Being Culturally Responsive In the Classroom

What is culturally responsive teaching?

Culturally relevant or responsive teaching is a pedagogy grounded in teachers’ displaying cultural competence: skill at teaching in a cross-cultural or multicultural setting. Teachers using this method encourage each student to relate course content to his or her cultural context.  In doing so, teachers enrich students’ classroom experiences and ensures student engagement.

Why culturally responsive teaching?

There is a cultural gap in many schools across the United States. The most recent projections from the Census Bureau shows that minority students will account for more than half of all students in US public schools by 2020. One out of every five students now speaks a language other than English at home. As a result of this significant student demographic shift, a growing number of US teachers are struggling with how they can better serve students from cultures other than their own. (Teach Away, PRWeb, 2017).

How do I become culturally responsive teacher?

  1. Know yourself.  It is important to know your own attitudes and perceptions of other cultures.  You must set your mindset to believe that all cultures and backgrounds are valuable and rich.  Keep an open mind and think of these cultural differences as a positive rather than a deficit in classroom instruction.  Know that each student brings a wealth of information and experiences, that when tapped, can lead to rich discussions and student engagement.
  2. Know your students.  Spend some time to get to know your students.  You can’t create a culturally responsive classroom if you don’t know your students’ cultural values.  Ask students what traditions, values, and experiences are important to them. Highlight these information to enrich your daily lessons.  One on one time with each student is ideal, but you can start by doing whole class activities that help you and your students be informed of the cultural makeup of your class.  For example, spend some time at the beginning of the school year to ask students to write about themselves–their values, goals, dreams, etc. Research has shown that spending, even five minutes, getting to know your students, significantly improve their experience in the classroom.
  3. Make your classroom a safe space for all students.  Create a classroom environment in which students feel comfortable sharing their opinions and asking difficult questions.  Teach your students to honor differences in experiences, ideas, and opinions. All students should feel safe to share, and not fear criticism or alienation.  When students approach topics that are controversial or may cause discomfort, do not shut the conversation down. Instead, use this opportunity to inform your students and change some of their negative preconceived notions.
  4. Adapt your teaching to include and honor cultural differences.  Design lessons that consider students’ cultural backgrounds.  “Research on culturally responsive teaching has shown that students are more engaged in learning and learn more effectively when the knowledge and skills taught are presented within the context of their own experiences and cultural frames of reference” (Deady, 2017).  Use interactive strategies that encourage students to create and build relationships within the classroom.

Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies:

Give one, get one.

Description:  After thinking or journaling about a topic, students are asked to share their thoughts or answers.  Students are thus receiving an idea in exchange for giving one.

Best to use when:  

  • Reviewing, summarizing, or clarifying information
  • Accessing prior knowledge
  • Oral practice


Description:Each student takes a quick turn sharing with the team a thought or reaction to something posed by the teacher.  Responses should be quick 1-5 word phrases in order to keep it going quickly and keep thoughts concise.

Best to use when:  

  • Responding to literature
  • Having students express their strengths and needs while in a small group

Train or Pass It On

Description:  Students call on one another to answer and/or ask questions.  Student should not raise their hands to be called on and she be encouraged to call on a variety of people in the classroom.  Students can also “pass” on a question they do not want to answer by calling on another student for help. This can also be done with the use of a small soft object that students can toss to one another in order to “pass it on.”

Best to use when:  

  • Checking for understanding
  • When student needs support from peers

Clock Partners

Description:  Students complete a blank clock sheet by making appointments for various times. They will keep this sheet as a reference for later use.  When using clock partners, students first think or write about a topic or a prompt. After reflecting, students are asked to meet a clock partner to discuss their thoughts or answers.  

Best to use when:  

  • Sharing ideas
  • Reviewing or clarifying ideas

Consulting vs. Coaching vs. Mentoring-What Are the Differences Between These Teacher Supports?

Photo Credit: TrueGen

Educational Consultant, Instructional Coach, Teacher Mentor…

When you hear these terms, what comes to mind?  Do words like support, trust, growth or reflection come to the forefront? Or do terms such as required, invasive, or mandated surround these words for you?  We have all heard (and probably had experiences) with the aforementioned types of support in our teaching careers and your viewpoint on each probably depends on your personal experiences.

In my experience, these are three very common Professional Development delivery methods schools use today. While they all have similarities, they do have distinct differences; however, each method holds an  important role in supporting and growing teachers and administrators. Today, we will talk about the similarities and differences between all three and share how Smart ELD uses the best aspects of all of them to support teachers and learners.


Consulting is usually done on a bigger scale than the other two methods.  Think whole school or district Professional Development days. Consultants are usually “experts” in their field and “have” the answers-they have years of vetted experience and may even be well known nationally or internationally.  Consultants usually inform on topics such as pedagogy, instructional strategies, curriculum, policies, procedures, and/or standards. Consultants may or may not follow up after the initial PD has occurred; many times it depends on the time constraints (or financial availability) of the school district or Consultant. Consulting can improve teaching and learning-many times teachers can walk away with great ideas to immediately implement into their classroom.  And while this method can be the most efficient way to present ideas to an entire staff or district, it is also the method with the least amount of application. I can’t tell you how many times I have walked away from a workshop with all the intention and excitement to implement a new idea into my classroom, only to fall back on my old teaching habits and never quite get to that new idea. Because of the lack of follow up, I have no one to hold me accountable!


Coaching is a bit more personalized than Consulting, and in my opinion, the most effective PD method.  It’s usually done on a smaller scale and can occur from grade level teams or department groups to a one-on-one teacher/coach setting. Coaching can stem from Consulting-the Consultant can turn into the Coach to offer support after the initial PD has occurred.  

For me, the major difference between Coaching and Consulting comes from the person WHOM has the answers.  Like I previously mentioned, many times Consultants appear to have all the answers, since they are the experts in their field. Coaches, however, support teachers to come up with their own answers by encouraging self-reflection, self-direction, self-monitoring, and self-modifying (Costa and Garmston). They help to transform the effectiveness of a teacher’s decision-making process by using mental models, thoughts, perceptions, and habitual reflection. The intended outcome in the Coaching process is that the teacher understands and realizes the answers are within themselves-sometimes it just takes a practiced soundboard or reflective partner to help find them.

Coaching is an on-going and supportive process.  Here at Smart ELD, we take the Cognitive Coaching approach to support teachers and administrators.  According to Costa and Garmston, a Cognitive Coach (which all Smart ELD co-founders are certified), “…uses tools of reflective questioning, pausing, paraphrasing, and probing for specificity.”  A Cognitive Coach helps another person “to develop expertise in planning, reflecting, problem-solving, and decision-making. These are the invisible tools of being a professional, and they are the source of all teachers’ choices and behaviors (Costa and Garmston, 13).”  It is a reciprocal learning process between both individuals (Costa and Garmston). The support Cognitive Coaching offers ensures that application will occur well after the Coach has left.


Mentoring plays a very important role in schools.  In a teacher mentoring situation, many times new teachers are paired up with a veteran teacher who serves as a mentor by supporting in lesson planning, gathering resources, collaborating, observing, giving feedback, or simply listening. Sometimes the mentor acts like a Coach-pushing the new teacher to learn how to self-monitor and self-reflect.  Often times, however, the Mentor has to play more of a Consultant role-giving answers rather than spending time facilitating thought processes in the new teacher. This is usually due to lack of time (veteran teachers have their own classrooms to manage), or lack of experience or craftsmanship on the new teacher’s part. The new teacher simply does not have enough knowledge to come up with the answers on their own. That’s ok!  They will get there. We know the importance that teacher mentoring has on teacher retention, however, mentors and teachers should be carefully matched and the process should not feel mandated (even if it is)-that will kill any prospect of growth immediately. Teacher mentoring can have lasting effects on a person’s career…I still remember my first Instructional Coach Mentor and the impact she made on the trajectory of my career.   We cannot stress enough the importance of having someone to support new faculty members- Mentoring is necessary for Teachers, Coaches, and Administrators as they learn their new role.

This graph gives a good visual of the three methods:

Photo credit:

As you can see, we at Smart ELD like to use the Coaching method (more specifically, Cognitive Coaching) when possible.  While we do offer Consulting (and love it!), we like to make sure we transition to Coaching services if at all possible.  We have done in-person and virtual Coaching sessions to teams and individuals after initial PDs, and the results have been amazing. We like to offer on-going, consistent support, as this seems to offer the best results for Teacher and Coach alike.  As well, we are available as Coaches without Consulting-many times we meet with Teachers where they are and coach them from there. Both methods are effective and serve a purpose; the direction we take depends upon the needs of your staff or district. Contact Smart ELD today to set up an initial consultation to see how we can best support the Second Language Learners in your building!


Costa, Arthur L. Cognitive Coaching: Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners.   

    Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.

We’re Excited to Announce our Partnership with EdGems!

EdGems is a middle school math program that is designed to give teachers more time to engage with their students.  It is a standards-based approach that incorporates real world applications. It includes a variety of engaging student activities that advance students’ conceptual understanding of mathematics.  EdGems advances middle school students’ conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and applications of standards-based mathematical concepts — gradually and with purpose — through standards-based target statements, balanced warm-ups, exploration, in-class activities, interactive quizzes, differentiated practice problem sets, and culminating tasks. And since November 2018, we have been working with them to provide ELL supports for all of their program components! We are finalizing publication of our ELL Handbook as we speak!

Stay tuned for more developments with this project. For more information about EdGems, visit

Screencastify-Another Fun Resource to Use in the Classroom

I just discovered Screencastify ( ), a Google Chrome extension that allows you to video capture your entire desktop, browser tab or webcam, and it’s amazing! This tool would be great to use in a Flipped Classroom type setting to introduce a lesson, explain PPT slides, or as virtual exit slips. Really, the possibilities are endless! Once added as an extension, this tool is extremely easy to use and share. It will automatically sync with your Google Drive and can be available to download from there. Check out a video I created to help a teacher incorporate Plickers into their classroom:

Click on this link for a free downloadable book that includes 50 ways to incorporate Screencastify into your classroom:
Free e Book-50 ways to Incorporate Screencastify into your Classroom

What do you think about Screencastify? Could you find a way to incorporate this into your classroom?

Formative Assessments: Testing FOR Learning

Part 4:  Formative Assessments

*This blog post is part of a four part series on lesson planning.

In this series of posts, we’ve learned about targeted or strategic lesson planning:  creating clearly defined lesson objectives and gradual release of responsibility. The final piece to creating a well planned lesson is formative assessment.

Typically, when we mention assessments to teachers, thinking goes directly to summative assessments.  Edglossary defines summative assessment as “a test or project at the end of an instructional period, used to measure student learning, acquisition of skills, and academic achievement.”  Because summative assessments are given at the end of an instructional period, it does not help inform lesson planning. It measures the students’ achievement of the unit objective or academic standards.  This type of formal assessment is graded and can affect students’ academic record. In simple words, formative assessment tells the teacher what the students learned from the unit and whether they met the standards.

For this post, we will focus on the other form of assessment called formative assessment.  Formative assessments are provided multiple times during an instructional period to inform teachers of how the students are learning, and how teachers can adjust their teaching to better support and instruct students.  Formative assessments can be formal or informal, used to gather information, in order to direct teachers and students how to move forward in a unit or chapter.

One analogy that I can think of is driving using the GPS.  When you use the GPS, you create an outcome which is your destination.  The directions the GPS provide are lessons that lead to the outcome. We need those directions to get to our destination.  During your travels, the directions may change due to construction or the GPS found a faster way. These can be compared to formative assessments.  These “rerouting” detours make the driving easier and faster just as formative assessments tell us a better way to get to the outcome.

Now that we know the difference between the two type of assessments, let’s focus on what exactly is formative assessment.  As I mentioned earlier, formative assessments can be formal or informal assessments that are given throughout the unit to inform teachers and students what they’ve learned so far and how to proceed to get to the final lesson objective.  There is no specific number for how many times a teacher can administer a formative assessment.

Formative assessments may take days or a few minutes.  It can be as easy as a quickwrite or an exit ticket. It can be as elaborate as a group presentation or project showing what the students have learned so far.  

I recently came across a wonderful resource by Scholastic on  formative assessments. 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom by Judith Dodge and Blanca E. Duarte.  This book is so good that I was able to convince our principal to purchase one for each of our teachers.  It is good to have this book handy when lesson planning. You can choose what formative assessment fits your lesson.  When planning a formative assessment, we have to consider the amount of time we are able to give students and whether it will be a group or individual assessment.  Most importantly, we need to know what it is we are trying to learn and how will the assessment be used to direct instruction. I remember reading somewhere a definition of a formative assessment:  “Formative assessments are assessments FOR learning, not OF learning.”

*This concludes our series of blogs on lesson planning.  

Quizizz-A Fun and Interactive Way to Informally Assess Students

I wanted to share a fun and interactive website I’ve just started using with my! This website is FREE and my students have loved competing against each other while I’m able to informally check for understanding on specific concepts. From the Quizizz website:

Quizizz allows you to conduct student-paced formative assessments in a fun and engaging way for students of all ages. The salient features include:

  1. Student-paced: Questions appear on each student’s screen, so they can answer questions at their own pace, and review their answers at the end.
  2. BYOD: Can be played by students using any kind of device with a browser, including PCs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Learn more.
  3. Thousands of public quizzes: Amazing teachers around the world create thousands of great questions on Quizizz every day! This community effort generates great content that everyone can use.
  4. Quiz Editor: The Quizizz editor is the most awesome quiz editor in the world! Well… we think so at least… do let us know if you don’t agree 🙂
    We take the hassle out of creating quizzes by allowing you to pluck questions from any quiz, easily add images from the internet, auto-save your progress and tons of other features. Learn more.
  5. Reports: Our reports give you detailed class-level and student-level insights for every quiz you conduct. You can also download the reports as an Excel spreadsheet. Learn more.
  6. Quiz Customization: Teachers have multiple options to customize their quiz session to toggle the level of competition, speed, and other factors.

In my classroom, we have used the Live Game setting where students can compete against one another right then and there. Above is a screen shot of a game we played today. Students will move up or down depending upon how well they are doing on the quiz. You can also get an overall percentage on how the entire group is doing on the quiz. I allow students to use their first name or they can choose an anonymous nickname for fun. This informal assessment works great in my virtual classroom setting!

Teachers can create their own quizzes or pull from thousands of pre-made quizzes across all grade levels and content areas. We are currently reading The Hobbit and there are a ton of quizzes I can pull from to check for understanding after specific chapters.

Check out the information you can gather once students finish-

Again, just wanted to share this amazing and free website! Happy Quizizz-ing!

Ready, Set, Trust Fall: Building Trust within our Schools

According to the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, trust can be defined as the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. As teachers, we understand the importance in building trust among our students.  In fact, we do this every year by getting to know our student’s likes, dislikes, behaviors, mannerisms, strengths and weaknesses.  We do this by spending hours of class time building a classroom community where students feel safe to take risks and know it’s natural to fail.  We do this by promoting a growth mindset culture, emphasizing to students they haven’t succeeded, yet.  

But how much trust does administration have in us?  Do we feel safe in our workplace, knowing mistakes can and will happen and that it’s ok?  How do we build trust as professionals amongst one another? The answers to these questions are vital to a school’s success.  

According to J. Drew Tonissen (, one of the most important features of a strong school culture is trust. Karen Louis, Regents Professor at the University of Minnesota, and Kyla Wahlstrom, director of the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, summed up this concept well in their 2011 work for Kappan Magazine:

“…neither organizational learning nor professional community can endure without trust – between teachers and administrators, among teachers, and between teachers and parents.”

Before we begin thinking about how we can build trust in schools, we need to clearly define what this looks in a school setting. College of William and Mary professor Megan   Tschannen-Moran, who wrote Trust Matters (2004),  states, “Trust is an individual’s or group’s willingness to be vulnerable to another party based on the confidence that the latter party is benevolent, reliable, competent, honest, and open.” She goes on to define each of the facets of trust as such:

BenevolenceConfidence that one’s well-being or something one cares about will be protected by the trusted party… the assurance that others will not exploit one’s vulnerability or take advantage even when the opportunity is available.
HonestyThe trusted person’s character, integrity, and authenticity… acceptance of responsibility for one’s actions and not distorting the truth in order to shift blame to another.
OpennessThe extent to which relevant information is shared… openness signals reciprocal trust.
ReliabilityConsistency of behavior and knowing what to expect from others… a sense of confidence that one’s needs will be met in positive ways.
CompetencyThe ability to perform as expected and according to standards appropriate to the task at hand.

Besides building upon the above listed five facets of trust, how can we increase trust among our leadership and colleagues? Here are a few ways that will begin to do just that:

  1. Transparent Leadership: The principal sets the tone of the school culture. The more transparent he/she can be with the decisions that affect both students and teachers, the more staff will trust them as leaders.  Principals who treat teachers as professionals will build trust a lot faster than those who try and micro-manage. Being transparent means being communicative, accessible, consistent and predictable as a leader.
  2. Keep Students First: Remember that everyone on your staff has the same goal in mind: student success.  Keeping students in the forefront of everything you do can help all staff achieve this shared goal.  
  3. Be Reliable: Not only should leadership be reliable and follow through, every person on staff should strive to achieve this goal.  There is nothing that can squelch trust faster than not following through on tasks. Remember, trust is earned with actions meet words (Chris Butler).
  4. Invest in your Colleagues: If you think about it, there are many days we spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our own families.  Take time to get to know them, just like you would with your students. Be present in meetings and listen to what they have to say.  A school staff who trusts one another is more likely to collaborate and support each other throughout the year. In turn, students will benefit from the comrodority staff has with one another.

As you can see, trust is a major contributor to a school’s success.  With a high level of trust among staff members, teachers are more open, collaborative and communicative.  The workplace transforms into a safe setting and we look forward to showing up everyday (well, most days anyway). 🙂 How does your school work towards building trust among its staff members?


Tonissen, J. (2015). The Importance of Trust: Why School Culture Matters.

Tschannen-Moran, M. (2004). Trust Matters. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.

Using Cognates to Support ELLs: A Bridge to English

As educators, one of our main goals in working with ELLs is to support language learning through the content.  There are certainly times when it is appropriate and necessary to explicitly teach grammar, conjugations, etc., but it should not always be a separate, unconnected task.  Language learning should be done using core content to make it useful for ELLs. The use of cognates provides tremendous benefits for English Learners, especially in content area vocabulary.

But what exactly are cognates?  Cognates are words in two languages that share a similar meaning, spelling and pronunciation.  For example, the word family in Spanish is “familia.” The two words are very similar in spelling and pronunciation, and they have the same meaning.   Cognates can be found between English and a wide variety of languages. Due to our high number of Spanish speakers here in the Bay Area (and our state and country as well), we will look at the connections between English and Spanish in particular.  

Research has shown that 30-40% of all words in English have a related word in Spanish, and that in a study of 86 critical science words, 76% of those words were English/Spanish cognates.  That means that Spanish speakers already have access to a huge amount of scientific vocabulary! As teachers, we need to help them make these connections. Cognates can also be found in large quantities in mathematics and history, meaning that we need to capitalize on this vast amount of vocabulary that likely already exists within our Spanish speaking ELLs.

Cognates can be used as an extremely useful tool in understanding a second language.  The cognitive awareness that is exercised when making these connections between cognates is also highly beneficial, and can be used as early as preschool.  With each additional school year, the difficulty, sophistication and number of cognates presented to students can be increased. There are also different types of cognates that can be studied, including false cognates, those that look similar but do not have the same meaning.  Let’s take a look at some of the types.

Perfect Cognates:

The words in both languages are exactly the same in spelling and meaning, aside from minor differences in pronunciation, and perhaps an added accent.


Almost Perfect Cognates:

The words in both languages have the same meaning, and very similar spelling and pronunciation.


Cognates with Similar Suffixes:

The suffix of the English word has a similar suffix in Spanish, for example, the “ry” ending in English and the “rio” ending in Spanish.  The meanings of both words are the same. These types of cognates provide an excellent opportunity for word study, looking at suffixes, prefixes and root words.


Lessons can explicitly compare a wide range of suffixes, prefixes and root words.

Suffix “ion” in English to “cción” in SpanishAction   / AcciónConservation   / ConservaciónConstitution    / Constitución
Suffix “ic” in English to “ico” in SpanishAcademic    / AcadémicoEconomic    / EconómicoGeometric    / Geométrico
Suffix “ous” in English to “oso” in SpanishCurious    / CuriosoNumerous    / NumerosoReligious    / Religioso

False cognates:

False cognates, also called “false friends,” are two words that have similar spellings and pronunciations, but do NOT have the same meaning at all.  These should be emphasized.

Word in Spanish and the meaning of the word in English Word in English that it can be confused with
La advertencia (warning)Advertisement
La arena (sand)Arena (sports arena, stadium)
La carpeta (folder)Carpet
El colegio (high school)College
El Delito (crime)Delight
El éxito (success)Exit
El suceso (event, incident)Success

A wide range of strategies can be used to teach and utilize cognates in content area classrooms to capitalize on the differences and similarities between the two languages.  A few strategies/ ideas include:

-During a “read aloud”: As the teacher is reading in a clear voice, he/she can ask the students to raise their hand when they hear or see a cognate.  Pause the reading to record and discuss the cognate and its meaning.

-During student reading: When students are reading a text, ask them to find and highlight cognates and write them on a sticky note.  Collect them and add them to a cognate or vocabulary wall. Discuss the similarities and differences.

-Word Sort: Place students in pairs and give them cards containing the English cognate of a word on one card, the Spanish on the other.  Ask them to match and sort.

-Stress and Intonation:  Model and practice how the emphasis, stress and intonation between a word in English and its cognate in Spanish differ.  Have students repeat to practice out loud.

-Spot the Difference:  Ask students to circle the differences in letters, accents, etc. between cognates, emphasising that the meaning is the same.

Encouraging our Students to be Critical Thinkers: The Importance of Student Self Assessment

Photo courtesy of Jade Rivera

In this day and age of 21st century teaching and learning, there are endless ways to assess our students.  From formative to summative to everything in between, we are sometimes up to our ears in student data! With a growing number of assessments available at our fingertips, we need to be selective with the types of assessments we give our students.  Allowing students to self assess after a project or group activity is one great way to gather information about our students. Student self assessment is when you give students opportunities to stop, think and determine if they fully understood a concept after a lesson, project, or cooperative learning experience.  It can be extremely helpful for ELLs, as it gives them time to slow down and process what they are learning.


According to Academ, there are a plethora of key benefits in guiding students to self assess.  Some of these may include:

  • Helps to develop important meta-cognitive skills that contribute to a range of important graduate capabilities. All professionals must be able to evaluate their own performance, so this practice should be embedded in higher education learning as early as possible.
  • Increases self-awareness through reflective practice, making the criteria for self-evaluation explicit, and making performance improvement practices intrinsic to ongoing learning.
  • Contributes to the development of critical reviewing skills, enabling the learner to more objectively evaluate their own performance—and others’, when used in conjunction with peer assessment. With peer assessment they become more practised in giving constructive feedback, and receiving and acting on feedback received.
  • Helps students to take control of their own learning and assessment, and giving them the chance to manage their own learning and development more independently.

The Importance of Student Self-Assessment (2017, April 4). Retrieved from

With that said, there are many ways you can encourage students to self assess.  Rubrics, checklists, teacher-student interviews, discussions, writing conferences or learning logs are just a few of the ways you can incorporate student self assessment into your classroom.  It should be noted that you need to first model for students how to self assess. I like to do a think aloud in front of my students to show them how I would self assess as I look at each assessment criteria.  I would work through a proficient assessment of my own creation, as well as a nearly proficient assessment I created that may not score as high on a rubric. That way, students are authentic when doing this themselves-you want to let students know that self assessment is for them-the goal is not to give yourself a high rating just because you “want a good grade.”  It’s important to reassure them the process will be graded, not the actual self-assessment. Once you model and emphasize this, I have found that this form of assessment can be extremely reliable and students usually do an accurate job of assessing themselves.

Math Self Assessment Rubric

So as we move into the second semester of the 18-19 school year, try and give students opportunities to take some time and assess how well they understand a concept. Check out a sample self assessment rubric we’ve used for a math project in the past. Let us know how it works for you in the comments below!

SAMPLE: Math Self Assessment Rubric

“The Benefits of Student Self-Assessment for Academic Performance | Academ.” Software for the Education Sector | Academ, 6 Mar. 2018,

Gradual Release of Responsibility: An Effective Teacher to Student Hand-off

Part 3:  Gradual Release of Responsibility Model

*This blog post is part 3 of a four part series on lesson planning that will be published in the next few weeks.

As we mentioned before in previous blog posts, a large portion of our student population is made up of English language learners (ELs).  More than one third of our 600 plus students are considered to be ELs. So when lesson planning, it is really imperative that we consider our ELs.  We need to think about their language proficiency levels and academic histories.

No instructional model works better than gradual release of responsibility or GRR when working with ELLs.  GRR was first introduced by Pearson and Gallagher in 1983. Since then it has been coined with many different names.  For example, “I do, We do, You do together, and You do”. No matter what we call it, it still involves 4 steps: 1) Teacher modeling and/or think aloud, 2) guided instruction, 3) collaborative practice, and 4) independent practice.

For the purpose of today’s blog we will examine GRR with an English language development (ELD) lens.

Teacher Modeling and/or Think Aloud

The first step in GRR involves the teacher explicitly teaching a process or content.  My students watch and listen while I explain and model the day’s learning objective. Remember, a learning objective has two components:  language objective and content objective. With ELs in mind, I am conscientious about using academic language when modeling and teaching.

The first step is teaching students the vocabulary.  Here I use pictures, illustrations, and realia to explain each word.  When vocabulary has been taught, then I move on to teaching the concept or content from today’s objective. While doing so, it is imperative that I use the expected academic language for the lesson.  Another EL support that I can use is demonstration or providing an example. For instance, in a cause and effect lesson, I might show (Gestures are a great scaffolding for emerging ELs.) and say, “Esperanza woke up late this morning, therefore, she was late to school.”  I use examples that students can relate to–dropping a cellphone, knocking over a glass of water, etc.  In my think aloud (When the teacher, shares his/her thinking while doing an activity.), I use a specific sentence frame:  “______________, therefore,___________.” I provide my students with a few other keywords such as: then, because of (Make sure to explain the difference between using because of and just because), and due to.  Explain the syntax and provide several examples.  I specifically chose these keywords because they are appropriate for my late emerging and early expanding students.  

After teaching the vocabulary and the sentence structure, I then bring in the specific content.  I will use what I just modeled to demonstrate the objective using the appropriate content. By first starting with concepts that my students’ are familiar with, I lower the affective filter.  Now I can focus on teaching the lesson objective while using the language forms I used previously. In this particular instance we are working on finding examples of cause and effect in a non-fiction text that was previously read multiple times using close reading.  I make sure to do a think aloud so that students learn the inner dialogue that is going through my mind while I practice finding compare and contrast examples in the text. I also make sure to use the sentence frames I provided previously.

Guided Practice

During guided practice, we create an anchor chart together for cause and effect keywords and sentence frames. After that, we go back to the text and I guide them to a specific paragraph that shows a cause and effect relationship.  Together, through discussion, we identify the cause and effect. We use highlighters to mark keywords in the text that illustrates the causal concept. After we identify the cause and effect, I point them back to the anchor chart. Together we select a sentence frame to practice.  I write the sentence on the board (not forgetting my think aloud!), then, we echo read the sentence. It is important for ELs to have as many opportunities as possible for oral language practice.

After we practice our sentence, I ask students to rewrite the sentence using another sentence frame and keyword.  My students take turns sharing their sentences with an elbow partner. I make sure to walk around and listen in on my students practicing.  If I feel that they are ready, we move on to collaborative practice.

Collaborative Practice

Collaboration in itself is a great ELD teaching strategy.  Some experts believe that students learn best when practicing with a peer.

I ask my students to reread a specific paragraph, and as partners or small group, they find an example of the cause and effect relationship.  I use an altered version of the group response to the text graphic organizer and guide them during the collaborative practice.  I altered the graphic organizer to include a sentence frame for my newcomers or early emerging students.  For my late emerging and expanding students, I remind them to use any of the sentence frames we created earlier.  This portion of the lesson is rich in student voices. There is a lot of discussion and oral language practice. Again, while this is happening, I circulate around the room to provide assistance and to make an informal summative assessment of the students’ practice.  After writing their final sentence, the partners or group choose a reporter to read their sentence aloud. If I see that the students have a grasp of the concept, I then provide a formal summative assessment as independent practice.

Independent Practice

For independent practice I ask my students to submit an exit ticket.  Again, I direct them to another paragraph, ask them to read it quietly, and using highlighters for finding keywords, select the cause and the effect in the paragraph.  At this point in the lesson, I expect all of my students to use the different strategies we practiced in completing the assignment. The final product that they turn in as an exit ticket, is a cause and effect sentence, that is clearly written, using one of the sentence frames in our anchor chart.  

As I mentioned earlier, gradual release of responsibility is a great teaching strategy for all students.  It is especially useful in teaching ELs. One final reminder, GRR can be done in one lesson or multiple lessons during multiple days.  Good luck!

*This concludes part 3 of the 4-part series on lesson planning.  Please come back for the final installment on the use of formative assessment to guide instruction.