Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Tips for Connecting with Non-English Speaking Parents

I currently work with an English Language Learner (ELL) whose parents are learning English as well. When I came across Anabel Gonzalez's article, Tips For Connecting with Non-English-Speaking Parents, I immediately picked it up. As a former ELL herself she has seen this part of school from both sides- student and teacher. She offers six tips for working with parents.
  1.  Listen and learn- all people from the same ethnic group are not the same. We acknowledge regional differences among US citizens, both in dialect and culture. My Tennessee raised niece in law talked about dressing rather than stuffing at Thanksgiving. Having taught in Hawaii, I can tell you their pigeon dialect takes some getting used to. This is true of people from other countries as well. We need to learn the specifics of our student's families rather than generalize.
  2. Use technology. I have heard mixed reviews about Google Translation but it is better than nothing. The author recommends its use. She also highlights how Remind and Classdojo now have some translation features that could be useful when sending out class newsletters, reminders and School notes. Often non-English speaking parents report not attending school functions because they don't know about them. We need to eliminate language as a barrier to being able to participate.
  3. Use standard English. Getting rid of slang and idioms means translation tools work better and help our learners understand what we are talking about. This is true for our kids on the Autism spectrum and those with language issues as well. Further we are the only role model of standard English some of our students may have. It's just a good habit.
  4. Smiles are understood by all. Friendly faces are welcoming. We can use this to get us off on the right foot.
  5. Stay connected. We communicate with parents in many ways throughout the year. Notes home, phone calls, newsletters, report cards, personal visits achieve a great deal and create a positive environment for all. We cannot avoid reaching out to our Non-English parents because it is hard. We need to put in the effort. It pays off for everyone.
  6. Push politics aside. Today this is especially poignant. Yesterday presidential candidate, Donald Trump, suggested preventing all Muslims from entering the country. This rhetoric is bad for everyone. No matter the politics we need to evenhandedly reach out to all our parents. Perhaps especially those who are likely to experience prejudice in other places. Compassion builds bridges that unite and spread peace whereas fear, anger, and distrust inhibit it. We need to be the ambassadors of our country and its legacy of diversity rather than Nativists who breed discontent.
These guidelines are, in many ways, common sense. Many are what we do with our students' parents in general. We just need to be even more aware of our communication and work to be communicating rather than talking to hear ourselves speak or, even worse, not talking at all.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

higher standards or higher graduation rates

Long have I argued that our testing regime has a split personality; until it decides what it wants to be it will be unsuccessful at the various things it is asked to do. Goals for our tests range from determining who is ready for college to how good is your teacher to raising the bar so that students will perform better to increasing our graduation rates. Is the test a higher bar that we want our students to strive to achieve or a minimum standard they should all pass?

With this viewpoint I have been amused by the conundrum presented to the New York State Department of Education as reported in the New York Times and an Ed Week blog. They issued requirements for students to pass algebra with a higher grade than previously required (a 74 instead of a 65). Then they switched to the Common Core versions of our state tests, which, many argue, are harder. Many students needed to attempt the earlier algebra test 4 or 5 times in order to achieve a passing grade. When we raise the minimum grade, what will happen to them then. To compound the difficulty, in New York we further have a "safety net" for students with disabilities. These students can pass the exam with a 55. We have not figured out how evolving pass scores will impact the "safety net."

Further muddying the water is the question of whether requiring algebra for all students is a good goal. After all, how many of us spend time solving systems of equations, graphing linear equations, factoring quadratic equations, solving logic proofs or figuring out the number of possible ice cream cone combinations are possible at an ice cream shop that has 25 flavors, 4 sauces, 6 toppings, and several fruit options. I believe that a rigorous algebra course can help students learn to think logically, but only if it is rigorous rather than dumbed down. There are also other ways to teach logical thinking.

So what do we want our tests to measure? Let's design our tests to do that and make policy around that goal, not the plethora of goals we currently observe but accomplish poorly. We need to decide- Are we going to reduce the number of remedial classes students take in math by increasing the cut score or are we going to raise the graduation rate? Is the test a bar all must jump over to get to the other side (i.e. graduation) or a litmus test for remedial math in college? Lets get our assessments some therapy and make a choice.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Literacy Coaching: the Essentials

Catherine Casey's book, Literacy Coaching: The Essentials, is an excellent primer on coaching. It covers everything from what do coaches do to professional development workshops. As someone who has been contracted to teach teachers a specific skill, some of the information is more pertinent to me than others. I do not have to get teachers to agree to let me in, my contract is their agreement. It is specific to particular teachers. That said, I need to build relationships and prove I can do what I say I can or there will be no more requests.

Under the structures part of the book, Ms. Casey goes over different ways to study instruction. During demonstration lessons, a coach must have a clear purpose for what to highlight. Knowing what the teacher knows and what she needs help with are what define the purpose. For the teacher I worked with who was particularly concerned about a transition within a Wilson Reading lesson plan I very carefully planned that transition. I videotaped and shared several sample transitions as well. This allowed me to showcase the area of concern and during our debrief, became a beginning point of discussion. One point that the author made was that teachers need immediate access to materials. Toward this end I provided one teacher with two sets of letter/sound cards so that she could utilize the technique I demonstrated.

She discussed inter and intra visitations- between schools and within a school. She mentioned purposeful involvement- demonstrating with the assistance of the teacher, lesson study- Japanese inspired (study, plan, teach, reflect, replan, teach, apply), co-planning, conferences and professional inquiry groups and videotaping with analysis. I am experimenting with video, but have not yet found any level of comfort with it. More practice is needed.

From observations she moves to models of intensive support. Spending 3-5 days/classes with a teacher to work on a skill. Depending on the model- gradual release or unit of study- this could take place on successive days or on days throughout a unit. Her description of these models with their focused planning and debriefing makes me greedy for the contact time to allow such work.

I think I have done some modified plans- present the Wilson program, assign reading the manual, return to answer questions after they have tried the program a few times, observe a lesson, demonstrate a lesson. They have not been as formally outlined as above. Perhaps a more ideal program would be tighter with more schedule flexibility than I currently enjoy.

She goes on to describe how she prepares for workshops. From determining the purpose of the workshop to ideas about how to incorporate gradual release of control, she outlines her process of developing the workshop. She highlights how important immediate use is to adult training. A teacher brought this home when she said she left my introduction so eager to start work but was delayed with school mandated assessments. The author also discussed the importance of the zone of proximal development is for teachers. They are not all in the same place, but training needs to meet them where they are and take them places. The reading teacher I work with does not need support in learning the basic phonics, but the middle school teacher learning Wilson did. If I am not aware of these differences, I will not be effective in providing support.

This book told me some of the things I am doing right and some things I need to work on- an excellent resource for the place I am in- just right for my zone of proximal development.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Teaching the ESL Learner

I have achieved access to Educational Impact's online course, Teaching the ESL Learner. I feel like this program is going to present really useful strategies that can be used today in the classroom to teach English Language Learners (ELLs).

At this point they have presented six strategies of supported language:
  1. extra-linguistic cues- things like gestures and visuals
  2. linguistic modifications- repetition, slowing down speech and gestures
  3. interactive lecture with frequent comprehension checks-
  4. active learning strategies- opportunities to try out language with peers. This could be labs, group work, or cooperative learning.
  5. focus on big concepts rather than the details- what will students need to know as adults rather than for the test.
  6. strategies to develop thinking- advance organizers, graphic organizers and connecting what you know with what is being learned.

Many of these have been mentioned in other resources, but I have not seen them addressed as a core groups of strategies. The presenters point out that these do represent good teaching, but where a native English speaker needs only one or two strategies to learn content, ELLs might need 5 or 6.

My biggest concern is with number 5- focus on concepts not details. While I agree that big concepts are the critical information, teachers who are asked to prepare students for tests may be pulled in the opposite direction. Teachers who have differentiated, compacted or accelerated instruction will be familiar with this idea. Identify the big picture, important things that everyone needs to learn. The must knows, good to knows and nice to know information. Provide scaffolds for the struggling learners to access the must knows and deeper or additional work for gifted learners so they can access the nice to knows. Some details will need to be left by the wayside for some students. Teachers often instinctively know this.

So far the course has been well built. Lecture components are intermixed with classroom videos and panel discussion. I look forward to the modules which address each component of supported language.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Writing instruction with TEAL

TEAL, Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy, has published a variety of guides and fact sheets for teachers of adults, usually in GED-type programs. In their Just Write! Guide, they look at interventions and practices that support adult learners. An important caveat is that much of the research is with school aged students because there is a limited base with adult learners.
On page 19 they highlight Malcolm Knowles's assumptions about adult learners:
  • Move to increasing self- directedness as he matures
  • Draws on life experiences to assist learning
  • Ready to learn when he assumes a new role
  • Is problem-centered- apply immediately
  • Motivated by internal factors
Therefore he suggests that teachers of adult learners
  • Use a cooperative climate
  • Assess for specific needs and interests
  • Develop objectives on those needs and interests
  • Sequentially work to achieve objectives
  • Collaboratively select methods, materials and resources
  • Evaluate progress and adjust

One strategy they recommend is to use sentence frames as part of the gradual release of control. Sentence frames have been recommended for English Language Learners and students with language disabilities. We use frames regularly in the classroom. Examples of frames include:
  • I wonder what [the character] will do when ___________.
  • Although you believe that _______________________, I think ________________________ because ________________________.
  • In your essay you did ________________________ well.
The Guide is full of references to other fact sheets both as part of the guide and part of other guides both ahead and behind the point of reading. This is somewhat disruptive to reading. There are quotes from practitioners throughout the guide. It lends support and voice to the research-based, somewhat dry text. While providing good research and practical guidance on what to do, there are very few examples of the practices in action.

The beginning's information about adult learning information is important when considering instruction of adults whether in a high school equivalency, college or job program. In my coaching I need to keep in mind that providing choice is important- what do the people I work with feel is important to develop, when should they receive support, and how do I help them evaluate their progress and provide coherent feedback. If I can ensure that these are met, I will have happier teachers who will find my assistance more valuable.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

For Reading, Knowledge Matters

Common Core adoption has shifted the reading debate to include do we or don't we provide background knowledge when approaching readings. Leanna Heitin wrote For Reading, Knowledge Matters More Than Strategies, Some Experts Say for Education Week. Part of me wants to say, "Duh!" This is especially true when we discuss vocabulary. Many studies show that the leading indicator of reading comprehension is vocabulary. Students who do not know the words cannot understand the content. As the author points out, Google only gets you so far. Try reading a passage from a foreign language newspaper. You might be able to get the general content from the pictures or a few cognates, but beyond that you cannot understand it. Even if we give you the phonetic reading clues, it does not help you get it. We could let you have a translator app, but the general agreement is that they are not great. All the strategies in the world are not going to be enough until the language is transformed into one you understand.

The entire rationale that we as adults do not have teachers help us read our material for work is misguided. Rarely would you pick up a complex text about a subject in which you were a complete novice. You have background knowledge in your field. You go talk to colleagues. You play with materials to get a feel for them before you attack the reading. You attend a workshop or webinar or watch a video. Perhaps you start with an easier text and then advance to more complex ones. We certainly have some motivation to read it- interest, manager demands, promotion requirements. Thinking we should just send students into a reading cold is foolish. It is not what we do as adults. We need to give students, who are just learning to be sophisticated users of print, that same advantage.

That being said, this is especially true for students with a language disability or English Language Learners (ELLs). These students with limited English vocabularies need to be bolstered in order to try to attempt "easy" grade level texts, not to mention "challenge" ones. A student who does not have any idea what a video game is might have trouble understanding a story in which they play a key role. I worked with students at a Jewish elementary students where a majority of students did not have computers or televisions. If they were to read the video game story, their limited background would significantly impact their ability to comprehend the text. (This is an example of cultural background.)

I worked with students on a test in which they were asked to read two passages about Paul Revere- one a biographical sketch and the other more of a textbook passage. Then they were asked to answer questions and write a written response. Students who had a rich understanding of Paul Revere had a much easier time with the task than those who did not. It was independent of their reading level- it was all about their background knowledge.

I have a fifth grade ELL student who need to provide a written response to contrast two characters from a pair of stories.  When I got down to what is the question asking you to do? He had no idea. How is this student supposed to answer the question when he does not know what contrast means? Without help about understanding the question, we would have been unable to determine anything about his ability to really understand the passage.

We must acknowledge that background knowledge must be built. We can do this through paired texts. NewselaReadWorks, Reading A-Z, and the Virginia Department of Education are some sources of paired texts and lessons about them. We can build them ourselves. I have taken a high school history and science texts and found elementary trade books, PBS and history channel videos, and low reading level texts on the same topic. The students read the low level material. Examine video clips, maybe play an on-line game. They are introduced to vocabulary in a slow and controlled manner. Then, when we present the grade level text, it is manageable. We have built the background to understand the information they need for class. Just throwing them into the text means they probably won't read it at all and if they do, they will not understand it. We might teach them to copy sentences with key phrases from the questions to formulate answers but this is a mechanical task, not a learning one. We need to build literacy smartly, not throw them into the deep end hoping they will find our scaffolding, i.e. the ladder.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Considerations for literacy coaches in classrooms with ELLs

Since this year I am looking at improving my knowledge of both literacy coaching and working with English Language Learners (ELLs), I was delighted to find the Literacy Coaching Clearinghouse's white paper, Considerations for Literacy Coaches in Classrooms with English Language Learners, by Kathy Escamilla. This article specifies some instructional recommendations for teaching ELLs literacy skills. She approaches this in a myth verses reality format. Before she enters that part of the article, she points out that native language literacy instruction promotes English literacy instruction. So my Ukrainian student benefits from going to Ukrainian school that reinforces the language, culture and literacy of the native language.

Myth 1- Good teaching is good teaching.
Reality- Because second language acquisition is different from first language acquisition we cannot assume that the acquisition of literacy is the same and "distinct first languages may interact differently with English" (p. 1).
So- Learn about the first language. For my Ukrainian student I learned that Ukrainian does not have articles (a, an, the) like English. This means that including articles is a challenge for him. I now understand when he omits these words in written English.
Use interactive rather than process approaches to instruction. For students this means asking questions about the story, words and/or pictures; playing word games with the text; encouraging student questions
Center instruction on meaning.
Teach concrete high frequency words before abstract ones. For example, look at the selection about the Dolch pre-primer list examples


Myth- Oral language before literacy.
Reality- Do both concurrently.
So- Include specific language development.
Transformative exercises such as statement into question, present to past tense, simple to compound sentences  are important.
Language Experience Approach Lessons- planned oral language activities to use English. Then edit oral language to standard English (provide a good model).

Myth- Native language is a barrier.
Reality- Native language is a scaffold.
So- provide opportunities to process language from English to Native to English again.
If possible group native language speakers to be able to discuss in native language then convert to English- it is a scaffold for English.
Understand that comprehension is often greater than expressive ability.
Validate Native language and enhance learning with Native language scaffold.

Myth- ELLs have homogeneous needs.
Reality- Beginning, intermediate and advanced ELLs need daily, explicit, structured literacy instruction but the nature of it may differs based on language proficiency.
So- Beginning ELLs need time to process, meaningful input (pair with concrete experiences, visuals and vocabulary enhancement) and appropriate wait time.  They need information about basic language structures like English adjectives usually are before the noun but in Spanish they are usually at the end of the sentence. Instruction that complements, expands and is integrated is important. Instruction needs to have a nonintegrated component.
Advanced ELLs need instruction to compliment and expand literacy instruction--> integrated into general education instruction, and includes things like idioms and advanced discourse. Advanced speakers do not generally need increased process time since they are thinking in English rather than the native language.
Without instruction beyond the intermediate stage, students may have language stagnation.

Myth- It's all about background knowledge.
Reality- Cultural Schema is different from standard thoughts about background knowledge and needs to be specifically addressed. They use the example of being put in a corner. Students may need to know what being in a corner is- chair sitting in a corner facing the wall- and what it infers in America- punishment. Students may know about Christmas, but Orthodox Christianity practices are different than American Christian ones (date is January7th, involves fasting and involves burning palms verses December 25, feasting and Christmas trees). Inferences might be especially difficult because they combine what is said with what you know.
So- Learn the language and the culture.
Understand that cultural information plays into the qualitative difficulty of a reading. This is where the Lexile/DRA/F&P level interact with the stuff of the text. Students need a mix of culturally easy books and culturally difficult ones. The authors advise that "Analyzing texts for cultural schema can enable teachers to explicitly and directly include cross-cultural teaching into their literacy programs" (p. 5) If we are talking with students from China about Fourth of July practices, bringing up the Chinese New Year and firecrackers, or reading about them first, may make the fourth of July passage accessible.

This white page offers valuable suggestions on how to provide instruction to ELLs. It offers little from the coaching advice, other than to be knowledgeable in ELL instruction. One key take away is that to work well with an ELL, specific research into the native language and culture essential. This is the launch pad of literacy instruction especially for ELLs.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Gradual release of responsibility

I located a self-assessment for literacy coaches on the Literacy Coaching Clearinghouse and took it. My biggest areas of weakness involved system-wide change. This was not a surprise considering I have only a tangential role, at best, in this area. Beyond that, one area that I felt needed to be developed was around gradual release of responsibility. The term only felt familiar. Having hunted down some information, I can say I now recall reading about the theory and do practice it with my students.
Douglas Fisher and his writing partner Nancy Frey have written and spoken extensively about the gradual release of responsibility and developed a visual model based on the idea. They describe the four steps as:
  • Focus lesson- I do
  • Guided instruction- we do
  • Collaborative learning- you do together
  • Independent learning- you do alone
Douglas Fisher talks about his model in a Monograph and in a publication of program research for Jamestown Reading NavigatorSarah Cooper reviews Fisher and Frey's book, Better Learning Through Structured Teaching: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility, 2nd Edition, and provides details of the specifics of gradual release of responsibility in her article.
In many ways this is the approach I utilize in resource room instruction. The teacher gave the initial focus lesson and some guided instruction, but my students were not ready yet to move on. Sometimes that means I completely reteach all or some part of the lesson then provide more guided practice. We don't actually do homework- that is the independent practice needed. By reteaching, however, I have empowered the student to be more independent and more able to complete the homework. When I do primary instruction, I follow a similar progression, but can spend more time priming the original instruction rather than sending my struggling learner off with inadequate understanding.
When it comes to coaching, however, things are a bit different. I may only see my collaborating teachers every couple of weeks. I need to set the ball in motion, provide remote support as necessary, and see how things are when I return. This makes the concept a bit tricky.  I cannot be very recursive because I am not there. I must rely on the adult learners to self assess, persevere through challenges and seek support as necessary. Bridging the change from student to adult learner takes some refinement.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Literacy Coaches Roles and Responsibilities

Sebastian Wren and Deborah Reed published Literacy Coaches Roles and Responsibilities in response to the emerging demand to meet NCLB requirements that all students read at grade level and the recognition that all teachers need to improve their ability to teach reading to all kids. They produced the following list of recommendations for coaches and one for principals:
  1. Coaches are resources not evaluators
  2. Most time working with teachers--> some time on PD
  3. Coaches work with teachers not students unless demonstrating a lesson
  4. Areas of instructional support: theory, demonstration, observation, feedback/reflection, facilitating collaboration
  5. Facilitating examination of student work
The fifth point really is incorporated in the fourth point. The fact that it is given its own point reinforces it's importance. As an itinerant support provider this is an area where I am limited. I can help teachers look at their individual student's work, but am not employed to consider department, building or district issues.
My personal areas of expertise are research and curriculum development/modification. The idea of an emphasis on PD not only appeals to my interests, it is a sensible mechanism for maintaining on top of changes in standards and assessments, research, and resources. Education creates many of these changes that people need to keep up with in order to provide the best learning environment possible.
An area I hope to develop is observation. While I have completed many formal observations of students in classes, I have far less experience observing teachers. I have attempted some and need to figure out how to best record ideas and organize a debriefing meeting. I did find an observation form on the Literacy Coaching Clearinghouse. I need to try it a few times and see how it works for me. I have recorded an observation on my iPad, and I need to see how I can leverage that tool as well.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Strategic Oral Language Instruction in ELs with LD

Teaching children who are English Learners (ELs) and also have a learning disability (LD) is challenging to teachers. ELs with LD tend to struggle with learning English, leading them to be identified as Long Term English Language Learners. In order to advance students to success in both English and school, we need to implement effective instruction. The limited research available has demonstrated that effective instruction for ELs is also effective for ELs with LD.

Connie Williams and Dorothy Roberts wrote Strategic Oral Language Instruction in ELD: Teaching Oracy to Develop Literacy. Oracy is the ability to express oneself fluently and grammatically in speech. Linguists and reading specialists believe that oracy is critical to development reading skills. Developing oracy in ELs is critical to developing reading skills. The nicest thing about this pamphlet is that it offers specific strategies for intervention.

The first strategy they recommend is sentence frames. These are sentences with blanks to fill in. For example:
In order to round _____________ to the nearest tenth, you first _______________. Then you __________________. So the answer is ___________.

Before using them in such a complex situation, easier ones not related to content might be practiced with in order to develop oracy. Such an example might be prompted with a fruit basket. The _____________ and the ________________ are similar because _______________ and different because __________________. Multiple uses of the sentence frame would help develop oracy.

Think-Pair-Share is a familiar technique to many. It is highly supported in the English Language instruction community. It allows extra wait time and increased use of language which helps ELs develop language skills.

Picture This, also known as See It and Say It, centers conversation around a visual. It encourages repetition of vocabulary. The teacher presents a visual and makes a statement about it. Students repeat the statement. Students take turns making statements about the visual. Pairs or small groups continue the activity. When I think about the demands that CCSS put on students I think this is an activity that could be incorporated into the curriculum. For example, a historical picture or cartoon is introduced. Students are given a few minutes to discuss just what they see in the image in pairs using the frame, "I see _______." Students could then share out, perform a chalkboard splash, or create a list of items. Then the teacher leads a discussion about what we can learn from the image. What does it tell us. This allows vocabulary practice for the ELs, increases focus for students with ADHD and encourages close examination of images for all. If a teacher has a series of images, a gallery walk might be useful. Student pairs or groups would go around and write what they notice about an image on a chart. As they rotate through the images, they need to read previous notices, locate them in the image and look for more details. Being in groups would allow an EL to have support in knowing the vocabulary used.

Each One Teach One is another structured language activity. It involves pairs of students. Each part of the dyad is given a role, either "teacher" or "student." The "teacher" looks at a visual and using a sentence frame makes a statement. The "student" repeats it. After a few turns the roles are reversed. This one might be more difficult to implement in the general education classroom. Perhaps it could work like this. Given a series of polygon images use the sentence starter to label them. Sentence starter: This is a _______________ because it has ___________ sides.

Language Relay Talk. Students are broken into two groups and form parallel lines. A visual is presented. The teacher models a sentence using a sentence frame then the students try to create another statement about the picture. Creative, thoughtful sentences are encouraged, but simply repeating a previous statement is acceptable. Students in one of the lines rotate to another partner and are asked to share another statement. After three partner exchanges, students are redirected to their seats and are asked to share. If the student is repeating a statement make by someone else, they should give credit with the phrase, "My partner said..." or "[student name] said..."

3-2-1 Go is another active language learning activity. Groups or pairs discuss the answers to the following questions:
  • Name 3 things in a category
  • Discuss 2 ways they are different and 1 way they are the same
  • Decide which is most/least ____
After groups have had a chance to discuss the statements the groups share out. This is a strategy that could be used in a general education class with little work. For example:
  • Name three characters from the story To Kill A Mockingbird.
  • Discuss 2 ways the characters are alike and 1 way they are different.
  • Which character is the most honorable? Why?
Answering these questions would take about five minutes. Sharing out could take another five. After the first question, the questions are higher level and can involve citing textual evidence if that is an objective of the lesson. (If students need to cite text they will need longer to complete the activity.)

The last activity listed is Cell Phone Chatter. Student pairs are given A and B roles. A visual is given and the students are asked to talk about the image as long as they can. ELs could be given sentence frames to help with this activity. Students could even be given fake cell phones for the activity. After a given time student pairs are asked to share one interesting statement that was made. I think I would modify this so that A makes the statement and B echoes it back, perhaps adding to it. Then roles are reversed. Here, for example, the first speaker is an EL and the second is more sophisticated:
  • Volcano.
  • The volcano is erupting.
  • The volcano is erupting. Lava flowing.
  • The lava is flowing down the sides of the volcano and spurting out of the top.
  • Smoke in the air.
  • The volcano is burning things and smoke is in the air.
A game of add a word would be similar. Students sit in rows. Each student writes a two word sentence. The paper is passed to the person behind them. The first person passes the paper to the first person in the row. Each person rewrites the sentence with an additional word and the paper is passed again until everyone gets their paper back. Then the rows get together each person reads their final sentence and the group tries to add one more word to each sentence. Share out. For example:
Dog walks.
The dog walks.
The dog walks quickly.
The dog walks quickly away.
The brown dog walks quickly away.


I eat.
I eat hamburgers.
I eat three hamburgers.
I never eat three hamburgers.
I never eat three juicy hamburgers.

This could be done orally in groups that form a circle and each participant takes a turn. It is a great way to talk about modifiers. Students who cannot think of something to add may just repeat the sentence in its existing form.

Some of these ideas are useful in the general classroom. Others would work better in a separate setting. Either way, the key features they share are lots of verbal work, visual stimulations and sentence frames.

Friday, October 16, 2015

English Learner Tool Kit

The Department of Education has published the English Learner Tool Kit. This document contains 10 chapters covering issues ranging from identification to services for English learners (ELs) with learning disabilities (LDs) to program evaluation. Each chapter is begins with a key points box, followed by a summary of information about the topic od the chapter, a set of tools to use to accomplish the chapter's objective and then an annotated resource list.

As a teacher, the most valuable component was a multipage chart that looks at a problem and then characteristics that distinguish between a "typical" EL and one with LDs.

Learning behavior
Indicators of a language difference due to 2nd language acquisition
Indicators of a possible learning disability
Student does not respond to verbal directions.
Student lacks understanding of vocabulary in English but demonstrates understanding in Language 1(L1)
Student consistently demonstrates confusion when given verbal directions in L1 and language 2/English (L2); may be die to processing deficits or low cognition
Student delays responses to questions
Student may be translating question in mind before responding in L2; gradual improvement over time.
Student consistently takes a longer time period to respond in L1 & L2 and it does not change over time; may be due to a processing speed deficit.
Student is unable to decode words correctly.
Sound not in L1, so unable to pronounce word once decoded.
Student consistently confuses letter/words that lo ok alike; makes letter reversals, substitutions, etc. that are not related to L1; may be processing or memory deficit
Student has difficulty generating a paragraph or writing essays but is able to express his or her ideas orally.
Student is not yet proficient in writing English even though they may have developed verbal skills; student makes progress over time and error patterns are similar to other 2nd language learners.
The student seems to have difficulty paying attention or remembering previously learned information; the student may seem to have motor difficulties and avoids writing; student may have attention or memory deficits

excerpted from Chapter 6 pages 6-8.
This chart is very useful for looking at the root of the problem.

Another item from this chapter I found interesting was the idea that in order to identify a LD in an EL a person needs to identify proficiency in native language. A student will have an LD in both languages even if their home country does not identify students with learning disabilities. This emphasizes the importance in families, even if they do not speak English, to participate in language activities such as story telling and conversations. It also showcases the usefulness of evaluating students in both home language and English. Unfortunately, people fluent in assessing in individual languages may be few and far between.

While this reference has some valuable information, I found it surprisingly lacking in specifics in how to alter instruction to help ELs. Frequent references to evidence based practices were not backed up with much in the way of what these practices are and with where someone might find them. I found this disappointing. Perhaps if I search through the references, I will find more information to use. At this point, however, I do not find a large quantity of helpful information in the tool kit.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners and Students with Learning Disabilities

In his article, Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners and Students with Learning Disabilities, John Carr synthesized research on effective instruction for general education students, English Language Learners (ELLs) and students with learning disabilities (LDs). Of serious consideration is the fact that little research exists on supporting ELLs with LDs. His effective strategies include:
  • Cues
  • KWL
  • Visuals
  • Think-Pair-Share
  • Think Alouds
  • Summarization

This paper supports much of the research I have completed in this area. Small groups, summarization and visuals have been recommended in every piece of research I have read so far. Cues and activating prior knowledge (KWL) are also frequently mentioned in the research as effective.

Carr does suggest a scenario in which a teacher uses the strategies. This is a nice way to showcase how to incorporate the strategies into general class instruction. I will take a stab at doing so as well.

In a fifth grade science class students are beginning a study of matter. The teacher has printed skeletal notes and a booklet entitled matter. Class opens with him asking students to tell what they know about matter and writes them down in the first column of a KWL chart. Students are instructed to read the introduction to the book and are asked to think-pair-share what ideas from their KWL are supported by the reading and where in the reading it is supported. The chart is annotated with their learnings. Then he models reading the first subsection, Elements, using a Think Aloud approach. Students are again asked to think-pair-share about what elements they know. The illustrated periodic table (visual) in the room is pointed out and each listed element is pointed out. Students are asked to read the next section out loud. He models filling in the skeletal notes. When it comes to identifying the features of liquid he pours some water out of his water bottle into his hand. This cues the idea that liquids have no definitive shape in a visual manner. At the end of class the KWL class is amended and students are asked to write a 20 word summary of what they learned.

This would support all learners not a select few. We can do this for all our learners, especially ELLs with LDs.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Strategies for Teaching Reading to English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities

In Strategies for Teaching Reading to English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities, Cheryll Duquette and Mary Land describe two effective approaches. They discuss research and briefly describe RTI or tiered learning, reciprocal teaching and Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) as ways to meet the needs of English Language Learners (ELLs).

Response to Intervention (RTI) or a tiered approach is recommended based on research with primary students. In RTI students are exposed to primary instruction. Those who fail to make adequate progress are advanced to Tier 2 interventions, small group instruction delivered for 50 minutes per day every day. Those who fail to make adequate progress are advanced to tier three interventions which are individualized and sometimes occur under the umbrella of special education.

Second tier interventions focused on vocabulary, phonics, spelling and decodeable text. It utilized visuals, gestures, direct instruction, balanced literacy (reading text, alphabetics, writing, word study), and elaborations of responses. In order to develop oracy ( the ability to express oneself fluently and grammatically), the research recommended Read-Alouds with the following steps: overview, focus on key vocabulary, read portion to the students looking at comprehension, reread focusing on identified key vocabulary, summarize, question and summarize, ongoing links with vocabulary on a daily basis. While the study recommending this approach for ELLs with LD is very small, this structure embodies elements of good instruction.

Reciprocal instruction has been addressed in some of my previous blogs here, here, and here, among others. It is a comprehension strategy that has shown promise in developing skills in LD students as well as for the general population. This article cites research supporting the use of reciprocal teaching with middle school students. It involves teaching four strategies- prediction, summarization, questioning, and clarification- in small group settings. Small group instruction has been advocated for ELLs because it provides lots of opportunity to communicate and listen to modeling of language.

PALS is a program that has research supporting its use in intermediate elementary and middle school levels. It is a reciprocal program used in the whole class. Strong students are paired with weaker students. Students serve as both a tutee and tutor in a cycle. For five minutes, stronger students begin reading aloud to partner with the partner listening for errors. Then the weaker partner retells the passage with the other partner prompting. Next the pair engage in paragraph shrinking: read for five minutes and summarize in 10 words or less. Third is a prediction relay in which  pairs alternate predicting content, read half a page, prediction checking and paragraph shrinkage. Similar to Reciprocal teaching, this approach uses summarization (a Marzano identified highly effective teaching strategy) and peers (an effective approach with ELLs).

What this really demonstrates is the lack of depth in research for ELLs with LDs. It also suggests that peer discussion, summarization and direct instruction are critical component of instruction for this group. The fortunate thing is that these are important elements of good instruction.

Monday, October 12, 2015

A guide to learning disabilities for the ESL classroom

LDOnline offers an interesting resource for working with English Language Learners (ELLs) with Learning Disabilities (LDs) by Christine Root entitled A Guide to Learning Disabilities for the ESL Classroom Practitioner. This article highlights the dearth of high quality research for ELLs with LDs, and urges research into best practices to better meet the needs of the students.

After mentioning the challenge of identifying LDs in the ELL population, she lists categories of difficulty (word retrieval, selective attention mechanisms, visual association confusions, and limited concept manipulation and inner language skills) and the incumbent symptoms of those categories. This list is extremely useful for helping pin-point areas of concern. If a student exhibits limited skill at hypothesis generation and testing, appreciation of if-then relationships and generalization you should look at concept manipulation and inner language. If there are challenges with if-then relationships, tendencies toward being excessively attentive to irrelevant details and inferential reasoning, you probably are working with visual association confusions. If you know these are the challenges, it will help you look at the other symptoms to see if they are present as well. This listing is more comprehensive a learning disability listing than any I have seen in a long time.

From a classroom standpoint, they offer 15 ideas for teachers to help students learn better. These include:
  1. extra time: assignments, quizzes, tests take longer when students are navigating the language and the content
  2. alternative format tests- oral or computer- What format is the student most comfortable in)
  3. presenting information with graphic and/or sensory media- make it real to help teach the academic vocabulary and the content
  4. combining auditory and visual stimuli- similar to 3. Help with vocabulary load while providing content
  5. using a word processor to reduce the need to rewrite in revision- if language is a problem, then reducing the need to reproduce it provides an opportunity to gain extra time (#1)
  6. repetition with the SAME LANGUAGE- to help learn the language
  7. breaking tasks down- prevent information and language overload
  8. pre-discussion, pre-writing, pre-reading activities- allow to pre-teach vocabulary so that there is less to learn in a session. Anytime you try to learn two or more things at once you reduce your ability to do either. Think of the challenge with multitasking.
  9. reduce distractions- allow students to focus
  10. Be explicit, structured and concrete- good instruction is good instruction
  11. make connections between the individual and the material- build a scaffold on which to hang the content
  12. cluster material by category- again this helps build schema- areas of similarity and language upon which to anchor learning
  13. frequent notebook checks- make sure they get the notes and are keeping up with assignments
  14. balance weaknesses with strengths- give an area to feel good. All students will need to rely on their strengths in order to succeed. An auditory learner can use audiobooks and a student with a strength in math can use that sequential information patterning in history.
  15. inventory students to enhance metacognition and showcase strengths- this helps with knowing how to focus attention. It also allows teachers to know what students think are areas they can be successful.
Many of these are just plain good teaching, especially for students who struggle.

The Learning Disabilities Association of America similarly has presented a page of Successful Strategies for Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities that includes direct instruction ( #10), strategy instruction and multisensory approach (#3 and 4).

Saturday, October 10, 2015

English language learners with learning disabiliti

Dr. Elsa Cardenas-Hagan was interviewed for Colorin Colorado, a bilingual website to support families and schools. Her interview entitled English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities begins to unpack the challenges of teaching our English Language Learners (ELL's) when they have the compounding problem of a learning disability.

The first thing she addresses is the difficulty of identifying if an ELL has a disability. Initially upon entering the American education system, the student should be screened to identify current skills. This establishes a baseline. Then instruction in the classroom should be adapted to include strategies to target ELL students. If the student does not make progress, then they should be evaluated for a disability. She highlights that the gold standard of evaluation is to complete it in both the native language AND English so that the evaluator can understand skills of the child in both languages. This is important because students will have a learning disability in both native and new languages. Dr. Hagan also points out that the tests must be culturally sensitive, reliable and valid. While this is most doable in Spanish, the most common, non-English language spoken in schools, it may be very difficult in other languages that we encounter with less frequency. Often tests are not available in native languages so that we must extrapolate results- comparing students who are given a translated test and students who took the test in their native language, English.

One major strategy that she supports is to develop language skills- both academic and social. Students need to talk and listen in both their native language and English. Then similarities and differences between the two languages can be highlighted. Cognates, words that share a common etymology, can be used to help enhance vocabulary. For example the Spanish word, abandonado, or the French word, abandonner, means abandon in English. Unfortunately cognates are most abundant between European languages and English than between languages from other regions of the world. The website identifies typhoon = táifēng as an English to Chinese pairing, but such examples are few and far between. Parents need to be encouraged to develop language- oral language in their home language is important.

Another strategy she highlighted to develop vocabulary was good vocabulary instruction: visuals, hands on activities, repetition, rehearsal, practice, explicit teaching and lots of modeling. These are not vocabulary tools that are solely ELL enhancers, but useful for vocabulary development across the board.  After initial explicit instruction, it can take any student 7-12 practices to learn a vocabulary word in context. A student with learning disabilities may need 30 or more practices. Put the ELL and LD together and you need LOTS of practice. This practice needs to occur in a comfortable and safe environment. If a student is afraid of being teased, overwhelmed with work load or stress, or not feeling safe, this practice will become less likely to occur and less likely to be valuable.

General education teachers need to coordinate with the team providing support: teachers of ELLs, special ed teachers, paraprofessionals, speech pathologists and anyone else need to provide instruction that compliments each other. Conferences between staff is essential.

A general ed teacher needs to differentiate instruction. Yes, this idea is a fad of the year, as it were, but it is true. ELL's benefit from peer assisted learning. Small groups or partner work allows lots of practice of communication and models to occur. In order for this to be effective, they need to teach group roles and routines. Students learning the vocabulary of English need pictures and/or video to anchor meaning of words, even common words that we take for granted that students would learn easily. This is in part true because of cultural differences in word meanings. She pointed out that as an ELL growing up, her grandmother would rub an egg over her face to bring good luck. The egg was not connected to scrambled eggs.

Finally Dr. Hagan emphasized the role of the parent in school. Many parents who do not speak English fluently or who come from another culture, have different ideas of the role of the parent in their child's education. Educational communities need to identify what will appeal to parents, offer trainings, and understand cultural sensitivities. Ideas of how parents can support their children included:
  • telling stories
  • looking at pictures in books and perhaps predicting what the story is going to be about
  • adult literacy classes
  • going to the library to attend programs and check out books
  • incorporating home language in the language of school
These can be done by all parents, even parents who are not literate themselves. It is also important that we honor home culture. Perhaps bridges can be built by community mentors who provide models of how to support children and their education.

She summed up her discussion with three big points. One, we need to look at each child as an individual. While many of these suggestions work for children, finding the formula of success for each one involves different mixes. Two, we need to monitor progress and how children respond to interventions. If children are not responding we need to make changes. Three, there is limited research on ELLs with disabilities. We need to pursue how best to identify needs and interventions to meet the child's needs.

I thought that the majority of the webcast focused more on ELL in general rather than on specifics of those with learning disabilities. That being said, the information was valid for all ELLs so not useless. My quest for specific strategies geared toward working with ELLs with LD will continue.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Literacy coaching

 Becoming a literacy coach was not ever on my radar. I considered reading too complex to really understand much less teach well. Two decades later, however, I have done research, found mentors and classes, and worked with students trying to demystify reading for kids and feel like I have a bit of a clue. Fortunately people I work with believe I do as well and I have been called upon to work with other staff members around reading. In some ways this is exciting, others a bit terrifying. I still think it is a miracle that as many people learn to read without too much trouble. Reading is an exceedingly complex task. The brain goes through huge work to accomplish it. There are many places where things can go wrong. Successful and repeated reading actually changes the brain. When things go awry I am not surprised. The tricky part is to figure out where things started to break down and begin remediation there. As I embark on a new school year,one of my goals is to increase my skills around coaching. Anyone who knows me, knows that this will entail deep research and reflection. I hope you follow my journey and learn as well. Please feel free to add your insights and wisdom. Together we grow faster.

Toward my pursuit of developing my skills, I am reading materials about coaching. The Literacy Coaching Clearinghouse published Do's and Don'ts for Literacy Coaches: Advice from the Field written by Rita Bean and Diane DeFord. This short white paper highlights some interesting ideas.
The Do's list includes:
  • Introduce yourself and your role
  • Work with all teachers
  • Work first to establish a relationship of trust
  • Work with your administrator
  • Recognize- and appreciate- differences in teachers and how they work
  • Recognize your own beliefs and attitudes about teaching and learning
  • Establish priorities
  • Let the data lead
  • Be a learner
  • Document your work
The Don'ts list includes:
  • Don't evaluate teachers
  • Don't fall into the trap of acting like the "expert"
  • Don't jump right in and expect immediate change
  • Don't be invisible
  • Don't avoid the tough issues
  • Don't sweat the small stuff
In light of the many readings I've done this year about leadership and how critical trust is to team building, I want to think about that do. This article does a good job about spelling out some ways to build trust. They include listening, being positive and following through. Personally I am focusing on listening. My loud and frenetic upbringing encourages me to jump in before the speaker is done. Dr. Phil, a guilty pleasure of mine, criticized a guest for speaking too quickly because she did not have time to process his statement. I am guilty of this as well. I am going to work on talking less in my interactions so that I can really think about what is being said. I drive a lot during my work day and use that time to reflect on how a lesson went. I need to put more effort into reflecting in the moment so that I can better process what is being discussed. This also models reflection, an important goal of coaching as well.
We'll see how it works.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Assignments Matter

Eleanor Doughterty wrote Assignments Matter: Making the Connections that Help Students Meet Standards for ASCD in 2012. Her overriding theme is that there is a difference between assignments, activities and assessments. The purpose of assignments is to create an environment for learning whereas an activity is "merely doing" (p. 23). It seems like her assignments are tasks that students need to participate in learning and thinking in order to complete. It appears she views activities as fairly useless and she does not discuss assessments.

In order to present robust and rigorous assignments that promote learning, she sees teacher collaboration as essential. She sees time as the number one impediment to completing assignments that present rigorous tasks that work toward teaching the CCSS. Time is required to deeply understand the standards and develop assignments that involve real world basis. In some ways her ideas appear to be more about essential questions than anything else. One example she provides is
What is the proper role of the individual in response to a disaster? After reading passages from the Dalai Lama, John Donne, Marcus Aurelius and William Stafford on individual responsibility, write a letter to a younger student that addresses the question and supports your position with evidence from the texts. (p. 23)

When you look at this assignment, it is the result of  a series of tasks the teacher will guide the students through in order to complete the culminating activity: scaffold reading comprehension tasks through each passage, discussion about responsibility, perhaps interviews or video viewing of people after a disaster, instruction in letter writing and composition might all be required. Yes, this assignment requires lots of instruction and could be robust, but it is very time consuming.

People refer to the Common Core standards as being substantially reduced in content, but assignments like this require perhaps a month of instruction. Content might still need to be reduced in order to accomplish this goal. At the end of the book she highlights a middle school program that instituted a program called Rapid Transit (p. 149-150). The students were significantly behind expectations and experienced high rates of failure in high school before the implementation of the program. Rapid Transit highlighted literacy and math skills and sidelined all but the major concepts in other subjects. The students were able to make remarkable progress in ELA and math, but at what cost? Students were denied access to content that build background to high school and life. They likely missed out on many activities that were exciting for students- rich science experiments, interesting stories about the history of our country and geography, perhaps even the arts, music and PE. It is an interesting trade off.

The other thing that seems to missing from Ms. Dougherty's program of focus on assignments is a focus on fluency. While ELA goals of reading deeply and communicating effectively  are permeating the curriculum across the board, there is also a focus on fluency with certain skills. I am concerned that her poo pooing of "activities" reduces opportunity for fluency. The book is significantly ELA focused but seems to ignore the idea that many of our students have reading fluency issues. These students need us to engage in activities that focus on reading fluency- rereading with a focus on prosody, listening while reading, and reading with a thought to speed and accuracy. She would probably defend her position saying that teachers could embed the instruction within other "bigger" tasks, and perhaps she is correct. Without mentioning fluency based skills, however, I fear that this text will encourage ignoring them.

One admirable key feature is her idea that anchor assignments are important. I live in New York. We have a long tradition of assessing students and releasing the assessments (our Regents testing program started in 1860). These tests have tasks that are anchors. They standardize expectations across the state. Teachers use old questions and activities to prepare students for the rigors of the exam. Done well, the summative test was the easiest test students experienced in their year. Anchor assignments provide for a set of expectations. They showcase what students should be able to do, what their writing should look like. This is exactly what our testing program has provided.

This book is strikingly lacking in examples of her ideas. She suggests locations to look for assignments, how to build and effective rubric and some possible solutions for dealing with logistic concerns, but these are usually lacking in detail that would assist one with implementing her ideas. In some ways it almost seems as if her goal in writing the book is to engage her or another consultant.

While I agree that rigorous tasks are important, teacher collaboration is essential to effective instruction of students and working to improve skill sets of teachers and students is important, we need to be cognizant of creating rich experiences in language that do not demoralize our students with disabilities. A dyslexic student faced with reading and writing tasks in every class needs tremendous support. Managing this is an agonizing process as electives are eliminated and graduation is postponed. We need to be careful to meet the needs of all our students. Not all students are going to college. Students need soft skills like resilience, time management, organization and initiative in order to be successful. We need to embed these skills throughout our curriculum and recognize their accomplishment. For students who struggle with executive function skills, we need to spend as much time detailing them as how to teach how to factor quadratic equations and finding the volume of complex polyhedrons. We need to develop underlying fluency to facilitate abilities in content areas. There is no quick fix or single solution to the problem of education. We need to look at each school, classroom and student individually and develop programs of study that apply to them.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Learning and Memory strategies

I found The Source for Learning & Memory Strategies by Regina G. Richards in a free pile and picked it up. Although it is more than a decade old and the fields of neuroscience and learning are a rapidly blossoming field, the book proved to be valuable. The first part of the book is three chapters about the brain and learning. Ms. Richards goes over major brain parts that impact learning, how memories are made, memory problems and memory facilitators. Although the current state of science has a much more nuanced understanding, this information is accurate and accessible for the lay person. The second part of the book is a series of chapters arranged by subject area including a rich variety of strategies for learning. Many of these are hashed out in other sources but the compilation is useful.

Her description of memory is as follows:
  • sensory memory- fleeting (less than 20 seconds), heavily filtered by attention, meaning and patterns and emotion. The vast majority of our sensory input is filtered out without recognition. People with ADHD have issues with this filtering function.
  • short-term memory/ working memory- this is where we manipulate information and includes the following roles:
    • holding an idea in mind while developing, elaborating, clarifying or using it
    • recalling from long term memory while holding some information in short-term memory
    • holding together in memory the components of a task while completing that task
    • keeping together a series of new pieces of information so that they remain meaningful
    • holding a long-term plan while thinking about a short-range need. p. 23
She does not mention the Halstead length which refers to the amount of information that you can put into those Miller defined plus or minus seven chunks. (Halstead was a computer program studying programmer success who discovered that people with greater Halstead lengths could tackle greater problems.)
  • Long term memory- contains several formats- episodic, sematic (fact), procedural, classical and priming. Different types of memories are stored differently- your trip to Disneyland is in a different format than the multiplication tables which is different from the wince you make before someone scrapes their fingernails on a chalkboard or the how to hit a baseball or how to anticipate what will happen in a Cinderella archetype story.
  • Retrieval- how to get things out.
This format explains how breakdowns in memory and learning occur. A student can have an excellent memory for mathematical processes but a terrible memory for people's names or even English vocabulary. Figuring out specifically where the breakdown occurs is critical to teaching students to manage their memory system effectively.

Throughout this section she models how to use techniques to enhance memory. A sweet device to illustrate her point.

One technique that I really appreciated was her use of kinesthetic activities. In college I heard a lot about using kinesthetic approaches but very few examples of them. She repeated refers to using a mini-tramp to help encode memories. This involves jumping on the tramp while chanting, singing, or repeating information to be recalled. It brought to mind latitude and longitude jumping jacks that I have had students do: Latitude= arms to side and legs spread, longitude= arms above head and feet together while chanting the appropriate term to reinforce what direction the lines go. It really works. She also emphasized singing or chanting information to encode it in more places in the brain and to cue recall. Teaching the Wilson reading system, I have had kids stuck on what sound t makes and merely putting my thumb in the air is enough of a cue to get them unstuck.

 Another key idea is that we put things into memory based on their similarities to what we know but retrieve them based on differences. That is why we have easily confused words, terms and concepts. Students understand they are related but do not get how they are different. If a trapezoid and a rhombus both have a set of parallel sides and sides that slope- how do I know which one I am talking about? A teacher needs to demonstrate how new material is similar to what is known to get it into memory. Then they need to examine how it is different from other related concepts so that the proper ideas are recalled when needed.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Five levels of leadership

Teaching is a form of leadership. A teacher leads a class the same way a leader leads a group. This point has been driven home over and over as I read leadership books. Our purpose is to transfer information and skills. Our students are there to learn with huge variations in motivation- they are not being paid, some are bored, some do not see any point in future learning, some participate because it is the expectation and some soak up everything, eager to incorporate one more idea or skill into their system.

John Maxwell has written many books on leadership, some of which I have read in the past. His easy to read style, liberally peppered with anecdotes and quotes holds the ring of truth. The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential lived up to the potential I anticipated. Mr. Maxwell views leaders as occupying one of five stages that form a pyramid with most leaders in the bottom level-1 and very few at the pinnacle, level 5. Each stage is predicated upon mastery of the previous stage. What I found intriguing was his assertion that a leader can be on different stages in relation to different people. His stages are:
  1. Positional leaders- they have rights since they were assigned the role of leader. People follow these leaders because they have to.
  2. Permission leaders- they build relationships. People follow these leaders because they want to.
  3. Production leaders- they get results. People follow these leaders because of what the leader has done for the organization.
  4. People Development leaders- they reproduce leaders. People follow these leaders because of what has been done for them.
  5. Pinnacle leaders- they have respect. People follow these leaders because of who they are and what they represent.

In the permission stage, leaders must develop relationships with their teams. Know what motivates each of them and help them individually achieve their goals. If a leader cannot connect with a team member, he cannot reach this stage. This is perhaps why we say that in a good organization, a manager has no more than 15 direct reports. You cannot know a person without time to individually connect. In schools where a principal has 50 staff members to supervise, it is unlikely that he will move far into this stage with the majority of his staff because of time. The challenge becomes how not to show favorites with those people the principal does form deep connections with. I really liked the idea that the leader must show the team each and every day that they are valuable to the leader (p.93). This is not done with a pay check. It is done by providing reinforcement in a personally meaningful way to an individual.

In the fourth stage- people development, I found many interesting insights. Many principals feel they are at this stage- they are the curriculum leader and staff developer for their building. They need to empower team leaders to do their jobs well so that the principal can take a supporting role that requires less time and energy. There are, after all, only so many hours in a day. My first important point was that maturity is the measure of an individuals ability to "think beyond yourself" (p.196). A leader cannot be selfish they must put others first. It cannot be: I am the best, but I am helping others be their best. Ego must be checked at the door. At level 2 a leader needs to learn about identifying weaknesses and sharing them in a productive way. This stage further refines that vulnerability and points the focus outward rather than inward.

Related to maturity is trust. A level four leader must trust others AND engender trust in himself. Many other leadership books emphasize the need for trust in groups. When a group member is concerned that individual hard work and success will be subsumed by the leader and failure attributed to the team, risk taking is minimized, people do not feel safe and ultimately will abandon the team. A level four leader takes responsibility for shortcomings rather then for success. The team did it right; I am the reason there were problems. This mindset is difficult for many to conceive, but is critical in developing people.

Maxwell identifies the four C's of  leadership potential:
  • Chemistry- can you work with the person? certain people gel and others make sparks. People will work well with people they like. Developing people takes time and energy. It needs to be focused on people you get along with. (p. 205)
  • Character- strong relationships are only possible with trust. mentoring requires trust. A person lacking character will not be a positive part of a mentoring relationship. (p. 205-6)
  • Capacity- not all people are capable of the same things. Natural gifts do exist. Ability to manage stress, skill sets to get things done, creative thinking, gathering followers and team building, and positive attitude all contribute to capacity. An individual's capacity may be very different in different settings. An NFL football player and team captain may be a lousy school teacher and departmental team leader. (p. 206-7)
  • Contribution- people are able and willing to contribute more than expectations. They make others work harder. (p. 207)
When selecting people to develop to higher levels of leadership, look at their four C's and pick wisely. Spending time and energy on people development is a must- make it worthwhile.

The last point that Maxwell brings out is to leave a positive legacy. He believes that as soon as you accept a leadership role you need to determine what you want your legacy to be, work towards it, and refine it as you grow. If your legacy is to teach your entire team to learn new teaching strategies to meet the changing needs of students, then that is what you work for. If your legacy is to raise test scores no matter the challenge, then that is your life's focus. If your legacy is to be the best teacher a school has had then that is your goal and you will never move to great levels of leadership.

Maxwell's message is that you can grow your leadership potential. You can choose to increase your influence on others by developing skills. This is true in the classroom, where you mentor all students, but might take on a couple of special ones and truly  work to influence their individual lives in a positive manner. It is also true in the administrative offices. Selecting and grooming future leaders is the role of administrators as well. If it is done well, an administrator's work load is actually reduced because a teacher leader can be delegated tasks.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Stuttering and oral reading fluency

A couple of years ago I was at workshop on using Fontas and Pinnell reading system. An important component of this program is oral reading to assess whether a student should move to the next level. I asked what to do about a student who stutters. He may be able to read at a much higher level than oral reading might indicate. The presenter had no idea. In light of my research focus on fluency, I thought I should look into this question. It is particularly important since many districts include measures of oral reading as a predicator of advancement and determinate of receiving remediation.

ASHA, the professional organization for speech pathologists, looked into this question and prepared a paper on it. They released a paper and made a series of presentations revealing their thoughts. A summary of the research is found at: Oral Reading Fluency in School-Age Children Who Stutter. A powerpoint presentation of the research is available at Oral Reading Fluency Measures & Accommodations for Students who Stutter. A quick teacher-friendly version of the information is found at: Quick: talk Fast & Don't Stutter. Kathleen Scaler Scott's handout for teachers, Stuttering and Reading Fluency: information for Teachers is a simple explanation of recommendations as well.

The long and short of the answer is that for students who stutter, their oral reading fluency rate may need to be tested through an alternate manner. A speech pathologist should be consulted in determining how such modifications should be made and an IEP or 504 plan should contain verbiage clarifying the expectations of the student in regards to such assessments. This could mean anything from testing only silent reading fluency, having the fluency assessment completed by someone familiar with the oral speech of the student without being timed, to no modifications depending on student stuttering characteristics and the student himself. This is particularly important to consider carefully because stress tends to increase stuttering. A student who is aware that performance on the oral reading fluency determines reading group, progress advancement or grade advancement, is going to be under stress.

Of importance to consider is that stuttering is not the only language disorder that impacts oral reading fluency. Among these disorders are oral motor disorders and voice disorders. When testing oral reading fluency, teachers must consider all parts of the student that could negate the validity of the score. For those students, practitioners need to individually consider how valid the assessment results are based on multiple measures of performance.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Data- Driven Dialogue

I picked up Brue Wellman and Laura Lipton's book Data-Driven Dialogue: A Facilitator's Guide to Collaborative Inquiry because it sounded interesting- yes, I am a nerd. It goes along with a MiraVia workshop by the same name. Having read it, I think the workshop sounds valuable and would enhance the material that was presented.

The book contains 6 chapters. Chapter 3 presents a model for collaborative inquiry. Chapter 5 presents tools to use in group settings. These are the two critical components.

The model for collaborative inquiry has three major stages: activating and engaging, exploring and discovering, and organizing and integrating. In activating and engaging involves establishing connections with the group- if it does not exist-, identifying predictions and assumptions about the topic, refining questions that you seek to answer and identifying learnings presented to the group- potentially identifying what data needs to be gathered. Exploring and Discovering involves analyzing data. Identifying things that pop-out, patterns and trends, surprising results and what else needs to be explored. The third phase is generating theories. This involves either making inferences and identifying additional data that needs to be examined or collected to confirm inference or exploring solutions that result from the conclusions and identifying data that needs to be collected to confirm or refute conclusions. Then the system cycles again.

This sequence allows for a structure of dialogue that will maximize group productivity. Chapter 5 follows with tools and techniques to implement each step. The tools for teams are collected from a variety of sources- some from business team training, reading comprehension and teaching organization. These tools include descriptions, templates and instructional pages. It would have been helpful if they also included vignettes of their ideas in action. Presumably their workshop is full  of role playing, videos and or sample descriptions to fill this role.

The concepts reviewed through the book are valuable to team leadership in general and groups considering data in specifically. Although it presents great information, it does require lots of analysis. Someone skilled in presentation and group management might find the information more accessible in its current form.