.

I was really pleased with how today went. I wasn't exactly sure how it would work out having not only family members together but such a difference in grade level. It actually was a good combination because the older ones catch on more quickly to what we are doing and the little ones can follow their lead. When they are really confused the older ones can give an explanation in Spanish ("No. Don't repeat what she said. Answer the question. 'This is a book.'"). Also, all four of them were so happy to see each other at the end of the day. After spending six and a half hours in a room with strangers and being spoken to in mostly English all day I can imagine that it must have been a relief to see familiar (Spanish speaking) faces. They did get quite a case of the giggles during the last five minutes so I'll have to watch out for that.

I'll be seeing these four together for thirty minutes each morning and then after school for 37.5 minutes. I'll also see them with their grade level groups throughout the day.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Italian Observations

My friend Matteo is visiting from Italy. Friday night he arrived and we went out to eat. As we were looking over the menu our waiter came by and set down two glasses of water.

"What's this??" Matteo asks as if this is the most shocking thing ever.


"With ice???"

I just started laughing and said, "Welcome to America!"

If you've been to Italy before this is probably more amusing as you've probably gotten a dirty look from a waiter after having asked for ice with your water.

* * *

Another comment from Matteo was, "There's so much space here."

"Here? In New York? If you think this is a lot of space you should see Arizona."

* * *

Stay tuned. I'm sure there will be more funny observations from my Italian friend. He's staying with me for a MONTH!

The View From My Apartment

Friday, September 08, 2006

Real ELLs

Thee last two days I started the process of identifying an testing the new students at my school to see if they are eligible for ESL. Luckily the school secretary is very nice and helpful since I rely on her for a lot of reports and paper work. I am surprised to find that there really weren't very many new students and most of them won't be getting ESL. I guess that most of my population will come from students that have been at the school for a while. I do know of at least three students that enrolled that speak no English at all. One in first grade and two in fifth. I really should know what to do with these students since I *am* the ESL teacher but last year all of my students spoke English. I'm thinking to myself so this is what teaching ESL is all about. I'm excited to start working with these students. I'm now trying to recall all of the lessons that I taught to my English 1 students who didn't speak any English when I taught in Italy. We had to speak only in English for instruction and they learned. By the end of the semester they were getting along in English. Of course they only had to worry about speaking conversational English twice a week. These kids have to learn how to speak English and learn in the content areas AND prepapre for the ELA in just one year (that is craziness).

Today I was coming out of my room and a student asked me if I was the new ESL teacher. I said yes and he said "I'm going to be with you." I asked what grade he was in and he said fifth. I asked if he had met the two new girls who don't speak any English. He said they were in his class. I asked if he was helping them and he smiled really big and said yes. Later when the students were being dismissed I saw him again in line with his class. He came up to me and said "these are the girls" as he pointed one finger on each of them. I said hi to them and then whispered in his ear that it was rude to point. He seems like a sweet kid and very eager to help his new classmates. The girls seem in good spirits. I want to talk to their teacher and see how they are doing in class so far. And then I want to hurry up and get this administrative stuff out of the way so I can start seeing my kids!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

New School, New Situation

So far my new school is a dream compared to my old one. Things are so much more organized. For example last Thursday the administration handed out the prep schedule, a rotation for AIS, they introduced a new system for managing the 37.5 minutes, and they have a plan for helping classroom teachers get the e-class done. Seriously? Is this place for real? Then the best part. We were told the supply room would be open that day and to go down and get whatever we needed. This place was unreal. It was fully stocked with composition books, folders, paper, markers, chart paper (even the post-it kind), sentence strips, calendars, butcher paper, staplers, electric pencil sharpeners, dry erase markers . . . and on and on. I couldn't believe it. I didn't have to buy anything! (Well, apart from some indulgence stuff from Barclay's). Also in the supply room were some enormous boxes. I inquired as to what was in them. The supply lady said, "Book shelves. Do you need any?" I said, "Sure." She asked how many I wanted. "Can I have two?" "Sure." In less than five minutes a janitor delivered them to my room. Wow.

Now, I'm sure that there are plenty of problems that will make themselves apparent at a later time but so far, so good. I have heard a few teachers grumble here and there but I just keep thinking that it is nothing compared to my old school.

As for the first two days (I feel like it has been so much longer) they have pretty much been the usual ESL routine. I've been going through cumulative folders, pulling up reports and fixing up my room in between. Tomorrow I will start testing. Friday I have a meeting. Meetings are generally pretty boring but there is good news. The meeting is at a school just one block from my house! Yeah!

Now I have to pour over the new "Student Achievement Toolkit" from TFA because there are "Big Goals" to be written and "Significant Academic Gains" to be achieved.