In which I plan what I think will be an amazing lesson – and I learn more than the kids do.

I continue to ask the question:  How can I use technology help ESL kids speak more in order to improve their writing?   

So… I planned to teach, what I was sure would be an amazing lesson  😉

Lesson Objectives:

Day 1:  Students will create their own food chains.  Students will record 2 sentences about each picture that describe the plant or animal’s role in the food chain.  

Day 2:  Writing task:  Write a paragraph to describe the food chain that you created.  Use buddy sentences to describe the role that each plant or animal plays in the food chain.       

 Students will use revise their writing to be sure there are at least 2 sentences for each plant and animal.


If I had written them up, these would have been my NEW technology objectives:


Students will:

*Set up “Clever” on their homepage

*Open a document on Classroom, copy it, rename it, and use that copy

*Click and drag pictures into a table

*Add Google Read-Write to toolbar

*Highlight a picture and leave a voice note comment.  Insert the comment into document

*After typing, use the cursor and tracking pad to revise by adding sentences to writing


And I discovered:   I bit off way more than I could chew for both myself and my students.  

I don’t know much about technology but can envision what I would like it to be able to help me with.  That, I have learned, can be a dangerous approach.  I need to learn what hardware and software can do, and then figure out ways to best use it with my students.  I also need to learn how to teach students gradually.  Too much at once will only overwhelm them, and make us all lose sight of the content.


Think about lesson goals

What is the content I’m trying to teach?  What technology would I like to teach?   If what the technology they are learning is part of the lesson goals, I would be more likely to slow it down.  In the lesson I did, students had to click and drag pictures into a food chain.  They had not yet learned to manipulate the tracking pad on the Chromebooks.  If I had taught a lesson on that, or had the computer teacher teach that at another time beforehand, it would not have taken 45 minutes to do what would have taken 5 if they had not been using technology.  All of the technology objectives I listed above were NEW things my students needed to learn.  Whoa!   Way too much.


Take baby steps

What technology can I use that students already know how to use?  What is one small addition I can add to that technology?  Will it be something that will be useful for the future?    It would be great to backwards plan.  What do I want my students to use technology for in the end of my unit?  How can I gradually teach them to get there?  In addition to clicking and dragging (which I mistakenly thought would be easy) I was introducing the students to Google Read Write and Recording using the Speech Notetaker.  They had never used any of these before.


Preteach a few difficult technology concepts to kids who need extra help – and kids who can help me help other kids.

I pulled a few kids to preteach – some higher kids that could help others and some lower kids who would need more small group instruction.  This helped, but it only happened because the classroom teacher made time for me and I had a prep period right before the class.  This also allowed me to see, and plan for, what the pitfalls of my lesson would be.


Make decisions based on the technology I have available to me

Chromebooks are good for some things, IPADs are good for other things.  It would be great if we had both for all grades to have the flexibility.  In the meantime, why spend time on clunky recording apps in a Chromebook?


Make sure I am not using too many apps that I am not yet comfortable with

I made a big mistake using Google Classroom in that I set the assignment up so that all students had the same document, and then needed to make their own copy. (For some reason the option to make a copy for each student did not appear for me so I didn’t realize it was a problem.) Some students used the master copy instead – ugh.  It was only later that I discovered I could have set up Google Classroom for each student to have their own document.


Persist anyway

I wanted to give up and throw the whole lesson plan (and maybe the Chromebook cart as well…) out the window.  But I kept going.  In the long run, I kept trying, testing my improvements on students before each of what became a 3 day (instead of 2 day) lesson.  The kids also persevered even when documents got messed up, recordings got lost, and they weren’t sure how to share with me (or get through the new district login – bad timing for that!).  In the end we ended up completing our objective, and I think kids were proud of the results!


Student work

Here is a sample of a student’s final writing product.  In addition to the writing below, the student had a color food chain with voice recorded comments about each section of the food chain.     This ESL level 4 student was able to practice speaking about the food chain by recording in Google Read Write as part of his prewriting.   
Student Work:

  Animals in the food chain are connected.The sun gives energy to the grass.The grass is a producer. A producer is a plant that makes its own food. The plant is eaten by a buffalo. A buffalo is a primary consumer. A primary consumer is a plant or a animal that gets eaten by something else. The buffalo gives energy to the wolf. A wolf is a secondary consumer. A secondary consumer is the second animal that eats a plant or a animal. When the wolf dies the wolf gets eaten by a earthworm. A earthworm is a decomposer. A decomposer is something that eats a dead animal. A carnivore is something that only eats meat. A herbivore is something that only eats plants. A organism is a single living thing.This is how a food chain works.  


Talking before writing: An interview with Goldilocks

Revised Question

How can I use technology to make grade level writing tasks accessible to English language learners and students on IEPs?


Our first project in grade 3

Jen Ostayan (SPED inclusion teacher)  and I ( ESL inclusion teacher) set out to help our students write narratives that changed the point of view of the narrator.  We started with the traditional tale of Goldilocks.

What makes the task hard for our students?

Students would have to tell the story from the point of view of Goldilocks.  This meant students would have to use “I” any time they referred, and the correct verb form to go with it.  They would also have to be creative in order to think about what Goldilocks might have been thinking and feeling, and then add that into their writing.

What would we have kids to in order to use speaking to practice before writing?

Students did interviews of Goldilocks.  We paired high and lower students with the high student doing the interview, and the low student playing the role of Goldilocks.  Interviewers asked questions like, “What were you thinking when you saw the house?”  and “Why did you taste the porridge?” The higher student would have the challenge of asking probing questions, the lower student would have the chance to practice what they were about to write using “I” and the proper verb.

What technology would help us and how would we use it?

Our school has Chromebook carts for grades 1-5, but the kindergarten teachers share an ipad cart.  After evaluating the technology, we decided to borrow the ipads from kindergarten because it would be the least cumbersome technology.  We used  the  ___ app.

What did we notice kids were doing while recording their interviews?

Students with quiet voices realized they had to speak up to be recorded.

Students normally hesitant to speak in front of the whole class were very engaged and spoke a lot.

Many groups, even though we didn’t tell them to, rehearsed before recording, or re-recorded to “get it write”.

They made suggestions to each other.  “Why don’t you ask me___” or “Try that again but add _____”    Some of those suggestions included adding difficult vocabulary words.

What happened when it came to write?

Students were highly motivated to write.

Students were able to use “I” without too much effort to tell the story.

One SPED student that we had been previously been unable to engage in writing was so dramatic in her recorded story telling that we put her on speech to text software and she loved the assignment.  It was a real break through for her feeling like she could be a “writer”.

What did we do next?

We had students draw pictures to go with their recordings and they shared the work with their families at open house.

It’s October already!

That’s what I said to myself the other day. I am an ESL Teacher at the Northeast School and I am still trying to figure out my schedule. If its already October, when am I going to bring technology to my instruction? Then it just happened – bam! I was meeting with a fourth grade teacher that has ELL students in her class and we were discussing a Patricia Polacco unit she was planning to begin. The unit involved reading complex text and had reading and writing assignments that were linked to Grade 4 Common Core. While she was talking I could visualize immediately how I can incorporate technology into the unit that would help all of the students , especially my ELL students, increase their comprehension of the stories. This in turn would lead to more detailed writing responses. The teacher had chosen 5 Patricia Polacco stories. For each day of the week, there were activities for the students to do in connection with the story. The two days of the week that I knew I could use technology were Tuesday and Wednesday. The Tuesday activity was called Think Tank Tuesday which was the day that the students would work on activating prior knowledge and building background for the stories they were to read. Work It Wednesday was the day that they read the stories. For Think Tank Tuesday I wanted to give the student access to videos that would provide them with the background knowledge needed to access the books. For Work it Wednesday, we wanted students to read the stories but also to provide the option to listen to the story as a first or second read.

The students are in 5 groups of 4 and each group is reading a different Patricia Polacco book. I set up the Think Tank Tuesday and Work It Wednesday in Google Classroom, invited the students and teachers and was very excited to begin. We scheduled the chrome books for Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The first Think Tank Tuesday was today. I projected the Google Classroom on the board. I had the students join the classroom and showed the students how to access the videos for the Patricia Polacco book they were reading. They all started to build their background knowledge and then our bubble burst. Some of the students could watch the videos while others received error messages when they tried to open the video link. POP! I made a couple of calls. I learned that even though this was teacher-driven, it was possible that students will not be allowed to access youtube videos. Ugh. I hope not. It would require a lot more searching to find suitable non-youtube videos. The ones selected for students to watch were so appropriate for the story they were going to read. I am waiting for an answer. I am hoping that this is just a glitch and is not because the district is denying access to youtube. Holding my breathe and crossing my fingers.