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.