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Wandering into the unknown of a school without walls.....

Years ago (1993-2001), I taught in an innovative school that was K-3 and multi-age with 80% of the students in the ESL program and 100% within the school system's designation of poverty level.  I loved my school and I especially loved my teaching team (many of whom are still my friends today).  Our principal encouraged us to think outside the box.  We had so much freedom and the students thrived.  One of the creative solutions from that school was the creation of a teacher position called the "Teacher Without Walls".  See, we had funding for more teachers, but no space to create more classrooms.  The Teachers Without Walls joined forces with the large ESL team and we traveled from classroom to classroom, pushing in, setting up small group rotations, coordinating efforts. 

Our current times reminded me of this experience.  We always said, there's opportunity in chaos.  We are all now teachers without walls.  So, how do we make the best of it??

I've received messages asking for advice on the best ways to handle the current schooling situation for English learners.  The greatest challenge is that there is no one way and we already know that.  The best I can give you is to share my thoughts and ideas and hope something in there sparks an idea for you that matches your students and your situation.

First, I want to implore you to give yourself a break.  When students are in school, they do not receive hours of direct instruction.  They will truly be ok with whatever you can handle providing for them.  Just remember....the most important thing to remember is the relationship.  Students, no matter the age, need to know you care.  After a little over a week apart, even my independent high schoolers are starting to text and email to say hello.

I still don't know what my school system will expect or allow during this time, but here are my thoughts on what I could do for older students.

1.  So far, we don't have mandatory work for them to do.  We text and email.  Just say hello.  Ask what they are doing.  I remind them they have work they could be doing to catch up (we are always behind......).  This morning one student said he has algebra to do, but needs help, and has no wi-fi.  We agreed that he would take pictures and text it to me so I could talk to him about it.  We use Google Translate as needed so we can focus on the math for a few minutes.  We go back and forth between English and Spanish, building language at the same time.  It always makes me smile when they text in English.

2.  Our students are used to using Google Classroom.  I can look at their content assignments and talk them through what they need to do.  I am also looking to see what's just too much for them.  I think about a compromise of expectations and email the content teacher for consensus.  

3.  Some teachers are very willing to share materials with me ahead of time, so I can make modifications, add visuals, chunk text, add in margin notes to help comprehension, or create some kind of support file or document.  I know for a few classes I will be recording a video of me summarizing or explaining concepts to reinforce.

4.  I'm encouraging students without wi-fi to get creative.  One asked her parents to take him to sit in the McDonald's parking lot to get on wi-fi and download.  We've considered meeting students in a park with lots of space and having them connect to our phone hot spots for a bit.  (I kinda wish we could do that all the time because, really, they don't ever need to be close together.  haha!)  I'd love to do Zoom calls with them.

The reality for our older students is that many of them are using this opportunity to work and help support themselves and their families.  The quest for their time and attention is even more strained than usual.  I'm living with the idea that anything is better than nothing.

For younger students, the ESL teacher is often a mandatory supplement as well, so some of the above ideas would work for you too.  I'm thinking there wouldn't be much difference if you are strictly pull-out as well.  Anything you can do to get your hands on the content teacher's plans and make some supplementary materials would be fantastic.  Record a video, create a game, add visuals, whatever you can.

Staying in touch is the most important.  A phone call, FaceTime, email, anything depending on the age and access to technologies.  I've seen many videos of teachers driving by and waving, chatting from a distance, leaving a care package of materials..... 

There are TONS of lists of activities to develop language and academic skills floating around Twitter and Facebook.  Mia and Beth from ELP created one you can find at https://www.englishlearnerportal.com/athome .  I don't want to repeat all of those here.  I would direct students to all of the children's authors who are doing read alouds online.  Perhaps video on a thumb drive to drop off if wi-fi is an issue.   Print books off of RAZ or other resources if there is no computer.

I don't think any of my brainstorming is genius or new.  I hope it at least makes you feel a little better that we are all experiencing the same feelings and all we can do is make the best of whatever our districts and circumstances direct us to do.

As always, the English Learner Portal team is here for you to brainstorm, share, listen....whatever you need.  Have ideas you'd like to share?  Just reach out.  [email protected]

Take care and stay healthy!

Kelly

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 Kelly Reider is the founder and lead professional learning developer for English Learner Portal.  Her 26+ years of public school experience include ESL teacher, classroom teacher, school administrator, professional development specialist, district ESL coordinator, and WIDA Licensed Facilitator.  Kelly divides her time between family, friends, ELP, and part-time work in a high school newcomer program.

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