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Specialist Spotlight: From ELL to ELL teacher, the power of engagement and coaching with Maria Clarke from Hillsborough County Public Schools

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Maria Clarke is an ESOL Resource Teacher for Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida. She immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 14 from Colombia and entered high school as an ELL.  After graduating, she studied Speech and Language Pathology and then received a Master’s degree in Bilingual Education. As a lifelong language learner and someone who has gone from being an ELL to supporting ELLs, she feels fortunate everyday to teach and inspire her students.

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

There are different ways I am using Ellevation Strategies in my school. The most effective way is by participating in our reading PLC meeting which we have every day. We have a reading PLC for each grade level where we go over the standards we will be teaching the coming week. I listen to the suggested activities shared by the reading coach and teachers while looking in Ellevation to find strategies that will support students. I search for activities by standard, by academic topic or by language strategy. I then share this information on our OneNote lesson planning folders for each grade and/or share the strategies with each teacher I meet for coaching.

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

I love I Am Monologues. I find that it is a flexible strategy that can be utilized across various content and standards. It serves many purposes, including helping students hone their critical thinking, writing, reading, speaking and listening skills.  

We recently saw the power of this activity in one of our 5th grade classes when students were working on recognizing character traits in fictional stories. Students knew during share time they were going to assume the identify of various characters with the I Am Monologues activity. Energized by the chance to describe characters in a game-like way, the students became very engaged in the discussion and were motivated to read in more detail. This activity helped students by encouraging them to find specific details about characters, concepts, etc, so they could share their findings and participate more actively in class.

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?

I usually start the year by providing teachers with an ELL Checklist. This checklist provides teacher with an opportunity to assess their physical space, classroom, procedures and knowledge of ELL students’ academic needs. It also provides guiding steps to prepare for newcomers or students whose language is at the entering stage by offering provocative questions such as: how comfortable are you with using WIDA descriptors as a guide to complement your lesson planning? or How knowledgeable are you about the district and WIDA language levels?

As a coach, it is essential to support a colleague through the stages of the coaching cycle: pre-conference, observation, modeling (when necessary) and post conference. During these coaching sessions, I use guiding questions so teachers can arrive at their own conclusions as opposed to the coach providing all of the answers.

Consistent communication with teachers is also important.  I regularly keep them updated with resources such as Ellevation and WIDA strategies via coaching, small PLCs, and faculty meetings.