If we’ve learned anything this past year and a half, it’s to be prepared for anything. Being flexible and adaptable in our approach to instruction has taken on new meaning. The circumstances we’ve lived through will leave us all changed.
Our recent experiences have taught us about fragility and strength in education. Many schools rapidly closed their doors and moved into remote instruction when the pandemic hit. Educators were stunned. No one could have predicted that the situation would last as long as it did (or has). At the same time, as a nation of educators, we learned how strong we are together. Teachers readily shared resources and knowledge. They helped one another make the pivot from traditional classrooms to virtual learning and then to hybrid and back again.
Could this happen again? It could, and if it does, we’ll be better prepared next time. Here are some things to keep at the forefront as the new school year begins.
We are definity a family of biophiles! And no, I did not just make up that word. Admittedly, however, I only recently discovered this term that perfectly describes my husband, Carlos, my sons, Kai (5) and Karsten (1), and me. Dr. Edward Wilson, a biologist, naturalist, and author, coined the term “biophilia”in his book by the same name, characterizing what he observed as humanity’s “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes, and to be drawn toward nature, to feel an affinity for it, a love, a craving.” Do we humans have an innate connection to nature? Lots of researchers think so. I have also become increasingly interested in the work of Ricahrd Louv, who writes extensively about what he refers to as nature-deficit disorder: the combined negative effects to our health and well-being from limited exposure to nature and the outdoors. I have read most of his work and highly recommend his books to teachers, parents and caregivers, especially The Last Child in the Woods, Vitamin N, and The Nature Principle.
When you look at a piece of art or a photograph, what happens in your mind? Images like these often tell a story. There’s a message, the main idea, and the details. How do we decipher one from the other? What do we infer? How do we interpret imagery? The truth is, our own personal lived experiences and background knowledge come together as we meet an image, forming an idea and creating an interpretation. It’s at this intersection that we synthesize.
“My English learners need help. I have about 100 students across grades six through eight who need immediate language support. Did you know they read at the second-grade level? What are your suggestions? How can we better prepare them for the state exams? What can we set up for these kiddos? Can we get some pull-outs started? Should they work with ESL aides during advisory? Can you help my ESL aide pull together some materials?”
If you’ve ever supported English learners as an ESL teacher, an ESL instructional coach, or an ESL program specialist, you know that well-meaning principals want the best for English Learners on their campuses. Hearing the urgency in the principal’s voice, you convey your readiness to help. At the same time, you know quite well that the needs of those 100 students range as widely as their backgrounds and personalities, and there is no program that would be a panacea for all.
A mentor text is a model piece of literature used to demonstrate effective writing. Much like Swiss Army knives, mentor texts can accomplish many things, such as developing students’ vocabulary to help them become strong writers, strengthening their reading, and advancing their language proficiency.
Doesn’t everyone want to be successful? I know I do! I spend the majority of my time trying to be better…a better parent, a better friend, a better colleague, and certainly a better teacher. In fact, I can honestly say that I have never met anyone who likes to fail. I have, however, encountered many students who, because of their previous school experiences, begin to expect failure. I see it in a defeated look, in the “eye roll” of my most apathetic student, and now in the sea of black boxes where my online students’ faces should be. These students do not like being called on in either a face-to-face (F2F) or virtual class because they don’t know the answer or maybe because they lack confidence. Either way, they expect that they will be wrong. Compounding their uneasiness is the knowledge that all of their peers will be watching them as they fail.
What if instead, every student (especially our most struggling and disengaged) experienced an alternate reaction to being called upon? What if they automatically expected success instead of failure? Can you imagine the transformative effect this could have on our students?
Last month, Texas got a taste of “real winter,” and we were woefully unprepared. My family was one of the more than 4 million households that lost power and water for days on end. Like many, we woke up to a dark and chilly house on Monday morning, February 15. At first we weren’t too concerned, since we’d been told the blackouts would be “rolling” and likely to last for just 45 minutes or so. But it quickly became apparent that something had gone terribly wrong.
In the year 2025, 25% of the students in the United States will be English learners (Suarez-Orozco, & Todorova, 2008). Even now, ELs make up about 10% of our nation’s public school student population, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Though if you live in California, Texas, or Nevada, you know that the percentage of ELs is much greater in your state.
English learners in our classrooms are acquiring a new language while also learning the content we teach. This poses challenges in and of itself, but it’s especially difficult if the demands of the instruction are not accommodated to support language acquisition.
The COVID-19 pandemic during the 2020-2021 school year has brought disruptions and frustrations to the lives of teachers, students, and parents like nothing we have experienced before. But along with the many changes that virtual, hybrid, and socially distanced learning have brought, this pandemic has shed new light on the most essential practices for students’ academic and socioemotional well-being. Working with teachers over the past ten months as they adjust to their new challenges, I am convinced more than ever that randomly calling on students is one of these essential practices.