SPECIAL NOTE: This blog post is unique from all other posts. I am writing it for my Teaching English Language Learners – Part 1 additional qualification course. The assignment is to, create a mock blog post entry that supports educators with creating a classroom environment that welcomes and supports newcomer ELLs.
I have always been deeply invested in building a learning space where I feel confident that every student who walks into my classroom feels it is a warm, welcoming and supportive space. One year, I even left all of the classroom set-up and design to my students to design. You can see how that all went down on this post here. Every year I seem to set-up my classroom with a bit of a different approach, but I hold on to the same intention…empower students to be their best selves, and be able to put forth their best effort while in our classroom.
The course, Teaching English Language Learners- Part 1, has “refurbished” how I will go about setting-up my classroom, moving forward. I will continue to provide a student-centred approach, and will provide choice and flexibility in the learning space, but I think I will always have a few things visible and ready right from the start. I am aware now, that I need to be mindful of students who arrive from other countries and cultures and will benefit from my room incorporating specific visuals, organization and furniture arrangement. That being said, with students having choice and input into the design and layout of the space, perhaps newcomers and ELLs will even be able to impart some of their preferences during the process.
There elements of the learning environment which I will “reserve” space for, to ensure that specific instructional constructs are provided for on the walls and around the room to support ELL students. I can see it is important to plan ahead when considering how we might best welcome newcomers and English Language Learners into our classroom whether it be on the first day of school, or on any given day in the school year.
The learning environment really can be the “third” teacher for all students, and with some intentional planning, we can amplify the power of the learning space for our English Language Learners using some of the ideas below.
Roll Out The Red Carpet
One of the best ways to welcome newcomers and ELL’s is to have a trained Welcoming Committee, or reception team (Ministry of Education, 2005) . Ideally this team would be prepared at the school-level, but if it’s not, perhaps you (the teacher) would consider being the the one to start this up. I know I would be willing to head-up the reception team for our school, or at least have a Welcoming Committee for my own classroom. The first impression is so important and you want new families to feel comfortable and at ease with kindness and preparedness being at the heart of their first visit. When you are expecting a new family to arrive, try to schedule an interpreter to be there if you need to go through paperwork and other important policies and procedures. Perhaps the family has already been to the reception centre for your district, so some things might already be in place. You might even consider having a student whom you know speaks the same language as the arriving family, to be a part of your reception team. Having trained and enthusiastic student ambassadors for your classroom and school are excellent ways to showcase the caring nature of your school community. Student ambassadors are the best people to leave in charge of a school tour, and school orientation of how things operate and where things are located. Be sure to have a one-page information sheet for families and caretakers to take with them, which include all of the essential school information and names of relevant staff members who will be working with their children. Try to gather any information you can, while also ascertaining if they are already aware of the supports available to them if they are newcomers to Canada (e.g. Settlement Workers in Schools, SWIS).
Start With the Basics:
Something that makes all the difference in the world is to practice saying your students’ names in advance. One way I have done this in the past is to have my students introduce themselves, giving their full name, along with a description of what they like to do in their spare time, then post it to FlipGrid. FlipGrid is a mobile app which students can use to post a fun video recording of them reporting on anything you prompt them to do. So, using it for introductions is a great way to learn how to say student names correctly, and to learn about what your students are interested in. You can invite classmates to watch all of the videos on the grid, or you can keep it to yourself.
Other basics you may want to help your ELL students with include:
- teaching the student basic phrases, such as hello, goodbye , and I don’t understand.
- helping the student learn to express important personal information in English – name, address, phone number and family members’ names.
- providing the student with some basic language learning materials, such as a picture dictionary, wordless books, or audio books.
- labeling common objects and bins around the room in both English and the first languages of ELLs in your room.
(Ministry of Education, 2005)
There are some simple things we can do to help English Language Learners feel welcome and at ease when they arrive in our classroom. Be sure to have multilingual visuals posted on the walls. Post a Welcome poster which reflects a variety of languages, ensuring the languages of the students in your room are represented. As well, try to seat new ELL students in the best possible place for them to see the instructional supports, while also sitting next to your classroom ambassador, or someone who might speak the same first language as the new ELL student.
All students would appreciate seeing images and posters around the classroom which reflect many cultures participating in a variety of activities, be it dance, sports, art, or science and technology activities. Posters which showcase all cultures and interests are a great way to affirm everyone’s identity and builds self confidence. Something else many students would appreciate is co-constructing a chart which includes phrases or messages communicated in all of the languages which are spoken by the families in the classroom. This might even extend to the spoken languages of grandparents, if parents are 1st generation, English-speaking Canadians. Celebrating culture and diversity is always something we want to do for our young students, since they will one day be a part of our global economy and community too (ETFO Voice, Fall 2016).
When it comes down to learning, we want our English Language Learners to feel as though they see themselves, their culture, and their language reflected in the curriculum. We can achieve this in a variety of ways, so long as we intentionally plan and orchestrate these opportunities. In order to foster language development we need to ensure that the delivery of the curriculum content is comprehensible. One of the most widely respected ELL Educators, Tan Huynh, has posted a fantastic blog titled, Comprehensible Input: Making Instruction EL-Friendly. In the post, Huynh emphasizes that teachers need to make “instruction more understandable for ELLs by focusing on comprehensible input” (Huynh, 2018). The way in which we can make content clear for ELLs (and others) is through scaffolding. To make content more comprehensible we could use demonstrations, build on prior knowledge or experiences of students (bring in cultural connections); we could also post pictures, diagrams, outlines and organizers to illustrate concepts which will be covered. These visuals around the room will really support the student with content area learning. Huynh (2018) outlines three forms of scaffolding for ELLs, including:
- sensory scaffolds (ie: models, manipulatives, visuals)
- interactive scaffolds (ie: discussions, partner work, dramatizations) and
- graphic scaffolds (ie: tables, charts, timelines, infographics)
By providing these sorts of supports, we are providing opportunity for ELL students to not only develop the English language, but to also access and engage in the curriculum, while building their academic language simultaneously.
The best thing we can do for all students every day, is to display and deliver culturally responsive learning experiences. In art, we can be sure to sequence through a wide variety of art activities which showcase many cultures, including the cultures that are present in our classrooms. As well, there are many beautiful books which celebrate culture, while also delivering some hard truths about the struggles and injustices that have, and do exist in our world. Show your students that you care about our world, and that you are open minded to all aspects culture, language, and origin. When we choreograph learning opportunities which are culturally responsive and take steps to ensure our instruction is comprehensible, we are well on our way to ensuring our classroom is a warm, inclusive and exciting place to be.
What kinds of things do you (or will you) strive to do to make your classroom welcome for English Language Learners?
Huynh, Tan (2018, April 12). Comprensible Input: Making Instruction EL-Friendly (Blog Post). Retrievied from https://www.empoweringells.com/el-friendly-instruction/
Ministry of Ontario (2005). Many Roots, Many Voices: Supporting English Language Learners In Every Classroom. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/manyroots/ELL_LPS.pdf
ETFO Voice (Fall 2016). Using First Language (L1) as a Resource: Benefits of Students’ Home Languages. Retrieved from http://etfovoice.ca/file/1170/download?token=X4yfZhcs