Empowering Parents by Flipping Support for ELLs

All parents can relate to the school setting one way or another.  They all studied Math, Science, Social Studies; they had recess, lunch time, made friends, broke the rules; they had great teachers and good memories, and they also had struggles, all of which formed the people they are today.  So when we meet with parents to talk about their child, they will have a frame of reference to what their children experience in school on a daily basis.  However, in an international school, to a parent of an EAL student, this point of reference is completely different.  Very few will have attended a school where they didn’t speak the language of instruction.

In my years of experience as an EAL support teacher, I have found that the trickiest support is the one given to parents.  Many parents of EAL students don’t speak English or speak very little, and therefore feel that they can’t support their child’s language development.  So how do we build this bridge?  What do we tell a parent of an EAL student when they ask “How can I help my child at home?” And no, watching TV in English, hiring tutors and/or translating texts is NOT what we should be advising.   We need to empower parents and let them know they can be active participants in their child’s learning, regardless of whether they speak English.

So let’s flip it.

The first and foremost rule of second language (L2) acquisition is the development and reinforcement of the first language (L1).   In reality, schools cannot offer bilingual instruction to each and every student in an international school.  A program like this would be impossible to sustain!  And that’s where the parents come in.  Here’s an example:

G5 students are reading ‘Stone Fox’ by John Reynolds Gardiner.  It’s a tricky read for students who are not very familiar with American culture, but it’s a moving story with strong characters and a great ending.   This is the students’ required reading for a book club.

Here are some ideas about how to flip it:

  • Before starting the book club, I ask students to research the book synopsis in their L1 and collect any information they gather.  Wikipedia.org is a good resource since it provides options in other languages for many of their pages.
  • As homework, they are to take the information they collected and have a conferring session with mom or dad.  I ask them to go over their research and make predictions together.  All in their first language.
  • If there’s a concept like ‘dogsledding’ that might be tricky to understand, I front load these concepts and ask them to translate them and ask their parents to tell them what they know about the concept.  Again, all in their first language.
  • As book clubs are underway and we read the book in class, I tell parents to confer with their child about their reading (check out these useful multi-language bookmarks by Bonnie Campbell-Hill).  You guessed it, all in their first language.
  • And for those parents who want to go the extra mile? How about finding a copy of the book in their L1? Actually, I ask parents to keep grade level texts at home in L1, both fiction and nonfiction.  Also important to remember, all EAL students in all grade levels are attending said grade level for the first time in any language!  Support in L1 at home is invaluable for their learning as a whole, not just their L2 acquisition and development.

I strongly believe that flipping instruction is not just about using technology tools, but rather all tools that support learning.  By actively involving parents in their child’s learning, students are being provided with opportunities to learn concepts and understand content even if their language is still developing, and parents are being empowered by making their support at home a crucial part of their child’s language development.

By flipping ELL support, students take charge of their own learning.  They become engaged and make a symbiotic connection between what they learn at school in their L2 and how they reinforce it at home in their L1, resulting in the equal development of both.

Time to Play!

Let’s be honest.  Games are super fun.  I like them.  I’m sure you like them too, reader.  But when played in the classroom, sometimes, most of the time, they don’t look like ‘conventional teaching’.

And that is a good thing.

As most of the readings on gamification state, using games in education is not a novelty.  Educators all over the world have been using educational games for decades in order to engage their students.  I remember when I used to teach English to adults back in the start of my career, the one thing that would get my class going at at 8pm was a quick language game.  There was this competitive streak, innate to all human beings, to participate, learn quickly and beat the other opponent/team.  It was awesome.  And whether I did it for a short time at the beginning to get everyone going or as a formative assessment to check how much they  had acquired, everyone had fun and that was my main goal.

Enter 21st century technology.  Back then, the only technology I used for gaming was flyswatters on a whiteboard, where students had to swat the past participle of an irregular verb I called out… I’m literally laughing out loud as I remember how awesome it was 🙂

Gaming in classrooms, especially one-to-one environments, cannot escape the use of gaming for learning.  There is so much out there that engages students of all ages!  It also allows students to acquire skills that make them feel successful.  For instance, an ELL playing PopWords against an opponent in his class or anywhere else in the world, doesn’t have to worry about making mistakes with a word they don’t know.  Rather they get to explore the different ways they can form words, and when they form a word they don’t know, they quickly learn it in order to use it in the future and become ‘better’ at playing the game.  It’s a win, win situation.

Although this might be a very simple way of looking at gamification for education as I know there are all sorts of games out there that reinforce all kinds of learning in all subjects, I think the most important aspect of gaming is the engagement of our learners.  If a game can present students with situations where they have to think in different ways, see things from different perspectives, use diverse problem-solving skills and challenge themselves to learn new things, I can certainly see the relevance, or even importance of gaming in any classroom.



Moving up the SAMR Ladder

It’s almost impossible to explain my absence during course 4, except that it started with this back in October:

(info@coetail, this should explain the weird email…)

And ended yesterday celebrating my 32 years of life.  Yes, it’s been a month hiatus that I will try to make up for in 1 week.  I do, in fact, have a lot to say and reflect upon in Course 4.  So let’s go, ha-tee-ho!

As many of you COETAILers out there know, my school Shekou International School, as a whole has been moving up the SAMR model ladder. Just our hashtag #SISRocks has trended (in fact, it’s the most trended international school hashtag in the Asia South-Pacific region) since mid-2012, and has redefined our professional sharing practices, both among our staff and with other schools/colleagues/classrooms in the international school community.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in our practice.  Everywhere you turn on our campuses, learning is being redefined.

When asked to reflect on my practice and how the English language learner support is also being transformed at SIS, I don’t know where to start!  So much has changed as language barriers and the students’ exposure to, and the opportunities to develop language (both academic and social) are now endless due to global connectivity.  So here are some examples about what this transformation looks like, and how it continues to evolve and climb that ladder step by step:

  • Augmentation – Using A+Pro or other flashcard apps to make individualized word banks that include images, audio, links to web and a daily practice reminder.


  • Modification – Using the CONFER app to combine WIDA Can-Do descriptors and the TCRWP teaching points, to assess ELLs.


  • Redefinition – Using Padlet to create a ‘wall of walls’ to collaborate on vocabulary learning and learning.

The tricky part about me reflecting upon this as ‘my practice’ is that it’s doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to them, the students.  I may guide them into using the tool, but it is them who redefine their learning through the use of the tool.  For the Padlet, for instance, I may think of the endless ways it can be used for students to develop their vocabulary.  I may also suggest to them what they can do and how to take it further.  But it is really in their application of the tool that will show me its capacity (and/or limitations).  It is the exploration of the strategy through the tool and how each learner uses/applies it that will truly be the real redefinition.

Again, just the tip of the iceberg in what truly is to be a 21st century learner as well as a 21st century educator.  So I climb this SAMR ladder with my learners every day.  I see them climb it as well, sometimes without even realizing it, they enhance and transform their learning.

Looking for Info Online – Video

A while ago I made a video for students, which explains how to look for information online in different reading levels and for ELLs to search in their L1 (first language).  After sharing it with other teachers and students, I’ve found that a quick video like this can have such  an impact if shared at the right time.  I recently resent it to G5 students to help them in researching for a Social Studies project.

Feel free to share this video with your students and colleagues.  The target audience is grades 4-5, but could be helpful for grades 3-8.


Transforming Learning w the iPad – Supporting ELLs Workshop

This past weekend I presented at John Burns‘ EARCOS weekend conference ‘Transforming Learning with the iPad’.  I was really flattered when John asked me to present, and to be considered a part of such a professional team of experts.  Besides John, whose work I admire and respect, I felt honored to be part of such an expert team of my fellow presenters & colleagues, Marty Ruthai (ES eCoach), Mark McElroy (HS eCoach, IB Teacher), Mark Knudsen (MS PE Teacher), Carlene Hamley (KG Teacher), Kimberly Shannon (G2 Teacher, Literacy expert), Katie Krouse (MS eCoach), and Diana Beabout (MS Humanities Teacher, fellow COETAILer).  Each of these educators are experts in their field and made this conference a great success.

I learned a lot in this conference from attendees, my peers, and my own experiences.  I realized that it’s not until you reflect on the why, how and when you’re using eLearning resources, that you realize how valuable they are in our students’ learning.  I would like to share those experiences with you by posting what I presented and some learnings from other presenters.

My Workshop – Using the iPad to Support ELLs (English Language Learners)
Attendees downloaded the following apps (except for the Kagan spinners, everything else is a free app):

I ran my session using Nearpod to model its use. This is a great tool to present new content, especially if your learners have their own device.  You manage the content you’re presenting while students follow your presentation on their on devices.  It’s interactive, you can make polls, ask questions, or quiz your students while you’re presenting; instant feedback!  You can find the slides to my Nearpod presentation here, and sign up for a free account here.

I started off with Videolicious which I have previously shared on my COETAIL blog.  Attendees loved how easy it is to make a video and different ways it can be used with ELLs.  Not surprising, all attendees were able to find a meaningful way to use a tool like this for reflections, formative assessments, and to support language learners that are still not comfortable speaking in front of big groups.  Other tools similar tools are Educreations, ScreenChomp & ShowMe.

I moved onto presenting Popplet Lite (there’s a paid version of Popplet, but the Lite one is good enough for me) and showed how ELLs can use it to map their ideas, take notes and reflect on their learning.  It’s fun to use and takes pressure off students since they can show their understanding of big concepts visually and as non-linguistic representations of comprehension.  Other similar tools are Mindo, MindMeister & SimpleMind+.

And finally, I shared two apps that support vocabulary development following the Exposure + Practice + Mastery model of language acquisition by Dr. Virginia Rojas.  I modeled the use of iBrainstorm & A+ Pro Flashcards, two free apps that allow learners to organize vocabulary concepts, self assess their knowledge, and track their progress.

iBrainstorm consists of virtual sticky notes on a pinboard, and I showed how ELLs can use it by writing the words and color code them according to what they know of a word:  Green if they are ‘experts’ in using the word, yellow if they are ‘still learning’ the concept, and red if they ‘don’t know’ the it at all.  Students can refer back to their iBrainstorm sticky note board during a unit or project, and color code accordingly as their learning progresses. Other similar apps are AllStuckUp Lite, Sticky Notes+ & Infinote Pinboard.

A+Pro Flashcards is an amazing app to organize and practice vocabulary concepts.  I showed how the app is simple for learners to use, they create flashcard sets where they can add audio, images, definitions and translation in their own language.  When a set is made, the app organizes ‘practice’ sessions every day where learners can go through their set and pile the flashcards by ‘Know’, ‘Not sure’ & ‘Don’t know’.  Other similar apps Flashcards+, Evernote Peek & Flashcards Deluxe Lite.

Although I didn’t have a chance to go over the Kagan Selector Spinners app in any of the sessions (sorry guys!), I feel that spinners should be in any/every EAL teacher’s toolbox.  Before they became an app, I’ve carried with me and distributed selector spinners to teachers.  The concept is very simple, yet effective.  Spinners allow for random selecting of students for participation, and all through cooperative learning.  It engages all students in equal participation and lowers the stakes for ELLs as they know they can count on their peers for support.  Other similar apps Decide Now! Lite & Custom Spinner ($0.99).

From Fellow Presenters
Thanks to Marty, I discovered the Discovr apps.  A way to search for sources & content effectively, and all in a live mind map.  It’s fan-tastic.  I’m using it now, actually, to find the ‘similar apps’ for this post.  You have to try it to love it.  Start with the free Discovr apps, and reflect on how they can support your and your students’ search for valuable content.  Kimberly showed how her Kidblog got over 5,000 hits (??) and her students get feedback on their writing from all over the world.  She explained the value of storytelling apps like ToonTastic to support literacy.  Great stuff 🙂

What a weekend.  What an experience.  For those of you who attended my sessions, thank you for your support and I hope you found at least one resource useful and effective to your students.  And please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.  And for you fellow COETAILers reading this post,  I wish that you also have experiences like this while doing the course.  There’s no better way to reflect upon the texts that we read than taking a risk and putting them into practice.