I had the privilege to observe Ms. P during my pre-internship. Love her perspective! I truly believe we need to adapt our education system to meet the needs of our 21st century learners. There are lots of positives but lots of things that we can improve upon, such as comprehension vs. application, assessment measures, technology, etc. It is a daunting task to try to prepare learners for jobs that aren’t even invented yet, but each day we can make it our goal to take a step in the right direction (no matter how tiny that step might be)!
During my pre-internship, there were a couple classes that were running on the new, flipped model! I have so much to learn about this and have attached some how-to’s and descriptions. I think this may be the step in the right direction for our globalized economy and 21st century learners!
Teaching for Tomorrow: Flipped Learning: Mentions that this started because he was recording lessons so students who missed class could consult info. on their own time. Then he decided all students should access information on their own time. This allows slower and fast learners to go at a rate they need because in class, everyone is working on different things. He also does not make students do his tests if they can show their learning in a different way. This has helped failure rates.
I Flip, You Flip, We All Flip: Setting Up a Flipped Classroom: This does not just talk about what a flipped classroom is but how you can do it and make the videos! Highlights inquiry-based learning!
Preparing Students for the Flipped Classroom: Discusses the shock to students who are good at the “game of school.”
Introduction to Our Flipped Classroom: This provides an overview that could be given to students and it features an ELA classroom.
Flipping The Classroom With FIZZ: Katie Gimbar’s & Dr. Lodge McCammon’s TedTalk
Please feel free to share resources that you have about the Flipped Classroom or share your thoughts! 🙂
This reflection explores the issues related to diversity and education. English as an Additional Language Learners (EAL) are one diverse population of leaners. EAL education poses many challenges, both professionally and educationally, to our current structure of education. Things like student placement, labels, and support or resource allocation are things that need to be considered. EAL learners bring with them a variety of stories, strengths, weaknesses, and language experiences that need to be addressed and reflected in the overall school environment and classroom. This involves a high level of differentiation and the implementation of various assessment measures to ensure academic success and confidence with the English language. Like any students, EAL learners are shaping their own identities as adolescence and need environments that provide a safe place to grow. Within our current structure, tensions between stability-change and diversity-uniformity need to constantly be addressed when considering our diverse population of EAL learners.
Keywords – EAL, diversity, education, English Language Arts (ELA), educational assistant (EA), response to intervention (RTI), sheltered program, mainstream, modified, differentiation, belonging, academic achievement, 21st Century learners, globalization, technology, tensions, stability-change, diversity-uniformity, fair and equitable treatment, advanced placement English (AP)
Diversity and Education
I had the privilege to observe Ms. P’s Grade Ten English as an Additional Language Learner (EAL) English 10 class, while pre-interning at a Regina High School. This was a new experience for me and the diversity of these learners was overwhelming. The learners included three Caucasian students, fourteen students from the Philippines, a refugee from Sudan, a refugee from Afghanistan, three exchange students, and three students from Africa. Ortmeier-Hooper notes that “immigrant students represent one of the largest categories of ELLs in our schools” (2013, p. 7) and this proved true at this school. The class is structured or administered as a “sheltered” English course. Ortmeier-Hooper explains sheltered instruction as classes where “subject matter instruction is organized to promote second language acquisition, while teaching cognitively demanding, grade-level appropriate material” (2013, p. 15). This means that students complete the exact same outcomes as a regular class. However, a regular English 10 class would complete more indicators. Since the completion of outcomes is what matters, this class appears on a transcript just like any Grade 10 English Language Arts (ELA) course would.
The purpose of a sheltered program is not to teach English per say, but to allow students to adjust and function to our Canadian school system. Students are familiarized with our western teaching practices, such as persuasive writing, rubrics, presentations, rules, and group work. This highlights the tension between uniformity (maintaining the current structures and traditions) and diversity (adapting to incorporate diverse learners and learning styles). Ms. P’s sheltered EAL class is a pilot project for all Regina Catholic schools. Since it is a trail, other EAL learners in the school who require explicit English instruction are placed in separate or modified courses. Other EAL learners work alongside their peers in mainstream courses, which is a more progressive and inclusive practice. However, these learners often struggle academically and face a daunting workload, due to the lack of supports and modifications that are usually present in mainstream classes. Ortmeier-Hooper recognizes that although mainstream classes are the ideal, we need to remember that EAL students need to balance “school and home expectations and struggles, [learn] a new language” and create their identity as an adolescent (2013, p. 9). Whether or not an EAL learner is placed in a modified or mainstream program is based on testing results from the Welcoming Center or an EAL consultant. I view “sheltered” EAL English courses as a way around structural tensions of change-stability and uniformity-diversity; sheltered courses allow students to receive the supports they need, while working on the same curricular outcomes. This structural adaptation is an attempt to balance stability and change because we are adapting our current system to incorporate a third placement option.
Even within a sheltered classroom, the needs vary; some of Ms. P’s students have been in Canada for years, while others have just arrived within the past month. Furthermore, some students are learning English as a third or fourth language. Each student has their own distinct experiences and educational backgrounds, regardless of a shared EAL label. As an inclusive education minor, I am very aware of the necessity and value of labels. However, I often find that labels – which serve a structural purpose of determining instructional choices, supports, and resource allocation – are the very things that undermined students’ distinct experiences, linguistic diversity, and educational backgrounds. Beyond the label is a learner with their own strengths and weaknesses but these labels often “shape [educators’] understanding of these students” about what they can and cannot do (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 6). Labels can limit educational opportunities for students. I find that when students have a label, educators have a “tendency to look for deficits, focusing almost exclusively on concerns and challenges in teaching them” (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 94). Furthermore, the labels we use continually change, causing some confusion. The current term is EAL but recent textbooks often use terms such as English Language Learner (ELL). The tension between our need to identify our learners and the tension between treating each student as an individual with unique strengths and weaknesses is one of the main structural challenges.
With our desire to label students comes the issue of determining whether or not an EAL student has an additional disability. It is hard to decipher between a lack of language proficiency and extensive learning challenges. Within Ms. P’s classroom, four of the students require their own individualized programming; however, they are not officially on individualized program plans (IPP) but are on the waiting list to meet with an educational psychologist. These students require instructional and assignment modifications, as well as, extra supports. However, an educational assistant (EA) had not been assigned to any of the students and the community EAL consultant only showed up twice. Instead of in-class supports, Ms. P will be sent to SIOP training in April. This lack of support puts a lot of onus on Ms. P, who is a new educator with no formal EAL training. Sadly, a lack of supports is a reality in many of our schools and illustrates the gap that remains between our ideals.
At the end of the day, it is our job as professional educators to try our best to differentiate instruction and collaborate with our colleagues to help our students succeed, regardless of structural flaws. Although differentiation is important in all classes, I found that it is vital within a sheltered English class. Ms. P meets with eight colleagues to discuss the direction of sheltered EAL English classes on her own accord. She also varies the reading levels of her materials. When studying Macbeth, three different graphic novels at various reading levels were used. She also modifies exams. For instance, one of the refugees just arrived in Canada this month. She let this particular student use their graphic novel to write the test. Another student did not think this was fair, showing the tension between fair and equitable treatment. Ms. P handled the situation by saying,“You’re telling me that when you just came here no one ever made accommodations for you?”
Ms. P also utilizes Response to Intervention (RTI) Tier 1 interventions as a way to make inclusive modifications for the entire class. For example, she utilizes culturally responsive practices, immerses technology into her regular instruction, and creates various groupings. Currently, the desks are together on either side of the classroom with a space in the middle and working tables at the back. This allows students to assist one another and work through the English language together. They often sit beside peers who share a similar language background so that they can translate together. Although this allows them to succeed academically, it creates an issue of students being segregated into racial groupings. Thus, Ms. P changes the seating plan on various occasions.
Another important consideration for EAL learners is creating a positive environment and sound routines. This can be hard because our current structure is not formed around EAL learners. However, Ms. P’s classroom and routines have been structured with her learners in mind. Posters with the writing process, parts of speech, and new vocabulary words act as extra supports. As students read or hear new words, they get added to the chalkboard. “My Journey” posters were on the walls around a map of the world. Each student’s background, culture, family, and experiences with the English language were represented.
Not only did the environment foster support and belonging, but so did the daily routines. On Monday and Wednesday students read silently, alongside their teacher. Tuesday is #talktuesday and students get a chance to speak informally to their peers about their lives. On Thursday they have #throwbackthursday where students share stories about their childhood, culture, family, and past. Friday is #phoneticfriday and it is dedicated to grammar instruction. Ms. P constructs these lessons based on the grammatical errors that the class is making as a whole. For instance, students learned about when to use dashes, ellipses, and brackets after they misused this punctuation in their previous writing assignment. Students benefit from this explicit instruction. The routines allow them to express themselves and work on skills – speaking, writing, and reading – that they may be insecure about. Ortmeier-Hooper notes that “as students get older, the most valuable gift we can give them is a sense of confidence in their voices and their written expressions” (2013, p. 163) and our routines in EAL classrooms must encourage voice and belonging.
Before this experience, I thought the biggest concern with EAL learners would be academic success. However, it is surprising how much EAL learners are capable of if the expectations are high. The main thing that Ms. P had to do to ensure the academic success of her students was vary her assessment. Students write, act, create videos, draw, etc. She also found out that comprehension questions are not as challenging as application and opinion questions for EAL learners. Since comprehension questions are things that 21st century learners can simply Google, these activities are completed as a class, before and during reading. After reading, students are evaluated on their ability to use their comprehension of a text as a springboard for their opinions and inquiries. This type of instruction is the difference between looking up a definition of a word – instigator, for example – versus being asked to apply the term in a sentence – Do you think Lady Macbeth is an instigator?.” On exams, Ms. P provides more writing opportunities rather than less. This means that fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice questions are almost non-existent. This helps students get rid of their insecurities about writing and develop their vocabulary. Furthermore, as Young et al. point out (2007), “writing is a means of self-expression, creativity, and a way to tell a story or explain our thinking” (p. 16). This is a vital skill to have in our globalized and technological economy (p. 4). These types of assessments allow students to draw from their own personal experiences, knowledge, and thoughts rather than their ability to regurgitate answers. This is a prime example where modernized teaching practices take precedence over traditional methods.
Our current educational structures seem to be slow to change but “more recently there has been an increasing, though by no means universal, tendency to allow greater diversity in the schools” (Young et al., 2007, p. 90). I believe that Ms. P’s sheltered English class is an example of breaking away from the stability and past traditions of our schools. Although learners are still expected to assimilate to our current system of education in many ways, we are slowly adapting our instructional practices, assessment measures, routines, and environments to accommodate a more diverse group of leaners. I believe that this sheltered program will only continue to improve and receive supports. Some improvements that I would like to see are a buddy system between EAL learners and advanced placement (AP) English learners. This buddy system could be structured as a tutoring system or even through collaboration during extra-curricular activities such as, yearbook, school newspaper, book clubs, writing clubs, or research programs. EAL learners would benefit from extra exposure to the English language – as many of these students do not speak English at home – and native English speakers could also benefit from extra writing and reading time. Ortmeier-Hooper (2013) notes that “learning to write [and read] in a second language is a lifelong process” (p. 158) and I think there are many opportunities to expand beyond our English classrooms and create environments that foster belonging and academic achievement for all students grappling with the English language, whether as their only language or one of many. Our population of learners is very diverse and we need to create an educational structure that is flexible enough to meet these needs and balance the tensions.
Ortmeier-Hooper, C. (2013). The ELL writer: Moving beyond basics in the secondary classroom. Columbia University, New York: Teachers College Press.
Young, J., Levin, B., & Wallin, D. (2007). Understanding Canadian schools: An introduction to educational administration. (4th ed.). Toronto: Thomson.
Overall, I have had a wonderful experience. At the start of the placement, it was very overwhelming. I realized how much I overlooked the day-to-day tasks that a teacher must perform. However, after three days I was starting to feel more comfortable. This is greatly due to the relationships I formed with my co-operating teacher and with the students I taught. I did not hide from the challenges of teaching. I took up a book that I had never read and volunteered to teach the class with behavioral issues. Furthermore, I immersed myself in other classrooms. I benefited greatly from observing a modified social 10 class, a modified ELA class, and a modified math class. I learned about the importance of relationship building with students and maintaining a positive teacher-teacher’s aide working relationship. I also observed an EAL 10 English class and it was interesting to see how Shakespeare could be adapted and made into an interactive study. I even got to talk to an EAL consultant about how to foster success in an EAL classroom. These experiences and various examples of teaching not only provided me with the knowledge needed to be a successful teacher, but they also immersed me into the day-to-day tasks of teaching. What started as an overwhelming endeavor became a daily routine that I am quite happy and confident about.
During this placement, I excelled in a few areas. I am most proud of my ability to make relationships with students. I took time to get to know who my students were beyond the four walls of the classroom. I accomplished this through exit slip questionnaires, talking circles, and one-on-one conversations. I was able to laugh with my students. By day three, I knew all their names and a bit about them. This allowed attendance and class discussion to go smoothly. Not only did I find out information about my students, but I shared my own personal stories, such as my work with disadvantaged populations at Camp Easter Seal. I had students come to the classroom after school to complete assignments, even at times when their absence was permitted and the assignment could have simply been omitted.
I was also well-prepared each day. My lessons were consecutive and built off one another in a logical order. I tried many different teaching strategies: jigsaws, think-pair-share, class discussions, group work, individual work, carousel activities, talking circles, Venn diagrams, short story charts, worksheets, cold call, student choice, daily schedules, weekly schedules, jeopardy review and games, etc. Many of these strategies were found in the “Guidelines for Integrating First Nations, Inuit & Metis Content and Perspectives,” which is a Saskatchewan government resource for teachers. I also utilized technology and pulled from various mediums that were relatable for students: BuzzFeed, TedTalks, YouTube, and popular music. I used both diagnostic and summative assessment that allowed students to work on various curricular outcomes: today’s meet, exit slips, thumbs up, bell work, island art, presentations, worksheets, paragraphs, inquiry letters, vocabulary worksheets, etc. All language strands were utilized in my lesson plans.
Although I excelled in some areas, I have many things to work on throughout my career. I often say “umm” when I am thinking and this can distract students. I believe this is something I can work on and improve upon with more experience. Another area that I struggled with was efficient grading. For the three week block I was able to “chase” students down to hand-in their assignments. I was also able to mark smaller pieces of work. However, as a full time teacher this will not be the case. I need to find a way to make students accountable to complete their work, whether or not a mark will be attached. This includes getting students to realize that taking notes is a requirement and not an option. Cell phone misuse is a major issue that I know I did not always notice. As I got more confident with the routines and names of my students, this was easier to monitor but still a challenge. In the future I will need to find a happy medium between patrolling for cellphone misuse and keeping students on task. This balance will help me keep students on track for the entirety of the period. The biggest lesson I learned and something that I need to keep in mind for the future is to break down parts of an assignment into their smallest parts. This allows students to complete the same amount of work without panicking. I think students would be less confused and more likely to hand-in their assignments if they are broken down.
Throughout this experience, I have grown. For instance, during my first group activity I allowed students to pick their own groups. I found out the hard way that mixed-ability and behavioral groupings work much better and planned for this during the lessons that followed. In the first week of teaching, I often said “guys.” This phrase is not inclusive and I worked hard to change my vocabulary and state “Grade Twelves” instead. I was able to learn from what I had observed my cooperating teacher do in her own lessons. This included getting students to write on the board during a discussion so the teacher can still monitor and maintain conversation. She also taught me to get students back into rows after group work so that class discussion could be successful and focused. Sonya Phillips is also very proactive, as she discusses potential issues before they arise. I grew to incorporate this into my own lessons. For instance, we watched a TedTalk to discuss a successful presentation before they presented. These observations and the realization that teaching is a skill that I must work on everyday will allow me to continue to grow in the future.
Not only was I able to learn from others, but I used the professional development feedback to improve each lesson. For instance, during my discussion about “The Painted Door” I did not ask enough questions. Therefore, I needed to check for understanding more effectively. The next day, during my lesson on the “Painted Door” we went through a very structured review. I also started breaking down questions into even smaller questions for my “Lord of the Flies” novel study. The added wait time and discussion questions improved my lessons and set my students up for success. After an earlier lesson where it was very apparent that students had not read the assigned reading, I adapted my next lessons and allowed for more in-class reading time. I also extended the due date for the book. Since my reviews of the chapters became more in-depth, students were held accountable to read even though they received extensions. My strongest example, that highlights my growth over the last few weeks, is my ability to think on my feet. During a class discussion, I had broken down a question but students still looked at me with blank stares. Earlier in the first week I would not have known what to do and I might have just provided the answer. However, I ignored my lesson plan and got students to think-pair-share. This quick-thinking and ability to go beyond my “script” represents my growth and overall confidence with teaching that has developed over the last three weeks. I am truly thankful for my experience at Miller Comprehensive High School, as I believe I know have the skills needed to grow and become a successful educator.