September 25, 2013

Walls for Language Learners

Use of Space that Fosters Success
Guest blog post by Krista Carlson

For many of us teachers, it happens at the beginning of every school year. We walk into our classrooms for the first time after a summer away, feeling a bit overwhelmed by those four blank walls staring back at us. We have a variety of visions as to what we imagine our classroom looking like when the hustle and bustle of the year gets under way and all of those once empty walls have been long since covered time and again.

This being said, it is incredibly important throughout this process that we take a moment to step back and think about how those four walls (which seem to shrink each year) can be utilized to their utmost potential. The walls in our classroom should not simply be a place for enhancing the aesthetic feel of the room, but rather spaces strategically organized for students to use as resources throughout the year.

This idea of "walls for learning" is not new one, but a key one for teachers to remember. It is also an idea that is beyond essential in classrooms full of students who are language learners.

So let's start at the beginning... In all honesty, to start off the school year, your walls should be relatively bare. Yes, you should have a plan and quite possibly some titles on them sharing what will be going there, but everything else should be authentically created by and with your students as the year progresses. Here is a glimpse as to what this may then look like on the first day of school.

Still inviting right? But also, completely open for the world of possibilities the year will bring!

Now one may ask, what is it that I should be planning and beginning to pin on these classroom walls to start off on the right foot. Here are a few ideas that we consider to be "non-negotiables" in our Dual Language/Bilingual classrooms. Keep in mind many of these can and should be carried over to monolingual classrooms as well!

1. Content Walls

Walls in your room should be set aside for each of the content areas that are taught (math, science, reading, writing, etc.). These are places where vocabulary, anchor charts, etc. reflecting the content should be added as covered. Furthermore, pictures, photos, realia and any other examples of the concept should be placed right next to it on these walls as a another piece that students can utilize to connect meaning to text. Here is an example of a Science/Social studies content wall from a teacher in our district:
It is important to note that the items you place on the content wall should also be in the language of instruction for that particular subject area!

2. Word Study Walls

In all classrooms there should also be places dedicated to the study of words and their components. In Dual Language/Bilingual classrooms this space should be in tact for each language of instruction. However, these walls may look different depending on the grade level. In the lower primary grades, teachers may want to organize these walls alphabetically (more similar to the traditional word wall style). In the later primary/intermediate grades, teachers may want to look toward organizing these word walls more by concept covered (i.e. long vowel patterns, digraphs, contractions, etc.). Here is an example of an English wall organized by concept:

3. Cognate Wall

A Cognate Wall is a helpful space for any classroom with language learners. Cognates are words that sound similar and have a similar meaning in two different languages. For instance, "chocolate" while pronounced a bit differently, is spelled the same in both English and Spanish and means the same thing. Having a place where you can share words with these commonalities in your room will remind learners of a new language that they can utilize their knowledge of their primary language to assist them in understanding the second. It is always a good idea to try and separate your languages by using a different colored sentence strip, marker, etc. to highlight for students which is which on the wall.

4. Bridging Wall

Bridging Walls have a similar purpose to Cognate Walls, but take the idea of making connections between languages a bit further. After the completion of a unit of study in Dual Language/Bilingual classrooms the teacher may conduct a "bridge" lesson. This is a time in which the teacher works to connect the unit vocabulary, concepts, etc. from the language in which the unit was instructed to the other language. For instance, if I taught a unit in Mathematics on two-dimensional shapes in Spanish, at the conclusion of my unit, I may spend a day or more working with my students to introduce them to the vocabulary we have learned in English as well. No new content is being taught - just the vocabulary in the second language!

The "Bridge" is also a time is which a teacher could point out some explicit similarities and differences between the two languages found in your discussion of these content words. Thus, any anchor charts sharing these connections highlighted should be placed onto your Bridging Wall for students to reflect back on! Here is an example of one of these anchor charts that a teacher created with her students after a math unit in which she highlighted the vocabulary in both languages and then focused on suffixes and how they are similar in both English and Spanish.

It is important to note that Cognate and Bridging Walls are truly the only two places where the two languages are being used side-by-side. All other walls highlighted above should be done in the language of instruction for that particular subject area.

5. Other Walls

There are a variety of other wall spaces that you may also want to create and fill based on your students particular needs. In the past, I have had an "Accent Wall" highlighting words with accents and where they are placed in Spanish. I have also had an "Articles Wall" denoting the different uses of the "el" and "la" articles in the Spanish language. I have seen other teachers create an Antonym and Synonym Wall, a Homophone Wall, a Dialect Wall, you name it! The possibilities are truly endless, as long as the focus remains the same- that they are "walls for learning".

Your classroom walls should truly be places that you and your students visit daily as resources. They should be interactive and spaces in which your students feel comfortable using. The list I have shared above are merely suggestions as to how one may do this in his/her classroom- you must figure out what works for your students, you, and your district!

Now that you have your classroom up and running this school year, I encourage you to think deeply about how you have set up your space...and ask yourself...Does each space have a place in the successful development of my students learning this school year?
Krista Carlson is the author of The Second Grade Superkids blog where she works to highlight best practices, lesson ideas, and products for Dual Language and Bilingual teachers. She was a dual language elementary educator for the past five years, two years at the 1st grade level and three years at 2nd grade. She is currently the Dual Language/ELL Coach for her building.

Thanks to the folks at WiseDecor for helping me connect with Krista and making it possible to share her terrific ideas here. WiseDecor believes in the power of words for education and encouragement. They shared with me that they're glad to have played a role in bringing the valuable insights in this article to teachers who are key leaders in life's ongoing task of learning.

September 5, 2013

Make Your Mark on International Dot Day!

Have you heard about International Dot Day? It's celebrated on September 15th, and it's all about encouraging kids to discover how they can make a difference. Why is it called "Dot Day"? To find out, read the book that inspired this special day!

The Dot, written by Peter Reynolds, is a short picture book suitable for all ages. It's the story Vashti, who became upset in art class because she didn't think she could draw. Her teacher challenged her to "Just make a mark and see where it takes you." So Vashti defiantly jabbed the paper and made a dot, and what happened after that shows how one simple act can snowball into something big.

If you haven't read the book, you can listen to a quick YouTube video of it before you read this post. If you like it, order a copy of The Dot now so you'll have it in time for Dot Day!

The Dot is a simple book, but it's definitely one with a message to share. Actually, it has several important messages. Children will be able to relate to the central theme about "making a mark" and making a difference. As a teacher, I was also reminded about how important it is for us to support our students and believe in them. Vashti's teacher honored her simple dot by framing the signed picture, and this small bit of encouragement was enough to help Vashti discover a hidden talent.

International Dot Day Resources
I had heard from several friends about International Dot Day, so after I read The Dot, I began looking for resources online to support this event. Boy, did I find them! Peter Reynolds is the founder of Fablevision Learning, and they've created a website full of resources for teachers to use when reading the book to students and celebrating Dot Day. The best place to begin is the "Getting Started" page, and from there you can follow a link to a page where you can download this amazing free Educator's Handbook. It's 16 pages long and includes a letter of introduction from Peter Reynolds and a great collection of ideas for celebrating International Dot Day. Here are some other ideas to get you started.

Ideas for Celebrating Dot Day or Dot Week:
  • Read The Dot and discuss the themes in the book with your students. To help foster this discussion, I created a set of eight free prompts on task cards that you can to use as a jumping off point for discussion. Don't feel you need to use them all; look through the set to find the ones that are appropriate for your students. You may want discuss them in a whole group setting first, and you can use them as writing prompts later or have students use them in small groups with the Talking Sticks discussion strategy. Click the image below or this link to download these free discussion cards.
  • Use some of the suggestions in the Educator's Handbook to have students create dot artwork individually or with a group. Since I'm a big fan of cooperative learning, I especially liked the Buddy Dot idea on page 9. What a unique idea!
  • Participate in Skype in the Classroom activities for Dot Day. See page 13 in the Educator's Handbook for details.
  • Use Technology to Animate Dot Drawings - If you have an iPad with a camera, students can use technology to bring their colored dot drawings to life. Read this blog post about the free ColAR app that can transform 2D coloring pages into 3D animations. It's absolutely amazing, and I know that students will love seeing their own artwork transformed this way! Be sure to watch the short video demonstration to see how it works. The app is free and the Dot Day coloring page is free, too. 

More Dot Day Ideas from Suzy Brooks
Third grade teacher Suzy Brooks has been celebrating International Dot Day for several years. She's now an ambassador for Fablevision Learning because she enjoys spreading the word about their inspirational resources. Visit her blog, Third Graders Dreaming Big, to read about her celebrations in 2010, 2011, and 2012 and see her terrific classroom photos. She promises to write about her celebration this year after it takes place because she wants to be able to include photos the activities in her post. If you have celebrated this event in the past or have special plans for celebrating it this year, please share your tips and strategies with us. It's one small way you can make your mark!