1 Research-based Strategy Truly Great Teachers Use

In the world of high stakes testing, we often worry about how we are going to “cover” all the standards in our curriculum, especially when we serve EL’s (English Learners) and struggling students that need greater amounts of support.  It is a real concern with no easy answers.  So what is one part of the solution?  Chunking. Chunking is an approach based on cognitive theories, or constructivism.  It is based on how teachers “chunk” or group information into logical and related units.  These units are then easier to commit to memory because it reduces the amount of cognitive stress levels as the amount of information that the learner has to process is divided into smaller, more manageable units. Teachers’ ability to effectively chunk information for learners aides in and facilitates much needed information retrieval so that students are more easily able to engage in higher order cognitive demands.  One of the most powerful benefits of chunking for EL’s and struggling students is the fact that since teachers are planning smaller chunks of information as a unit, it allows each element within that unit to serve as background knowledge for the next piece in the chunk.  Teaching, then, simultaneously becomes new information and background knowledge for students to make vital connections to the information already present in their long-term memory. So, for example, if I want to teach student how to compare themes in literature, I know that students must be able to do several things.  They must learn how to make comparisons, make inferences, understand what a theme is, cite evidence from a text, etc.  Each of these units could be sequenced as chunks that go deep into new learning before moving into the next chunk. So when thinking about what to teach next in your unit, try not to think about what fun holidays or activities might be around the corner.  Try to ask yourself, what’s the next chunk of learning that will make a difference for students’ ability to master the standards?  Here are five great reasons that you should chunk. Creating small pockets of learning for students to hang on to promotes greater learning outcomes Sequenced “chunks” build background knowledge for the next “chunk” Chunking supports short memory functioning Allows for closure of each small “chunks” which enhances recall Facilitates comprehension

5 Reasons Why Expectations Change Results for all Students, especially ELLs

It seems simple, that as educators, we have the same high learning expectations for all students in given classroom, grade level, or school. After all, we wouldn’t want to knowingly deny the access and benefits of a high-quality educations to any child. And the reality is that the vast majority of educators do not approach their educational planning and instruction with low expectations in mind. After all, this ideal of high expectations is founded on the concept that whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are probably right. Our beliefs and expectations have a profound impact on our hopes for accomplishment and effort to succeed. So what does this mean? It means that students who are expected to learn at high levels tend to do so, while students who are expected to learn at low levels also tend to achieve exactly that – regardless of their ability. This phenomenon has long-been researched and is most commonly known as the Pygmalion Effect. In this study of the self-fulfilling prophecy, people internalized their positive and negative labels. Their level of success followed their labels accordingly. The conclusion was that by increasing the leader’s expectation of those who followed, the performance will result in better performance by those who were following them. The impact of this study has implications in more than just education and extends from education, to social class, and of course, ethics. Yet, when we are faced with students that don’t speak English, that read significantly below grade level, and are otherwise challenged to perform at grade level expectations, many are at a loss in terms of what to do to marry the competing worlds of meeting students’ needs and meeting the Common Core State Standards. And whether intentionally or unintentionally, we find ourselves lowering the expectations for these groups who already have a history of underperforming. And while the challenge is certainly a perplexing one, this solution only results in further exacerbation of the very problem. So what is a reasonable, yet high expectation for our struggling students, particularly those who are English Learners? And why should we commit to this course? Research shows that shifting our instruction to support the development and emphasis of more academic English leads to greater academic success. Without intervention and increasing success rates for English Learners, they will drop out of high school at twice the rate as the English-speaking peers (Rumberger, 2006). It is true that English Learners achievement levels and growth progress at different rates, but cognitive scientist agree that it is by increasing the success rates on challenging tasks that increasing the rate of growth for all learners. Student access to the core academic curriculum (Callahan & Gandara, 2004) – which is now the Common Core State Standards – is one of the most important variables leading to English Learners growth and ultimate success. Research has shown that the simple act of asking students (particularly English Learners and struggling students) to elaborate one powerful way to challenge students in a manner that demands that they explain the details of what they know. This is an opportunity to solidify connections in their minds which is proven to have a greater impact on rate of growth and overall achievement.

Surprising Teaching Move Leads to Success with Struggling Students:

As educators, we know the importance of having clear objectives. We know that we need to differentiate our instruction, even if we don’t always know how for the populations we serve. However, did you also know that research shows significant results when teachers work to create a culture where students are encouraged to and feel at ease asking for explanations and asking for help? So why is that, you ask? There is a certain amount of vulnerability in asking for help and telling a teacher in front of an audience that you don’t understand something and need additional explanation. In an age where image and social pressure is growing by the second, these are behaviors that have to be explicitly taught, fostered, and encouraged. This idea that students’ self-confidence and ability to maintain a positive attitude about themselves even when they don’t understand has an incredible impact on their ability to engage with the content and practice their new learning correctly. Additionally, many struggling learners and ELLs have high anxiety when it comes to speaking in public – especially early in their language development. This affect towards engaging orally in class could have a critical negative impact for kids. Students who are too anxious to verbalize their lack of understanding and need for additional help slide further behind in the access to grade level content. Educators must also be alert to possible delays in their language development. The reality is that language production is incredibly complex, which is why there is a great deal of anxiety around it for some learners. But if we cannot find a way to ease that affect towards speech in general, and more specifically towards asking for help and clarification, the students’ learning potential will not be realized. Finally, when struggling students are stressed, they go into a “survival mode” or “fight or flight” mode of thinking. The stimuli that cause students’ stress levels to rise and to feel stress range from the physical space, to emotional climate of the class, connections a child may have to other negative events, and people’s interpretations of every interaction. When students feel stressed based on one or more of these possible events, they do shift into a mental “survival mode”. While in this mode, learners are not able to cognitively perform at higher levels. Some may find themselves “going blank”, others preoccupied with getting called on by the teacher, and still others may just have a general sense of being incapable of grasping the content that is being shared with them. And how does one ask questions, when they are at such a loss and state of stress. So what can teachers do: Help students to be question conscious – that is to notice the questions they have and to enjoy asking questions that take their learning deeper. Incentivize students being brave by asking for help and explanations when they need it. Set up a place, structure, or cue for less verbal students to ask for help and explanations. This could be anything from flipping a card on their desk to flipping down the corner of their paper. Allow group influence to support the work. Many times, if one person does not understand something, there is another who feels the same, but did not ask. By encouraging the class to thank the person asking the question for helping them all to learn, you allow the class to be part of how you reinforce that very behavior. Create a buddy system. Encourage students to take care of each other by seeing if their buddy has any questions and if they know how to successfully complete the work.