Welcoming & Supporting Newcomers

Welcoming & Supporting Newcomers

Thankfully, the school year is off to a good start for Mrs. G. She met all her students and their families and introduced herself and her expectations to them. Mrs. G is glad that before her students arrived, she familiarized herself with their folders, spoke with their teachers from last year, checked their instructional needs, learned a few things about each of them such as where each student is coming from and where he or she attended school last year. Mrs. G has all this information at her fingertips in her planning book since she took notes as she reviewed. She’s started using the groups she planned and is considering adjustments. (To see what Mrs. G. reviewed, read Five Essential Practices to Set Your Year on Course for Success .)

At lunch today Ms. Z the counselor came to Mrs. G’s room with Mateo a new student from Nicaragua. Mrs. G was expecting him since she had a note in her email that Mateo would be matriculating today. She has a desk, some supplies and his group is ready for his arrival. Mrs. G even practiced what little Spanish she knew and was able to say “Hello, how are you in Spanish?” When Mrs. G greeted Mateo with “Hola, ¿cómo está?” his eyes brightened and he started to answer in rapid fire Spanish. Mrs. G tried to explain that she doesn’t speak Spanish, “just enough to say hello.” Mateo looked at Mrs. Z the counselor, who explained that Mrs. G doesn’t speak Spanish and that Mateo will need to work on his English. Mateo’s smile dimmed a little. Mrs. G explained to Ms. Z that she practiced the greeting in Spanish so that Mateo would feel welcomed. The counselor translated for Mateo. His smiled returned. It got even bigger when Mateo was shown his desk, the supplies, and his classmates who do speak Spanish.

While Mrs. G was waiting she reviewed Mateo’s records and realized that there isn’t much there. Ms. Z’s note from this morning let her know that Mateo hasn’t been in school regularly for many months and the English Language Development screener has him at Novice or Entering, which means he is just starting his journey toward learning English. Nevertheless, Mrs. G is prepared! At the end of last year, she attended a professional learning session especially focusing on Newcomers and she has been looking forward to improving her practice and working with Mateo.

Mrs. G started with a warm welcome and honored Mateo’s first language by greeting him in Spanish. She has supports and strategies ready and has grouped him with students who also speak Spanish. His group will help model the language and answers that all students are expected to use. Mateo’s teammates, his support system will help him practice what needs to be said and, as needed, give him the answer word by word. Since every content lesson starts with previewing and practicing vocabulary for all students, Mateo can start right away. Mrs. G knows this is important since the sooner Mateo starts working on his English, the better.

All went well for the rest of Mateo’s and Mrs. G’s day. Later that afternoon when Mrs. G met with her colleague Mr. H who has Mateo’s older sister, they chatted about the newcomers and shared the day’s experiences. Mr. H was surprised when Mrs. G said that Mateo was already talking. He had heard that emergent bilinguals have a silent period and aren’t ready to participate for up to a year. Mrs. G reminded Mr. H that at the professional learning session last year the school learned that the Silent Period is only “a theory and that no empirical research supports this thinking.” By providing gentle supports, they do begin talking and participating the first day (Calderón & Slakk, 2017). Mrs. G also promised to share about the neuroscience showing that students are engaged in learning at all times whether listening, speaking, reading, writing or thinking. Learning depends on language and brains are never “silent” (Bialystok, 2011). Mr. H seemed interested and agreed that even though he and Mrs. G don’t teach the same grade both would benefit from planning together to help Mateo and his sister.

On the way home, Mrs. G remembered that she needed to review tomorrow’s previewed vocabulary and add in a step for the phonics differences between English and Spanish and see if there are any cognates she knows and can add to the vocabulary preview steps. Mrs. G also wants to review the comprehension partner triad reading strategy she learned last year to use with Mateo’s reading partners. While each partner reads their sentence, Mateo will do his best to echo read so that he starts to learn the cadence and rhythm of English. Finally, Mrs. G plans to craft some sentence frames Mateo can use when he and his team start their writing assignment. Mrs. G remembers that it is ok to have Mateo just repeating what his teammates say or copying what they write for the first few days. This will get Mateo started and emphasize that now is the time to work. She also knows that Mateo will quickly improve his English thanks to the vocabulary previewing, comprehension partners and sentence frames. Mrs. G is happy that Mateo is already building his vocabulary, reading comprehension and writing skills all while working on content also.

The supports and strategies in this vignette are based on the strategies and supports found in Integrating language, reading, writing, and content in English and Spanish by Calderón, Espino & Slakk, 2019 published by Velazques Press.  For other suggestions and ideas about multilingual learners and helping them acquire language and literacy skills, follow Shawn on twitter @abcd2sco.

Bialystok, E. (2011). Reshaping the mind: the benefits of bilingualism. Canadian journal of experimental psychology, 65(4), 229-235. doi:doi:10.1037/a0025406
Calderón, M. E., & Slakk, S. (2017). Promises fulfilled: A leader’s guide for supporting English learners. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Calderon, M., Espino, G., & Slakk, S. (2019). Integrating language, reading, writing, and content in English and Spanish. El Monte, CA: Velazquez Press.

Previously posted to duallanguageschools.org (Slakk, 2020)

5 Essential Practices to Set Your Year on Course for Success

5 Essential Practices to Set Your Year on Course for Success

The beginning of the year is always a great time to set the tone of the class and your relationship with your students and their family. Before they all arrive, learn a bit about them and share a bit about yourself. The end of the year is the best time to start thinking about the next year.

Make the First Move and Introduce Yourself

Try welcoming the multilingual learners in your class with a greeting in their home language.

For your class website record a short intro video introducing yourself.  Add a few things like what you like to do with spare time or whatever you are comfortable sharing.  It doesn’t have to be long.  Do it in as many languages as you can. If possible have the video dubbed or translated into the languages that you don’t know but your students’ parents speak. Include your contact information like school phone number or your email.  In lieu of that or better yet, in addition, call the family before the first day of school. Don’t worry if you don’t speak the parents’ language, they will get the idea that you are trying to connect and build a relationship with them; that you see that their son or daughter is important.

Get to Know Your Students Before They Arrive

Know who your students are before they arrive. Gathering information beyond the basics before they arrive makes them visible to you as an individual. If they are emergent bilinguals or part of a dual language program, double check their language development levels in the base domains of reading, writing, speaking, and listening—in both languages. How long have they been in U.S. schools? What other languages might they speak? How many years of schooling do they have? How many different schools have they been in since they started school and where? What development level is Javier at for reading? Writing? Is it the same in English and Spanish? How long has Olga been in U.S. schools? Does she also communicate in another language beside the target languages at school? How often does Francisco change schools or go back to Ecuador? The rest of the information you can find out from the student when you talk with them the first few days of school, or when you talk with the parents or previous teachers.

Write it Down in One Central Location

Much of this information should be available in the student’s cumulative folder which you will be reviewing anyway. While reviewing those folders, take notes. When talking with the parents assure them that you are only wanting to learn about their child to help him or her be successful. It may take a while at times for the family to open up to you, but persistence and respect will yield good information. Along those lines, I remember that it took more than two years to get the whole story behind my student Vasili.  Don’t give up.

To organize this info into one place when I taught, I always preferred a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets are easy to edit and revise. Today’s software is even more functional now and some have such great connectivity that you can even electronically collect evidence of growth and link it to the sheets.  But I digress. Every time a new student arrived, I added them to my chart. Each quarter I reviewed where each student was in each of the domains.

Plan Groupings for Different Activities

Teams of 4 work well.

After collecting this information, think about your classroom setup. Groups of four works well and facilitate partner work and other small groups for cooperative learning.  In these teams of four make sure to consider ELD level and domain framework levels. When possible group native speakers with the multilingual learners.  A good rule of thumb is one native speaker, one or two high level emergent bilingual and one low level bilingual.  When a Newcomer arrives, add the Newcomer to a quartet for support until they are ready to be on their own. Groups of six is too many and should be divided into trios. Depending upon the activity and the students’ needs, these groups are very adaptable. In dual language programs, groups will change based upon the target language and instruction.  Use your data and information you are collecting in your chart to rearrange for each student’s strengths.

Plan for Revision and Review

In your calendar, make a date with yourself at least once every nine weeks to review what you know about each student. Don’t just pencil it in, put it in ink and don’t postpone. At these checkpoints, ask yourself as few questions.  How far has Javi grown in reading? What else do I need to know about Olga? What success can I share with him or her and his or her family? What goals have they reached that I need to reset? When was the last time I checked in with Paco? Whose family haven’t I called home and introduced myself to? The year goes by so fast with curriculum, pacing guides, tests, and holidays before you know it, the year is gone and without firm commitment and reminder. Things go unreviewed.

Bonus and Most Important.

Plan, create, and practice balance.  Go home at a reasonable time.  Leave work at work. Enjoy evenings and weekends with friends and family.  Make sure to decompress and recharge each day even if it is only for 5 minutes.  Your social emotional health is imperative to a great and successful year. 

Previously posted on duallanguageschools.org/school-talk (Slakk, 2019)