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Specialist Spotlight: Building teacher autonomy to better support ELLs with Amanda Rodriguez from Alabaster City Schools

Amanda Rodriguez currently works as an ESL Teacher at Thompson High School in Alabaster, Alabama. She supports ELLs in a variety of ways, including teaching ESL class periods, providing Sheltered Instruction and inclusion, and coaching core content teachers on best practices for ELLs. Prior to teaching for Alabaster City Schools, she taught ESL at the elementary level for 12 years. She has a Master’s Degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and is a National Board Certified Teacher.

1) How are you using Ellevation Strategies to support your colleagues who have ELLs in their classes?

There are two main ways I use Ellevation to support my colleagues who have ELLs in their classrooms. First, my partner ESL teacher and I send an email to all teachers explaining how to find the instructional activities. The teachers find it helpful to be able to filter the activities by content area and grade. Second, I have tried and adapted some of the activities myself as teachers have asked my opinion of them. For example, a science teacher mentioned that Ellevation had recommended using Cornell Notes for an activity, but she was unsure if they would be useful. I adapted the activity, tried it myself with my Sheltered History class, and shared the results with her. If I am asking other teachers to try the activities, I need to be willing to use them myself.

2) What is your favorite instructional activity or one you recommend frequently? Why?

One instructional activity that I recommend frequently is Brainstorm Walk. We use this activity not only for activating prior knowledge but also discussing review questions, reading texts, practicing vocabulary, and more.

During our Brainstorm Walk, students work in pairs or small groups and rotate to different charts around the room. The charts are labeled with a question, heading, or idea. The students discuss the chart, read and discuss the previous groups' answers, then write their own idea(s) on the chart. They cannot repeat what another group has already written.

I use and recommend this activity frequently because it incorporates all four language domains: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Brainstorm Walk is an excellent tool for reviewing information or giving an overview of a topic. Recently in my 11th grade Sheltered History class, for example, we combined this activity with Hanging Hashtags. The students rotated to charts where they read adapted texts about important muckrakers from the early 20th century. With their partners, they created hashtags for each article. The students enjoyed the activity, and my co-teacher for the class decided to use it in her other history classes as well!

3) What are 3 of your top tips, tricks or techniques that you employ when working with classroom teachers to help them better understand and teach ELLs?

Three of my top tips, tricks or techniques that I employ when working with classroom teachers to help them better understand and teach ELLs are:

  1. Begin with a positive presupposition.  As I have conversations with teachers, I find it is very important to assume the best about their intentions. Most teachers want their ELLs to be successful in their classes and have solid pedagogy, so I begin with that in mind as I have a  conversation with a teacher about helping his/her ELLs. This positive presupposition makes a difference in my own thinking as I try to inform teachers about their ELLs and assist them with implementing accommodations, and I believe that it makes teachers more open to listening to me.
  2. One-size-fits-all does not work with students OR teachers. I used to give teachers strategy after strategy, and I would become frustrated if they did not use the specific strategies I recommended. I have learned that just as one strategy does not work for all of my students, one teaching recommendation does not necessarily work for all of my teachers. Rather than using generic strategies, I now try to listen closely to what the teachers want to accomplish with the students and how they are planning to get there. My goal is to be an active listener and ask thoughtful, open-ended questions to help teachers reflect and find solutions that will work for them. I am certainly not always perfect at using this approach, but I do believe that coaching teachers through their own thinking instead of dispensing solutions creates greater teacher autonomy over the use of strategies and accommodations for their ELLs .
  3. Encourage teachers to start small. As teachers, we can all become overwhelmed with the daunting task of accommodating for the needs of all of our diverse learners. I ask teachers to start by choosing just one or two activities they feel comfortable implementing. Once they feel comfortable with those, then they can try others. I find that asking teachers to start small is less overwhelming, and they are more willing to give accommodating a try.