Thursday, July 24, 2014

If You Feed Them, They Will Come: Getting ELL Parents Involved

Although I teach ESL in New Jersey, I do not have the "typical" ESL population you may think of.   The majority of the English Language Learners in my teensy tiny district are Burmese Refugees who were born or fled to refugee camps in Malaysia and Thailand.  One of our students did a wonderful short film about the plight of the Kachin people in Burma, and it will give you a good glimpse into our student population.  I encourage you to take a minute and watch.

Everyone deServes to Learn
(Didn't she do a great job?! So proud!)
As you can see from the movie, our families have seen and experienced more trauma than anyone should ever have to.  Many parents are hesitant to come to school for a multitude of reasons.  What we have learned, however, is food is the great equalizer.  Food and prizes, of course. 

Everyone deServes to Learn

Everyone deServes to Learn

Most of the prizes were things my partner and I picked up throughout the year on clearance and stored in a school supply closet.  Some are gently used items we know the kids will love.  We also gave away Walmart Gift Cards- those were the hot prizes!

Everyone deServes to Learn

We gave everyone who attended 1 raffle ticket, then we started our presentation.  Unfortunately our translator couldn't make it, but we made do.  Lots of gestures!  When all else fails, smile.  Just smile.

Everyone deServes to Learn

We showed a short powerpoint of pictures we had taken during summer school- the parents loved to see pictures of their kids!  

Everyone deServes to Learn

Something we noticed this year was that with the lack of a translator, parents were having trouble understanding the raffle numbers being called out.  Next year, we're going to use visual raffle cards, maybe different colored shapes or smiley faces.  We will do the oral numbers for the kids to practice, but we will differentiate for the parents.  

Everyone deServes to Learn

This year we set up a market of gently used clothing as well.  After our presentation, we let the parents take whatever they needed.

Everyone deServes to Learn

Everyone deServes to Learn

The first step in involvement is getting them comfortable with us and building trust.  Rather than drop and run, we have parents who will stay and wave to us at the door- that is a huge improvement over a few years ago, when we never saw any parents.  Small steps but good steps!

 If you'd like to set up a parent orientation with English Language Learners, here are some things we've learned over the past few years: 

1. Get the students involved by translating the note home
2.  Offer an incentive (food and/or prizes)
3. Think about crowd control- we had the students itching to get to the prizes...we should have kept the kids outside/in another classroom until prize time
4. Have a backup translator who is not a student. 
5. Have plenty of plastic bags for parents to take things home.
6. Keep your presentation short.  If you think it's short enough, make it shorter.  
7. Pictures, pictures, and more pictures!
8. We all smile in the same language.

What do you do to engage the parents in your classroom?  Have you had a parent orientation with tips to share?

Monday, July 21, 2014

DIY Diffuser, Spirit Bows, and a Craft-astrophe: Monday Made It

This was a busy week in the crafting department, although I believe some of my motivation came from my desire to make up for my DIY Elsa Cape craft-astrophe.  But instead of retiring my hot glue gun, I persevered and made some great stuff to share for Monday Made It!

First up, some DIY Diffuser jars that I saw last week on The Idea Backpack.  This was probably the easiest and quickest project ever.   If it were food, it would qualify for the show "Semi-Homemade" because it was that simple.

Here's how it went down: I bought the water gems (right), mason jars, and the tulle remnant at Joann Fabrics.  Later that day, while searching for essential oils, I found pre-scented water gems (left) at Homegoods.  So I figured I'd mix them!

I did a layer of green, a layer of clear, and repeated.  It makes a really pretty ombre look.

Then I cut a square of tulle and placed it on top of the jar and replaced the lid.  Done! These were so easy and quick- I think they'd make pretty good gifts, too!

Next up, I made some spirit bows and shirts for my teammates at school.  Our school colors are blue and gold and we have to wear them on Fridays, so it's become kind of a challenge to find cute Friday clothes besides our standard-issue shirt. I used this tutorial to get started, then I just folded and glued until I was happy.  

For the shirts, I did a nautical theme. My teaching partner calls me "The Admiral" since I dot the t's and cross the i's.  I call her "The Cruise Director" because she is always trying to please everyone.   We have two other teachers working with us in Summer School, so I made their shirts "The First Mate."  We all wore them on Thursday and looked really cute!

And last but not least, my DIY Elsa Cape Craft-astrophe. 

I researched. 

I measured.

I gave her three options for closure.  Three!

Then I started to decorate.  I made swirlies.  I made snowflakes.  I made curliques.  I made an Olaf! 

I was so proud of my beautiful designs.  

I knew my niece would love it.  

So I let it dry.  And dry it did.  It dried with the newspaper stuck right to it.  And no amount of scrubbing or washing or pulling or harsh words would un-stick it.   

I'm pretty sure I'll find a way to use this in my would you re-purpose my craft-astrophe?

So that was my week in crafts! Did you have any craft-astrophes or craft-chievements?  Link them up with Tara!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Five for Friday

My husband and I went to a Wine Pairing dinner last night at a restaurant in Princeton...I am just going to confess that I'm finally getting out of bed now.  3:30 pm Eastern time.  And I may need a new bottle of Advil.  So since my to-do list for today has been long forgotten, I figured I'd link up with Five for Friday to share how the rest of my week went!

1. We used Science for Kids' Gummy Bear Lab as part of our 21st Century Summer school.  It was great, even if I had to remind my students 23445 times that we can't eat our experiments.

Everyone deServes to Learn

2.  Our new ESL teacher did a lemonade stand with the 1st and 2nd graders, and invited all the summer school sessions to come.  She taught the kids so many great skills around selling and making lemonade. She even convinced the manager of a 50's diner to give her those cute little caps!

Everyone deServes to Learn

3. We used the number-nametag activity this week, which was super simple and really fun!  I have kids who are ready for division and some who are not out of subtraction, so I tried to strategically place labels based on who was friends with whom.  I might try it next week with sight/vocabulary words. 

Everyone deServes to Learn

4. I come from a huge Italian family, and many of my family members' birthdays are in July.  So every year, there is a huge party to celebrate.  This year my nanny was turning we did what every normal Italian-American family does to celebrate: we rented a party bus and took her to Atlantic City.  At dinner we were surrounded by bachelor and bachelorette parties, but let me tell you, we fit right in.  We had a blast!

Everyone deServes to Learn

5.  Continuing the celebration, my kids have been working hard on their Go-Noodle skills! We've learned the Funky Chicken, Hammer-Time, and the Robot.  We also do yoga every morning with Maximo.  They were so thrilled when they reached level 5 and got to choose a new champ.  #lovemystudents

Everyone deServes to Learn

 What was your week like? Link up with Doodlebugs!


Monday, July 14, 2014

DIY Lampshade and Brain Food Bucket: Monday Made It

Monday Made It is a wonderful thing.  Where else can you go to find ideas for home and classroom that are for teachers and by teachers?  I've been so excited to link up with Tara - I even took a special drive out to a Hobby Lobby a few counties over to get supplies for my Made-It's.  I'm all stocked up and ready to share! 

First, I got a really pretty lamp from Bulls-eye on clearance.  Then, I picked up a plain, boring lampshade.  I had some fishing net and shells left over from another project, and I knew I could do something with it.  I also decided on spray adhesive because I thought hot glue would look funny on the front of the shade.

I stretched the netting to where I wanted it, then just sprayed it on.  Easy peasy. 

Finally, I added shells and a seahorse that were leftover from my Seashell Wreath. Verdict on the spray adhesive? It's a no go- you can see that the netting is falling off already on the right side, and this was just a few hours after it dried.  I still don't want to use hot glue...any suggestions?

For my second Made-It, I borrowed an idea from one of Tara's earlier this summer: Brain Bops. I decided to call it Brain Food, and my buckets look much less fun than hers! My plan for the Brain Food bucket is to have the students add a question at the end of a lesson or week, then as a closing activity one day, someone can pull a question and try to answer it or look it up.  My kids ask such great questions that we always run out of time to answer!

I picked up some plain buckets at Bulls-eye in the dollar section.

Then added some washi tape, ric rac, or ribbon.  I don't really have classroom "colors" or a "theme" (because I'm indecisive) but I like brights so that's what I chose.

I'm also getting ready for BTS at TPT...are you? I added these to my store- click the picture to check them out. 

And last but not least, here's a sneak peek of next week's Made It- still in the works.  

That's all for today! Head over to 
to check out the rest of the amazing made-its!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Building Background with Word Splash

Are you tired of your KWL's and FQR's?  Are you looking for something hands-on, authentic, and great for cooperative skills?  Well, you've come to the right place!  The past two weeks in summer school, the boys and I have been fine-tuning our Word Splash skills.  Come and see what it's all about!

My friend Bethany over at Hunter's Tales from Teaching posted about this strategy a few weeks ago, and I knew I could modify it to suit my ELL's and my technology requirements.  I know I've mentioned that we're going paperless (gasp!) and this summer is my experiential period. 

Super scientific.  I also test the kids to see if they dissolve when dipped in vinegar.  

Kidding! (We are doing that with gummy bears next week...) Anyway!  Bethany has a great explanation about Word Splash, so pop over to her blog and read about it- I'll sum it up below in case your clicking finger is broken.

Photo Credit: Hunter's Tales from Teaching
Based on the content we are going to read or learn about, in our case it was the 4th of July (last week) and the World Cup (this week), the teacher chooses a list of words for the students.  This can be done in groups or as individuals.  *Differentiation-station!*  Then, the students must separate their words into two or three columns.  One column can be the "I don't know" group (I didn't allow that- just call me Viola Swamp) but the students must be able to explain their thinking about each word in each column.  After time is up, each student/group must share their Word Splash and explain their thinking: Why do these words go together? It is amazing to see the lightbulbs and shaking of heads from other students.  Once all groups have gone, students are allowed to move their words around to make new columns.  They can then write a reflection or quickly discuss it.  If you leave these up throughout your unit of study, students can move their words around at all times.  

Here's how I did it:  First, we practiced whole-group with 4th of July words (no pictures, sorry!), which were words they had seen before: firework, parade, independence, America, flag...etc.  I wrote them on index card strips and stuck them with magnets to the board.   I gave each team 3 or 4 minutes to arrange their words, then we stepped back and looked at the other team's.  Each team explained their thinking, and everyone had to speak- even the newcomers.  By the end of the explanations, one kid from each team was ready to move a word around.  That's how I knew it worked.  

For World Cup, I also gave them words they had seen before, but not in the context of learning the history of the sport.  I was able to differentiate each student's words by using a program called One Note, which is what you see each student working on.  Every kid has their own "notebook" in One Note. 

Students can use their finger, the mouse, or a stylus to drag and drop the text boxes.  I thought this was great practice for the PARCC testing coming up- we will be using these touch-screen tablets, and they will have to drag and drop some items, which is not their forte.  They are so cute trying, though!

When time was up, I projected their "notebooks" one by one onto my whiteboard and they got to explain their thinking.  It was interesting to hear their theories on why "Brazil" would go with "Goal" instead of "FIFA" or vice a versa.  I loved being able to create authentic and meaningful (ugh, two ESL textbook words-sorry) conversation in my classroom, which I have found is lacking.  My students, from newcomer to advanced, began to converse about a topic they care about using academic language- be still my heart! Before the last person shared, I asked them if anyone had the exact same answers, and if they thought the last person would have the same as anyone else- that was a great mini-lesson in predicting as well. 

 Experimenting with Word Splash on two easy/high interest topics has paved the way for me to use it during the school year.  I'm thankful to Bethany for sharing it!  

What do you use to build background? Are you going to try Word Splash? If you do, let us Bethany or I know how it goes!