Even at the beginning levels of English language development, our students are working on critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as performance skills in speaking, listening, reading and writing in English. Our content and language objectives are clearly planned in advance, and they are posted at the beginning of each period. Key phrases from the daily objective are reinforced throughout the period so that students know why they are learning a certain skill and how the classroom activities contribute to that goal. Here is an example of Bell Work posted at the beginning of class. Note that the wording of the objective might be above the students' current language acquisition level, but we can refer to key words in the objective throughout our class time to show how our activities are bringing us closer to our goal.
Our units are theme-based to develop extensive vocabulary around a particular topic and to allow for in-depth exploration of a theme. Our daily activities are developed to keep students engaged in the learning process. A limited amount of time is spent on "teacher presentation" of material. Brain-based research has shown us that hands-on activities, where students negotiate with each other to solve problems, lead to better outcomes. You will frequently see our students out of their seats, writing on the board and working in groups.
Another key strategy to help ELLs acquire concepts and language structures is to facilitate inductive learning. Inductive learning can be accomplished by teaching the chapter backwards. Textbooks often begin a chapter by presenting the new concept, providing controlled practice of the concept and then providing an extension activity to see the concept in action. ELLs often need to do the extension activity first. This gives them background knowledge or "hooks" to attach new information. This is helpful for all learners, but can be especially important when students have a history of interrupted schooling. These students might not have the necessary background knowledge to aid understanding, so we can give it to them with hands-on activities.
Another key component of our ELL classroom is the heavy use of visuals. We are fortunate to have an electronic whiteboard to integrate visuals in all parts of the lesson. When we are working in our textbook, we display the textbook page on the electronic whiteboard so that everyone can see where they need to be. We find that students like being able to alternate between looking at their own text and checking the whiteboard to be sure they are in the right place.
Our students come from all over the world and bring unique perspectives to Jenks. Our assignments regularly capitalize on their individual experiences, creativity, and interests as a means for achieving their language goals. One example of this is the Student Newsletter that students create during our Community themed unit. Our students were at the beginning level of English language proficiency just a few months before producing this great end product.